29 December 2009

"With My Body I Thee Worship"... or not.

#5 - On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I picked up On Chesil Beach on the premise that I was wowed by McEwan's Atonement, probably his best and most famous work and one of my favorites books (the movie is amazing too). As an author he has a great ability to take what was supposed to be an ordinary day, or even an event, and turn it on its head to change the characters' lives forever. He utilized his skill with a hot summer's day in Atonement and I was hoping he would do the same with On Chesil Beach.

Florence and Edward are a newly married couple in 1962 England. The book begins at their first dinner together as a married couple. McEwan lets you know right away that they're both virgins and so its clear that this novel is about the consummation of their wedding night. Edward has been looking forward to this night for quite a long time, while Florence has been dreading it. The way McEwan described Florence's feelings left me confused for a majority of the novel. Maybe I'm used to dramatic soap opera like revelations, but I swear I thought she was hiding a penis or had some horrible deformity that she didn't want Edward to see. At times it seemed like she was actually fearful of the act.

The book's greatest moment is the climatic scene (ha) where Florence and Edward attempt to have sex for the first time. Let's just say it goes horribly wrong in one of those "OH GOD NO" situations. Because of said situation, the entire basis of their marriage is forever ruined. One night, one action, and everything changes. I found humor in it, mainly because I'm a jerk with a collegiate sense of humor, but I doubt Florence and Edward would agree with me considering how it effects their marriage.

Throughout their wedding night, McEwan weaves in anecdotes from Edward and Florence's memories. How they met. Background information of their parents. Their individual hopes and dreams. I found some of them to be superfluous to the novel, but some did help to build the characters of Edward and Florence and show us why they reacted the way they did following their attempt to consummate their marriage.

Another thing I liked about the book was how McEwan tied everything together at the end. The language and imagery really clicked for me. I suppose it's because I wasn't looking to see what would happen next, I could just enjoy the writing of McEwan. It's no lie that he's a great writer and his grasp of the English language is breathtaking at times. I was able to imagine their futures in movie-reel fashion. My favorite part takes place during the debut of Florence's quartet. His description of it carried a beautiful tragicness that I can't stop replaying in my head.

The book is good. It's well written, but it just didn't move me enough. I was left feeling flat. I know I shouldn't compare all of McEwan's works to Atonement, but that book got so many emotions out of me that I could be considered psychotic by the emotional mindfuck he put me through. I guess I was looking for the same reactions to On Chesil Beach and it just didn't happen.

12 December 2009

Mit dem Herz in der Hand und der Leidenschaft im Bein / Werden wir Weltmeister sein!

#4 - Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

In case you've been living under a rock (or perhaps in America... just kidding!), the World Cup kicks off on June 11, 2010. That's 180 days and 20 hours from now. Are you ready?

I've been looking forward to the World Cup since the minute the whistle was blown to announce red-hot Spain as the 2008 European Cup Champions over my beloved Germany. Oh, but now it's just seven months away. Qualifying is over. Countries have been drawn into groups and holy crap, I cannot wait.

I was planning to hold off on Soccernomics until May to really get me into the World Cup spirit, but I couldn't help myself. All the soccer blogs were talking about it so that I too, wanted to be in the know of Soccernomics.

The book applies economics to the sport of soccer. Kuper and Szymanski use math to tell us which national team has the best fans, who are the biggest over- and underperformers of the game, and even investigate the correlation between suicide rates and major soccer events. I won't lie, I absolutely suck at math and their explanations of regressions and math formulas left me in a tizzy, but it was still really interesting to read about.

Soccernomics brings to light many subjects, both new to old to the soccer fan(atic). It discusses racism in the sport, which is still hard for me to fathom because it's unheard of in American sports. Also touched upon is the Iraqi national team and the torture they endured during Sadam Hussein's reign. For these men, the pressure to win was not rooted in fear of failure, but in fear of physical and mental torture. Kuper and Szymanski also analyze why some teams do better than others. Of course, money plays a role as bigger clubs can afford better and expensive players, but did you know that clubs based in capital cities are usually worse off than clubs that aren't?

The book was released in November 2009 - meaning most of the statistics and references are relatively recent, which was great for me. I would consider myself a pretty new soccer fan whose love for soccer has progressively grown into a behemoth. I will base my schedule around matches and I have little shame in this declaration. My obsession took off during the 2002 World Cup where I watched Germany make a (probably undeserving) run to the finals. My dad is a German who was raised on soccer, so the World Cup gave us something to bond over. I hopped on the fußball bandwagon and it's been a magical ride ever since.

Because I am a new-ish soccer fan, I sometimes found it difficult to read other books about the most popular sport on the planet. I adore Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch but constantly found myself going on Wikipedia to further research Arsenal's history and other major events in the world of soccer (the Heysel and Hillsborough tragedies immediately come to mind). Kuper and Szymanski cite events that are as recent as summer 2009 (Cristiano Ronaldo's epic transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid), while also tracing back to the 70's (Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest team that won two European Cups). I enjoyed the fact that I witnessed some of these events (along with millions of other people watching it on TV and in the stands), but was also educated on the moments I missed, whether because I wasn't born yet or was still in my NSYNC-OMG-Justin Timberlake phase.

I'd like to highlight a couple of my favorite chapters because I can relate to them best as a soccer fan.

"The Economist's Fear of the Penalty Kick" was probably my favorite. For starters, I watched Germany dismiss Argentina in the 2006 World Cup Quarterfinals and it ranks quite high on my favorite international soccer moments. Jens Lehmann and that piece of paper that helped bring Germany into the semifinals (only to lose to Italy, which broke my heart and ruined my birthday, still a very sore subject) are forever in my mind.

I also witnessed the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea. Even though Chelsea had beaten Liverpool (my favorite team in the EPL) to advance, they were still better than Man U in my book. I still blame Anelka for missing the kick, but now I see that Van Der Saar played some mind games. Anelka knew where he was supposed to kick (thanks to a Basque economist), but had to second guess himself because of VDS catching on.

"Are Soccer Fans Polygamists?" is also a favorite because I suppose I can consider myself one. Liverpool and Real Madrid are my favorite teams in their respective leagues, but I can still appreciate Arsenal and Barcelona. I follow Werder Bremen because I studied abroad there one summer, but Dortmund and Bayern Munich are also on my radar. Germany is my national team thanks to my dad's love for them, but Spain and the USA are also worth rooting for. For me, the players are just as important as the club, so wherever my favorites go, I tend to follow. I'm all over the place and while the soccer purists may consider me a heathen, I have too much love for the game and its players to limit myself to one club or national team.

Considering how much I wrote, I guess it's easy to see how much I loved this book. It made me look forward to the World Cup even more (I didn't know that was possible), while also making me mindful of the fact that soccer's impact goes well beyond the world of sport. I could go on and on about how large a role soccer plays in the world of politics, culture, and economics, but you'll have better luck with the eloquent writing of Kuper and Szymanski.

Blow a Kiss and Change the World, Yeah

#3 - Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Jersey kids falling in love in the city thanks to all encompassing power of music. What's not to like?

As a Jersey girl (I say this with both pride and disdain), Nick and Norah's... hit a special chord for me, no pun intended. I live right square in the middle between Nick and Norah's towns. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of those cool kids in high school who ventured into the city on the weekends to listen to the up and coming bands, roaming the streets until the early hours of the following day. No, no. If I wanted to have fun, I went to the movies and then hit up Wendy's or one of NJ's million diners. And that's only if I didn't have a cross country or track meet the next morning.

So allow me to live vicariously through Nick and Norah as a Bridge-and-Tunnel girl who doesn't make enough use of the GWB and Lincoln Tunnel.

If you haven't seen the movie or read the book, the plot is simply this: Nick and Norah are both in the city on a Saturday night, Nick to play a concert with his band and Norah to see some bands. They don't know each other, but while they both try to avoid Nick's ex-girlfriend, Tris, Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. The five minute relationship turns into so much more as they travel the city. The entire night their relationship teeters between good and bad. They don't know each other so they don't really know how the other will react to his/her actions.

The book is told from the perspective of both Nick and Norah. Everything they're thinking, you're reading. Their reactions, oddities, and insecurities are what make their characters likable. I loved Norah's train of thought, mainly because I could relate to her. And while the two are hot blooded teenagers with raging hormones (as we see in one scene), their relationship maintains a sweet quirkiness. Nick's friend Dev explains the simple genius of The Beatles' 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' -- which is probably one of my favorite parts of the book. It's not always about sex, marriage, or money. Sometimes it just about that moment when you reach for this person's hand. That simple but exciting moment.

I love this book, because honestly, who doesn't want to fall in love on a whim and take a tour of the city at night? I would consider myself a realist and say that the chances are highly unlikely, but if it were to happen, I can only hope its as magical as Nick and Norah's night. To find someone who rocks out to the same music (save for a few bands) and gets your weird pop culture references... now that's cool.

Nick and Norah taught me that there's still hope for us Bridge-and-Tunnel folk, especially if you've been watching MTV's Jersey Shore. Not all of us are destined to be with buff and orange-tan Guidos who fist pump to techno music even if its only playing in their heads. There's a Nick (or a Norah) who might be waiting to hold your hand at the next concert (or in my case, a sports bar) you head out to.