Friday, April 11, 2008

Department of Stomach Ailments + Book Reviews

I'm relegated to stay home with a case of an unwanted guest crashing in my bowels since yesterday, courtesy of a wilted looking Cobb salad at the corner diner. (See? This is what happens for eating healthy). I'm contemplating calling the health department, but I don't want to leave any Mexican cooks and busboys out of a job.
My fever has subsided (and with it the chills and body aches -- Tylenol works!), but the guest is still here, and partying like there is no tomorrow, keeping me by force, close to the loo. Department of too much info, I know, but this pesky little creature does not allow me to concentrate on loftier topics.
You also must know that we Mexicans consider it perfectly normal, socially acceptable and indeed a daily occurrence, to talk in great length about our bowels and their discontents. It's in my blood.
So, instead of basking in the glorious Spring weather, like the rest of you, I have been able to continue reading The Russians' Debutante Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart. I know this book may be old hat to many of you, but I just discovered it ($5 at Strand) and I'm getting such a kick out of it, I think I am in love with Mr. Shteyngart.
1. He is hilarious. The satire is endlessly biting, no one is unscathed. It is cruel and comical, very precisely observed, and beautifully written.
2. He is not fond of Eastern Europe and its barbarities, and so I find a writer after my own heart. He sets the novel in a fictional city called Prava, which is transparently Prague, and his expert skewering of locals and expats alike is delightful. I'm having a ball reading this book. I have read books that make you laugh out loud more times per page, but this one just makes you shake your head and marvel at pretty much every sentence.
Next on my list, I guess, will be his second novel, Absurdistan.
Since we are on the subject of books, what else have I read lately?
Oh, yes. I was given as a birthday present this book called Eat, Pray, Love, a mega bestseller. It's the journey of self discovery of a self-involved, navel gazing woman, who, despite all of her discoveries, seems to be as self-involved and navel-gazing at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Except before she was miserable, and after pasta in Italy, ashram in India and magic man in Bali, she is happy. (I would have had the pasta in Italy and left it at that). I hope my dear friend Sonia will forgive me for not liking this book. My eyes rolled so many times on every page, I was beginning to feel like that girl from The Exorcist. However, I couldn't put it down. Not because it was suspenseful or I wanted to know what was going to happen, but because it was so fascinatingly appalling, I just had to see it through. The writing seemed to me sloppy and witless and not particularly insightful or well observed (I guess powers of observation must be quite limited when you are gazing at your navel with such focussed concentration). But the book did give me something very useful. It actually gave me a meditation mantra. Readers, do not panic. I have not yet gone out of my spirituality-hating wits. But all of us, and particularly those of us for whom life is a catastrophe waiting to happen, can sometimes benefit from a little peace of mind. I have tried a couple of mantras here and there, mainly to lull myself to sleep, and the one the writer shares in this book is the only one that actually seems to work. So for that, I'm grateful to her.
If you must know, I am also learning Tai Chi. Soon I will be dispensing wisdom from a cave in a mountain.
For the time being, however, I am as grounded as possible, wishing my unwelcome squatter a hasty departure.

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