January 25, 2010

Your micro-review roundup: 25 January 2010

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Grunish and Askew, by Lance Carbuncle

Grundish and Askew
By Lance Carbuncle
Vicious Galoot

For those who don't know, there's a whole thriving sub-community within literature these days known alternately as "gonzo" or "bizarro" -- and many of the working authors in this community tend to be highly active at the various literary social networks out there, because of this community always having been a fan-based one that relies on social interaction, which is why it is that I receive a lot of review copies of books like these, in that I'm active at these social networks too. And this is the latest to arrive here at CCLaP, by hard-working genre veteran Lance Carbuncle, and I have to admit that it's one of the better ones I've read from the technical aspect of the writing quality itself; because that's of course the biggest problem with literary subgenres as well, that the quality of the actual writing is often sacrificed for the sake of delivering the fetishes that particular subgenre fan is looking for, no matter which subgenre you're talking about.

And it's ironic that this is one of the better-written gonzo books I've read since starting CCLaP, in that it's also one of the least fantastical ones; essentially the story of two barely intelligent former cons who met in prison, and all the comically dysfunctional situations they stumble their way in and out of, although the novel contains plenty of outrageously over-the-top details they are still based on things that could really happen in the real world, unlike so many books in this genre that are more like written-text cartoons. (For the unfamiliar, you can think of the genre in general as the spiritual heir of such Hunter S. Thompson books as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where the entire point is to effortlessly combine realism with the outlandishly surreal, although the genre's also been around long enough now to expand into all kinds of different subject matters and writing styles other than Thompson's original "gonzo journalism.") Messy, funny, disgusting sometimes to the point of cringe-inducing, this ranks near the best of what gonzo/bizarro fiction has to offer, and it comes highly recommended to fans of such other online stalwarts as Jeremy Shipp, Andersen Prunty and D Harlan Wilson.

Out of 10: 8.8

Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris

Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life
By Kathleen Norris
Riverhead / Penguin

Christian author Kathleen Norris has long been fascinated by the ancient psychological condition known to monks as "acedia," and which was actually one of the original "Seven Deadly Sins" back when they were known at the beginning of Christianity as the "Eight Bad Thoughts." But what exactly is it? Long thought as the pre-Enlightenment version of depression combined with sloth, Norris' book-length analysis of the term (along with a detailed memoir of her personal experience with the subject) shows that it's actually a much more complicated thing, an emotional state that we would do good in our modern secular times to once again start to identify and treat -- a sort of apathy about the world combined with restlessness, which then outwardly manifests itself not only in ways similar to clinical depression, but also with a marked increase of boredom and desire for escapism, and a greater fear than normal of commitment. Although she goes out of her way to assure nervous readers that she doesn't mean for acedia to completely replace modern clinical depression as a concept, she does make a compelling argument for the idea that many modern people are getting misdiagnosed these days as clinically depressed when in fact they're acedic, requiring a whole different treatment than simply mood-altering drugs like those with legitimate chemical imbalances; and ironically, this treatment tends to mirror many of the daily routines of the ancient monks who first identified and battled with this "intellectual's disease," including such activities as contemplation and meditation, regular periods of silence and solitude, and a forced concentration on small daily rituals whether you feel like completing them or not, all of which are not coincidentally missing more and more from most modern lives. It's a dense book but a highly rewarding one, that will have you thinking in a completely different way about mental "illnesses" versus simple "maladjustments," and it comes highly recommended to anyone interested in contemplating issues purely of the mind.

Out of 10: 9.2

Is Being Pro-Choice a Sin?, by Len Belter

Is Being Pro-Choice a Sin?
By Len Belter

Inspired by an ugly incident during a political campaign that his wife ran in several years ago, this slim volume from retired lawyer and self-professed "pro-choice Catholic" Len Belter is basically much like a legal brief, looking at the actual arcane policy papers of the Catholic Church itself to determine what exactly the church's stance is on such technical issues as late-term abortions, abortions that save the life of the mother and more; and as such, it's nearly unreadable as a general-interest volume, with pages upon pages of heavy legalese that is more to be picked apart and analyzed than simply read from start to finish (although that's at least one fascinating new thing I learned by reading this book -- that the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads surprisingly similar to a typical judge's finding during a typical personal lawsuit). Interesting for what it is, but Belter lost me in particular about five pages in, and it doesn't come recommended to a general reading audience.

Out of 10: 4.7

The Christ is NOT a Person, by JC Tefft

The Christ is NOT a Person
By J.C. Tefft

Regular readers know of the standing promise I have here at CCLaP, to review each and every book that a person takes the time and trouble to actually send to me; and while I'm generally happy with this decision, it does sometimes lead to me receiving the exact kind of meandering, loony, barely legible messes that makes my open policy so unusual to begin with, such as J.C. Tefft's recent unwieldily titled The Christ is NOT a Person: The Evolution of Consciousness and the Destiny of Man -- A Guide to an Enlightened Understanding of Ancient Scripture from Around the World. (Yeah, I know, the title itself is enough to make you want to give up before even opening the thing.) I found it hard to even understand what this book is supposed to be about, which of course is one of the things that marks this as an unreadable title, one of those New Agey batsh-t things that you see crazies handing out at airports and on streetcorners, that always seem to feature cheap stock-art of a beach at sunset on the cover and that are written so obtusely as to lose most people before they even get past the table of contents. More to be pitied than critically reviewed, this is one of those handful of books I receive each year that make me get up every morning and give thanks to the divine creator that I'm not some poor underpaid publicity director at one of these print-on-demand companies, whose literal job it is to get titles like these as much attention as possible.

Out of 10: N/A

Filed by Jason Pettus at 12:46 PM, January 25, 2010. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction | Reviews |