Category Archives: Hunger Games

The Monday Book-turned-Movie: CLOUD ATLAS

Cloud-Atlas-Actors-Different-Characters

I know, I know, you’re very disappointed in me. But I’m on a crochet deadline, and was  looking for Netflix background–less Netflix and chill than Netflix and hook, but there you go.

So I watched Cloud Atlas because the book by David Mitchell had intrigued me but we sold it before I could rad it. And three hours of movie lets one get a powerful lot of yarn moved into correct position.

The thing about this movie is it was able to add something the book wasn’t: jokes about who was playing what part.

For those unfamiliar, Cloud Atlas is pretty much based on the idea that no matter what century it is, people are behaving pretty much the same. There are good guys, bad guys, hustlers and altruists, and it all moves around in a big circle.

The funniest part is, the hunk hero from 2143 or so is the matron of an evil nursing home from 2012. That part cracked me up. Although the fact that “soylent green is people” was a funny line in 2012 and a real thing about food in 2143 was a bit sobering.

Cloud Atlas runs from the 1800s, when on ships running from Jamaica a bad guy is trying to poison a nice guy who saves another nice guy from getting beaten to death, through the 1970s when corruption in the oil industry is getting nice people killed, past 2012 when it’s the publishing industry and nursing homes that get the scrutiny, into ethical futurist questions in 2100 and 2300 (after the fall a few winters, if that tells you anything) when Earth is back to barbarism. If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a good film. If you start to ask questions about how people know certain things or can gain access to certain places, forget it. This is a shallow, bright ride.

But it is a ride with some breadth, as the 2100s are shoot-em-up thriller, the 1970s are detective novel, 2012 centers around money, and 2300s is eat or be eaten with a few surprises thrown in. It was as bright and breezy as the afghan I was crocheting while watching, and less knotty if one didn’t ask too many questions.

For escapism or background noise, Cloud Atlas works well. For serious thought fodder, one doesn’t need two hours and 51 minutes of star-studded cast to know that everyone is pretty much after something, for good or ill, and that we recycle stock characters in the parade of our life. History repeats itself because we don’t learn the lesson the first time. Just ask Charlottesville.

 

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The Monday Book: MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR by Doris Lessing

I like most of Lessing’s work, but she can be a real downer. This book picks up on some scenes that appear in others, and since this was published in 1974, I’m assuming these were the first appearances, and their refinement came in later works.

Somewhere in her life, Lessing saw or felt that girl children were valued less than boys. She’s got this running as a sub-theme through a lot of her novels, and it’s here in a few of the scenes involving Emily, the teenage protagonist of this novel.

The novel has two protagonists, the second one also being the narrator, a woman in late mid-life who watches from her London flat window as society breaks down around her. Think “The Road” because there’s no specification of what’s happened, just reactions to it. The societal disorder is actually pretty ill-defined, because it’s mostly there to explain why there are bands of roaming young people terrorizing the city. Think “Children of Men.” Something’s gone wrong centrally.

The narrator gets Emily in a very strange way; one day a man knocks on her door and tells her this child is her responsibility from here on out. And the narrator says “Fine.” Think Stephen King, eschewing explanation and yet not sounding implausible because it’s all so human-nature driven.

Then Emily gets into all sorts of scrapes and her pet Hugo is getting eyed up by the gangs for dinner, and it’s not going well, and…. well, the ending is a bit of a shocker. It’s actually happy. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This book requires a lot of the reader. Nothing is what it seems, except is is. Everything is falling apart, and yet some things are getting better for no reason. If you like literary fantasy – and I’m not even sure that’s a genre – you’re going to love Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor. If you like things explained, best pick up something else.

When she published it in 1974, Lessing called it a dystopian fable. Apparently, it was made into a movie in 1981. I don’t even want to think what violence the subtle writing and edgy themes would have suffered in that process. I’d say this book is like steel lace. The beauty is unusual in where it’s found, yet the writing is so delicate in describing bluntness. Steel lace.

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The Monday Book: THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Susanne Weyn

First, apologies for last week, when dental surgery knocked me out of the world for a few days. I read Tattoo as escapism – somebody was having a worse time than me.

Weyn’s premise is interesting: everyone gets the bar code tattoo, encrypting all the data about them, on their seventeenth birthday. It isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Except it’s becoming mandatory. And as this takes hold, more and more people are getting the raw end of this deal, because the government knows everything about them. Promotions, health care, educational access: it’s not an open system  now that people are open books.

What’s interesting is that only one small dialogue in the book is devoted to the Christian take on what is essentially the Mark of the Beast plan. Weyn concentrates instead on the rebellion of teens and the growing awareness among people that the tattoo is ruining instead of assisting their lives.

While the writing is what I’d consider lumpy and the characters pretty thin, I liked reading it because I’m fascinated by dystopian lit, and YA fiction. And Biblical retellings, although this one ignored the religious angle. Her second and third book take up that piece a wee bit more, but overall this is more teen thriller based on futurism than any form of religious fiction.

It’s not the kind of thing I would read every day, but when you’re in the mood for frenzied, freaky, and futuristic, you couldn’t do better than the Tattoo series. (Weyn’s next books are Barcode Rebellion and Barcode Prophecy.)

 

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Meanwhile, in DC…..

mental-exhaustionEvery year I go to DC to advocate on behalf of rural Virginia inside rural America. We converge from all 50 states and a couple of charted territories, spending a day catching up on the annual stats in health and economics, then charging The Hill to talk to the reps and senators for our individual states.

I’ve done this about eight years now, and this year sucked. Most don’t, but this time around the mood in DC and the mood at the National Rural Health Association match each other: big smiles in front of shattered glass plates.

We’re in trouble, and we know it. Insurance premiums in rural places are 150-300 percent higher than in urban areas. Insurers are refusing to enter some rural markets as a second company because the competitiveness makes the money they’d earn so low, it’s not worth it to them. And the Affordable Care Act, the thing we were all told we had to champion as though our lives depended on it, is about to go bye-bye.

There were some very honest moments this time around. A Senator told this group of beleaguered altruists that everyone involved knew the ACA rolled out with “terrible flaws” but that this was “anathema” to say in DC. You could feel the room struggling not to cheer, because we’d defended that dog’s breakfast up one side and down the other, lacking a better alternative. Not that we want its repeal to be accomplished before a replacement is in effect. Baby, bathwater. Let’s not walk backwards just because we walked too far too fast the first time out of the gate.

But we’re also struggling with the exhaustion of the staffers on The Hill, those sweet little 20-somethings who are, in the words of one we talked to, “the interns on which the back of this government is balanced.” They are tired. They are exquisitely, mind-numblingly tired.

We were supposed to ask them not to repeal the ACA. We wound up asking what they were hearing about what could replace it. Their eyes just about rolled back in their heads. Some smiled, some growled, a few talked in such bland cliches (robust, rolling out new ideas, a healthy America is good for all of us) I started counting them. He got to 10 before he quit.

But there was also a little spark in each encounter this year. When we walked into the offices of our Congressmen and women, they almost to a human commented on the power of rural to change things. Some sighed, some celebrated, but nobody was discounting us as that voiceless group that doesn’t vote out there in the sticks.

My takeaway point from this year’s NRHA conference is in two parts: 1) We’re screwed. 2) We don’t have the luxury of despair. As one friend says, “no matter how far down you are in rural, you can always find a well and climb in.”

And as we have pointed out to one another, over and over again during this conference, rural power has never been stronger. We elected a president. We proved that the Electoral College is necessary as a protection for rural voices. We reminded people to listen to us. (You should see the parade of Senators eager to address this convention this year; some of them have no idea who we are and one spent ten minutes explaining Medicaid to a room full of rural health experts. Oops.)

So if we’re screwed, we will have to unscrew ourselves. We elected a president on the power of our beliefs and knowledge. Now we have to get our healthcare positioned to really look after us, the voices that didn’t used to get heard.

It’s a little convoluted, but it’s not all bad. People may be tired, but they’re listening.

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Filed under blue funks, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: ENDGAME by James Frey

well-this-sucksOh dear God in Heaven, Frey, you make up a memoir about drug addiction and somebody gives you the keys to a fictitious city????

How many ways is Endgame bad – the writing that has characters doing abrupt turns from their previous hopes and dreams, all in the space of one sentence? The conceit of hiding a treasure hunt inside, along the lines of that golden rabbit buried a couple decades back, and getting people to buy the book so they can do the math and be one of the treasure hunters? The really, really stupid plot device of 12 ancient lines who all know about themselves but not each other, and who have successfully passed this secret from family to family without anybody else knowing? Kids killing each other – wow, where did you get such a great new idea in YA fantasy?

Shall I go on, or do we now have enough reasons to leave James Frey’s book alone? He’s the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces in which he claimed to have had dental surgery without anesthetic, crawled into a crack house within weeks of getting clean in order to carry his girlfriend out and enroll her in a program holding a spot for her, and been taken into the fold of a gangster who treated him as a son during their rehab. At the time I was reading Pieces I was working with addicts in a literacy program, and I remember thinking about halfway through the book, “No way, man. He’s lying.” Which turned out to be what everyone else thought, too.

Give it up, world. There is no taste, no truth, and no future. The Sky Gods are coming for us all, unless we’re one of those ancient lines or found the golden rabbit.

Short version: this book sucks.

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Delight is Not Happy

delightOkay, you people, listen up because I have just about had it, do you hear me?

I came here as a kitten with my brother Oreo after my mom died, and a week later he disappeared. They told me he’d been “adopted.” Sure. They killed him and stuffed his body somewhere.

So time goes by – I don’t know how much, okay? I’m a cat; it’s not like we wear watches or anything – and they’re feeding me wet stuff and there’s lots of cats here to talk to, although none of them knows where my brother is beyond that “gone to his forever home” thing, which sounds ominous to me. Still, being here, it’s not all bad, is what I’m saying. Or it wasn’t.

They kept trying to touch me. Some weird human fetish, I guess, they wanted to “pet” me, which means they bothered me when I was eating. Although I admit that spinal swipe thing feels kinda nice.

Anyway, one day they put down the wet food like always, and I start in, and suddenly the chick is behind me – there’s two chicks and a guy do most of the cat stuff here; don’t ask me about the relationships; humans are weird – and she grabs me. Hard. Tight. Scary.

I scream and struggle but she stuffs me in this box, and then we’re moving, and then I’m in this place full of barking dogs and this other lady has this needle – like two feet long, I’m telling you – and she STICKS IT IN ME!!!!

Next thing I know they’re all dancing around saying “she tested negative” and telling me how great this is, but I’m back in the see-through box with the hard sides, and my leg is killing me, and I’m just plotting how I can take them all down in one good karate bite-kick-chop. I’ve got moves these girls haven’t seen yet.

But I let it go, because they take me back to the place with all the wet food and cats, and the other cats, some of them got stuck too, so we’re all limping around trading war stories, and I’m a little more careful after that. No more unexpected grabbing.

And then….. and then…..

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, right? This morning when the chick puts down wet food and gets all sweet and sneaky standing nearby, I know something’s up. I don’t bite. Literally. No wet food for me. And I think that’s the end of it.

Do you know what that bi–chick did? She waited until I was IN THE LITTER BOX. Is NOTHING private any more in this hellhole?

She grabs me – mid-stream, mind you – and I’m fighting for all I’m worth but the other chick appears from nowhere, and it’s back in the hard box with the see-through sides, and we’re moving again, and I think I’m going back to the barking dogs and scary smells place but after a LONG time (and I can hear other cats as we’re moving, but none of us know where we’re going) suddenly we’re in this bright room, and it’s again with the needle, but instead of it hurting the room starts spinning, and then it’s dark…

..and I wake up on this soft mattress and this lady with red hair is saying I was “so brave” and “everything’s fine” and I’m thinking “you don’t know for fine, bitch, just put your face a little closer to those bars.”

The other girls who came here with me, they’re all waking up too, and we’re exchanging notes, and we’ve all got sore tummies and little scars, and one of ’em, she heard from her mom, this is called “spraying.” We’ve all been sprayed.

I did not sign a consent form. That said, I don’t object to the idea I’ll never have to worry about raising kids. I saw how Mom struggled with Oreo and me before she got sick, how she worried about us as she was dying. All she wanted was for us to have it better, so no, I don’t want that responsibility. Still and all, it would have been nice to be asked. And that litter box scoop? No. Just, no.

Goes to show, you can’t trust anyone. Think I’ll be letting my guard down, that human hands will ever touch me again? Ha. No. Nyet. Not this little tuxedo cat. Nope.

I’ve got my eye on you, people.

Editor’s note: it is assumed by the staff cats and humans of the Little Bookstore that Miss, ehm, “Delight” will be staying with us indefinitely. While we welcome inquiries into her adoption, we recognize that it would be difficult to catch her in pursuit of such an option. Also, her personality is… challenging. Thus she may spend her days in our basement, eating, sleeping, and coming and going as she pleases. We have been advised by Owen Meany, esquire, that she has sought his legal counsel and an injunction has been filed against further caressing, touching, or medical procedures.

Good thing we got her spayed. That’s all that matters.

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The Monday Book: THE LAST MORTAL MAN by Syne Mitchell

deathlessSo I’m not the world’s biggest SF fan these days, but when THE LAST MORTAL MAN came into our shop, I was in a mood and needed a book in a hurry. I packed it in my bag and raced for my plane, train, or car pool, whatever it was.

Ironically, I soon discovered that I had picked up a novel that was one long futuristic chase scene. This book never stops, people running hither thither and yon getting disintegrated despite being immortal (which hardly seems fair) and willing their no-longer-human flesh into weapons and dropping buildings on each other while operating a mind-melding Facebook equivalent called Gaia-Net.

It is HBO’s animated wet dream, this book.

THE LAST MORTAL MAN is driven by violence and nano-science rather than characters. That said, Mitchell has a great imagination. (Well, hey, she’s a weaver. You can check our her fiber art stuff by googling her name.) She can find ways to kill people who have made themselves immortal and create landscapes with their brain. Also, underneath the VERY fast-paced killing and tech-willing, you find pieces of humanity-and-social-justice-oriented plot that could have been something special had they been developed. (Her series was cancelled after the first book. Which might explain why so many things obviously being set up were left unfinished; she expected to have more time later.)

The premise of the book is that the world is so full of tech, when you create tech that destroys tech, the only people left will be little kids and the Amish. Yep, there are Amish people in this book, and – wait for it – one of the girls is the love interest. Yeah, I about died laughing. All those Christian Amish romances, and it comes to this?

That sounds like I’m making fun of Mitchell’s work. No, just that it had a lot of potential that seemed to fall apart in the urge to write ever-faster hard-rock chase scenes where Immortal Girl in black rubber body suit wills her arm into a blade and defends little kids from big bad assassins sent by the Deathless Cartel because they’re mad at the Godfather of Immortality – whose henchman came up with the tech that kills tech.

It all runs faster from there, mostly downhill.

I wanted to like this book, and finished reading it because it was so…. silly. All plot and no people. No one you wanted to root for, and when it comes down to the finale the world is saved or doomed by a Siamese kitten and her girl, who are paired to be the perfect killers/saviors by releasing tech each of them holds half of. I like Siamese cats. I really do. But….

Normally I don’t review books I didn’t like, so you’re wondering why I did this one? Well, truth is, I did like it. It was so bizarre it amused me. Like every once in awhile, instead of getting chocolate cake, you choose Jello, just because.

This book is Jello. Flavorful, rainbow jello with sprinkles. And killer kittens.

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