Friday, April 6, 2018

The Perfume Burned His Eyes

By Michael Imperioli
Akashic Books     2018
253 pages     Literary

Well, I really goofed on this book. I didn't recognize the author's name, and I didn’t know who Lou Reed was, one of the main characters. Where have I been? If you don’t know either: Michael Imperioli, the author, is an actor, best known as a character on The Sopranos. Lou Reed, was a famous singer from the 70s and 80s, and the title, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, comes from one of his songs. 

The story takes place when the narrator, Matthew, is in his teens, and Lou Reed is at a low point in his life and career. Matthew and his mother move from Queens to an upscale apartment and an upscale school in Manhattan. Lou Reed and his girlfriend live in the same building. In the truest sense, Matthew comes of age as he relates to Lou as well as to a lovely girl from his class, Veronica, who claims to be a witch and who turns tricks for spending money. He becomes acutely aware of the way others relate to the world, and he grows in his own strength and his own wisdom. Matthew’s view of the world is very much aligned with the city, in all its gritty glory. Finally, the world becomes too much for him and he loses touch with reality for a while. The Booklist reviewer calls him “Holden Caulfield without the cynicism.”

Years later, Matthew meets up with Lou Reed again, and as he watches him perform magnificently, he realizes that they both have come far. “It made me see clear the fluid and idiosyncratic possibilities in our lives, or maybe more accurately: the fluidity and idiosyncrasy that is our lives. It made me see that there are escape routes out of hell, and if we are fortunate we can make a clean getaway and survive.”

The Perfume Burned His Eyes is told completely from Matthew’s perspective. His mother is seldom in the picture, although she does help out when Matthew falls apart. We know Lou Reed only through Matthew’s eyes. We also are aware of Matthew’s very real anguish about Veronica.   Matthew is a moral young man, and he knows that he is treading on dangerous ground as he interacts with her and with Lou Reed. 

As I read, I was reminded of another New York coming of age story that I read recently, Neon in Daylight. Inez, one of its main characters is very similar to Veronica. As a matter of fact, sometimes I got the two confused.

Michael Imperioli said in an interview that he wrote the book during a difficult time in his teenage son’s life, and he had been spending  a lot of time thinking about teenage angst. I could relate to much of it—having gotten three kids through adolescence as a single mother, and now watching teenage grandchildren deal with their own anxieties. I believe that he captured the setting, the times, and the coming of age beautifully. It was a compelling read. 

Here is Lou Reed singing Romeo Had Juliette from which the title The Perfume Burned His Eyes came.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sea Creatures from the Sky

By Ricardo Cortés
Black Sheep/Akashic     2018
48 pages     Picture Book

I read Sea Creatures from the Sky aloud to the most discerning audience possible, my 5- and 6-year-old grandchildren. The children had insightful reviews of the book, and I will include their thoughts in my look at the book. The book was released on April 3.

This is a gorgeously illustrated view of the world by a shark. It begins, “This is a tale of no one believing something that is entirely true” and that philosophical view continues as the shark views his world and the world above the water. It includes the shark being caught by a pair of marine biologists, who measure him, probe him, tag him, and then throw him back into the sea. 

First, both children needed to be told that the shark was telling the story. After that, they had a different perspective about the book, and laughed in different places than they might have had they continued to look at the story from their own perspective. Davick (5) shouted at the beginning, “It’s about a shark!” and he also enjoyed naming the different fish that were in the illustrations. Adela (6) loved that the story was in rhyme, and they both enjoyed it when the biologists caught the shark on a line with a fish for a lure.

We discussed how everyone has a different view of the world. This, of course, is a hard concept for children, and I think that reading this book to a classroom of first or second graders would engender quite a bit of philosophical conversation. Additionally, it might be a good book for a science class. My grandson loves to read about animals and he found the pictures very appealing. Adela, the first grade reader, found that she could read the entire book, which made her very proud.

Truly, the illustrations are beautiful—far more beautiful than the writing, which tends to be good for giggling—which both children did as I read it. Together it made a great package, which we all enjoyed. 

Cortés is the author/illustrator of several children’s picture books, but most famously, he is the illustrator of Go the F—k to Sleep, the bestselling adult parenting book and it’s children’s counterpart, Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ready Player One

By Ernest Cline
Broadway Books     2011
374 pages     Science Fiction
Audio Book

What a marvelous geek fest! My husband and I listened to Ready Player One on our trip to the Alabama coast in February. It got us there and back, and then we had to spend a few breakfast reading days to finish it. What amazed me was that it held the attention of 70-somethings who didn’t quite get all the 80s references the book offered—and my husband has never played a video game in his life. Still, we were fascinated and can’t wait for the movie to come out at the end of the month.

The reality of teenage Wade Watts is dystopian. It is 2044 in Oklahoma, and the world is in near collapse. Wade lives in a high rise of stacked house trailers, but his true life is the virtual reality universe he escapes to every day. He attends school in that universe and spends most of his time in a game called the OASIS, a virtual-reality online game. One reviewer called it Second Life on steroids.

The OASIS was designed by a famous video game designer from the 1980s named James Halliday, who has hidden his fortune (billions of dollars) in the online game. The entire geek world is trying to find the Easter Egg, the last treasure in the game that will release the money, but it has been five years since Halliday died, and no one has made much progress. Wade’s gaming Avatar, Parzival, is racking up points in the game, but it is when he combines forces with four other avatars that the excitement begins to build. Of course there has to be an enemy, and the OASIS enemy is a corporate behemoth named IOI that is attempting to take over the world.

That’s the plot. But it is so much fun. Ready Player One is very visual, because Cline is a screenwriter, but it is also extremely humorous. The references just keep rolling. In order to solve the game, Wade has had to become familiar with as many 1980s references as he can, so lines from movies, TV shows, and songs are abundant. For example, somebody found 88 movie references in the book. (How many times would you have to read a book to document all the references? I told you it was a geek fest!) Wade also has to master every video game from the 1980s and decide which of those games were Halliday’s favorites.

We especially enjoyed the audio reading by actor, Will Wheaton. (I saw him last night on an episode of Big Bang Theory.) He brings the book to life. BTW, he mentioned in an interview that he really likes doing audio books because that’s how he gets his own reading done by preparing for the audio recording. The movie is directed by Steven Spielberg, the biggest name around. Early reviews are encouraging. The movie makers must have had a great time!

My last comment is that reading doesn’t have to be a serious enterprise. Sometimes it just needs to be fun, fun, fun. This is one of those times!

Here is a you tube video of references in the movie.