Monday, August 29, 2011

Book 18-The Ambassadors

I thought I liked this book, but by the end I decided I didn't. Book 18 was The Amabassadors by Henry James. It follows Lambert Strether as he journeys to Paris to rescue his wealthy fiance's son from a supposed liason with an unsavory women. When Strether arrives in Paris he is overwhelmed by the beauty and the character of its citizens. Hailing from Woollet, Massachuesetts where things are decidedly more repressed, he loses himself to experiencing life for the first time.

I liked the theme which was about living life to the fullest and getting everything you possibly can out of it, but by the end I decided that the book came off as a bit pretentious. Here's a quote about the theme of life:

"It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven't had that, what HAVE you had?"

This book was apparently inspired in Henry James by overhearing someone say somthing very similar at a garden party. I like that idea, but what I didn't like was the vague references by Strether's guide to Paris of something deep that only they got. I understood that they saw beauty, life, happiness, that they communicated beyond the formal ways of being in Woollet but after hearing so many vague references to it by the end I wanted to shake the characters and say, "oh shut up!!!" Take this for example:

"That means simply that you've recognized me--which is rather beautiful and rare. You see what I am"

"To be as good as you and me, but different"

This is one quote that I do like and if the book, hadn't driven the point home so many times I may enjoyed the book.

"What I've seen so often spoiled' she pursued, 'is the happy attitude of faith and what shall I call it? The sense of beauty".

Lambert Strether doesn't go crazy with freedom away from his fiance, who controls his entire life having all the money, but in the end it is hinted that he may have lost even her by experiencing real life.

"I don't get drunk, I don't pursue the ladies, I don't spend money I don't even write sonnets. But nevertheless I am making up late for what I didnt' have early."

In Strether's mind (and I will give him this point) it was worth it to throw everything away to just experience life in its rawest form. I agree with him there, because I do think that life is meant to be lived. People who are fully alive inspire a great sense of joy and awe in me and make me happy and calm, just as they did to Strether. I am hopeful however that I don't come across as too selfish or silly, because, in the end, I think I found everything that Strether did to be a tad bit too selfish. His enjoyment of life wasn't something that could be maintained, and was only a bit of an escape from reality. People who can find joy with or with out money, with or without comfort, with or without the inspiring sights of Paris are the ones who really experience life.

The next book I am working on his Book 19-One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So far I am enjoying it as a story, but not much more than that.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Non-list book 2: Nikolski

I have realized I don't need to be in a rush to finish my list books, so I have started to read other books simultaneously. I am about a quarter through the Ambassadors and will do a review soon. For now please enjoy my review of Nikolski by Nikolas Dickner translated from the French by Lazer Lederhendler. Its a Canadian book!

ahhh, what to say about this book?! It will always be a book for me that is tied very much with a particular space and time. I read half of it while camping alone in the Summer of 2010 and the other half of it camping alone in 2011. This book read very while holed up in tent out in nature. It added to the Magic Realism aspects of the book. This is a genre that I have only recently discovered but apparently encompasses the majority of my favorite novels. Here is the wikipedia definition: Magic realism or magical realism is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction [1] in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the "real" and the "fantastic" in the same stream of thought.

Now, although magical things don't take place in this book, some fantastical things do. The book follows three youngsters on a quest for their own identities and focuses on their personal journies as they try to overcome some rather odd upbringings. Each of them have a strange set of personal belongings they carry with them including a Nikolski compass which only points to Nikolski, Alaska, a "three headed book" of three seperate pirate related stories sewn together and a torn out map of the caribbean. Although each of these young adults have never met, they are all connected in some way and eventually their worlds collide if only for a moment. It is also significant that it was a book about coming of age and overcoming difficult things in the past and becoming your own person. I gave up camping for years as a child because my father drank to much (especially while camping) and I stopped wanting to go. Camping for me now has become about reclaiming something I love and making it my own, which has been very freeing.

The young people, Noah, an unnamed Narrator, and Joyce each love life, they have crazy odd passions and try to enjoy life in unique ways. Some of these include a love of fish and all things fish related, a penchant for books, a interest in garbage as an anthropological fascination, an urban pirate trolling the garbage for modern secrets and a love of books old and new. I just loved that part of the book. There is nothing I love more than finding out interesting things that people are passionate about because I think that is the stuff that LIFE is made of. We are all different and people that embrace that are truly alive.

The book ends midstream just the 3 lives take an interesting turn. I was sad for the story to end because I really wanted to find out where they went. If you hate books that leave you hanging I would not recommend this title! I was left wanting more, but felt given that it was a book thats smacked of real life it was appropriate that it didn't leave you with a sense that you had all the answers...because really thats how life is.

There were a few quotes I loved including:

"As a rule, archaeologist don't take much interest in nomads. Teh more a population travels the fewer traces it leaves behind...Garbage reveals what everything else trieds to hide"

"And that is exactly the trouble with inexplicable events. You inevitably end up interpreting them in terms of predestination, or magic realism, or government plots."

If you are curious about the magical realism genre or you read this book and really like it I would highly recommend Grace By Anthony Doerr and A Trip to the Stars By Nicholas Christopher. They are in the same vein is this, where fantastical stuff occurs and they leave you with a sense that the world is a magical place without actual "magic" events occuring.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A non-list book! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Since coming back from the UK I have been a little more lenient with myself and though I continue to read books from the list I am also reading books that aren't on the list. This is a result of wanting to slow down for the Goodreads group I have and also to make sure I am being well rounded and reading the ever growing list of non-list (lol) books I want to read.

My coworker asked if i would like to read The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime and I always have since I discovered that it was written from the point of view of someone with Aspergers. I have a friend who has Aspergers and she had told me that the book is a fairly accurate representation of what happens for her in her brain. I have always loved the way her brain works and thus, I love the main character Chistopher Boone as well.

There were so many great quotes that I just loved including these ones:

"Prime numbers are what is left over if you take all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them"

"If you don't take decisions you would never do anything because you would spend all your time choosing between things you could do"

"And because people always think there is something special about what they can't see"

The book is full of pictures, diagrams and drawings so it made it such a fun read! I was particularly amused by a picture of what the fabric on the Tube looked like. Having just recently been to London I remembered it well! Although the picture was black and white I knew exactly what colours the fabric was!

Actually the whole book filled me with giddy glee because it started in Swindon a train station that I quickly had to get off of to transfer and go somewhere my friend and I were travelling. It was either Cardiff of Glasgow I don't remember which. I could easily follow Christopher's journey on the train to london having just done it myself. I was also happy to see his description of the Paddington station signs (which screamed at him because his brain sees absolutely everything down to the smallest detail). As annoying as it is I am the queen of the phrase, "I've been there" while watching movies and reading books. That is one of my favorite parts of travel, that it expands your points of reference and allows you to make connections withan increased number of people, and stories because you have experienced them for yourself.

The mystery part of the story was actually really engaging as well. As a child I always wanted to be a detective and solve mysteries. I used to sit on my roof and record various things that passed by my on the street below. (This was after reading Harriet the Spy and wanting to record things in a book just like she did). Christopher had the same inclination as he tried to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbours dog.

The story has all the great elements of a good story, humour, sadness, mystery and suspense. I quickly read it in a weekend. I would recommend this book to anybody.

Book 17-Absalom, Absalom

I had a really hard time with this book at the beginning because the writing was really flowery and it took me a long time to plow through each individual passage. In the end I had a hard time with the book because it brought out really raw feelings in me. In fact, it was such a difficult book that combined with a couple of other things that happened at a the same time I was reading it I ended up having a mini break down, followed by an epiphany. the end I LOVED the book, rather than hated it.

Absalom, Absalom marks the first book that I read 100% on my e-reader which back when I started this project was the original point of it. I started the project hoping to use Project Gutenberg to get the majority of the books for free digitally. However, to date I have mostly purchased the books at used book stores, bought a few new ones, and borrowed some from the library.

I loved the idea of this book from the second I read what Daniel S. Burt had to say about it. Basically it is a mystery that you have to piece together from eye witness accounts, and stories that have passed down through the generations of the Sutpen family. The story is quite dark, as it is a history of how one man bent on a quest for vengence ends up bringing his family to ruin. The novel is peopled by a virgin spinster sister, a maniacal father who destroys his family, a daughter who is a widow before she is a bride, the brother who kills his sister's husband to be and a wife who lives vicariously through her children.

My mini break down happened because of one of the character's Rose who was the spinister who never married. I identified heavily with her character who was hard and strong, and hated men (but you saw wanted love all the same). If I am to become twisted because of bitterness like the main character it will be in this way. My epiphany came because of the theme of the story which is basically about what happens when one person tries to create their own destiny no matter what the cost is. It reminded me of a the book East of Eden by John Steinbeck and seemed to resonate with me because of that. East of Eden is one of my favorite books. The epiphany I had was about the point of East of Eden being about free will, and the fact that we were given choices and that is what makes us human and great. (This epiphany was aided by the song Timshel by Mumford and sons and googling what the word meant). The dark side of the ability to make choices is that we can choose to make good ones or bad ones. In Thomas Sutpen's case, his bitterness and anger at an injustice that happened when he was a child twisted him to make really horrible ones. The book also is an interesting picture of the south at the time of the civil war. It follows a nations choices and shows some of their eventual results.

There is a lot of flowery passages in this book that border on poetry. Here are a few examples:

"beneath the branch shredded vist of flat black fiercely and heavily starred sky"

"masculine hipless tapering peg which fits light and glib to move where catridge-chambered hips of women hold them fast" ~A rather poetic sexual reference!

" He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts"

"Ellen died, the butterfly of a forgotten garden"

And one needlessly complicated statement that I can only catch glimpses of the full meaning:

"where through no fault nor willing of your own you must and will be, not through any fault or willing of our own who would not what we cannot, just as we will and wait for what must be"

Here are a few quotes that point to the meaning of the story:

"something would have to be done about it, he would have to do something about it order to live with himself for the rest of his life" ~This quote talks about the original insult which leads Thomas Sutpen on the vengeful quest that destroys his family

"perhaps a man builds for his future in more ways than one, build not only towards the body which will be his tomorrow or next year, but towards actions and the subsequent irrevocable courses of resultant action"

~This quote talks about how some actions have irrevocable consequences that shape our futures

"It would be like God had got Jesus born and saw that He had the carpenter tools and never gave Him anything to build with them"

~This talks about the God given desire to create things around us with our hands, and also to bear children that will live after us. This quote particularly reminds me of East of Eden.

"Abraham would say 'Praise the Lord, I have raised about me sons to bear the burden of mine ininquities"

~This quote talks about Thomas Sutpens resolution to his dilemma from childhood. His belief was if he became like the person who snubbed him, but never turned someone away from him he would have won. Having his children and and a nice house to him, was a symbol that he had made it in the world.

All in all I loved this book, not so much for the actual layout of the story itself, but for what it ended up doing in me. I will cherish the epiphany I had through the telling of the story, even though I actually hated the process (and found the book difficult to read)!