Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

11th Decade Roundup!

It’s that time of my reading life again, where I review the last ten books I read, pretend I can remember them all, and then take stock of what happened. It’s also that time of my blogging life where I’m incredibly frustrated because WordPress has eaten three of my blog posts in the last two days. C’mon, guys, get it together.

This was a pretty good batch of books. It was a good mix of books I knew I’d enjoy, books that were just enough of a digression from my usual taste to be a challenge without being annoying, and books that I really liked but never would have read otherwise. It’s pretty much what you’d want in a book grouping.

I started out with What I Loved, which was fine while I was reading it, but very much on the “meh” portion of the scale. It wasn’t awful but I didn’t love it. I’m glad I read it, I suppose, but I doubt I’ll read it again. Another book in the category of, “glad I read it, now let’s move on” was The Girls of Slender Means. It was more enjoyable than I expected it to be, but I’d be surprised if I ever revisited it.

Then there were the books about two very different boys who were actually pretty similar, in some ways. Huck Finn is always a classic, and if you dialed up Huck’s delinquency and sense of adventure and combined it with a bit of crazy, you’d have Francie Brady of The Butcher Boy

Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye was a bit of an emotional read, but it was okay because it was followed by two zany books by Douglas Adams. It’s always fun to revisit Dirk Gently and his friends, and it’s even more fun to try and explain what you’re reading to people who don’t know Douglas Adams.

Finally, I was thoroughly sickened and shocked by Lolitabefore being captivated by some Murakami magic in Kafka on the ShoreI rounded out the bunch with the amazing Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. I think Vonnegut is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors.

My favorite book out the batch was definitely Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut knows how to spin a phrase and play with language at least as well as Douglas Adams does, but there’s something about the way he weaves chaos through order and brings crazy insights into his work that I adore.

The reward for biggest shock goes to Lolita. I went in with bravado thinking that I was prepared and certainly wouldn’t be shocked like all those prudes who are sickened by books about sex. I was wrong.

And the book I liked the least was probably What I Loved. Like I said, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just that it didn’t do anything for me. Not every book can.

Now I’m off to (hopefully) catch up on my post for the next book, House of Leaves, assuming WordPress stops eating my posts.

Quotes I’ve Loved, 2014

“…I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my life could be chunked with a book.”
– Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

“…to this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from somewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

“Darkness does not lift but becomes heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

“Although I had no regrets, I told myself sadly, that growing up was not the painless process one would have thought it to be.”
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

“The twenties are as frenetic a decade as the teens. You have a voice inside your head repeating I want, I want, I want,  but you don’t know what you want or how to get it. You hardly know who you are. You go on instinct. And your instinct mostly pushes you toward adventures you won’t grasp until you look back on them. Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward, some sage once said.”
– Erica Jongafterword, Fear of Flying

“What you imagine is what you remember, and what you remember is what you’re left with. So why not decide to imagine it a little differently?”
– Jennifer Dubois, A Partial History of Lost Causes

“‘Louis XVI was executed because they considered him to be a criminal, and a year later his judges were killed too for something. What is wrong? What is right? What must one love, what must one hate? What is life for, and what am I? What is life? What is death? What force controls it all?’ he asked himself. And there was no answer to one of these questions, except one illogical reply that was in no way an answer to any of them. That reply was: ‘One dies and it’s all over. One dies and finds it all out or ceases asking.’ But dying too was terrible.”
– Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
– James Joyce, Ulysses

“By eight Greg and I were in Truckee. By eleven we were still standing on the hot side of the road trying to hitch a ride to Sierra City.
‘HEY!’ I yelled maniacally at a VW bus as it whizzed past. We’d been snubbed by at least six of them over the past couple of hours. Not being picked up by those who drove VW buses made me particularly indignant. ‘Fucking hippies,’ I said to Greg.
‘I thought you were a hippy,’ he said.
‘I am. Kind of. But only a little bit.'”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“Knowing too much about other people puts you in their power, they have a chain on you, you are forced to understand their reasons for doing things and then you are weakened.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
– Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

“I’ve had the sort of day that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies.”
– Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

“Works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason — or at least they appeal to certain types of people. [. . .] You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart — or maybe we should say the work discovers you.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“You’re afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, and dreams are a part of sleep. When you’re awake you can suppress imagination. But you can’t suppress dreams.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

100 Books Read!

I can’t believe I actually made it 100 books into this. I know there were a couple lapses where I was less than good at updating this blog (or even reading books for it). Even still, I have a tendency to give up on projects pretty quickly. I’m good at ideas, but pretty bad at follow through. The fact that after two years and 100 books, I’m still working on this (and enjoying it) is impressive. To me, anyway.

So, I guess I should try to recap. I was going to try and talk about all the books, but that was too hard, so I’m just going to talk about a few posts and how this blog has evolved. This might be boring for you. If so, don’t worry, I’ll be back with regularly-scheduled book posts just as soon as I can pull myself away from Orange Is The New Black and The West Wing long enough to actually read more books. Netflix addiction is a real thing, guys.

So I guess I’m just going to list a couple of the posts I’ve written that I’ve liked the most. It’s interesting to see how this blog has evolved. When it started, I thought I was going to really analyze the books and it was pretty academic, as you can see from my first post. I didn’t really know how to just write about a book or respond to it. I’m still sort of trying to find the right voice for this blog, but it’s (clearly) different now. I used to really think about what I wanted to write and read the books much more academically, and I’d take a lot of time to craft intelligent posts.

I still try to write intelligent things, but I now I just start writing and see where the review takes me. A lot of times I’m surprised with where the post winds up. I don’t really edit posts much before I post them anymore, but I end up cutting out a lot of personal observations. A recent example: The Embers review had a lengthy portion in which I reflected on how I think it’s worse to fight with friends than significant others and talked at length about painful fights I’ve had with friends. I cut it all out. Most of my posts start out like this one, where I got personal and talked about the end of my time in Prague. The difference is that I almost always cut the personal stuff out. Maybe I’ll start leaving some personal stuff in, or at least save the personal stuff so I can go back and reference it later, because there are a couple vague things in some posts where I’d love to know what I was referring to, but I can’t remember. In one, I say that “it made me really uncomfortable in a way I really don’t want to describe.” I’d love to know what that was all about.

When I started writing, I wanted this blog to be unique. I wanted to do things other than just review or analyze books. There were a few times where I got experimental, like when I wrote a post in the style of Diary of a Nobody or was inspired by Out of Africa to write about part of my time in Germany. I actually really like both of these posts, and might try to do more like that if the book seems right. I think I totally failed in doing a “different” sort of review, however, when I wrote about The Yellow Wallpaper. I reread that and at first I had NO clue what I was trying to do. I definitely could have executed that better.

Sometimes I write observations that I think are really clever. Often, posts I like the most don’t seem to get any likes, and I think, “Damn, guys, I’m FUNNY, why don’t you like this?!” One of those moments was when I wrote about Les Miserables. I still think it’s hilarious that at some point somebody decided to turn it into a musical. Speaking of books that inspired musicals, I also think that my Oliver Twist post is hilarious. The moral of the story is I probably should stop trying to be funny when I write these things.

Anyway, this post has been…something. Really I just wanted an excuse to link to my favorite posts, because I’m pretty proud of some of them.

10th Decade Roundup

Man. 100 books. This “decade” spans a lot of time. I started it back in February or March and finished it yesterday. It’s a little hard to remember some of the books I read six months ago, but I think I can manage to review them.

This was the batch that tried to defeat me. First I slogged through War and Peace, which was slow going but ultimately rewarding. Then I had a short break where I pounded through The Time Machine and The Devil and Miss Prym in about two days. That’s when it all went wrong and I tried to read Ulysses. For five months.

After that my original list included some Sartre and other less-than-fun reads. I decided to nix those books and pick six new books to finish out the batch. If I was ever going to start this project again, I needed to ease back in.

The Little Prince was a great way to get me back into it, and I also enjoyed some horror from both Edgar Allen Poe and another “never talk to strangers” story from Ian McEwan, and good old-fashioned science fiction as well. Then, of course, there was the mind-blowing science fiction. I finished up with Embers and Shroud, working myself back into books that weren’t really mind-blowing page-turners or fairly easy and quick reads like the others, but not so inaccessible and horrible that I couldn’t finish them.

(Though if I’m being honest, I read like half of my free book for this group, Wild, before I made myself finish Shroud)

Now I guess it’s time to rank some of these books.

My favorite, by far, was 2001: A Space Odyssey.
My least favorite, though I’m not sure I should count it because I didn’t finish, was CLEARLY Ulysses.
I’d say that Shroud is a close contender for least favorite, but I think that it was more a disappointment. It had so much potential to be awesome and then it wasn’t.
The Little Prince wins the award for the book that made me feel the most things. It’s also the book from this batch that I’m most likely to buy.

I’ll be back in a couple days with my review of Wild.

Book #94: The Little Prince

This marks the place where I started reading again, so for the first time in forever I’m writing about a book I read recently. Yaaaay.

I never read The Little Prince as a kid. I’d actually never heard of it until our foreign exchange student came when I was 20, and he told me it was his favorite book. I thought it sounded interesting and made a mental note to read it, but never got around to it.

I’ll just come right out and say it: this. book. is. lovely. It’s just so lovely. It made me feel things and then I got a little sad and then I felt happy and then I wanted to cry a little bit, and then I was just like, “…oh.”

It actually took me back, a bit, to being a kid and to having concerns that to you are the biggest thing in the world, but to adults are of no passing consequence. Grown-ups are weird because they don’t worry about flowers or sheep or any of the important stuff, they’re just too focused on numbers.

For some reason I was a little bit reminded of Holden Caulfield and his concern about what happens to the ducks on the pond in winter. It seems like we carry a little bit of these “trivial,” yet so important, concerns with us even into adolescence. I wonder at what point I started worrying about things like that. I’m not sure, but I hadn’t even thought about it until I read The Little Prince.

And then, of course, there’s the rest of the story. The bits with the laughter in the stars and the narrator hearing the laughter and waiting, wondering about the little Prince and waiting for him to maybe, someday, come back.

And, of course, I haven’t been able to stop asking myself if the sheep ate the flower. Personally, I think no, the sheep hasn’t eaten the flower. What do you think?

Rating: *****
Up Next: The Comfort of Strangers

Some Words About Ulysses

What is up with Ulysses?

What’s the hype? I get the whole “it birthed postmodernism and James Joyce came up with a whole new way of looking at writing and consciousness and what books could be” nonsense, but did anyone actually read it?

I have this theory that no one in the history of ever has actually gotten through Ulysses and legitimately been like, “Ah, yes, postmodernism, this book speaks to so many things about the human condition and the nature of thought.” I think that nobody really gets it and they say all that pretentious bull crap while on the inside going, “I don’t get it. I really don’t get it,” but they don’t want to be the one person who doesn’t get it, so they’re all just nodding and agreeing with each other and pretending they understand it. It’s kind of like that fable where the Emperor has no clothes. Ulysses makes no sense, and not even in a way where you’re like, “This is sort of a big pile of nothing, but it’s fun to read and there are good lines and remarks in it.”

It’s like the meth of books. James Joyce goes so far into his characters’ heads and requires so much of your concentration and thoughts that I think it sends your brain into overdrive or something. One night I read about 40 pages before bed and I didn’t sleep for two days. I’m not even joking. I’d lay there night after night, exhausted, but my brain COULD NOT shut down enough to let me sleep. At first I tried to read to lull myself to sleep, but then I realized that the book was the problem because it made my brain keep going “whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on, what’s happening to me?”

And for all that, the book is about nothing. I’m not easily daunted by scary books. And I don’t usually just flat-out stop reading altogether. Generally, I can finish any book, no matter how hard it is to read or how much I don’t like it. But I started reading Ulysses in May. It’s October. And I am barely halfway through it. And nothing has happened except Stephen Dedalus taught some boys, moped around about his past for awhile, thought about Hamlet, talked about Hamlet, and Leopold Bloom went to the butcher, went to a funeral, went to work, and ate lunch and talked to some guys, all while fretting about his wife. It…I think it’s nonsense. And I think it’s been so oversold and over-hyped in the literary world that I feel nervous even writing about it like this. Maybe it actually is the best, most mind-blowing thing ever written and I’m just not evolved enough to grasp it. Or maybe James Joyce had the best PR person ever and that’s what everybody WANTS us to think about this book.

Either way, maybe I’ll finish it, maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll further chronicle my battle with this book, because in the end one of us has to go. Plus, I read some of James Joyce’s love letters awhile back and I’m scarred for life. I might need to talk about that.

Either way, Ulysses is just gonna stay sitting nice and out of my sight for a good, long time.

Book #90: Call It Sleep

Growing up and trying to understand the world around you is hard enough. In Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, the young narrator has it even harder as he tries to adjust to life in a new city, in a country he doesn’t understand. The story opens with the young boy and his mother meeting the father in New York City, where he has been working to save up to send for them.

The Jewish family settles into the slums and young David has to adjust to, and attempt to understand, life in the big new city. In a lot of ways, it’s a typical coming-of-age story. Growing up is tough stuff, and David has to do it in two languages. In doing so, he provides a very interesting filter to view the strange, terrifying, and remarkably foreign New York City.

Overall, Call It Sleep is a pretty interesting read. I especially liked the way Roth deals with language in the book. David’s mother never learns English, and Yiddish dialogue is woven throughout the novel. It added an interesting dimension and never let you get too comfortable in the setting. Just when you thought you were adjusting to the narrative and landscape the narrator was living in, the Yiddish would remind you that something about this is still foreign. It never lets you get too at home.

Rating: ***

%d bloggers like this: