Are you familiar with the phrase: “There is no such thing as a free lunch”? It is the notion that something always comes at a cost, whether it is hidden or apparent, the individual or society at large always pays the bill. This phrase came to me as I was reading how Detroit Public Library in the USA, and McDonald’s have joined forces to get little kiddies to read more! And how do these two institutions propose to do this: well, every time a kid checks out a book, they get a stamp in a little McDonald’s bookmark by the sweet librarian, and for every five stamps (that is every 5th checked out book) the critter gets a Happy Meal. I’m sorry, a-what-now? Is the situation in Detroit really sooo bad, that the public library feels the need to take up with a major fast food chain that deals in fats, sugars and every known additive known and unknown to the masses, subverting nutritional values and blurring the lines between profit-business and communal enterprises, in order to get kids to read a book or two? Do they not see the blatant ironic twist to their plan?
How is it that the gatekeepers of knowledge are being reduced to check out clerks for burger joints? And how on EARTH (pardon, getting worked up here) is it remotely a good idea for the child’s mental nourishment to link the joy of reading with a Happy Meal at your local McD? I can absolutely see the win-win-win situation for McDonald’s, but I simply can’t get my head around why, oh WHY, a library would sink so low to get a reading audience. Do more active field work, for god’s sake! Educate and involve parents, introduce children to literature with active involvement, don’t send them down fatty, mind-droning, brainwashed lane!
I find this piece of information truly disturbing, borderline ridiculous. Imagine going to your dentist, getting your dental exam only to whip out the coupon for your very own free gallon of Coke, and have him stamp it (for all your hard work in the chair!).
Reading is a very complex cognitive process, that requires awareness and interpretation, fast food dulls your senses. I weep, truly…
So you tell me, would you send your kid down to the library with his/her own McDonald’s punch-card and rest easy in the fact that, ‘at least she/he is reading’? Is the lunch worth it?
Herbjørg Wassmo is an interesting lady. She says stuff like: ‘God bless birth control, study loans and the washing machine.’ And she laughs with a charming tickle in her voice, the kind that makes you laugh whether you want it or not. But the most interesting thing about her is her presence. She is the kind of woman you would have anxiety attacks approaching (I did). It’s not due to the fact that she is famous, but because of the ‘can’t-put-my-finger-on-it’ blend of experienced elder and rebellious child.
The dialogue between her and Anette Dina Sørensen, apart from a few cross-linguistic hiccups, was affable. And as an extra titbit the actor Karin Bang Heinemeier read passages from Wassmo’s latest book. She talked about children, being a child and emphasized quite a few times the importance of individuality. How the family quite often was the first assault an individual had to relate itself to, assault both as a physical and psychological entity.
She also stressed how important it was for a mother to be able to step out of the glorified role of Motherhood, and escape the pedestal she was placed on. Accepting your mother, sister, aunt as an individual first and foremost would only be of gain to yourself and to them. And through the passages that were read to us, I got a sense of just how much the individual meant to her. How does a person, a writer, describe another person, or for that matter herself? Is it possible even to capture Individuality when you are mediating thoughts, actions and feelings of someone you have conjured up?
This makes me think about Roland Barthes’ claim that the author is dead, that she/he is of no importance to the work, the key to it is language and the one with the key is the reader.
I imagine Wassmo can concur with this. At one point Anette Sørensen talks about a passage in the book where the pastor and one of the leading women (both married to other people) are in the church, and Sørensen reads it as they are having sex. Wassmo (with a chuckle that makes the whole house smile) says that this is entirely up to her, she has not explicitly written this but laid heavy emphasis on the passion which doesn’t necessarily leads to the physical act of sex. And then says, that when the book is out there, it is out of her hands. She has no ownership of it.
It is interesting though, because she has not completely given her writing up to others without feeling that the work reflects her, and so that it is part of her. With the exception of this one (so she said) she has always felt angst when releasing a book. What would people think, say? And so maybe this latest book is like catharsis for her.
I would recommend reading something of Wassmo, and as one man in the audience said, ‘if you know Norwegian, do yourself a favor and read it in its mother tongue so you get the scent of local dialects too.’
In my opinion, Ramsland’s ‘Sumobrothers’ can be divided into two.
Section 1: a little more than half of the book. Totally submerged in physical and emotional violence, sadism, sexual assaults, brutal parents, lacking parents, frustrated parents, frustrated children, and last but not least a whole pile of brutal children without an off-switch of any kind.
Section 2: around the last third of the book. Ramsland is himself getting tired of all the violence, and doesn’t really know anymore which kinds of perversity and misery he can dish up without it getting trite. So he resorts to an emotional revelation concerning the state of things when everything is so submerged in violence, seen from the perspective of a child.
Ramsland’s literary style is very intriguing. He sticks to, most of the time, a naive style (something like Norwegian Erlend Loe) that supports the fact that we are seeing these experiences through a child. Or how a grown up would imagine the thoughts of a child would be formed in sentences. And that is in it self a scary perspective. Because there is nothing naive or childish about the experiences that are being narrated. There is no sign of a happy family, or a happy childhood, it is actually very hard to even find one single happy day in the entire book. The style corroborates in showing the brutality these children are captured in.
Having said that; I have written notes while reading the book, both in the shape of impressions and quotes. And when I read them through and think about the whole of the book and its message, I must say that it borders on splatter movie technique. The apparently regulated, but in reality totally unmotivated brutality and sadism that is going on between children, children to animals, parents to children, children to parents etc., is way over the top. I am genuinely scared that I am reading an instructions manual on how to raise sociopaths. I am, to say the least, surprised that half of the characters don’t perish during these 255 pages of violence. And this leads me to believe that Ramsland, when it comes to the subject of violence (no matter who it is against, or in which context), is making light of the seriousness of a violent environment. It is really not necessary to have 34 chapters on how everyone is beating everyone with the most innovative techniques to convince the reader, that violence is an incredibly subversive factor i any society. The physical exposition of the novel appears almost without reflection. Only now and then the narrators angst and reflections come to the surface, and we are truly being introduced to what goes on in the head of someone who plays tennis with a toad for a ball.
It is in all fairness a good novel that becomes too obsessed with the concreteness of violence description, because the stories that are behind all this violence are worth telling. There is the depressive dad, who has given up the life of an artist in order to becoming a traveling shoelace salesman and ‘dead-beat dad’. The frustrated mother, who is rejected by her sons solely on the basis of being the stable parent. And last but not least the children, who are only trying to find out what is going on between every unsaid action and where/how they fit in. I want to read more about that. But please turn down the violence a bit.