Saturday, October 27, 2012

You don't have to say you're a god. They already know. (Sundays With The Classics)

It's back!  Sundays With The Classics makes a triumphant return after I finally buckled down and forced myself to read more of The Odyssey yesterday while I was waiting for a doctor's appointment, and if you are saying to yourself "Why is he forcing himself to read a book he obviously doesn't really want to read when there are so many good books out there that he could want to read and be reading, books like..."

Who should I give a plug to, here?

You'll have to read to the end of the post.

There was an article in Entertainment Weekly this week about some dumb new book that came out that tells what famous authors are reading or have read or which books they love the most or which books they leave laying around to show off to people or maybe all three of those.  I'm not sure: I didn't read the review because I can't imagine a worse use for my time than simply reading an entire book about the books other people who write books like.

That kind of information is interesting in passing, and mostly because people are always being snobs about it.  Whenever real people say things I assume they are lying, and that includes hearing real people not just tell what seem to be amazingly made-up stories on This American Life, but also hearing real "people" tell what books they are reading.

On This American Life, they did an episode recently called Getting Away With It, in which they encouraged "real" "people" to call in with "real" stories of things they got away with.  When I first heard they were going to do it, I assumed all of the "real" calls would be annoyingly fake and that I would be annoyingly annoyed by them and that turned out to be true, in part because I am annoyed by everyone and in part because people lie.

Almost every story people tell is a lie, and those stories are easy to pick out because they frequently are too good to be true.

As a note: I never make up any portion of my stories, although sometimes the conversations might be only about 82% accurately recounted, because I do not have a stenographer following me around to whom I can say "Read that back." 

You can tell I never make up my stories because none of my stories feature a Hollywood-ized twist or ending on them that never happens in real life almost ever, anyway.  My stories feature things like "I go to a parade and then we walk back to the school," whereas if anyone else were telling that story it would have taken some bizarre turn that made it "interesting" (in theory) and "a lie" (in reality).  It would have had me getting picked to be the head of the Frisbee Club, and then going to the Homecoming Game to sing the national anthem only to realize that I didn't know the words and then I would have had an aneurysm on the field and would have gone up to Heaven and talked with God for a while, and my old high school football coach, and they would have said "It's not your time, Son," and I'd have come back down here and invented a miraculous new pizza topping.

That didn't happen, in my (real) story.

On Getting Away With It, one real-life person called in and told a story about how he was at a stoplight and saw a cute girl next to him and decided to impress her by drag-racing her to the next light, and that part seems true enough as does what happened next in his story: He passed a cop while drag-racing and the cop put on his lights.

You might be asking "How is that getting away with it?"  Here is what the (lying) caller said next: He immediately fled away from the cop and turned right, only to have the cop follow him and he turned again and went by another cop and he turned quickly into an alley and momentarily lost the two cops behind him and ditched his car and got out and ran and then realizing that he could not go back to his car he ran and found yet a third cop and said his car had been stolen.

THAT is a story about which I immediately said "Didn't happen."  Because if all those things in that story are true, then the Hidden Secret Ending was "And the cop looked at me and realized I matched the description of the guy who was driving the car past that first guy, and they took me to the station and eventually charged me with fleeing an officer and obstructing justice."  I have been pulled over for speeding tickets and fought them in court and seen the reports which include, in a mere matter of moments, the description of the driver, and the fact that the "stolen car" driver matched the "real car owner driver" coupled with the fact that the police would find it amazingly coincidental that a car was reported stolen at the exact moment other police were looking for that car is enough to tell me the story is mostly BS.

As was Molly Shannon's story about hopping a plane to New York City at age 12, a story so incredible that Ira Glass had to hasten to add that they had checked with the friend who confirmed the details and I still don't believe it.

When "real" and by "real" I mean "famous" people are put on the spot about what book they are reading, they always say something superimportant and intellectual sounding.  (Even Mitt Romney's reading list has some that seem to me to be picked out just to make him look good, plus every Mormon everywhere automatically says "Twilight" because there is, apparently, only one Mormon author.)

When you catch celebrities just carrying books, they tend to be popular self-help books of no real literary merit, except for Obama who actually does carry around books of obscure poetry with him, but when you ask famous people what they read, the list is always impressive-sounding and most likely fake.

Authors, I figure, are a different sort.  I bet they really do read the books they say they read, because authors are interested in writing and reading and have more expansive, and different tastes, than regular people, the way chefs seem to always be doing something different, too -- chefs eat weird fishes cooked in hydrogen tanks or something, whereas the rest of us just have a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast.

That's part of why I am struggling to read The Odyssey: I figure it has lasted a billion years or however long it's been since Greece was a thing, for a reason, and that reason can't be "Because English teachers foist it off on people," can it?

Can it?

Maybe not.

Because things are picking up.  In the latest installment I read, after the old guy who's name I forget talked about tricking the gods by hiding in a whale skin to learn how he could get off the island, the story got back to some real action, in that Penelope learned that her son, Telemachus, had sailed away at about the same time the suitors learned that Telemachus had gotten away, too.  While Telemachus was being loaded down with supplies for the next leg of his journey, back at the ol' UlyssesCave, the suitors started getting ready for another run at forcing Penelope to marry them, and learned that one of them had lent a boat to Telemachus, and they decided that they'd set up a plan to keep Telemachus from ever coming back: twenty of them got a boat and went to some cove near Castle Grayskull (which is where I imagined Telemachus lived) to wait for him and kill him when he gets back.

A servant overhears this and goes to tell Penelope about Telemachus leaving and how he's going to be killed and Penelope gets all bent out of shape, berating the servant for not telling her earlier. 

The chapter ends there: The suitors lying in wait to kill Telemachus, Penelope lying in uselessness and praying to Athena to help Telemachus, and that would be incredibly suspenseful and a cliffhanger except it's not because Homer has Athena tell Penelope "oh, it's going to be okay, your son survives," without even a SPOILER ALERT! or anything, so now we know for sure that Telemachus is going to live, but apparently to restore a bit of suspense to the proceedings, Homer has the gods not tell Penelope whether Ulysses is alive or dead, which really doesn't matter because earlier in the story, we've learned that he's alive, he's being held captive by Calypso, so now it's just a matter of going through the motions, like this is some sort of John Hughes movie.

And it all left me wondering not just at what point storytelling advanced to a point where we didn't give away the entire story 17% of the way through it, but also wondering why did the Gods bother?

Remember how Athena pretended she couldn't stay at the palace because she was an old man and then turned into a phoenix and flew away in front of everyone?  Turns out you don't need to do that to tip off the locals that you're a god, because the suitors knew anyway: the guy who lent Telemachus his boat tells everyone "I saw him leaving with Mentor, but I'm pretty sure Mentor was actually a god," and so I had to wonder: Why did the Gods bother disguising themselves?  Why not just say "I'm a god, and you know it?" because apparently everyone did. 

(That might explain Leda deciding to have sex with a swan, which is a pretty weird thing no matter how you look at it, but certainly a tiny tiny bit less weird if you know the swan is a god.)

So that is where I left off, and I hopefully will be more diligent about reading my classics, and also hopefully will be more diligent about having a point to make in the future related to those classics, but you gets what you pays for.

Here is what I've been reading in between not reading classics:

A Hero's Journey, by PT Dilloway: the first of what ought to be a long-running series about a great new superhero, The Scarlet Knight.  Excellent writing, awesome villain, great book.

War Angel, by Rusty Carl: a sweet and interesting take on a romance with a WWII angle; Rusty Carl is better known as Rusty Webb, the author of the brilliant "A Dead God's Wrath."

Shadow Spinner by Andrew Leon: this serialized horror story is billed as YA but is anything but: Leon's creepy world and slow-burn storytelling are like Stephen King, only not annoyingly overwritten like King's. 

And you could always go back and check out Michael Offutt's Slipstream, a new twist on sci-fi tropes featuring a hockey prodigy who can control the way time flows around him and has to save not just our world, but all of them, from a crazy sentient supercomputer being.


Andrew Leon said...

It's like the day of super plugs!

You know, I'd have to bet that the reason that Homer didn't worry about spoilers is that everyone already knew the story anyway. It's like making a movie about Lincoln; everyone knows he gets shot in the head in the end.

Briane P said...

You're probably right. The Odyssey was more of a history lesson than novel, but then that supports my other thesis: that many so -called classics are due to be replaced by better reads.

Andrew Leon said...

Well, except that they will never be replaced by those better reads, because people will always go back to the classics even if there are better things. People always want to go see what is the basis for the stuff that came after, which is why Tolkien will never go away. Or Homer. Or Dickens.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Anyone who follows me on Goodreads can know what I'm reading. Thanks for the plug!

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I don't think anyone cares what I read. And I don't really care what others are reading either.