Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book 33-Dead Souls (47th book)

I have made a tactical error in working on the list of 100 novels. I started at the top of the list (aka the best of the best) and I am working my way down. Theoretically this means that the novels should get worse as the list goes, while still being the best of the best. This has held somewhat true, although there are quite a few of the highest rated novels on this list that I can't stand. I should have started at the bottom and worked my way up. I am starting to feel like a grouchy old reader who is difficult to impress. I WANTED to like book 33 Dead Souls by Nikolay Gogol because it is Russian, and Russian literature is my thing, but I just couldn't do it. It can't hold a candle to any of the other Russian novels that have charmed my fancy. Sigh.

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

Love and Other Games of Chance- A Non list book

I picked up this book at Powell's in Oregon (the largest bookstore I've ever been to). It was on sale for $4.99 and the title intrigued me. As I read the inside cover it sounded like just my cup of tea. It involved magic, circus, love and a snakes and ladders game. It sounded like pure fun. I was not disappointed, but was pleasantly surprised that it was also philosophical which are my favourite kinds of books to read.

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!