Saturday, December 15, 2012
The story follows the family Buddenbrooks throughout the generations as the family name and inheritance is slowly whittled away over time. The first Patriarch Johann is the epitome of practical while the last heir Hanno is the epitome of the artistic. Neither one of these individuals could have existed without the other. The novel as one of the buildungsroman genre shows that a healthy inner life is equally as important as a strong external life.
My favorite character was Tony who tried so hard to live well for the sake of the family name. Each of her successive marriages and the marriage of her daughter end badly for her and she is unable to realize the ideal of contributing to the family name that she so badly desires. She was the most realistically portrayed character for me. Tony really believed that "we are not separate, independent, self subsisting indviduals, but links in a chain". She gave up her childhood love for a marriage that she believed would be an honour to her family. She constantly referred to this stage of her life as her being a "silly goose".
There are some interesting themes in the book that seem reflected by the last line of the novel which is uttered by Sesame Weichbrodt in response to Tony's comment that, " God strike me , but sometimes I doubt that there is any justice, any goodness, I doubt it all. Life, you see crushes us, it shatters our faith. See them again, if only it were so"
Sesame, who has educated generations of Buddenbrooks still holds out hope that "It is so".
Although the book is a novel about the decline of a family. It appears to hold out hope that even though things get bad that there is something worth living for. It looks at life realistically in that it might not always be easy or good but that it is worth it nonetheless.
Here are some quotes I liked
"I've always been of the opinion that all men are equal and that we don't need any middlemen between us and our God"
"What is success? ...the belief that life can be molded to my advantage"
"...responded in one way in his strong and optimistic moments, and another when he was weary...he was a mixture of both"
"A happy, present is not something we can always take for granted."
Sunday, November 4, 2012
The book chronicles Tess, a poor girl from a family with a significant historic name. In a time of financial stress her family turns to a supposed relative bearing the D'Urberville name. When the son, Alec seduces her and she finds herself pregnant. She returns home only to have the baby die. When the family falls into financial hardship again Tess becomes a dairymaid in a farm several miles from homes. Here she meets Angel Clare who woos her despite Tess's repeated protests that she is not worthy of him.She repeatedly tries to convey her shame and downfall to Angel who refuses to listen to her, having firmly placed her on a pedestal She eventually consents to marriage and slips a note under his door telling him of her former fate. Unfortunately, it slides under a carpet and goes unread. She doesn't discover this until their wedding day and Angel finally consents to have a heart to heart about each of their follies on their wedding night after they are married. While he reveals his sins and is forgiven he turns against Tess when he discovers hers and leaves having never consummated their marriage.
It is here where I had my meltdown. I am in a fairly new relationship and as I read this book one gloomy/ cozy Saturday I was simultaneously angry and contemplative. I was furious with Angel and his off-handed refusal to see Tess for who she really is. I was also furious that he judged Tess for her actions in the past rather than her heart that he had fallen in love with. This got me all in a tizzy about how one can know that you are REALLY seeing someone for who they are and not just the idealized image of that person you have created in your mind. I thought long and hard about whether that could happen to me and concluded that it very well could. I have always been someone who places people on a pedestal only to have them later fall when they can't live up to my idolized version of them. The book led to a fairly significant internal inventory of my current relationship and also to an awesome heart to heart with my boyfriend about what we see in each other. I am thankful to the book for that, but feel that my epistemological crisis had very little to do with the point of the book which is about the sad state of affairs for women at the time and also Tess as a heroic character. I thought very little about Tess as a heroic figure as I read the book and just spent the majority of the time being horribly saddened by the fates that aligned against her.
Despite my half hearted enjoyment of the book I did find several awesome quotes that I loved:
"Tess was no insignificant creature to toy with and dismiss, but a woman living her precious life"
"I thought, Angel, that you loved me-me, my very self"
"Behold, when thy face is made bare, he that loved thee shall hate"
"In considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was"
I am on to book 35 which is Buddenbrooks now. As it is a translated novel I have had a hard time procuring a copy and ended up having to buy it on my ereader.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Dead Souls IS rather Russian in that if follows a flawed character around on a scheme to buy up Russian souls. Unlike most other Russian characters though this one is not overly loveable in his flaws. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the book is supposed to be a farce. I have discovered that despite loving to laugh I am definitely not a fan of farcical literature. (see my reviews on Tristram Shandy and Gravity's Rainbow). I like my literature to give me food for thought and put me into a contemplative mood where I analyze life. This book doesn't do that for me. I DID laugh several times at the oddity of buying up dead people.
Here are some quotes along those lines.
"But, sir, I have never in my life sold dead folk"
"The question is:what is a dead soul worth, and is it of any use to anyone"
"No matter what may be said to the contrary, the body can never dispense with the soul"
Despite being comical the book does pose some interesting philosophical questions that made me stop and think. I just wished there were more of them and that I CARED what happened to Chichikov as a flawed character moving about in the world. Most of the time I found him unbelievable and flat as a character.
"Take any man you like of the persons you term rascals. That man none the less remains a human being"
"Each of us commits faults with every step that we take; each of us entails unhappiness upon others with every breath that we draw"
"Human problems are difficult to solve"
So conclusion? Although being a fan of MOST Russian literature I am not a fan of ALL Russian literature. I will continue to read away on this list even though I am bound to find more duds. I am hopeful that that gems will make this little adventure worth it though.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
The first thing I loved about this book is that it involved Jewish circus performs. I love Russian literature for it's down to earth faith that permeates all aspects of life. This book portrayed Jewish life in the same way and I lapped up ever second page filled with great quotes. Here are some of them.
"As long as everyone remembers what he is supposed to remember , the word of our God, the creator of all will be kept alive"
"to be a Jew means to love words and stories"
"Every Jew is a character in a story that began with Abraham and has yet to end"
"Even though I do not believe in God, am beginning a story within a story"
"It made you want to take our religion seriously, to actually believe it is holy for a man and woman to love each other, and even to believe that we, men and women, really are created in the image of Elohim"
As a Christian grafted into the Jewish family as an adopted member, I have always LOVED the stories in the Old Testament. They speak so much of life and deep truth that I love rereading them over and over again.
The second great thing about this book is that the entire book is laid out like a game of snakes and ladders. The chapters are black and white numbered squares corresponding to the squares of a snakes and ladders game. In fact there is a copy of the board depicted in the prologue of the book. Some chapters begin with a snakes head or a ladder and others end with a snakes tail or a ladder end. It is a clever plot that is used as a facet of the story to talk about philosophy and fate and chance.
"By luck or chance or fate, as if by a shake of dice, we encounter people in one square of their life at one time in one place"
"I like snakes and ladders because playing it is like living a life"
"I have barred him from our game because he will not play by the rules"
"I decided to give chance a chance and follow the rolls of unseen dice"
"snakes and ladders, I like to imagine, by making sense of a senseless past as it orders memory into squares, episodes and scenes, offers a heavenly glimpse of earthly patterns"
Overall, this book was a joy to read. I was happy to pick it up and have discovered that I am getting good at knowing what type of books I like to read simply from covers, titles and jacket descriptions. I have had many a happy accident from choosing discount books that leap of the shelves at me. If you haven't tried that before I highly recommend it!
Thursday, August 30, 2012
This time around I got angry right about the same point I did as a teen and wanted to give up. Thankfully I persevered because it did get better, not much, but at least it got bearable.
The book makes frequent reference to Don Quixote and though hated that novel more than this one I am becoming increasingly glad that I read it. I am not aware of what the frequent references to the book mean and have a point of reference for the varied references that are made to the characters and famous scenes from Don Quixote.
The quote that spoke the most to me from this book was one that made me angry. It made reference to the fact that this entire novel is a series of completely inane tangents, but that it was a good thing. I read that sentence and decided right than that I would write an angry rant of a book review involving the use of this quote:
"digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;-they are the life, the soul of reading"
NO!!!! Emphatically no! When I read I want food for thought and deep substance or at the very least complete fluff that allows me to escape the world. This book is just really not fun to read, although it did occasionally make me laugh. There are a few random gems interspersed throughout the book, but the majority of the book is one giant farce. I have discovered after reading books like Gravity's Rainbow, etc that I am not as into weird, for the sake of weird as I thought that I was.
The narrator, Tristram makes reference to the reader at several points in the novel inviting him to go along with him on his crazy journey. He states at one point " the slight acquaintance, which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that unless one of us in fault, will terminate in friendship." Annnnd the answer to that statement/question is again "NO!" I did not grow into any form of friendship with Tristram Shandy. I disliked him greatly and every last comically awful thing that happened in his life.
There were a few quotes that made me happy but I a refuse to spend another second on this awful novel so I will only leave you with one which made me so happy. As a youth outreach worker funded to help prevent exploitation I loved this quote:
"Why then...is a black wench to be used worse than a white one? Only because she has no one to stand up for her"
Onwards and upwards to book 33 which will officially put me one third of the way through this project that I started 2 years ago. I am excited for Dead Souls as it is a Russian novel and I generally love Russian authors.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The novel follows Julien Sore, the son of a poor carpenter who sets out to live his life like Napoleon. He chooses to follow one of two roads to glory open to a young man of the times: the red (the military) or the black (the church). Despite his love of Napoleon he feels that the church is a much better fit for his personality. Julien is ambitious and everything he does including his two love affairs follows a cold, rational decision about furthering himself and following his ambitions. I think that is the part of the book that left me the most upset. I have always loved people that have dreams and that come alive when they talk about following their dreams, but with Julien's dreams I felt like he was too cold and rational.to enjoy the process. He had some beautiful moments at the beginning of the book where you can tell that his heart is truly alive. He has a moment where he spent the night nestled in the woods in an alcove and this scene is mirrored at the end of the book almost like a redemption where he comes back to his true self that got lost along the way. Julien also has some beautiful moments nestled in the trees hiding away with a good book. Those parts of Julien I connected with...his ambitious society climbing, just made me mad.
The book had a lot of interesting things to say about the corruption in the priesthood/church. Despite being a Christian I agree that there are definitely those who pursue religion for selfish reasons. It also has a lot to say about true faith though and that despite all the corruption and mess in the church that there can still be a real beauty in true faith and also the idea of a loving, caring God.
"the priesthood that fine profession that opens all doors"
"I shall fear for your salvation if you go into the priesthood"
(this is actually more a reflection that being a priest was not a good fit for Julien's personality and less about the fact that priests don't believe in God)
"Why do priest and their hypocrisies matter? Can they in any way detract from the truth and sublimeness of the idea of God?"
"...I mean a real priest. Then tender souls would have a meeting point in this world...we wouldn't be isolated"
"But how , when two or three are gathered together can you believe in the great name of God, after the terrible abuse made of it by our priests?"
Although Julien is a flawed character, he is a hero amidst the backdrop of the 19th century social hierarchy.
The book is an honest look at some of the flaws that Stendhal's society has:
"The normal course of events in the nineteenth century is that when a powerful member of the nobility encounters a man of generosity, he kills him, exiles him, imprisons him, or humiliates him so much that the other man is foolish enough to die of grief"
Julien takes advice from a Casanova-type man on the fringes of his social circle. Julien was always frowned upon by people everywhere he went because he wore his heart on his sleeve. This Casanova had this to say about the way things worked in the salons of the day.
"If you're miserable, there must be something you're wanting, something that hasn't turned out right...if you are bored, on the contrary, it's what's tried in vain to please you that is inferior"
Lastly, the book focuses on dreams and the role they play in our life and identity. Julien is an interesting character in that he never realizes the full potential of his dream to live a life worthy of Napoleon. Despite pursuing it consistently most of his life, in the end he is left with nothing to show for it. Here are some of the things this book has to say about dreams:
"At twenty, the thought of the wide world and the impact you can have on it overrides everything else"
"I am the only one who knows what I might have done...for everyone else, I'm nothing more than a QUESTION MARK"
If you are a person who does not like loose ends this book would probably drive you nuts because Julien goes off on various tangents and strategies to pursue his goal. He uses whatever comes across to further his ambition to advance himself in the world. I was very confused by what this book was trying to say about having dreams since none of them really came to fruition in Julien's life and the main thing that caused his distractio was falling in love. I toyed with several theories as to what the point of the book was (don't have dreams because they are vain, don't have dreams because you are just going to fall in love and be distracted anyways, don't have dreams because it will make it hard to live in society). I have decided that Stendhal would say that we should follow our dreams, but that they don't define our character. It is what we do with successes and failures in this realm that make us who we are. Julien shines the most when he is living from his heart and not his head. I guess that is what I didn't like the most about this book. I found Julien disingenuous 90% of the time and my guess is it is because he was a rational thinker and not a heart thinker. As someone who thinks almost exclusively from the hear,t I didn't relate as closely to his character as to some of the other characters I have in the past.
Onwards and upwards to the next list book: Tristram Shandy. I am excited to dive into this one.as I tried reading it in high school and gave up because it was "too weird" for me!We will see what I think of it now.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Ironically enough, for a book entitled Women in Love the book had a lot of homoerotic undertones to it! The relationship between Birkin and his good friend Gerald had some interesting moments in it. Ultimately though, there relationship remained a close friendship and the two men took to pursuing the two sisters portrayed in the book, Gudrun and Ursula. Their individual relationships each work out two possibilities of ways of being in relationship. One: to remain complete in yourself and join in relationship to another or two: for one person to give up who they are and symbolically die at the hands of another. At times both of these ideologies seem pretentious, but by the end I realized that Birkin and Ursula's relationship (two individuals remaining complete but staying in union) remained the more attractive of the two options and the one that has been more closely in line with the person I have become in the last 10 years.
Here are some quotes from Birkin's point of view in remaining a complete individual in union with someone else:
"What I want is a strange conjunction with you" He said quietly, " not meeting and mingling-you are quite right: but an equilibrium, a pure balance of two single beings-as the stars balance each other"
"Love is a direction which excludes all other directions. It is a freedom together, if you like"
"Why should we consider ourselves, men and women, as broken fragments of one whole? It is not true."
"He says...that you can find an eternal equilibrium in marriage if you accept the unison, and still leave yourself separate, don't try to fuse"
Ursula who marries Birkin has trouble wrapping her head around this way of thinking but eventually is able to accept it when she sees what his philosophy does for him. She had experienced passion from other men but never true deep intimacy until she shares a moment with Birkin in the moonlight.
"She wished he were passionate because in passion she was at home. But this was so still and frail, as space is more frightening than force"
There was also a lot of philosophical stuff that made the existentialist in me giddy with glee. I loved the sections on what made life worth living and also on whether there was a God out there and the idea of mystic connection with God, the universe and people.
On the purpose for living:
"What do you live for?"
"One needs some one really pure single activity-I should call love a single pure activity"
"What is mankind but just one expression of the incomprehensible"
"every man was fit for his own little bit of a task"
"work and love are the two" said of the important things to relieve boredom with life.
On God and mystic connection:
"The eternal creative mystery could dispose of man, and replace him with a a finer created being"
"To have one's pulse beating direct from the mystery, this was perfection"
"I believe in something inhuman, of which love is only a little part. I believe what we must fulfil comes out of the unknown to us, and it is something infinitely more than love"
"the world is only held together by the mystic conjunction"
"Really, something, must be left to the Lord, there always is an always will be."
"We want to delude ourselves that love is the root. It isn't it is only the branches"
There is also a great deal to say about how we know things and whether knowledge is good or not. For brevity sake I will leave out the quotes that I found. I was planning on rating this book a 3 out of 5 stars until the last 30 pages of it and then I changed my mind. It has all my favorite themes in it: love, work that makes someone tick, mystic/magic connection, existential questions, what makes people great and a lot to say about good and evil. I have moved it firmly into the 4 star category but only because when I look at my other all time favorite books, it doesn't quite compete. The more I read, the pickier I get. I think this list is turning me into a snob!!! Next up? The Red and the Black by Stendhal.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Portrait of a Lady for me will always remind me of the very specific time frame in which I read it. The book featuring Isabel Archer, an independent American, who is brought by her aunt to Europe to see the world, mirrrored a little too closely my life at the time that I was reading it. Why, do you ask? Whilst reading it I made several choices of independence that mirrored Isabel's and her story was not a happy one. I am hopeful I will have a different fate.
I guess the first thing I want to say is that even though Isabel's fate is not a happy one I really like her life philsophy. She wants to see life and know it for herself, which is something that I too aspire to. Here are some quotes along that tangent.
"her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open it jumped out the window. She was not accustomed indeed to keep it behind bolts."
"You want to see life"
"You want to drain the cup of experience"
"Her old habit had been to live by enthusiasm, to fall in love with suddenly perceived possibilities with the idea of some new adventure."
Isabel loved life and wanted to go out and see the world. For her, at the start of the novel, the world was a wide open space with plenty of opportunities for a young girl with an enquiring mind. We first find Isabel in America as her aunt discovers her curled up in her family library reading a book. I think that very scene alone endeared her to my heart.
Isabel ends up rejecting two marriage proposals. One from an English Lord and another from her American Sweetheart. It is a penniless collector who wins her heart but only wishes to keep her as one of the beautiful glittering objects in his museum-like home. Isabel realizes her fate two late and suffers in silence trying her best to live up to her husbands expectations that she hold only the views he wishes her to hold.
The book has some interesting things to say about marriage, most of them bitter.
"if one marries at all one touches the earth. One has human feelings and needs, one has a heart in one's bosom, and one must marry a particular individual"
"Who could say what men were looking for? They were looking for what they found"
"She had too many ideas for herself, but that was just what one married for, to share them with someone else"
I like the last sentiment and think that is true. In Isabel's case, however, her husband wanted to have everyone in his life subject to his wishes. Isabel is asked to sacrifice everything that she is in order to remain in a outwardly civil relationship with her husband. Mr. Osmond, her husband, also forces his daughter Pansy to do the same. After years in a convent, Pansy is brought out to see the world, but must not marry unless the prospective husband meets the high standards of beauty that her father sets out for his daughter.
The final moments of the book leave the reader feeling dissatisfied. Almost no one in the book is happy and it ends leaving the reader hanging wondering what the point of it all was. The only redeeming feature of the book is Ralph Touchett who is Isabel's cousin. A physically ill man, Ralph falls in love with his cousin and gives her the means she needs to explore the world to see what she will do with herself. By releasing her to her fate, he comes closest of anyone in the whole novel to actually representing a picture of true love. I was rooting for him the whole book and was happy there was a very least a token of recognition from Isabel of his love.
Here are some cute things the book has to say about love.
"Dear Isabel, life is better; for in life there's love"
"In such hours as this, what have we to do with pain? That's not the deepest thing; there something deeper"
"But love remains"
"Ah but, Isabel--ADORED"
Sigh. I wanted to so badly to love this book about free will and what we make with our lives, but I just couldn't do it. Both of Henry James' books have left me feeling nothing but the vanity of high flying morals and that real life, lived in the trenches is far better than holding rigidly to some philosophical ideal. I suppose since that is probably the point of the novel it succeeded in meeting it's purpose, but I can't say that I enjoyed the process!
Next up? Women in Love.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
I am not a fan of war, so I probably had it out for this book before I even began. One thing that it did teach me though was how horrific it would have been to be in London during the Blitz. I have always had a trauma response to anything from the First World War. I can cry at a drop of hat when someone starts whispering to me about Legend's of the Fall, for instance! I just think it would be so horrible to be stuck in trench, covered in mud, half starved and running into bodily harm knowing half of you aren't going to make it. This book showed me that it would be equally horrifying to always have to look over head during the Second World War. The book centres around a rocket, the V2, which hits and then makes a sound. If you hear it you are still alive. The reversal of the sound first, then hit principle makes a backdrop for an interesting discussion about cause and effect. "You will want cause and effect". This is followed up by a discussion of Pavlov both with some experimental dogs that they training as well as Slothrop, one of the main characters who's penis seems to predict where bombs are going to hit. The book calls into question how much of our behaviour is actually in our control and how much of it is based on outside influences.
"You had dispensed with God. But you had taken on a greater, more harmful, illusion. The illusion of control".
"all in his life of what has looked free or random, is discovered to've been under some Control"
Slothrop, the character whose penis is believed to predict where a bomb will hit, becomes extremely paranoid and thinks that everything in his life is under someone else's control. He has a frightened reaction when he walks into a casino because it is a place were you would expect pure chance however he feels that everything is staged for his benefit.
"When They chose number, red, black, odd, even what did They mean by it?"
The book has a lot of repeated phrases and ideas that it plays with. They/we, Preterite/Elect, Life/Death. The novel seems to state that for every part there is a counterpart and one cannot survive without the other. The book also makes several references to the Zero. It seems to hold this out as one of the ultimate goals of life to reach the Zero, to be completely nothing, to die. Half of the book is a quest for the 00000 rocket which everyone knows to be in existence but no one knows where it hit.
"Preterite, the many God passes over when he chooses a few for salvation"
This book is just plain weird. Characters frequently burst into random lewd songs. There are immortal light bulbs named Byron, a several page long description of various ways to eat bananas and a lot characters running all over the "Zone" frequently crossing paths. That should have been funny and made the book interesting to read, but I just wasn't feeling it. Maybe it was the timing, since I read it during a busy month and felt the time crunch to return it to the library. Maybe it was the fact it was set during a war which I hate. Maybe it was the lewd content, which didn't really seem to have a point in the story. Either way, I did not enjoy the process of reading this novel....although I did have a few giggles, and head shakes at the stuff I was reading.
One thing I did like about the book was the feeling of being on a quest that occurs during the last half of the book. As several characters traipse around the Zone in search of the illusive Schwarzkommando and the 00000 you feel like you are on a quest from a fairytale. Despite that fact I still wouldn't rate this novel very highly. It wasn't the worst book I have ever read, and it certainly wasn't the best. I would love to read another Thomas Pynchon novel though to see if it was just the topic that threw me. I will hopefully pick up another one from the 1001 books to Read Before You Die as I know there are several of his books included in the list.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Told as a series of tales to a King who was bent on killing Shahrazad his virgin bride after he had his way with her the stories always ended leading into another one, so the King would be desirous of keeping her alive for one more night. The stories are very tied into Middle Eastern culture and I was fascinated to learn a ton of new words including Jinn (which is a genie), Wezir (advisor), Khan (hotel I think) and many others. It was also very neat to see how tied into everyday life their faith and religion were. Most stories have profuse praises to God when the characters are spared a horrible fate or granted an unexpected blessing. I loved the phrase, "till they were visited by the terminator of delights and the seperator of companions".
I was saddened to learn that the Harvard classics version that I had was misisng quite a few stories from the longer complete addition. It was also apparently "bowdlerized" or had all the inappropriate sexual content taken out. I always feel that if I am going to read something I need to do it right with the full length, non abridged version. I don't, however, think I loved this book enough to go through the trouble to find the more extensive version to read the nights that I am missing. I think my version ends on night 756 out of the 1001. I was pleased however that it included Ali Baba and the 40 Theives and Al-ed-din or Alladin and the Lamp. These two stories were believed to be an add on not included in the original text. As such they are usually tagged on to the end of the book as a supplement as they were in the case of the book I was reading.
Alright that is my review of 1001 nights. Now that I have finished this I might see what other books I can finish on my shelf that I have half done!
Monday, April 9, 2012
The novel, featuring a man named Ulrich who opts out of life by taking a year holiday and doing nothing but thinking through life, has very little action in it. The essential plot follows a cast of characters who have banded together for the collatoral campaign, a project that is trying to come up with one idea to symbolize the monarch's jubilee. Most of the novel consists of Ulrich playing the devil's advocate through a whole host of conversations with various people. He argues a great deal of the time from both sides of every argument which a lot of the time is highly irritating. The last novel takes place after his fathers death when he reunites with a sister he hasn't seen in years. They have an almost incestuous relationship as they both see each other as two halves of a whole. Ulrich's philosophy is finally solidified at this point in the novel.
One of my favorite tangents in the novel was Ulrich playing with the idea of soul. I actually really like the idea he has which is essentially that the soul is all the empty places inside of us not filled up by personality, societal views or personal feelings. Here are some quotes:
"Every dweller on earth has a tenth character, which is nothing more or less than the passive illusion of spaces unfilled"
" some people even think away out and beyond everything, of a God who has the missing piece of themselves in His pocket"
"all roads to the mind start from the soul, but none leads back again"
"the loved person seems to stand where otherwise there is always something missing"
"I called it the acoustics of the void"
The book also had a great deal to stay about the idea of "mystic rapture". I was ecstatic to feel what I have felt many a time (and often describe as "so excited I could scream" ) laid out in such fantastic words. It made my heart burn with the excitement the book was describing. It is for this reason, that I can't say I hate this book. It is also this idea of connectedness with the larger world beyond that makes me love literature. When you see something of yourself, outside of yourself it is very heart warming and leaves you with a feeling that all is not lost in the world.
"all moments that had meant something decisive in his life ahd left him with the same feeling"
"all decisive moments of his life had been associated with such a sensation of amazement and lonliness"
"every sort of excitement that exceeds the normal very soon mists over with a patina of melancholy, absurdity and satiation."
"They call it an undoing of self, and at the same time declare they live more fully than ever"
"The heart 'ravenous and satiated' , as they say- suddenly finds itslef in those utopian regions that lie somewhere and nowhere between an infinite tenderness and an infinited loneliness"
The book also has a lot to say about love and what it means between a man and women, but also the love of ideas. Most of the characters are in love with someone, or over the course of the novel several someones. Diotima, Ulrich's cousin is intellectually in love with a member of the collatoral campaign and debates the entire novel whether to take this into the physical realm.
The most fantastic quote that Ulrich aid to Diotima was this:
"to strip to the skin, put arms round each other's shoulders and instead of talking, burst out singing"
and also encouraged her to 'so to speak touching him under his pscyhological loin cloth without shuddering"
There were a lot more that were interesting including these;
"...had entered the territory of intimacy where one reveals oneself to the other person in all one's emotional disorder"
"When do you understand another human being? You have to play along with him"
"It goes back a very long way, this desire for a doppelganger of the opposite sex, this craving for the love of a being that will be entirely the same as oneself and yet another"
"true love-sickness is not desire for possession, but only a gentle unveiling of the wordl itself"
Finally there is a lot that talks about morality. Ulrich never really officially pins down his philsophy of life, but essentially you are never left feeling that the world doesn't have meaning or that there isn't a God. Despite several arguements about good and evil and deconstructing them Ulrich still believes that they exist. This book talks a lot about how morality should be fun and that living a life consistent with your own philosophy of life should not be boring. It left me excited about life and with a feeling that one can have a personal view of the world, still believe in some form of universal truth, but yet also be open to the differences amongst people. By playing both sides of each arguement I really feel like Ulrich comes closer to the truth about life than a lot of other people. He plays with the idea of a both/and philsophy and also that the truth lifes somehwere in between polar sides of an argument.
"We ourselves must work out the sum he sets us"
"he regarded the problem set by every human life as one of these" (a math problem with a specific answer but no general one)
"nowadays every truth comes into the world split into two mutually antagonistic falsehoods"
"perhaps they're potentially good human beings. They don't lose that even as criminals"
"Why should moral people be so dreary...when their intentions are good ought to be the most delicious, the most difficult, the most enjoyable thing anyone can possibly imagine"
"All moral propostions, "Ulrich confirmed, ' refer to a sort of dream condition that's long ago taken wing and flown away ot of the cage of rules in which we try to hold it fast"
"For him morality was neither conformism nor the sum of acquired knowledge: it was the infinite fullness of lifes potentialities"
"morality is imagination'
This book was fun, Ulrich never takes himself seriously and you feel light hearted and silly about everything the whole time. It is long, though, and daunting. Large chunks of the book at times seem unnecessary and the action is slow moving. The book also doesn't come to a conclusion either because the author never finished the novel or he purposely leaves it vague. Either way, this book is likely not for everyone. I love philosophy and playing around with ideas in my head so for that I mostly enjoyed the book.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
So this is going to be a non-traditional book review since I can't tell you much about the plot and the verdict is still out on how much I hate or like this novel....
Here is a list of my favorite clever "portmanteaus" which are a combintation of two words to make another. Here is a good way to look at it in Joyce's words which I think describe a portmanteau well, "a word as cunningly hidden in its maze of confused drapery as a fieldmouse in a nest of coloured ribbons"
musaic=a mosaic of music
reamalgamerge= reamalgamating and merging
uniswoon= two girls swooning in unison!
chickenestegg= a clever combo which conveys the idea which came first the chicken or the egg
ould lanxiety= a reference to the song old lang sine but also including anxiety
pigstickularly= particularly but also conveying the idea of being pig headed or stubborn
"moanday, Tearsday, wailsday, thumpsday, frightday, shatterday"= the days of the week depressing style!
The book has several really clever references to the biblical stories of the rise and fall of man. The actual story line for the most part involves several sexual indiscretions and the need for the characters to be redeemed and get back with their partners. I can't hate the book because of the clever portmanteaus and the cute biblical references that make me giggle.
"antediluvial zoo/ Noah's lark= a clever reference to the ark since antediluvial means "pre flood" or something like that.
"they all were afloat in a dreamlifeboat, hugging two by two in his zoo-do-you-doo"- yet another clever reference to the ark, but also life in general
"the first babe of reconcilement is laid in its last cradle" a reference to Jesus
"by Allswell" the inception and the descent and the endswell of man is temporarily wrapped in obscenity"
Wow! What a great description of hope that Christian's have! There will be an all's well that ends well for everyone but it is temporarily wrapped in obscenity. I know he was making fun of religion but that actually makes me happy!
"the onesomeness was alltolonely" aww, a sad reference to God as being lonely.
"flash becomes word and silents selfloud" = a clever reinterreptation of a line from the Bible.
"This is the glider that gladdened the girl that lest tis the wind,that lifted the leaves that folded the fruit that hung on the tree that grew in the garden Gough gave"
A very rhythmic interreptation of Eve eating the fruit because of the "glider" or snake (aka Satan)
And another reference to Eve in the garden: "As the last liar in the earth begeylywaylayed the first lady of the forest"....the gibberish word in the middle is a clever combo of beguiled and waylayed!
"In the beginning is the word, in the muddle is the sound-dance and thereinofter you're in the unbewised again"
That is so beautiful and reminescent of the line from John, "in the beginning was the word..."
"All men has done something. Be the time they've come to the weight of old flesch" - What a beautiful way to describe the universality of sin and the human condition.
And Jesus is, "The child we all love to place our hope in forever"
There was also several very beautiful word combos that made me so happy because of the beauty of the imagery.
"tidings of great joy into our nevertolatetolove box"
"the better half of a yearn or a sob. Its a wild kitten, my dear"
Finally, there are a lot of pop culture references such as nursery rhymes, songs, and stories thrown throughout the novel. I had the kids nursery rhyme about the blackbirds baked in a pie stuck in my head for days before I stumbled upon another cleverly hidden nursery rhyme. I wish I had written down the one about the blackbirds but it was only unconciously registered by my mind!
See if you can figure out these two:
"Flunkey footle forlaughed foul, writing off his phoney"
"yunker doodler wanked to wall awriting off his phoney"
Did you get it? Yankee Doodle the kids nursery rhyme!
And heres one that takes reading outloud:
Its the old hymn Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!
Oops, I have two last things to say....So the finally above really wasn't all that final! LOL.
Heres one thing that didn't fit in with the other sections. See if you can figure out what this says....this is just one piece of how hard it gets:
"bi tso fb rok engl a ssan dspl itch ina"
No? I was pleased as punch when I discovered of my own accord that it actually says "bits of broken glass and split china"!!! It is moments like that that made me LOVE the book, but it is such hard work and so unavailable to so many people....and ultimately 90% not fun to read that I don't think I can give it a high rating. That being said I don't think I can give it a low rating either since it is extremely clever and if it took as much mental effort to write as it did to read, James Joyce is either insane or brilliant (perhaps both)!
Lastly (and I mean it this time!) the Title in and of itself is brilliant Finnegan's wake has several varied meanings. "Finn" means to end but "egan" has overtones of to begin again. Wake is both a celebration at the end of life as well as to wake again. one of the two list I am using pointed that out to me. One of the last few statements in the novel whose beginning and end are joined by the first and last incompleted sentence making the novel one giant circle to be read again and again is Finn, again" helpfully pointing out that the title has a double meaning.
The next novel on the list is "The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I named my blog magic and mystery because to me those two things describe my love all things deep and spiritual. For me, magic is real (although not the circus and slight of hand variety) and mystery is what makes life worth living. This book has both elements to it and I just ate it up. I started the book as I started a very fun adventure to visit a friend. It was a perfect book to be reading while on a journey.
There was a great quote about magic being the way the world is, "This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take the time to stop and note it"
The book finishes on one of my favorite themes. The magic of story and the healing power of of deep truths in mythology, fairy tales and old stories. I have always believed that these things contain soul level truth. The book also talks about dreams and how we should all be living to our fullest potential. Both of these themes have always filled me with such glee. I discovered quite early the joy of living for things that make you happy (not hedonistic, bachanal pleasures but the things that make you tick). The things that make you come alive, are the things you should pour your life into. There were several awesome quotes about dreamers and the idea of story
"Someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in it"
"You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose"
I have several of these stories and tales that I have read and shaped me for better or worse. Not all of them are beautiful tales, but all of them involve real life. Some on my list include: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoyevsky and some of the more recent ones including A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher and About Grace by Anthony Doerr.
I have discovered two things of late. a) that I probably should have taken more philosophy in university because I love finding things in stories that hint at the meaning behind the universe and b) that I really should have been an English major in university because of the sick pleasure I get from ripping apart a story and finding themes in it.
"The truest tales require time and familiarity to become what they are"
"He reads histories and mythologies and fairy tales , wondering why it seems that only girls are ever swept away from their mundane lives"
"There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity of goal or path"
There was a lot about dreams and the story of Bailey who is a young boy who stumbles upon the circus is particularly heart warming as he discovers what it is he wants to live for. I love dreams. I would love eventually to do something that would help others discover that in themselves. But what job is that? Career counsellor? That's a piece of it, but so much more I am sure...
"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees dawn before the rest of the world ~Oscar Wilde
The circus in the story was called "Circus of Dreams" in French. I thought it a most appropriate name given that the majority of the circus was someones imagination made reality.
"But you built me dreams instead"
"Follow your dreams, Bailey...no matter what that father of yorus says, or how loudly he might say it. He forgets that he was someone else's dream once, himself"
"The Bailey he is now is closer to the Bailey he is supposed to be than the Bailey he had been the day before"
I guess that is all I will say about dreams and magic but I'll end this review with a description of some of the most beautiful things in the circus. A room filled with snow, a garden made of ice, a room with bottled scents, feelings and emotions, "unusually talented kittens" that jump through hoops, a star gazing room, and a circus that appears suddenly in town without warning, is only open at night, dressed in black and white, peopled with victorian era ball gowns and dapper suits and fronted by a huge clock that has a multitude of beautiful moving parts. It is singularly the most beautiful thing I have ever heard of.
I'll leave you with one last quote to ponder. It tickled me pink and left me giggling to myself uncontrollably!
"...Not as one smiles at a random member of the audience when one is in the middle of performing circus tricks with unusually talented kittesn but in the way that one smiles when one recognizes someone..."
Saturday, January 21, 2012
This book, first off, has a great opening and closing line. It starts with "I am invisible" and ends with "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies I speak for you?"
The book follows a nameless narrator through his life as he experiences the various possibilities open to an African American young person shortly after the civil rights movement. He wins a scholarship to an African American school and sells himself out to the vision of it, only to discover, after accidentally showing one of the white donors the underbelly of the poor community, that his beloved leader Bledsoe was a fraud who was selling out his students to further himself in a white world. Expelled from the school he is sent to New York to make his way in the North where a Black man is supposedly more free. As he navigates a factory job, Harlem and the communist group called, "The Brotherhood". He realized, as he states in the opening line, that he is invisible, simply a nameless cog in the great American wheel worthy of nothing but to be spit out and tossed away by his own Black brethern and White people alike. It isn't until the Prologue that the story finally reconciles itself through a beautifully spun descriptoin of human nature and what it is like to be a member of society and yet still an individual.
The book uses African American folk culture to show what it is like to be a minority in America. Some of the African spirtuals clearly show the nature of a repressed culture in their focus on death and irony.
One of the snippets of song that comes to the nameless narrator at a particularly difficult moment was "Well they picked poor Robin clean". Through his difficult experience he finally realized that the song was talking about how it was a reflection of the African American experience of constantly being torn down. One of the most poignant experiences in the novel for me was a trivial incident where the narrator runs into a cart selling yams. The smell tempts the narrator but reminds him of his "backward ways" back home. He eventually caves and buys a few filled with memories of home but also shame. The silly line he creates to reconcile his two selves has biblical overtones to it, " I yam, what I yam". One of the lines that shows me clearly what it must be like for a minority living in a dominant culture is this:
"You could cause us the greatest humiliation simply by confronting us what something we liked"
How horrible to hate yourself because you liked something different from everyone else. This is a truth that can span so many minority issues including race, sexual preference, religious differences etc, etc, etc.
The book also focuses on the competing pulls on man in general. The pull to be part of a whole, and also the pull to be an individual set apart from everyone else. There was one quote in particular that made me realize that minorities frequently only have identity as a member of a group. I suppose as a member of the "majority" the thought had never crossed my mind:
"Our task is making ourselves individuals. the conscience of race is a gift of its individuals who see, evaluate, record"
"I saw not a crowd , but the set faces of individual men and women." It was finally after the funeral of one of his collegues in the "Brotherhood" that the narrator could finally see his brothers and sisters in Harlem as individuals and not as a collective that behaved in a certain way.
The book is series of brilliant existential questions about "Who am I? what am I? how did I come to be? What do I make of the life around me" ~ Ellison quoted in The Novel 100. I love most existential thoughts and have always been okay with the fact that I don't have the answers to all of them. The anxiety we all face in facing the unknown nature of these questions thrills me rather than causing me anxiety. The narrator ends the novel recognizing that though he is invisible he still has a responsibility to come out of hibernation and play a role in existing amongst others. Here are some great quotes in that vein:
"You ache with the need to convince yoruslef that you do exist in the real world, that you're part of the all the sound and anguish"
"step outside teh narrow borders of what men call reality and you step into chaos...or imagination"
"live is to be lived, not controlled"
"None of us seems to know who he is or where he is going"
"I have been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself"
"Once you get used to it, reality is as irresistable as a club"
"I was my experiences and my experiences were me"
Lastly, the book also hints at sin (both communal and personal), but also talks about the true meaning of life being that of Love. I loved that about the book.
"The fact is that you carry part of your sickness within you, at least I do as an invisible man"
"I have been hurt to the point of abysmal pain, hurt to the point of invisibility. And I defend because in spite of it all I find that I love."
This project has been good for me to expand my horizons and read books that I never would have picked up in my life. Some lead for pleasant suprises and some lead to a new perspective. The next book on the list is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. I am excited to read it since I enjoyed Ulysses
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Oops! I forgot to review this book on my blog although I did a super quick review on Goodreads. This is a classic british murder mystery. My favorite! This one was just as good as any of the others I have read though I am not sure that it is any better although it is on the list of 1001 books to read before you die. Keeps you guessing until the end which I always like. The predictable ones although fun and fluffy aren't as much fun. This book is set in the Fenlands in Eastern England and have some definite biblical flood references in it. There are two mysteries to solve in this novel, one being the theft of some jewels many decades ago and the other being a more modern murder tied in with the jewel theft. The novel is a stuffy British Lord and his manservant who get trapped in the small town of Fenchurch St. Peter during a snowstorm. He stays in touch with the church rector and comes back to solve the murder when it happens. The Nine Tailors is a reference to the church bells that are always present in the novel. They toll out significant events in the town and you get to learn a lot about bell ringing and the importance of what they are used for. I had no idea that there was so much to it. I would love to actually hear church bells run by an actual human being. I don't think it is something I have ever heard before and it sounds complicated, fascinating and beautiful. Anyways, I think that is about all I have to say about this novel. I was excited to read something by Dorothy L. Sayers who is one of the founders of the modern mystery.
It took me forever to finish Book 24 which is Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray but in the end the feat was accomplished and I actually enjoyed the process. I didn't doubt that I would, because although I didn't know much about the content of the book, by the title it seemed like my kind of sctick!
The book dubs itself "A Novel without a Hero" and in a sense it is true. All the characters have the fatal flaw or "hubris" that Shakespeare so often potrays in his novels. Though each characters flaw is different in the end you see that they all made mistakes or lived selfishly at the expense of others.
For most of the novel I was convinced the dear old Dobbin, a devoted puppy dog following around Amelia, one of the novels two main characters, was a hero since he loved selflessly. I had to laugh after reading Daniel S. Burt's view on the book and also after coming to the end of the novel because I took a good hard look at myself. Of COURSE I would love Dobbin, because I too have been guilty of being someone who blindly follows people about who have no idea I exist. Amelia who Dobbin loved was also guilty of blind love as well, since she loved her unfaithful husband beyond reason. I think this quote best describes the flaw in their natures and mine: "The crime she had long ago been guilty-the crime of loving wrongly, too violently against reason"
And another: "And the business of her life, was to watch the corpse of Love"
The novel really focused on how Amelia did not see her husband for who he actually was, but for the exalted image of him she had created. When she witnesses him in unfaithfulness she stuffs the knowledge down inside of herself to avoid seeing it. I thought this extremely long quote showed the fate of a lot of women and men:
"Did she own to herself how different the real man was from that superb young hero she worshipped? It requires many, many years and a man must be very bad indeed before a woman's pride and vanity will let her own to such a confession"
You don't hear about idol worship in the church very often anymore, but I once had a professor at the Christian university I went to stop class to speak at great length about two troubled types of relationships one being Relational Idolatry and the other soemthing along the lines of Relational narcissism. I will always remember reacting violently to that message and seeing myself in it so clearly. If there is anything that people put on a pedastal and worship in this world it is often the idea of Love and sometimes another person.
It isn't until the end of the novel that Dobbin cracks and admits that his Idol has fallen off of her pedastal: " I knew all along that the prize I had set my life on was not worth the winning"
What is so great about literature is that when our flaws, or values are seen outside of ourselves in literary form you can really see them clearly for what they are and their end results. It is much easier to digest them first as fiction and then apply them to our lives, then it is to see them clearly in ourselves.
I love how this novel starts as a walk through the Vanity Fair and that it really plays up the idea of life as a trip to a fair.
"Yes, this is Vanity Fair; not a moral place certainly, nor a merry one, though very noisy"
"The world is a looking-glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face"
"Are not there little chapters in everybody's life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?"
I absolutely adore the idea that our lives our a story with chapters, climaxes, villians, heros, etc. Perhaps that is why I love fairytales so much.
The novels lighthearted nature allows for very hard things to be said. Apparently Thackeray turned to the use of the novel as a teacher after facing much hardship in life. Daniel S. Burt talks about the fact that this novel was written "informed by his sense of the world made up of fellow sufferer's and sinners".
There are so many other quotes that I loved, but the last thing I will end with is one German concept the book talks about that I super excited about. I nearly died when I googled what it meant since I thought the concept was spot on!
The term was, "Sehnsuch nach der Liebe" which loosely translated means "yearning or longing for love". The book describes it this way, "yearning after the Ideal, and simply means that women are commonly not satisfied until they have husbands and children on whom they may centre their affections, which are spent elsewhere, as it were in small change"
Although the book uses the concept to talk wittily about how women have the closest bosom friends until they marry and turn their backs on all but their husbands and children after, I actually think the term applies to so much more. So many of our addictions, obsessions, delusions and attempts at self soothing are all pale reflections of what we are really longing for which is to intimately know and be known by God. I have a magnet I picked up in Portobello Market, London which also talks about this too. It states, "We are all prostitutes and junkies". I love it because that statement basically means that we all sell our selves for something and all chase after other things as well". Kind of a harsh way to live life, but I actually find it makes me more compassionate towards others when I realize I am just as flawed as everyone else.
The next book is Book 25-Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, I am not so patiently waiting its arrival through the library system. Methinks I will not LOVE this book, but I am determined to read through the list and expose myself to new ideas.