Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stories I've Forgotten

I know a post is terribly overdue. My life has been a little heckers of late, but that is hardly enough of an excuse. The plan was to update my blog regularly, and even use it as an online journal of sorts. I won’t say, or rather admit, that that failed, but what I will say is it is failing. But then again, I’m the guy who starts things with the purpose of finishing said things, but ends up leaving those things by the wayside. Case in point: my blog, books I read, even lyric ideas I’ve penned. This blog is supposed to eventually become the hub of all things Andrei Damane, should I become a massive superstar, of course, and so far I haven’t given much away, have I?
What I have done a lot of, or at least more of, this year is read books. Don’t get me wrong, I do read, but I tend to read reviews and articles and columns from newspapers and off Twitter. I have a shortish attention span, see. And what’s worse is I skim through all the detailed bits and get the gist of what’s going on. This time round though, I made the effort to include bound sheets of printed paper to my reading arsenal. I have read a total of four books this year (and a couple of scripts for work, which I never actually finished), which is hardly much, but is more than I have read in the previous three years combined. They include two novels, an unauthorised biography and a memoir.
The first book I read this year, which I started while I was still filming Beaver Falls back in the summer, is the South African hit, Spud. The cover states that it’s ‘a wickedly funny novel’. I can’t say that is completely true. Don’t get me wrong, it left me thoroughly entertained for three month period it took for me to get through it. It had its moments, like when the Crazy Eight ask the priest sexual questions in their Biblical Studies class, and the fat dude being stuck in the window overnight, but it didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it, at least for me. That kinda left me disappointed, especially after hearing all the reviews readers had. But then again, those reviews were often hand-me-downs by people whose parents had read the book. I noticed that my mom found the book a lot more exciting than I did too, and came to the realisation that the book’s humour is aimed at people a little further on in years than I am. After all, none of my peers would describe something as being ‘wickedly’ anything. It’s still a good read, and it is funny somewhat, just not wickedly so.
Nothing really compares to the feeling of accomplishment that accompanies the closing of a book after finishing it, especially if you had taken as long a hiatus from leisurely reading as I had. I was quite chuffed with myself, and almost immediately (read as ‘a week and a bit later’) started on my next leisurely read: Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley. Before I go on with my ‘review’, I’d like to explain something about myself. I tend to spoil the fun for myself by reading up on whatever thing I’m about to do before doing it. That is, I’m the guy who hears rave reviews about the movie Inception, then wikipedias the movie, reads a synopsis of the plot, then watches the movie, knowing more or less what’s going to happen next. That was the case with this book. Well, seeing as it’s a biography, I couldn’t read up on the synopsis, but what I did read were criticisms of Kitty Kelley, who is notorious for allegedly spinning the truth in the biographies she writes in order to make her subjects’ lives seem juicier than what they really are. There were claims of fabrication in her biographies of the British Royal Family and of Jackie Onassis-Kennedy, and naturally Oprah’s wasn’t without such. I went about reading the book knowing that parts of it might well have been bogus. That’s the thing with biographies and autobiographies: on one hand, the writer of a biography never lived the life of the subject and thus can’t verify things as fact, while on the other hand, an autobiography can be riddled with spice as the writer is at liberty to alter his/her life to make it more indulgent (see James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces).
Some chapters painted Oprah as being hostile and unforgiving, a marked difference to the warm and understanding persona she exudes on her show. Those chapters were of course hard to believe, since her show is the only physical reference I have of her. The biography also makes her out to be rather paranoid: her studio audience members pass through two security checks before getting to the auditorium; their pens and cameras are confiscated so they are not able to capture any footage of the show on their own; all her guests and employees have to sign confidentiality agreements to legally bind them from mentioning anything about their encounters with her; her employees are told to refer to her as Maria should they be talking about her in a public setting to ensure that nobody catches whom they’re employed by… stuff like that. She even has her personal photographer take her pictures should she be featured in a magazine other than her own, or buys the rights to use the pictures taken by another. I guess it’s the price you have to pay when your face, name and point of view are your brand. I think even after reading all that about her, I’d much rather believe that she’s charming and approachable all the time, instead of when the cameras are rolling. What the Oprah book did leave me feeling was inspired. Oprah really came from virtually nothing and worked tirelessly to become something greater than great.
One of the guests on Oprah’s final season was a spiritual guru she featured on her show for quite some time by the name of Iyanla Vanzant. She was quite a colourful and exuberant guest who had come on the show to clear the air as to why she left the Oprah show so abruptly, and also to publicise her latest book, Peace From Broken Pieces. I was fortunate to get my hands on a copy a friend, who had also watched the show, had sent to me. The book is a memoir of how Iyanla’s life fell apart, piece by piece, without her even noticing, and how she finally does come to the realisation and becomes at peace with the way her life turned out. It is a compelling and emotional read, but I personally only found it so when I was two-thirds in. See, a hard pill to swallow was her almost constant ‘all men are dogs’ rhetoric. Okay, it wasn’t that explicit, but she kept pointing out how all the men in her life were dead beats, including her son. She mentioned that that was part of a pattern that had been in her family for generations, blah, blah, blah, and how she was being guided to break the ‘pathology’, as she called it. She’s a spiritual guru, so all her reasoning was spiritual, naturally, which I believe is nonsense to an extent. With that being said, I found many parallels to the characters in her life story and those in mine, and because of that, I feel like some questions I had in my life could be answered because of her life story.
My last and favourite book read this year so far is Alice Walker’s crown jewel, The Color Purple. I should mention that it took me about a month to read Peace From Broken Pieces and less than a week to finish The Color Purple. That alone should say just how thoroughly gripping and enjoyable this book is. After all, it is a Pulitzer winner; what else would you expect? The story is told in sentences so full of bad grammar and spelling that the occasional correct sentence is an eyesore, yet it is effortless to read and instantly understandable. It actually left me in awe. How do you manage to tell a story without decent punctuation, spelling and grammar, and still make it beautiful? I will not disclose anything about the story itself, but that it is compelling and motivating and, for a lack of a better word, easy. It’s like there isn’t even a plot. I hope that one day I can put into my music what Alice Walker puts into her literature, and be able to provoke the same intensity of emotion and instant ‘relatability’ as she did with this masterpiece.
Surely with the amount I have written about in this post, you’d think that I’m a changed man, reading anything that’s put into my lap. I’m not. I haven’t opened a book in about a month. I have No Country For Old Men sitting in my cupboard, unread for nearly a year. I’m that bad. And I feel quite bad about it, actually. But one of these days I will read it and one of these days I will blog about it. I just hope that that review, which is probably months from now, isn’t the next thing I post, or else I’m totally hopeless. Until next time, which should be soon, but I won’t promise anything.

Andrei Damane

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