Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

This is a spoiler-free review except for the bits you can guess from the title.

Oh look, something else I originally saw on Tumblr, probably courtesy of feistiest. You know how they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all do? With this, the cover – by  Chloë Foglia -made me want to get the book. Look at that typography and those colours and those illustrations this is going to be a beautiful novel.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from Wikipedia.org
I couldn’t find a cover that wasn’t covered in award stickers. This is from Wikipedia. Look at that night sky.

It is a beautiful novel.

Like the best books, the action starts from the very first sentence, so I can’t tell you too much background information without spoiling the story, but the title pretty much implies the premise: a guy called Aristotle meets a guy called Dante and together they discover the secrets of the universe/survive their teenage years. Set in El Paso, Texas, across a couple of years in the 1980s, the novel is a lot like The Perks of Being a Wallflower in that it could have been set last week and will be devoured by teenage readers for decades to come (it was actually published in 2012).

I had never heard of Benjamin Alire Sáenz before I read this – and I am definitely pronouncing his name terribly wrong – but I think he is a writer I would like to read more of, because Aristotle and Dante, and Aristotle and Dante, are wonderfully written. Some topics are quite hard to cover without sounding like a textbook or news story – again, I can’t really tell you what they are without wrecking the plot – but it’s funny, occasionally irreverent and often slightly uncomfortable. The whole book is just like seeing inside someone’s head, which is so hard to achieve as a writer and so satisfying for the reader.

It also won a handful of awards, which is nice because it’s quite rare to find a critically acclaimed novel that’s also fun – I finished it in an evening. If you liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower, if you’re interested in what it was like to live in Texas in the 1980s (I wasn’t but now I am), if you’re interested in Mexican culture, if you like scruffy dogs (it is not a spoiler to tell you there is a scruffy dog), if you like boys with long names and books with pretty covers, go find a copy and curl up for an evening with Ari and Dante and watch them discover the secrets of the universe.

None of them are about the science of life on earth, by the way. I did originally wonder if it was a story about physicists.


My previous reviews are here; you can support my work on Patreon every time I review here.

Harry vs Voldemort and the Art of Waiting

For someone who loathes Valentine’s and all it represents, I have been making an awful lot of Valentine’s-related stationery lately. Buy now to make your friends laugh! Buy now for an alternative Valentine’s gift! Buy now so I don’t have to get another job!

I have spent the last week or so trying to focus on my work in that self-help book kind of way. You know: focus on a task until it’s done, prioritise your goals, live in the moment. Finish those Valentine’s designsTurns out talking to you fuckers hasn’t been a priority. Generally, it works. I can sleep at night knowing I gave my best performance. Except I actually sleep at night beneath three blankets and the weight of no discernible progress, so there’s a chapter missing in those books. ‘What to Do When You’ve Started Implementing Your Plans But the Stats Aren’t In Yet’. I have found that binge reading the work of Maggie Stiefvater helps. So does listening to MCR songs you’d forgotten you’d forgotten.

One of my new year’s intentions was to chill the fuck out, so let’s all be patient, remember that we are only three weeks into 2016 and keep in mind that life could be worse – we could be that bloke they based The Revenant on.

And yet.

Catching up with Blogging 101 tasks, I’m having a bash at writing to a prompt, and one of the Waiting Room ones was ‘“Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?’ As a freelancer I am my own boss, with absolutely no Monthly Targets or Quarterly Team Goals or Bullshit Exercises To Stop Employees Quitting. One of the reasons I didn’t want to work in an office was the likelihood of Bullshit Exercises – they make me feel the same way as grey suit trousers and nude lipstick does. I have goals with my marketing clients, of course: ‘make them money’, usually narrowed down into ‘build Instagram’, then trimmed to ‘write five snappy posts’, then ‘turn on the computer to write five snappy posts’, then ‘get out of bed because the computer is downstairs’. At the end of all that, the client should have visibility and therefore money, and I should continue my tenure as the Instagram person, and I should therefore have money.

All because I got out of bed, and without a grey trouser suit in sight.

Sometimes Instagram does not build quickly. Sometimes my posts are not good. Sometimes people are tight and refuse to part with their cash despite enjoying a pretty and well-tagged Instagram picture twice a day. These people are dicks.

Back to waiting for good things: with the exception of new Stiefvater novels, I am not content to simply wait. I must be doing something to, at the very least, pass the time. Ideally I must be implementing a scheme to make the good thing happen so that it happens more quickly, more efficiently, and with less time to moan about waiting. It might still take five years, but if I hadn’t made an effort then it might have taken ten. It might not have been as good. Here is a list of good things that came with waiting:

  • I left school (I waited 13 fucking years)
  • The conclusion to Harry vs Voldemort (six years)
  • Danger Days plus Conventional Weapons (four years)

I did very little to hurry those along except exist and bide my time. Probably could have entertained myself more in retrospect. Here is a list of good things in my life that came because I made them happen:

  • I can write without a wrist brace (three years, physio, sheer force of will)
  • A large portion of my hair is pink (a few months, some savings)
  • Doors on my cupboards (a week, a screwdriver, lack of patience to wait for someone else with a screwdriver to do it, especially when that someone is a man)

Here is a list of good things I will also get if I a) wait and b) find a screwdriver:

  • A healthy return on my investment of Valentine’s designs
  • The ability to type on a regular keyboard with a regular mouse, without my fingers and wrists turning numb
  • Money to travel more and move out of my mother’s house and eat well without selling a kidney on the Internet, engaging in prostitution and/or getting that other job.

The question is, how long am I willing to wait. 10 years? Six months? Until my pink hair has grown out? It could take me longer to leave home than it has for Richard Gansey III to find the dead Welsh dude, and I don’t have a Camaro or Blue Sargent to soothe my frustration.*

So, if you are in a commenting mood, let me know: how long is it reasonable to wait for something you want? How long have you waited in the past for something? Are you still waiting? Let’s wait together.

*That is not a spoiler.

(too long for Twitter)

I didn’t particularly grow up with David Bowie, or I didn’t think I did until this morning when I got thinking about how most of the music I have grown up with was influenced by him more than virtually any other artist or musician. Thank you for teaching us art and fearlessness, thank you for all the times I played Heroes really loud at the end of Perks of Being a Wallflower, and thank you for all the times I turned the radio up. I think I might make some art today.

RIP, David Bowie ⚡️

A post shared by Gemma Correll (@gemmacorrell) on

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution by a Qualified Expert (part of this title is a lie)

Evening. To continue with the new year’s intentions theme, I feel like we should talk about the importance of fucking up within the first week. A personal NY intention, for example, was to use my new hula hoop until I got abs or it broke. Although I’ve learnt that I can use it indoors (trying to keep the hoop from hitting the couch is actually a really good way of testing my currently small stomach muscles) I have so far missed two days. Yesterday didn’t really count because I did some impromptu Pilates in my pyjamas and exercise is exercise even if it’s five minutes before breakfast in your jammies, amirite. Today I got up so late that my main exercise was pulling on a jumper faster than usual… so now I am aware that it’s 7pm and if I don’t do something soon I am in danger of FAILING.

Except that’s bollocks, really, and I refuse to beat myself up for it. Because:

  • I already exercised today when I walked the dogs and around town (and I dropped massive effing books back in to the library which let’s face it is free weightlifting)
  • There is no way in hell I will exercise ‘officially’ every day for the rest of my life and I may as well get used to that now
  • I actually bruised my hip the other day from the weights in the hoop so missing a day or two during the week while I’m learning is probably smart in case I accidentally overdo it and pass out from overexertion or something (unlikely, since I can’t currently keep the hoop going for more than thirty seconds).

So 2016 is not ruined. I keep sleeping through my alarm so I have no idea if I’ll get up in time to do it tomorrow, or if I’ll make time in the evening, but the hoop isn’t going anywhere. Neither’s my skipping rope, which I can’t really bring in the house and don’t want to use in the rain in case I slip and crack my head, nor my Pilates mat, which I can actually use whenever the fancy takes me, providing I remove denim clothing first.

I will exercise again this year. Hopefully tomorrow. Maybe today. And if not, well…

So if you’ve already missed a day of your new serious homework schedule or your timetabled revision or your new year’s housework routine, chill. You survived 2015 without your new habits, and missing a  couple of days won’t form bad ones. That being said, if anyone has any tips on not sleeping through their alarm, please do share. I do not enjoy rushing through my morning shower.

 

New Year’s Intentions 2016

Late last year, but not so late I remembered it, I signed up for WordPress’s Blogging 101 2016, a blog community thing designed to encourage new bloggers to blog and old bloggers to, well, avoid getting old. Today’s assignment is to write an post introducing yourself and your manifesto, or to revisit your manifesto from when you started. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to write about when I started Indifferent Ignorance other than knowing that ‘indifferent ignorance’ sounded cool and that I wanted a platform to say whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted… but I need not fail at the first hurdle of blogging 101, because coincidentally I was going to write about new year’s resolutions.

Generally I try to think of resolutions as intentions, because let’s face it, no one who startsadietbeginsexercisingchangestheirhairandgetsanewjob in the first fortnight of January will be keeping it up by March. I did once know a girl who gave up chocolate for a year with nerves of steel in the face of Lindt, but she is the only person who I can remember sticking to her resolve. Also I am far more a fan of short term goals than I am long term plans, because how does one plan life? I thought I could plan what I’d be reading this autumn, then The Raven Cycle came along and my other books gathered dust. No regrets. As we are in a new year, my diary is clean and my room full of new toys, I feel that although a massive unkeepable resolution would be a waste of time, Christmas and January is a good time to take stock of one’s life and desires, and to set new short term goals. So I have compiled a short list of my blogging intentions for the coming few months:

Learn to Take Better Photographs

Some photos in my shop are lovely. Many look like they were taken in someone’s lounge at 10pm with the flash off. Maybe they were. If I’m going to become a trillionaire then my product images need to improve, and I’d like to take more original photos here too (there are only so many times I can dig out that Gerard Way GIF). I got a light tent for Christmas and I intend to use the shit out of it. I apologise in advance if you follow me on Instagram.

ew from sunshinethekatt.tumblr
Well at least one more time. from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

Read More Varied News Sources

I think I mentioned I was thinking of bringing back the Six O’Clock News? Since I left school I’ve been terrible at keeping up with current events, basically just tuning into Radio 4 when I wake up and ignoring the world for the rest of the day. Not very conducive to my desire to a) take the piss out of politicians or b) use real life as inspiration for art.

Learn to Use Facebook

I know, I know, it’s my job. I recently started doing more marketing on Facebook and I’m realising that Pages are actually far more interesting than I’d given them credit for. Everyone needs to see something on their timeline that isn’t their aunt’s best friend’s cousin’s poppy appeal poster. Having ignored the Indifferent Ignorance Facebook for a good four years (18 likes? Come on Francesca, you have a reputation), I resolve to post there more. I’ve no idea what… anything that’s longer than Twitter but needs less tags than Instagram?

To Chill the Eff Out

This is a bit self-centred, but I think we’ve all seen how completely plagued I am with doubt about this blog. Do I want it to be political satire? Do I want to write essays? Do I want to tell you all that my mum’s Poldark calendar can be viewed from the street? I never know. Some days I want to blog for a living and consider sending out applications for advanced reader copies of novels or taking paid reviews for art. Some days I want to close it down and move to Cambodia to write screenplays. So my intention for the next few months is to try blogging new things, to let myself poke around with the theme, to write terribly, to make an effort to write well, to stop worrying that I lost my mojo at 16. I already have a weird and varied job(s); there is no reason why I can’t also have a weird and varied blog. I don’t know who I want to connect with on here, I don’t know what I hope to have accomplished by 2017, I don’t know what I will consider success or failure. So I intend to try to be okay with not knowing… especially since that is probably when I will find out.

My Blogging 101 instructions are to now write five tags that will show the world this post. I just came up with 15 and they’re shite. Would it be unethical to just put ‘x rated video’ or ‘baby panda sneezing’?

Don’t answer that.