Friday, May 15, 2009

Naïve. Super. Fav Quotes

I liked Jeanette's favorite quotes thing. I annotated the book, so I can easily find some of my favorites:

"I'll be feeling a lot of pressure to perform is I buy a ball like that. The time is not ripe for a quality ball."

"If Kent had a part in a Die Hard movie, he would get crushed by a car or an elevator during the opening credits."

"[The Pope] thinks the [Big Bang Theory] is definitely compatible with the idea of a Creation. God was behind the Big Bang. It's ingenious. The Pope must have been happy when he came up with it. It'll be exciting to hear what he has to say when it all starts to contract."

"[My brother] doesn't want to hear a word about the hammer-and-peg, for instance. Not one. He's going to break it if he finds me hammering. I'll have to hammer on the sly. It's humiliating." 

Finally, I think Jeanette was brilliant to discover the protagonists name from the email!!!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Great discussion! I agree with much of what has been said. I especially agree with Dad who says that the first half of the book was better than the second. I think it's right on also to say that Loe almost pulled off what he was trying to do but not quite. I also agree with Jeanette that there were lots of fun quotes throughout the book! In general, it made me laugh. I should have marked them down so I could share them too! But here are some of the parts I liked, list form:

- the list of things he had and did not have
- all the faxing. Who faxes things?!
- the loop fax
- the relationship with the author's brother
- his "bad" friend
- Borre ruining their word association game by always answering "poo"
- the story about the police officers helping the lady who got robbed
- "perspective"
- letter to Paul Davies
- Davies' reply!
- the ending, because it seemed hopeful

I think I liked the faxing because it was a reminder of a funny blip in technological history that barely snuck in between telephones and the internet. I especially liked the opening scene when he gets unreasonably mad at his brother for beating him in croquet. I've felt that way when Chris pwns us in Settlers of Kattan!

In general I liked the lists because I thought they were creative. They were also fun for the reader because they were so easy to breeze through, unless you wanted to dwell on them, which you could. The lists got a little repetitive and less interesting at the end. On the other hand, all the random printed materials were pretty out there! I guess you gotta be pretty original to publish fiction these days and maybe Loe thought the weird images would give him a leg up! There were also some parts of the book that didn't work as well for me. They didn't ruin or anything, but let's just say they would have gotten really annoying if the book weren't super short. The length was a good call by the author.

- the repetition of the crazy physics stuff
- the random images at the end
- the meandering focus of the story
- no name for narrator!!
- hammer thing and ball thing
- discussions about brand name products
- too many lists at the end and not as interesting as original lists in the book

I know that the meandering focus was probably part of the statement the author was trying to make, but I felt like if it kept more to the feel of the first half, before he goes to New York, I would have liked it better. I wouldn't rule out contempt for the reader as someone suggested--a literary Damien Hirst. It did almost seem like that with some of that junk at the end! I was hoping for a little more narrative punch toward the end where things came together and hit you and made sense.

Loe certainly succeeded in creating an unusual protagonist which was fun. I just wish he had a name so we could refer to him and compare real peoples' thoughts and actions and moods to his. Anyway, fun book, and thanks to Marissa and Hunter for recommending it to us. Led to some great discussion. I'm sure we'll have more to say about it when we all get a chance to chat together.

Oh, one last thing. Anyone know why it is called Naive Super?!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life, the Universe, and Everything

I didn't finish the book. Like everyone else, I was charmed by the author's wit and writing style in the beginning, but by the time the narrator got to New York, I was bored and somewhat irritated. I didn't find the character and his existential crisis compelling enough to keep reading.

It was hard for me to sympathize with the main character and what I read as his refusal to grow up and get on with life regardless of its uncertainties. This statement makes it sound as though I take a much more pragmatic approach to life than I actually do. It's just that I have little patience for people (including fictional characters) who are completely paralyzed by abstract, unresolvable matters. I felt about this character much the same way I feel about the New Age navel-gazers here in Boulder: meditate all you like, but please realize that it's your relative comfort and privilege that enables you to spend so much time dwelling on these things.

That sounds harsher than I intended. I get that life, the universe, and everything can be scary. But if you spend all of your time worrying about it, the really meaningful part - life - will pass you by.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Professor Paul Davies

Oh, and just because I looked him up awhile ago, but I'm not sure others are aware of this guy:

Full speed, forever. And sunshiny days.

I enjoyed "Naive. Super", and enjoyed reading the family's posts about it even more. It seems there was more going on in the novel than I gave it credit for.

The Catcher in the Rye feel of the novel was one of the first things I noticed about the book, but as time went on, I regarded Loe's unnamed narrator as being less and less like Holden than I had thought. I liked Erlend (I'll call him Erlend because the e-mails to the physicists were from "Erlend Loe" and since it was first person, I guess the author's name is my best guess) much more than Holden simply because he was less depressing. Holden seemed extremely depressed and almost unbearably angsty. Erlend is angsty too, but more charmingly so. Maybe because his concerns are more out-there. They're about time, not morals and loss of innocence. At least to me, that made me appreciate his concerns a lot more.

I loved the lists. I thought it was interesting that Dad felt there was "little return for careful perusing of the stuff on his lists", because I found them kind of fresh and interesting. Maybe I spend too much time reading my friend's endless lists of "If you were an animal, what you be and why? Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in love? What song will you play at your wedding"-type notes on Facebook, but I found myself writing my own lists in my head. I thought many of them were pretty funny, especially how completely disjointed they were. That list of stuff he has and doesn't have in the beginning was especially funny. Writing a list as random as those is a careful art that the narrator became very good at. 

I enjoyed how proud the narrator was of himself when he wrote some of those lists, and how he complimented Kim's list of stuff that excited him when he was a kid. I enjoyed how proud of himself he was when he accomplished many small feats, in fact, like seeing more animals than Borre (if his father wasn't included), and realizing that tigers didn't live in Africa, and his simple pleasures of catching the ball every time it bounced off the wall, and of hammering his peg.

And finally, I too found the book hilariously witty (or sometimes just thoughtful). I have written a list of some of my favorite quotes:
- "I put the vacuum jar on the windowsill. It can stand there and let the lucky photons that hit it get a surprise. I feel good. Similar to the feeling I get when I feed the little birds, or give money to someone who has less than I do."
- "11. Do you disapprove of television commercials that feature animated food, for instance biscuits that dance and jump into the cheese?"
- "And if there is any mail, I open it and fax it to my brother. It is an amazingly long fax number. I feel increasingly sure he is in Africa."
- "Seeing as I'm not a dog owner in New York, that also means everybody else could be something other than what they seem to be. That means it is impossible to know anything at all."
- "He came close to buying a Japanese car once, but abandoned the idea. The car didn't really have anything going for it. Volvo, however. Now there's a car. Safety. It's like a good friend. No nonsense, ever. And he puts down his coffee cup to make a hand gesture that seems to mean: full speed forever. And sunshiny days."

Oh, and just for fun, here's that Alanis video he watched on MTV:

I wandered aimlessly as a cloud

Loe's greatest gift was creating such an genuinely directionless and disoriented character. The fact that nothing really happened in the book reinforced this authenticity, but it left the book's only value being in relating to the protagonist. 

I think Mom and Dad really hit the peg with the hammer with some of their analysis. I think I fall in another part of the unit circle of admiration, curiosity, and the general sense of being nonplussed as to where the book was going. I would say it was truncated, but it hardly started itself in the first place.

I did not realize I felt like this until Dad said it, but I think it's great: "I had the sensation our author was making fun of us for finishing his book, for expecting something --- or else I missed a whole lot!

This is the way I felt overall: "I found myself feeling a grudging admiration for the author, Erlend Loe. He relinquished plot, restricted himself to a few characters, and had *little* by way of setting."

Nonetheless I derived much satisfaction from reading it. It found it very funny, and fantastically witty. I annotated while I read this time. Here's a quote I like. My reaction is illustrative of how I felt about the book. 

"I fell all who cycle are my friends. One big family. When I meet others who are cycling, I sometimes say hi." When I read this I just burst out laughing. Loe's ability to create a character that thought this statement of supreme triviality might be interesting to a reader is remarkable. Especially the "sometimes I say hi" part. It just caught Loe's state of arrested development (to borrow from Dad) so perfectly.

The style of the book was unique. This is undoubtedly it's core appeal. I think it would be difficult to replicate. I think Loe almost accidently got it just right. 


I found myself feeling a grudging admiration for the author, Erlend Loe. He relinquished plot, restricted himself to a few characters, and had only the hero's myopic view of New York by way of setting. Hence "slick." The book sustained interest despite being about a depressed person's lack of engagement with life. I could imagine clinical psychologists using this book to explain what it's like to be clinically depressed.

A question for me is why we seem to need books like this every so often. The Catcher in the Rye is the obvious comparison but I suspect there have been similar books that come out once a generation. I expect this one will sink as the others have and Catcher will remain the gold standard, but Naive Super has a contemporary sensibility that makes it accessible in a way Catcher perhaps is not.

I admired the brevity of the book and the way the author used repetition. This is working without a net -- Loe wanted to convey the main character's boredom and inability to be charmed by life, but risked boring the reader. Nicely done.

However, I was bored with the what-is-the-meaning-of-it-all parts of the book although the emails to the physicist were funny. I thought Loe handled the relationship with the brother well - it's clear they were always on the verge of alienation but strong family ties saw them through. The brother did not really understand what was happening, but his sheer determination to help seemed to give some energy to our hero (and gosh it's hard to write about him with no name -- take a cue from Holden Caulfield next time Loe!).

So I liked the book. My appreciation is perhaps more for the artisanlike way the book was constructed than the themes since by now of course I've been there and done that.

I am still wondering about one of the blurbs on the back cover -- "I devoured Erlend Loe with giggling enchantment." From some European magazine. Maybe it's a bad translation but "giggling enchantment" cannot be a means of devouring, and in any case, if you didn't understand how sad this book is, you didn't really read it. Giggling enchantment indeed.

I suggest that we read White Tigers next -- I think the two would be an interesting comparison. It is the opposite of Naive Super -- full of local color, plot, characters, detail.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Does any body really know what time it is?

Like everyone, I whisked through Naive.Super, enjoying it, mostly, or sort of, less as I went along cause I felt like it did not really go anywhere or get much further with its initial premises. No development. nothing happened, few hermeneutical arcs cast, few circles finished out. In fact, by the end I was a l bit miffed and wonder how tongue-in-check we were supposed to take those pages of useless forms and the email reply... I had the sensation our author was making fun of us for finishing his book, for expecting something --- or else I missed a whole lot!

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the front end a good deal. The minimalist style was neatly sustained, at least through the first two lists, which reminded me of Frog and Toad... :), as perhaps it was intended to do. But again, by the later lists, they were getting progressively more useless, more taking up of page space with little return for careful perusing of the stuff on his lists.

I particularly liked the early going motif of sending something off getting a return, culminating in the chimney ball-like scenes of throwing a ball against the wall and getting a ready return one could naturally handle, without all kinds of calculations -- such a natural thing -- like the give and take of conversation, etc. and the story of the man who collected the money from the errant boys but returned it to them. etc.

I liked the story in the story of Time, of the satire on astro-physics and the author of the physics textbook, Paul. I liked the touch of his having this simple, first name, which includes a sense of Paul the apostle, who was btw, the know-it-all of the apostles for not even being one of the chosen 12.

On the serious note, if there was one, we have this story of a person-ality who finds these issues about the universe, of time, times, relativity, but especially the theories of the end of the universe, etc, soooooo problematic, so stop-you-in-your-tracks. This aspect of our hero's life --- his taking this stuff at its real value, saying, in effect, wake up folks, if what these gurus say is so, we are already screwed -- if it is his superior awareness that we are supposed to recognize, then the book is surely in the mold of Salinger --- not only Catcher in the Rye but also Salinger's hyper-existentialist family, whose names I forget but include Frannie and Zoey and the "hero" of Perfect Day for Banana Fish -- who one day, out of a toxic mixture of happiness and this sense of all time being no time and everything going to end this way of the universe anyway, takes his life... the ultimate existentialist project. I thought something like that might be in store for our hero in Naive.Super, like a descent from the Empire State building to test out that theory of time being different at the top and bottom and all that. But, as noted, nothing really happens, even on his trip to New York.

I figure that there are at least four main classes of folks responding to the news of the universe and the era of 'the death of god' we've been in now for the last 150 years or so. One group is the scientist/atheists who say, come on folks this is the goods, the truth, let's deal with it, we're just now starting to get the hang of it -- put away all that transcendentalist, religious stuff. For them the story of the universe is the price we pay for science and realism. It is a story that we can expect to change or not, depending on how we play out the paradoxes of "structures of scientific revolution." bottom line: they are not so bummed out or concerned in everyday life by this story of Time and the Universe. The second group are the Anglican/Universalist scientifically minded religionists -- I suppose I caucus with them myself -- finding a glory in the universe and not sure what to make of this long story of Time and the Ultimate -- but like our hero says: we just say, hey, the world is gonna hold together for the next duration of thousands or millions of years, thats good enough for me, for us now, all we can handle, no or little use for Cosmic Worry --- that is what Hope and Faith are about -- and let's turn to Charity. Then there are the more orthodox folks who really are uncomfortable with this and most any other modernist, natural philosophy story of our existence. They are worried and want their old God-centric cosmos back. Finally, there are the folks who don't make it through the adolescent stage of recognizing all these perplexities as just that, who have trouble getting over the duplicity of their being no Santa Claus, no god. I won't say most but many people, regardless of where they come out the other end in formal allegiance to science or religion, develop a philosophical-pragmatic maturity about these matters. But almost everyone in our times at least goes through this angst-ridden phase. Naive.Super is in arrested development here, which can look like he's the only one with authentic consciousness the way adolescents often too, which was the point of Catcher in the Rye and similar stories of growing up. I did like the take on the Pope preferring the big-bang theory cause it jives with the Creation myth --- whereas Buddhists tend to prefer the creation/destruction cycle story... :)

Still, I felt that the author here started out well but did not know what to do with his premise, character or plot. Other themes that he started out with he did not develop well, such as the sibling stuff about his older brother. Nothing came of the potential girl-friend, though in that case, it was clear that he could not take it far: The script for the hero was pretty meager. He could not take him too far in many directions without violating his premise or turning into another kind of quasi-serious book. But I enjoyed the book nonetheless. It had some great moments and lines.