Sunday, August 26, 2007

More books I've read in 2007

It's always interesting to me how when I have something on my mind, it seems like everywhere I look I find it. I even find it when I'm not looking. If you read my 300th post you know I've been thinking a lot about nostalgia for right now, for the present moment, and that's what "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett is about -- among many other things.
In an unnamed South American country, a banquet is held for a Japanese tycoon to try to get him to build a factory there. Performing is Roxane Coss, one of the greatest opera singers of modern times. It's a beautiful evening that goes horrible awry when terrorists storm the building and take all the guests hostage.
It goes awry for the terrorists too, as their plan was to kidnap the president of the country and take him back with them to the jungle. But at the last minute the president canceled out. (He didn't want to miss his favorite soap opera.) And the terrorists have no plan B. So a ten minute kidnapping becomes a 5-month long standoff. Nothing can make you appreciate every moment like knowing any one can be your last moment, but eventually tensions relax as hostages and terrorists become more comfortable with each other. The tycoon and the opera singer fall in love, as does Gen his interpreter with a young female kidnapper. And everybody falls in love with music, as Roxane sings every morning and gives lessons to a naturally talented young kidnapper. Although you never know what's going on outside the gates, other than what the Red Cross negotiator tells them, but you know it can't end well for the terrorists and it doesn't. But it left me with a renewed appreciation for music and for the moment, so I'd say it had a very happy ending.
I also read "Fantastic Four: Hereafter" just cuz I was missing Mike Weiringo, the artist on this volume, who passed away on August 12th. I read these stories when they first came out in the monthly comic book, but I wanted to see if they were as good as I remembered. They were, as the Fantastic Three take a trip into the afterlife to rescue Ben Grimm AKA the Thing, who was killed in a battle with Doctor Doom. This volume is rounded out a couple of more lighthearted stories as the Human Torch goes to Spider-Man to pick up some tips and improving PR, and it turns into a battle with Hydroman at a Hoboken water park.
Which brings us to my "Oh My Goddess." This is a long-running manga series about a Japanese college kid who misdials the pizza parlor and gets a goddess hotline. He's allowed to make one wish and he wishes that the goddess -- Belldandy -- would stay with him forever. And his wish is granted. Before long Belldandy brings along her sexy older sister Urd (pictured on the cover of volume 22 above) and her bratty but brilliant younger sister Skuld. Theses goddesses are based -- very loosely -- on the three Norns of Norse mythology, where Belldandy was known as Verdandi. And I swear I did not know this until I looked it up ten seconds ago but according to Wikipedia, the name Verdandi "literally is the present tense of be or "to be" and is commonly translated as "in the making" or "that which is happening/becoming", related to the Dutch word worden and the German word werden, both meaning "to become". She is the present moment." (So you see what I mean about being instinctively drawn to things that can show you more about something you're fascinated by.)
I'm sure you've heard about people who claim their religion is Jedi or some other non-existent pop culture faith. I'm not quite that crazy yet, but I do have "What Would Belldandy Do?" on all my checks -- which was a compromise; I wanted a WWBD tattoo --- and Belldandy has been a great inspiration to me as a human being and as a writer -- because I was taught in composition class that it's a character's weaknesses and flaws that make them interesting. But Belldandy always does the right thing and she is a fascinating character. The only flaws I've ever seen her exhibit were very mild jealousy and sometimes when she has used a lot of magic she has to take a nap right away. But that's not what makes her interesting anyway.
An example of what makes her interesting is in my favorite story in this volume. A couple of demons invent a teapot that will imprison a goddess or a human inside if they kiss the teapot. The problem of course is getting anybody in their right mind to kiss a teapot and they get around this by casting another spell on it so that when they look at it people will see the cutest thing they can imagine not an old teapot. So Skuld sees a toy rocket, Urd sees a little nurse advertising mascot, other people see roses, a cute boy, a motorcycle, and Keiichi (the college boy) sees Belldandy. All of them kiss the teapot, all are sucked into it and imprisoned there. All except Bellldandy. Now she comes along, sees the teapot, "oohs" and "aahs" all over it, then takes it into the kitchen to clean it up. Well, it turns out that hot water reverses the spell and everybody is released from the teapot prison.
Later the two demons are talking about their plan and what went wrong. One wonders out loud what Belldandy saw when she looked at the teapot, and the other one says Belldandy saw the teapot because Belldandy doesn't need illusions. She loves life just the way it is.
And I just got goosebumps writing those last two sentences. That is exactly how I want to be.


Beryl Singleton Bissell said...

I encountered Bel Canto while on a writer's retreat in Northern Minnesota. My daughter had just been killed and I was striving to hang on to my belief in the goodness of humankind. This book fell like a blessing on my anguish.

As a second gift, Ann Patchett blurbed my book The Scent of God, phoned me to tell me how much she'd loved it and made some editorial suggestions. We'd never met! She is as good and generous as her writing is wondrous.

Norrin2 said...

I am looking forward to reading more of Ann Patchett and I'm going to look for "The Scent of God" too. Thanks for stopping by.