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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 07:04:56 AM EST) Watching, Reading, ODGF (all tags)
Reading: "Terrorist" by John Updike, "On Beauty" by Zadie Smith. Watching.


What I'm Reading
Finished Terrorist by John Updike. Probably the worst book of his that I've read, and the one I liked the most. I'm just not that interested in kitchen-sink stuff, and the big themes here appealed to me more.

It's primarily about 18-year-old Ahmad, who is recruited as a suicide bomber; but also his career counselor the aging, Jewish, Jacob, and has smaller roles from the female characters. The book got very mixed reviews: some very positive, some very negative.

Ahmad follows the pattern of the 7/7 London bombers rather than the September 11 bombers: born locally, from a deprived area though not exceptionally deprived himself, brought up fairly Westernised but becoming religiously devout in adolescence. Some of the reviewers regard this as being absurdly inauthentic, but I thought it rang pretty true: it's never mentioned, but Ahmad seems to be desperately lonely and adrift; clinging desperately to his faith to keep himself afloat. There is a bit of a problem with Ahmad's voice though: he talks in an over-formal English that sounds as if he learnt it as a foreign language. It doesn't make sense unless he's doing it deliberately or unconsciously to segregate himself, but it may just be an authorial failure.

A more definite failure is the plot's reliance on at least two unbelievable coincidences: Jacob`s sister working for Homeland Security, and Ahmad`s High School crush turning up as a prostitute. The satire also gets a bit too much, with a high-school thug named Tylenol because his mother liked the name on the advert.

Apart from those weaknesses though, the book is superb. It has the usual Updike brilliance of observation and writing style, with the characters and surroundings acutely observed. Despite the creaking mechanics, it has a thriller-like tension at the end. It has great, unnaturalistic speeches by the characters as they expound their varying philosophies and fulminate against their opponents. All Updike's books are hard to put down, but without much plot to be curious about it can be hard to pick them up again: not so here where you need to find out what happens next.

It's also a surprisingly terse and short book: the chunky hardback conceals a large, wide-spaced typeface. Well worth reading.

Review, review, review, review, review, review, review, review, review.

What I'm Reading 2
Finished On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Good, but not as good as White Teeth: tells about a feud between the families of two academics. Very good in its depictions of the younger members of one of the families, especially the young black middle-class teenager and his desperate attempts to be street. The problem with the professors'-affairs stuff is that it's pretty much mined-out territory: there's nothing exactly wrong with it, but it's hard to see what exactly it adds to the acres of print by Kingsley Amis, Philip Roth, David Lodge, Howard Jacobsen and the rest. The nature-of-beauty discussion doesn't seem particularly deep, though it's interesting the way it's incorporated into the academics' lives. Generally well-observed though: worth reading if you want something to read.

What I'm Watching
Watched the first two episodes of cop show The Wire, which the mediapunditsphere always seems to be going on about. Seems pretty good so far: neatly done, with an excellent depiction of office politics and rivalries within the police force. Doesn't stand that far out from the other gritty cop shows so far though. Didn't have the impact that the start of The Shield's first series did. Will keep watching.

Battlestar Galactica starts again soon: wish I could be more enthusiastic. They took a very bold step of eschewing aliens and inhabited planets, which worked very well for the first two series: keeping things tense and interesting. The problem is it also greatly limits them, and they seem to have run out of plots. I think the New Caprica storyline was about the peak, and it's downhill from here.

ODGF
Seem to be down to 11st8 after a high of 11st12 after the holidays: was pretty strict the last couple of weeks. Fairly comfortable with that.

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Beautiful Day | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
BSG by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 10:13:09 AM EST
I still have hopes, but so far, it hasn't come near matching the last batch of episodes last season.

I'm unenthused about TV in general as Lost seams to have also jumped the shark.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

Other TV by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 10:51:19 AM EST
"House" has gotten boring, with the drawn-out and unbelievable storyline with one-man-Gestapo Tritter.

"Heroes" started out pretty well, but had achingly slow plot development. It might improve.

Still, "Boondocks" has been renewed and is coming back in March. And "Dr Who" might be interesting with the new companion.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
The execs need to learn to end serials by lm (4.00 / 3) #3 Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 11:37:30 AM EST
I really like the way that Lost, 24 and other shows have revived the serial genre. It's a pity, though, that the major studios can't find it within themselves to end them after a season or two and move the writers and production crews onto something new. The end result is contrived story lines and waning interest.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
"love" by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 02:37:48 PM EST
It seems to me that one of the things that kills them is all the love triangle bullshit that they seem enamored with.

That, and in the case of "Lost", being unable to stay consistent.

But yeah...I'd love to see a network announce at the outset that a show will have a two year run.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
Oddly enough by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Jan 14, 2007 at 06:04:04 PM EST
After replying, I ran into this.
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[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
"Terrorist" by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Jan 15, 2007 at 01:41:46 AM EST
Sounds interesting. I've been looking for a good, short thriller. Might give it a go.

I'm meant to be borrowing series 1 of the WIre this week off a mate. I'm not mad on cop shows (and couldn't really get into the Shield), but I'm looking forward to it.

If you want some intelligent, compelling, meaty US drama I strongly recommend Deadwood. I was quite taken aback from it. Roughly based on fact as well so has an interesting historical angle.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

I might try Deadwood by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Jan 15, 2007 at 12:40:09 PM EST
When I've got through some of The Wire... don't think I can cope with two things like that at once.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Beautiful Day | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback