Archive for November, 2012

Moon Palace by Paul Auster – review

November 14, 2012

I’ve really enjoyed Auster in the past, but while Moon Palace wasn’t a bad read, it also didn’t strike me as anything special. It follows Marco Stanley Fogg as he moves away to college, loses who he believes is his only real family, and then falls into chance unknowing relationship after chance relationship with his paternal family. My copy is a used copy, and I had a bit of a leg up in going over the book as whoever had it before had gone through and stickie noted whenever some reference to “moon” came up.  The only thing that really stuck out with the moon references, though, is that they popped up far more frequently in the first half of the book than in the second half. Which makes sense, because the first half of the book is the time where Fogg is in the most disconnected, desolate part of his life. Even though he doesn’t realize the significance of the people he meets in the second half of the books, as he is meeting them, the connections he forms and the life he begins to construct gradually replaces the desolation and isolation that had came before it. If I look down at the book from the top this can be physically seen in the sea of yellows post-its popping up from half the book and the handful cropping up in the other half.
So what is a “moon palace?” I think it is a testament to the castles we construct for ourselves when we are at out most insecure, our most isolated, and our most alone. It’s also something that we largely do to ourselves. The first half of Auster’s novel is Fogg doing pretty much anything he can to isolate himself, before going a bit nuts and living as a bum in Central park. Along this entire journey to bumdom he acknowledges that he routinely made the wrong choice, and that he could have easily avoided his fate at any time had he only made better choices – choices he often acknowledged as there and better before going off and doing something that was stupid and short sighted.  After falling off the cliff of his self-destruction, it is only the persistence of two friends in their efforts to find him that saves him from himself and gets him into shape for the journey takes on over the second half of the book.

Which was the start of showing how the connections we form with people are often our greatest strengths and what gets us through life. As Fogg rejoins humanity, people who figured prominently in saving him disappear to the past and their own lives just as Fogg moves into new circles, making new connections, and begins to influence new lives in positive ways by his new partaking in existence. I think this reaches its heights when Fogg embarks on a bizarre quest with his employer, Effing. He pushes Effing in his wheelchair around New York for ten days, each day with a big bag of cash in his lap, each day going to a different part of town.  This is where Fogg moves entirely into a new philosophical phase of his life, taking an active role, moving into people’s lives in big, positive ways by shelling out cash on unsuspecting strangers. It’s an energy that he takes and runs with as he contacts Effings long abandoned son, a 350 lb mountain of a man who is as forcefully peculiar in appearance as he is estranged from a secured life in academia, then venturing out further with hopes of finding a cave Effing related to Fogg in their work to prepare Effing’s obituary.

It is this journey that brings Fogg’s story to it’s inevitable close, a close that I think is pretty much a necessity for any novel that falls along these lines.  There is a bit of failure, a bit of redemption, and a concluding scene that promises that this is where the story really begins.  This expected and near essential ending is not a bad thing, but it also is not a special thing. For me this is a pretty accurate way to sum up the experience of reading Moon Palace.  It is a fine read. If you like Auster, you’re going to fall in with this and glide along to the end without any real complaints. Even if you don’t like Auster, there is nothing here that would make you skid the book across the floor in disgust at the time spent reading it. It’s a a safe read, an easy way to spend some time if you’re between novels and unsure of what to read next.
As always, here’s a B&N link to Auster’s Moon Palace.


You buy it, you don’t own it

November 2, 2012

There is a case coming to the Supreme Court that you need to keep an eye on. It has none of the pomp and circumstance of the health care ruling, but its ruling could ripple through our society. If you follow my blog at all, you know I’m not a fan of ebooks, the bizarre “renting” way we supposedly “buy” them from many retailers, and Amazon’s practices against the publishing industry in particular. You’ve probably also seen a post here or there going after the ridiculous EULAs software and web companies put in place to attempt to steal from us all of our consumer rights. Well, it seems all of these forces that would love to rip away any and all rights we enjoy as purchasers believe they have found the perfect case to really wedge their foot in the door. The case is Wiley vs Kirtsaeng.
I think the initial reaction is to side with Wiley. They deserve to make a profit on their books.  But they did. They were sold to Kirtsaeng in an entirely legal matter. He owns them. This isn’t even under the shady bullshittish EULA terms that Amazon has attempted to protect themselves under saying you’re really just purchasing the right to access those books. These are solid, physical chunks of paper and cardboard. But he imported them from another country! That’s not fair!

Yes, it is. It’s entirely fair. In fact, people import goods all of the time for sale. They also export goods. What if you realized that you could make a ton of money buying scissors at WalMart and then UPSing them to your Cousin BuckMaker in Saudi Arabia who sells them at a massive mark up. Would you think that was legal? You bought the scissors at WalMart, you have a receipt for them. By any real standard you are the owner of those scissors and should be able to do with them what you wish. Including sending them to your cousin halfway around the world to sell at a markup and make some bucks with.

Of course, this goes beyond textbooks. Publishing companies are claiming that the worries over the ruling of this case are being blown out of proportion, that no one would be coming after libraries, etc. Really? That’s why publishing companies still haven’t set up a respectably decent way of renting ebooks from libraries. It’s not that they want to totally control how their product is disseminated and to bleed every penny from every potential revenue source while not attempting to alter their business practices to meet the changing world, it’s just that, well,….it’s just a big misunderstanding, right?

Not right. Pretty wrong, actually. If we should have learned anything by now it is that big business, whether it be wall street, utility companies or publishing conglomerates, will abuse the hell out of whatever powers are given to them. I’m not a fan of Amazon’s practices, but this is really looking at the same deal from a different hand. A win for Wiley could mean a radically altered (and besieged) library system. It could mean the death of resale shops like Half Price Books, Gamestop, and Buybacks. It could be the beginning of the end for consumer rights.