Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book 46-American Tragedy

I read American Tragedy which is the 46th book on the list while on my honeymoon. The majority of it was read on both the plane ride to, and the plane ride from Italy. I enjoyed parts of the book, but found the middle part a bit of a slog.

One of the most notable things about the book, for me was that I was constantly reminded of The Great Gatsby. The movie was constantly being watched by passengers around me on the plane and various scenes bore striking resemblances to the book. The most prominent one starts in book one where the main character, Clyde Griffiths is involved in a car accident that kills a child. This reminds me of the scene where Daisy kills someone while driving another's car.

The other similarity is the message in both novels. This is that the American Dream becomes and all consuming reality for people which destroys them. Clyde Griffiths is the most unlike-able character I have ever met in a novel. I had no sympathy for him, found him to be arrogant and could not grasp why he was so heartless. I felt the same way about The Great Gatsby. No so much about any specific character in that novel, just the general mood of it. I found both  novels dark, but not necessarily in a redeeming way.  I disliked the general vibe of this novel almost the entire time, but felt better at the end when Clyde struggled to understand what it was he had done wrong.

Clyde's heartless pursuit of wealth at the expense of others and his love for wealthy attractive women are things that I can't understand fully being someone who has always worked for substandard wages so that I can pursue jobs that make me come alive. His blind devotion to first Hortense and then Sondra do not endear him to ones heart either.

It is interesting to note that this book did not make the cut on the list of 1001 books. For what ever reason Daniel S. Burt included it in his list. Granted if given the choice I would prefer American Tragedy over The Great Gatsby  any day although you really can't pass up on the brilliant beginning and end of the Gatsby.

There were a few quotes I enjoyed in this book, most of them from his time in prison at the end of the  novel:

"life-life- how was one to do without that- the beauty of days-the sun and rain- of work, love, energy, desire"

And the last quote won me over to Clyde's side at last, I had been despising him and hating him up until he utters this line, "would no one ever understand- or give him credit for his human-if all too human and perhaps wrong hungers". I was thoroughly chastened by that line because of my vilifying Clyde for an error that I didn't share. I am not better than Clyde because I fall in different places.

Overall I would say it was an interesting read, but not one that will rise to the top of my charts any time soon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Death in Venice (77th Book)

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann was the 77th book off of the big list that I read. I chose to read it now because I was on my honeymoon in Venice! I love reading books while travelling that are set in places that I am going. This novel is only 77 pages long so it was easy to finish while on the trip. The picture to the left is me reading the book on a canal by our hotel. Our waiter noticed me reading it and said he was just reading it now too.

There were a few things that made sense to me and leapt off the page because I was there. I loved this quoit about arriving at Venice by water. "He thought that to come to Venice by the station is like entering a place by the back door. No one should approach, save by the high seas as he was doing now, this most improbable of cities ". Although we arrived in Venice through the "back door" via train we left via the front door on a cruise ship. The view is indeed stunning as you float past Saint Marks piazza and the canal side Zatere. A second line that stuck out at me was about the predatory nature of street hawkers it is overwhelming to be constantly sought to make purchases. Venice was by no means the worst of the places we visited (that honour goes to Messina) but it was something I discovered on this trip. " thus the charm of this bizarre passage through the heart of Venice, even while it played upon his spirit, yet he was sensibly cooled by the predatory commercial spirit of the fallen queen of the seas"

The book follows an aging writer, Gustave Aschenbach who decides to take a holiday after noticing someone with a travel pack while on a walk. He chooses Venice after trying somewhere else first. At a hotel on the Lido he notices an attractive young boy and follows him avidly as he plays with his friends and dines with his family. He becomes obsessed with his youth and attractiveness and feels his age in a great way. The novel ends as he stays at the resort despite an outbreak of plague that ends up killing him. As the youth departs the resort, Aschenbach dies. It is almost like a parallel of the old passing the baton to the young.

It was interesting timing in choosing to read it now because the novel for the Novel 100 was an American Tragedy and I found a lot of parallels between the main characters and their obsessive love. Their attractions and desires ended up being their fatal flaw.

I think I preferred Magic Mountain better than this novella but the topic was more engaging than this one. I did find a great quote on beauty though: "it is the sole aspect of the spiritual which we can perceive through our senses, or bear so to perceive".

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book 45 - Beloved (76th Book)

 Beloved by Toni Morrison was not at all what I expected it to be. I thought it was a book about the African American experience, which it is but I had no idea it we also a ghost story. I had heard about it from other people but I really didn't know a thing about it other than that people generally liked it. I'm not going to lie, I didn't love it. It was interesting to a point and it definitely captured my attention but it won't jump to the top of my list anytime soon.

Whenever I start a book about the African American experience in slavery and beyond I always expect that I will have no way to relate, but I have been wrong every time. I love that the authors I have read have used their novels to deal with broad themes that are applicable to everyone. I still am horrified by the images of slavery and struggle but I love that the novelists also talk about the idea of freedom, family, individuality, love and what will break the human spirit.

I am not sure what I think of Sethe as a character but I am a big fan of Denver and Paul D. I am always interested in the fact that really traumatized stories of slavery and other forms of human torture always leave characters looking to the past. in the books I have read, and in my own life au have found that alone leave you in a state that will stagnant you and twist you in ways that are not good. That definitely happened for Sethe with her responses towards white people and her clinging on to Beloved. I k ow it happened for me when I defined my existence by what I didn't have instead of looking to better myself. I think that a line that Baby Sugs said really points towards that idea that if you can't imagine something for yourself  it won't happen. "she told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. If they could not see it, they would not have it."

I  also liked the poetry aspect of the novel. There are parts of it that are just scattered fragments of imagery and emotion. Those pieces have the feeling of poetry and help convey the mood of the novel even though it isn't always clear what they are referring to.

One other final quote I liked was this: " Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming yourself was another."

I am always fascinated by this element of the African American experience ( and other minority groups) they more often then not define themselves by collective experience instead of by individual things. I think a blend of both is good but the collective experience is certainly something that is lost on most caucasian Canadians/American. At least in my experience we are often lacking a sense of history and the importance of shared experience.  This book feels similar to invisible man in that it details the struggle of a person to claim their personal identity in addition to their culture. You can see that Denver makes a solid start towards this an it offers hope that maybe Sethe begins to as well.

Rebecca (75th Book)

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a book I picked up because I had it in a vintage mystery compilation. I am getting married on two weeks and have a book themed wedding but wanted to be able to use the vintage book as table decor. It had two books from the 1001 list, this book and The Big Sleep. I managed to finish both while moving, wedding planning and wrapping up work.

I really enjoyed this book because it is narrated from the point of view of the nameless second wife. You are aware at the start of the book that something is horribly wrong and the suspense just builds and builds. The nameless narrator moves into Manderly, a beautiful mansion by the sea she has idolized since she was a child. She quickly finds out it isn't the beauty that the visiting tourists believe it to be. She is constantly plagued by servants that don't respect her and try to undermine her and there are rooms she is not allowed to go in because they were her new husband's first wife's.

I was fascinated the entire time I read this novel and I read it fairly quickly for the time I was at in my life.   It will always remind me of waiting for my fiancé to come with a cargo van to move all my stuff to Vancouver. I was trying to be patient but wasn't being very successful.

I would recommend this book to anyone particularly fans of suspense and older mystery novels. Try just have something going for them that modern mysteries can't seem to capture.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book - Nostromo (74th Book)

Meh- That is my sentiment about Nostromo by Joseph Conrad. I really don't care about this book at all. I  wasn't very engaged in the story, and I don't have much to say about it in terms of a blog. It is interesting to note however that being only 30+ days away from my wedding and huge move hasn't slowed me down one bit. I finished this book last month on time and I am half way through this month's book Beloved. I even managed to finish off two half finished books from the list of 1001 and start another.

Nostromo is set in a South American town constantly overthrown by revolution. Every single one of the characters is flawed in some way and their dreams and ambitions end up their down fall. Nostromo is a man who is in love with his reputation. He is adored by the people because he always seems to save the day. He is sent on a mission to save the silver by a man named Decoud who has spoken negatively about the revolutionaries and is now fleeing for his life and trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his beloved by bringing in reinforcements.  Their boat filled with silver crashes into the revolutionary troops but avoids detection. Decoud stays on the island refuge while Nostromo returns to the mainland in search of help. Decoud goes crazy in the short time it takes waiting for Nostromo to return, and Nostromo is unable to report the crime because of four pieces of missing silver which Decoud uses to sink himself. His reputation is so important to him that he can not reveal what really happened the night that he tried to save the silver. I was reminded of the tell tale heart during the time when Nostromo is overcoming with his love for the silver. It slowly drives him crazy and ends up being his downfall.

I am most saddened by Charles Gould the owner of the mine who throws away everything in order to make the mine successful. He loves his wife for her brilliant mind and shared vision, but she is slowly lost to him in his obsession for the silver. Emilia Gould his wife might be the one truly good character who tried to help everyone and remains devoted to her husband despite the fact that he doesn't see her.

It is the silver that hangs over the entire town of Sulaco eventually polluting almost everyone and everything in its path. I really liked a passage uttered by Decoud, I believe, about value in objects, "things seem to be worth nothing by what they are in themselves. I being to believe that the only solid thing about them is the spiritual value which everyone discovers in his own form of activity". EAch person in the novel is on a quest of sorts. They are consumed by the quest while the silver it self holds different meanings for all of them.

The only thing I like about this story is that it shows that all of us are both good and bad. There are no truly evil characters in this story and each person has shades of both evil and good in them. The story it self was as slog for me and I found it difficult to care about any of the people or what they were doing. The last half of the story was an easier read, but it still wasn't enough to redeem the rest of the tale for me.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Forsyte Saga (73rd Book)

It took me quite a few months to read The Forsyte Saga, but I really enjoyed it. The funniest thing is that I couldn't tell you why. I didn't find the novel terribly enlightening. I don't feel like a better person for having read it, the themes of property and beauty didn't catch me but the book is highly interesting. I think it is because the characters are so fascinating. The Forsyte Saga follows the Forsyte family from the great patriarchs to the younger generation. The younger generation is struggling as returns on investments get less and less. The debate throughout the novel is about the value of owning property houses, women and things like art. The younger generation begins to realize that not all your worth can come from the things that you own.

Here are few of the interesting characters:

June Forsyte- one of the young Forsyte's who is a gilted lover. Her lover is stolen by one of her cousin's wives and she remains a spinster who likes to take on "lame ducks" in the form of up and coming artists.

Soames Forsyte- married to Irene who doesn't love him and marries him out of need. She is eventually has an affair with June Forsyte's fiancé and leaves Soames. He is a cold, lost man who can't understand why he is not loved. He is interested in things of beauty and collects pictures, but is thoroughly immersed in the need to own property. He wants an heir more than anything else to make his life and money worth something.

Jolyon Forsyte- a man who has an affair and marries a maid who he loves. For some reason he is lovable even though he leaves his wife. He has children called Holly and Jolly and leads a content life even though he is excommunicated from the family. He is almost the anti man of property. He eventually takes Irene under his wings when Soames begins to haunt her and attempt to get her back. He is truly in love with her and they have a happy life after the death of his second wife

There are several more members of the family but those were the most interesting to me. I enjoyed getting to know all the characters and even went so far as to start watching the BBC miniseries on Netflix. It was an interesting  show, but life got to busy so I never finished it.

I would highly recommend this novel as one of the most fascinating novels about character. None of the characters are flat in this novel, and you really get to see what makes them tick.

The Big Sleep (72nd Book)

I started and stopped The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler twice before I was finally able to make it all the way through. I am not sure why I had such a hard time with it, but I certainly did. I read this book out of a vintage crime compilation. I am hoping to use the book for my wedding décor which is vintage book themed, and thought that I would like to be done both The Big Sleep and Rebecca in it before I used as table décor on the off chance one of my guests walks off with it. I was excited to realize that the book was a Philip Marlowe book. I spent the summer before I started dating my fiancé solo camping and listening to vintage crime radio plays on my ipod was one of the ways that I filled my time. Philip Marlowe plays were always some of my favourite.

I think part of the trouble with getting into this novel is that you are thrown into the middle of a job he is on and you have to piece together who he is and what is going on. Crime Noir novels are interesting because the private detectives are as much a part of the seedy underworld crime that they try to solve. Their methods are often dubious and they  themselves usually have a very obvious flaw that  makes them rough around the edges. Marlowe is still loveable despite the fact that he is rough around the edges.

This book is a great example of Crime Noir genre. It was hard to get into, but in the end enjoyable. If you haven't listened to a radio play before I highly recommend checking out one of the Philip Marlowe stories on itunes. I believe they are free to download.

Neuromancer (71st Book)

Despite being in the middle of planning a wedding, I have ticked a few books off of my list. It helps that I was trying to get rid of a few books that I knew I wouldn't want to keep once I read them. Neuromancer was one of these items. I picked the book up at our local used book store, complete with a resident cat. The book was three dollars. It was a very interesting read although I can't say that I loved it. The concept was interesting, and it represented cyber space very well. The book is full of slang and jargon for the world that William Gibson created. Despite most of the words not having any real meaning you are able to figure out what he is talking about most of the time. Words like "deck", "jack in", and "ice" are littered throughout the book. It is very much like the Matrix of the 80s. The characters occasionally struggle to separate the real world from the alternate one. The book follows Case, a computer cowboy who no longer has the ability to access cyberspace because of a job gone wrong. In a fit of depression, he is residing in the real world  underground doing drugs, and slumming around when a mysterious man, Armitage promises to fix his problem if he will successfully complete a job for him.

The novel has aspects of crime noir fiction in that it follows a flawed, but loveable character into the seedy underground where it is hard to tell who is on the good side and who is on the bad.  I feel like the target audience for this book is probably young adult males. Although the book was interesting for me I think that a lot of the charm and deep enjoyment of this novel belongs to men in particular and young adult males especially. It has a rougher feel to it, and also would have appeal for youth or young adults who are struggling to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their life.

I would recommend this read, even though it is not in danger of becoming my favourite book. I can tell that it is a one of a kind read, and that although it feels somewhat dated, it is also able to stand the test of time.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book 43- Fathers and Sons (70th Book)

Book 43 on the list was Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I was curious to read this book, because I love Russian authors and I had never read any of Turgenev's books. I love Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy truly, but the lesser Russian authors I find harder to get along with.

Turgenev's novel sets out to show the disparity between two sets of Father's and Son's ideological views. The younger generation has become infatuated with Nihilism and the older generation holds steadfast to faith and tradition. Bazarov is the extreme example of the new generation and his friend Arkady closer to the middle. Arkady's uncle Pavel is the extreme verison of the older generations belief in faith and traditions while his father, Nikolay has a more shaded and rounded version of the older beliefs.

While I found this book to be somewhat preachy and a little too blatant with the discussion on the difference between fathers and sons, I did find a lot of the classic Russian themes that make me love Russian authors. This book has flawed human characters who are lovable even though they are flawed. It also has a theme about the greatest of love and it's ability to overcome many things. I also love that Russian authors devote a great deal of time to the poor. In Turgenev's case, his novel is set shortly after the emancipation of the serfs and follows some of them as minor characters.

There are several phrases that hit quite close to the theme. Here are a few that stood out for me:

"of course you can't understand me; we belong to two different generations"

"that definite twilight period of regrets which resemble hopes and of hopes which are akin to regrets, when youth is over and old age has not yet started"

"You are here to take our places"

"my parents I mean, are occupied and don't worry about their own nothingness"

The book really draws no conclusions as to who is right  in the debate between Fathers and Sons. Bazarov, is a tragic hero who dies by the end of the book, felled by an illness he is treating in his father's provincial village. Pavel is shown, to be truly unhappy and roams about the earth never really settling down. Both Arkady of the younger generation, and Nikolay of the older generation are shown to be happy. They are rounded characters who have found love and hold beliefs from both camps.They allow themselves to see life as it is, rather than trying to fit it into an ideology. Bazarov utters a truismin in his discussion with Madame Odintsov, who he loves. "perhaps really everyone is a riddle".

Bazarov also says, "that's how it is with the luggage of life; we would stuff it up with anything rather than leave a void". Although that is a bitter phrase, uttered to Arkady at his parting from him just when he is about to get married, I think in a lot of ways it is true. As humans, we are not fond of leaving voids in our life and we fill them with all kinds of things addictions, obsessions, activity, and people, rather than truly feel alone.

My conclusion? This isn't the greatest Russian novel of all time, but it is a worthy read.

Book 42-The Scarlet Letter (69th Book)

Book 42 was The Scarlet Letter. I was excited to read it because I had visited Nathaniel Hawthorne's grave in Sleep Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. It was interesting because the beginning of the book starts off describing the sea port of Salem. I was there too and loved the historical significance of  a town based on the witch trials. The story is told as though it tells the true account of a woman who left a diary that was found in an old Custom's House, which is a place where Nathaniel Hawthorne actually worked. The author sets out to tell her story based on the diary.

I wanted to love this book after being excited about the setting, but I didn't. It didn't hold and captivate my attention the way that I wanted it to. It did have some interesting points to say about good and evil and what makes a person strong.

The one thing I did like about the book was the description of the pastor who slept with the adulterous woman, Hester Prynne. He never told and his secret sin ate him alive. As the book progressed he got sicker and sicker eventually leading to his death. It shows how although the trial of wearing a Scarlet Letter was a hard one for Hester she was able to sleep at night knowing that people knew the worst thing about her and still interacted with her anyway. The words laid out in the book, which signify the principal underlying why one of these two characters thrives, while the other dies slowly is this, "Be true. Be true. Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred". There is freedom in being known by others and loved anyway. Pastor Dimmesdale was seen as a saint in the community, but deep down he knew himself to be flawed.

Puritan New England would be a frightening place to live.Everyone walked around with a feeling of superiority over other people, and yet they were all human. I liked a line in the story that shows that we are all flawed and that none of us would be safe in a legalistic community like the one described in the book. "if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom".

This book was run of the mill for me, although I didn't hate the book, I wasn't fascinated with it as I hoped. It is great to see that it has become so iconic though, because the author sold very few copies in his life time.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Book 41-Pride and Prejudice (68th Book)

Book 41 was Pride and Prejudice and after my last experience with Molloy etc. I was happy to be reading something fluffier. I have never been a Jane Austen fan because I always thought them too fluffy for classic literature, but this novel was an enjoyable read. I borrowed my Jane Austen obsessed friend's hand bound copy that I purchased for her several years ago. (see picture to the left) It was fun to be reading something that was so fancy.

I don't have a lot to say about Pride and Prejudice other than that I was pleasantly surprised, as I was when I read Emma. The books are enjoyable I will give them that. I read through the book fairly quickly and had a good time with it. They  aren't deep, they don't make me think about myself in a new and surprising way, and they don't stay with me long after I  have read them. That, to me is the mark of classic literature, but the easy readability of the novels and enjoyment that people have had out of them over the years, has proved that they can stand the test of time.

I found some great quotes in the book which I was not expecting. I really enjoyed the thoughts on pride and what that means. "A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us". I also loved the quote about the fact that "we are none of us consistent".

I was laughing at the beginning because my friend who lent me the book said, "Enjoy Mr. Darcy" and at first I didn't. I got sucked into what Elizabeth felt, and thought he was arrogant. It turns out he was just unwilling to follow society's rules about dancing, and mingling and stuck mostly to himself. That is what I would have done too! He is an enjoyable character, as are Elizabeth and Jane.

And, that folks is one of my shortest reviews ever.

Book 40- Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable (66th and 67th books)

So here is my review of "book 40" aka Molloy + Malone Dies + The Unnameable. I love how the author of the Novel 100 does that! What is dubbed one book is actually three. In the list of 1001 books it is interesting to note that they are listed separately and the third book does not make the cut at all.

So here are my star reviews for each of the books because they vary QUITE vastly.

Molloy 5 out of 5 stars
Malone Dies 2 out of 5 stars
The Unnameable 2 out of 5 stars

Over all rating 2 out of 5 stars

Molloy is by far the best of the three books. I started it a few months ago and read through it in almost one night. I was curious about who this character was and why he was roaming the world aimless and confused. The portrayal of Molloy is a rather accurate description of some of my clients I used to work with when I was a Homeless Outreach Worker. I was stunned by being thrown into his brain and the horror of the world it portrayed. In the last half of  his section, Molloy's leg causes him grief and he stumbles and crawls through the last section. This too is accurate of a large portion of the homeless population who have mobility issues. The last half of the novel is a similar adventure by a character named Moran who is sent out to recover Molloy and find him on the road. He slowly loses his mind and returns home with his quest unsuccessful. This is the most coherent of the novels and I was readily able to follow the story. It is is curious to note that Samuel Beckett who wrote the novels appears to be obsessed with chronicling death and decline. It is noted at some point in one of the three novels that this is something that is not usually done, and I can't think of very many novels that follow that pattern. Buddenbrooks is the only one that is springing to mind at the moment which follows the ruin of a family and ends worse off than when it started.

Malone Dies is a story of a man in a hospital of some sort. He, and thus the reader, are unclear as to how he got there, why he is there, and whether there is anyone else around. The narrative follows his dying thoughts as he attempts to create the story of his life. He states in the beginning that he plans to tell us stories, "One about a man, another about a woman, a third about a thing and finally one about an animal, a bird probably." This book is confused, and wandering. The topic and characters switch a few times throughout the story and it is very difficult to follow. It is not a pleasant read, and I don't feel I learned anything great while reading it. I did find one interesting philosophical thought which made me pause and think. "Nothing is more real than nothing". I still haven't decided what I think about that, because it is a concept I used to try to grasp, but could never quite get. It is, I think, impossible to truly know "nothing". The narrator talked about a goal to "live and invent". I quite liked that and really feel that is what life is about. We invent the kind of person we want to be and create an existence in the world.

The Unnameable is a hopelessly difficult treaty on the self, trying to speak purely of itself. It is the authors attempt at drilling down his narrative to speak only of himself. "To make believe I have an ego all of my own and can speak of it". He cycles through all the identities we have heard through the previous two novels, Molloy, Moran, Malone, etc. and also adds Worm and several others to the mix. The narrator/author? cycles through all these identities quickly discarding them all until the end. I like philosophy, there were a few deep thoughts in the novel, but I just wanted to be done reading it. I am not sure if it was the time when I was reading it or if I had been in a better space whether I would have felt differently, but I did not find this novel enjoyable. (It didn't make it in the 1001 and books to read before you die so that is saying something). I also found the author rather pretentious and his experiment with words and consciousness was too much. I never managed to highlight any of the really horrible sections, but I read several out loud to my boyfriend who often wonders why I proceed to read these books if I don't like them. I am stubborn when I start a task for myself and although I am certain I won't complete the list of 1001 books I am determined to read the list of 100 in is entirety. I did find a great phrase about the human condition though. "Ah a nice mess we're in, the whole pack of us, is it possible we're all in the same boat, no, we're in a nice mess each one in his own peculiar way".

I am so glad to be done with this book. and have nothing else to say!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (65th Book)

The novel 100 book I am reading this month is very bizarre and extremely difficult to read. I chose the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a light fluffy read for bed. It turned out be a book that was not only enjoyable to read, but also uplifting. I knew a bit about the story, in that I knew it was someone who had two parts to their personality, but I was surprised by the philosophical bent to the novel.

The novel follows a friend of Dr. Jekyll's as he converses with a mutual friend. On a walk one day they pass a strange house that they rarely ever see anyone go into. The narrator's companion tells a horrible tale of a man who stumbles over a child and doesn't even care. This heartless tale that affects both of them deeply turns out to be a story that is much closer to home for them.

The premise is that Dr. Jekyll doesn't like the fact that he has a conscience and would like to separate out the two pieces of his personality so that he would be either all good, or all bad. As he experiments with this, being a chemist, he happens upon a chemical that does just that. The only trouble is that it separates out the bad  part leaving the other half with a conscience and knowledge of the wrong doing. In time, the chemical requires a stronger dose to maintain, and there comes a point where Dr. Jekyll get's trapped in Mr. Hyde. Rather than face life as horrible person knowing the wrongs he is likely to commit, he kills himself. The story is finally revealed through a series of letters that he leaves for his various friends.

The story, is engaging, and interesting. It is a true Gothic novel with a dark theme and even darker descriptions. It has elements of mystery to it as well, although the story is so well known, now that modern readers will lose a little of this facet of the story. What surprised me the most was that it also had a moral: the fact that human nature leaves us trapped with both a good and bad side to each of us. Try as we may, there is no way to separate the fact that as humans we are both good and bad. "all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil". One of the deepest statements in the novel about the nature of good and evil is this: "...two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said  to be either, it was only because I was radically both". No matter whether someone is described as good or evil, a nice person, or a bad person; we are all a mixture of both. It is only a matter of perspective as to what the world sees. I like this theme, dark as it is, because it is one of the basic tenets of my belief system. I have a magnet on my fridge that says "we are all junkies and prostitutes". I get a lot of comments on the magnet as people question what it means and why I like it. The reason is this: we all have our weaknesses that make us chase after certain things and we all have something for which we would sell ourselves. In our basest nature there is very little difference between the homeless man on the side walk with his addiction and the Wall Street CEO with his obsession with money. What separates the two, is merely the degree of social acceptability of their foibles. I try really hard never to judge anyone because I haven't had to live in their shoes. With the work I do in homeless outreach and youth outreach there are often very traumatic stories hovering just below the surface. I can't say that I would end up any different if I had to live their life. We are all valuable human beings, no matter what we have done. This is one of the deepest parts of my faith and a part I have held very dearly. As a teen, to express this to the world, I took the idea to the extreme and created a fake company called "Serial Killers go to Heaven, too: A branch of the Charles Manson Christian Fan club"! As horrible as it sounds it was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that I believe I was no better than the worst human being on earth.

 I like that this book gets across the idea of human nature in an interesting and engaging way. It had me thinking through deep philosophical questions while being thoroughly entertained. That is a sign of good fiction.

Thank You, Jeeves (64th Book)

So I read a quick little read last month, shortly after finishing Robinson Crusoe, but I never managed to blog about it. This is mostly because I don't have a lot to say about it. I chose it because I thought it would be a light fluffy read and it certainly was. I have no idea what genre this book fits into, but I picked up thinking it was a British style mystery. Turns out it is a British-style mystery sans the mystery!!!! The series follow Wooster and his traditional style butler, Jeeves through a series of shenanigans. Jeeves seems to be the brightest of the pair and is constantly having to save his bachelor employer, Bertram Wooster from a series of socially awkward situations. This is apparently book 13 of the series but the first full length novel.

I had heard a lot about PG Wodehouse, and contemplated picking up a novel while I was browsing book stores in London. I purchased this book on my Kobo during a 30% off sale and I am glad I did. I don't think I am going to become a Wodehouse fan. Although it was a rather silly little read, I didn't gain anything by my perusal of this novel. I am a huge fan of British humour but minus the mystery part, this novel didn't quite have enough going for it. As a stand alone read it was enjoyable, but I can only imagine, that Wooster would start to drive me crazy because the series appears to focus entirely around Wooster's near misses, and social faux pas with various ladies.

If you like British humour, you would probably find this book slightly enjoyable. If not I would pass this book by unless you are reading the 1001  Novels. It was a quick easy read off the list, but that is all it had going for it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Robinson Crusoe (63rd Book)

I have lost count how many books I read in March, but I think it is the most books I have read in any given month in my entire life! This past weekend I was in Vancouver visiting my boyfriend for the Easter Weekend. He had some work to do for the first few days so while he typed away in coffee shops I had the enjoyable experience of motoring through The Moonstone. God bless Kobo and ereaders, though, because rather than lug around a stack of novels I was just carrying around my  light ereader in my purse. This is also fortuitous because I had started the weekend believing I was going to read Thank You, Jeeves which I purchased for just such an occasion. After the many references to Robinson Crusoe in The Moonstone I felt I HAD to read it. Luckily it was a free novel and I already had it loaded on my ereader. For those who don't know, I originally started the list of 100 greatest novels of all time as an ereader project. I believed that most of the classic novels on the list would be free or low cost. While this hasn't held to be entirely true (some are more expensive, or the older ones are too difficult to find), there are several on both the list of 1001 books and the Novel 100 which will be 100% free thanks to being past the 50 year cut off for copyright enforcement.

I knew a little about Robinson Crusoe but was pleasantly surprised by the actual experience of reading it. I was in a good space to absorb the theme which is predominately one of thankfulness for what you do have, rather than looking at what you don't have. "We may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set in the description of good an evil, on the credit side of the account". Robinson survived his 28 year solitude on the island by continually  looking at the blessing of having been saved from so many crazy ordeals, and being thankful for the supplies that were saved, rather than the things that he didn't have. ""All our discontents about what we want, appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have" The book does a fantastic job of chronicling the everyday things that we take for granted. Everyday things took him much longer to by simply not having the modern day conveniences that we are used to. Carving a boat, took many days to cut down the tree without the use of a proper axe, hollowing it out took even longer without proper implements.

I started reading the book because of the many references in The Moonstone to this novel. Gabriel Betteredge, the servant in the story, had a habit of finding predictions of the future in the pages of Robinson Crusoe. This made me giggle because I have had this happen with the Bible, and other random songs, books and stories. There have been moments when words leapt off the page at me and I knew they were meant just for me. The fact that Betteredge had found one random book that spoke to him in the same way made me grin. The great thing for me as I read Robinson Crusoe is that he too had the experience of words leaping off the page as he started to turn toward God in his long exile. One of the most poignant ones that starts his whole journey back to faith is "Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me". Another reference that stuck out to Robinson was the scripture about counting the cost before beginning a work. I was in the right head space when I started this, book because I was touched beyond reason, by the references to faith in the novel. I was so happy that this fictional character was able to find that God was faithful even when He seemed like He wasn't around. I started this novel during Easter Weekend when I too was reflecting on the many things that God had done for me. This novel actually helped to revitalize my faith which had fallen by the wayside in the busyness of life.

I was pleasantly surprised by this side tangent in reading, and glad that I took the detour after all the references in The Moonstone. The next novel I started reading, Thank you Jeeves, also had references to Robinson Crusoe too so I was even more grateful that I had read it.

The Moonstone (62nd Book)

I started The Moonstone at the tail end of March as my 7th or 8th book for the month. As such, I decided to chose one of the fluffier ones of the list. This is a traditional British mystery which just so happen to be my favourite type of mystery. This one is particularly clever however because you are passed through the hands of several eye witnesses as they account for their first hand knowledge of the Moonstone (a beautiful diamond from Indian that was stolen from a Hindu temple). The diamond is said to be cursed and to affect any family or individual that is in possession of it. The priest's or Brahmins of the temple also are said to be tracking down the stone, generation upon generation trying to recover it to its rightful place.

I loved listening to the story through a series of eye witnesses, because you could never quite tell who was being honest, or what they hoped to get out of their version of the story. My favourite narrator who both started and stopped the story was the servant Gabriel Betteredge. He was loveable and honest, but faithful to a flaw towards his lady and her daughter. He had a funny quirk of believing that random lines from Robinson Crusoe foretold the future. He mentioned so many obscure references from it that I determined that I needed to read the book immediately upon completion of this novel... but that story is for another review.  My least favourite narrator was Drusilla Clack whose narration is littered with judgemental ramblings about the various people who are in the story, as well as several embarrassing attempts to proselytize her family members. As a Christian she embarrassed me because she presented everything that people hate about the faith. I sadly, have been guilty of behaving like her in my younger years.

The story was fast paced and engaging. I was dying to know what had happened to the Moonstone and was convinced that I knew what it was. Turns out I was wrong (which I usually am in mystery novels). I am too easily lead down the  track of Red Herrings.

The novel also provides an example of how crime has its own punishment. The theft of the Moonstone led to several tragic happenings and those who had done wrong in the novel, were the ones who paid the price. One of the characters stated, "crime brings its own fatality with it". I have always felt that to be true. That even if people do not get caught by the laws of the land, that the crime itself takes its toll on an individual.

Overall, I would say this is an excellent read. It is engaging and a clever twist on detective fiction. I was guessing right up until the last page, and enjoyed the process immensely.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Water Babies (61st Book)

The Water Babies by Charels Kingsley represents the 6th novel I have read this month. I am not sure why I have been able to plough through as many novels as I have but I am now plugging quite solidly away at the 7th with at least a week left to go in the month! It took until this sixth novel, before I finally decided that I needed to read something fluffy. Since I still wanted to plug away at the list of 1001books I chose The Water Babies which purports itself to be a "fairytale for land babies". I am a fan of fairy tales and this one kept  my attention.

The first thing I would like to say about this fairytale is that is trying rather pointedly to have a point. That point is two things. One, the exhortation to good little boys and girls to lead a Christian life and two, the encouragement to adopt the idea of  evolution. Since this is only written 4 years after Darwin's book it is quite a shocking accomplishment. That being said, it is rather plainly judgemental in some parts, but oddly enough it seems to be endearingly so because it is right in your face. It is a good picture of the times if nothing else, and one that the author encourages us not to take too seriously since it is, after all, only a fairytale.

The story tells of  Tom a little boy who has a hard life as a chimney sweep at the hands of his nasty master, Mr. Grimes. He is mistaken to be stealing something from a wealthy family that he is working for and gets chased over hill and dale until he falls asleep in a river and "dies". As it turns out he has simply become a water baby which is a stage in life where a person can live underwater and become "clean" while learning valuable life lessons about the way the world works. There is a brilliant philosophical passage on whether or not water babies exist and how one can know anything at all. "but the wiser man are the less they talk about 'cannot'." 

"The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see. There is life in you; and it is the life in you which makes you grow, and move, and think; and yet you can't see it"

The novel reminded me a lot of Pilgrims Progress which I loved. I do however, think this is a slightly inferior version of it because many of the allusions got muddled halfway through the telling of them and the other half seemed to blatant for my liking. The book did a wonderful job of describing the vast and interesting life in the seas and rivers. The creatures described were so fantastical, but pointed to very real and unusual things that live in the water, things like anemone's, sea slugs, and varying forms of fish.

The last things I will say about novel is it stopped and made me think about some of the aspects of my own faith. It had a brilliant observation about one of the fairies who helped make Tom into who he became at the end of the novel. The fairy stated that although many people could make things, only she could "sit here and make them make themselves". I think it is true that God does allows us to create ourselves and sits back giving us subtle corrections and guidances, but allowing us to do the work. That is the one aspect of free will that I definitely love. The other aspect of free will is the harder. As part of his task in life he has to set out to dowhathedoesnotwant. He has to find Mr. Grimes who has since died by falling into the water. He is in a fantastical land where he is trapped with his hands in the chimney. Tom stands by helpless and wants to do something for him, but has to discover that Mr. Grimes is the only person who can help himself. It is one of the hardest lessons to learn that people are responsible for their own lives. I see that everyday in my job with addicted  youth and adults. If others try to do the work for them, they never learn the hard lessons. Sometimes the most caring thing a person can do for someone trapped in addiction is to allow them to fully experience the consequences of their addiction. The codependent care taking that happens may feel like love, but often times means that a person will stay caught in their behaviours. I love the song Timshel (which means thou mayest) by Mumford  and Sons describes this beautifully by the chorus which says ,"but you are not alone in this/ you are not alone in this/ as brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand" followed by the last line of the song,  "But I can't move the mountains for you".

I only rated this novel 3 stars out of 5 because I didn't fully have my engaged in it. It was a cute story, with a few valuable lessons, but it wasn't brilliant in its execution. Although charming and quaint it is not a novel I would recommend to everyone, particularly because it is judgemental.

Anagrams (60th Book)

Anagrams is the last book that I purchased from Powell's, the largest book store in Portland. It is a memorable moment for me, because the trip to the Oregon coast led to me dating my boyfriend. Now that I'm finished my last book from there, maybe we will have to go back! Our discussion of books as we wandered through the aisles, is one of the reasons we started dating.

This book impacted me in a huge way. It is beautiful poetry spun out into a story that changes with every page. It is a story, that for me at least, played with every single on of my heart strings and left me with a sense of philosophical wonder, and existential melancholy.

The novel follows Benna Carpenter's journey through life as she tries to make sense of her self in the day to day mediocrity that she finds her self in. The first  few chapters involve several different anagrams or versions of Benna's life. Friends and lovers are shuffled, careers change hands between characters, and the central conflict switches focus. The last two thirds of the novel are "real" life, but with trouble that we are seeing it through the eyes of an unreliable narrator.

I was struck by the themes in the novel which are themes that are quite prevalent for me at the moment: love, mediocrity, greatness, and being vulnerable before others. I am in a crossroads in my life where I have no idea what is next. I am looking at a potential move, a probably career change and and likely a change in my single status. As I contemplate a move to the city, It is looking like I will potentially have to take a few steps backward in my career goals. Coming at this stage in my life this seems like a blow to my sense of self. The main character Benna struggles with some of the same feelings as she finds herself nowhere that she would want to be at 33. She has a brilliant comment about this stage of life, one that is a constant theme in my boyfriend and I's discussions. "... that awful  stage between the age of twenty-six to thirty-seven known as stupidity. It's when you don't know anything...and you don't even have a philosophy about all the things you don't know".

Parts of the book are all silliness and frivolity. The title of the main body of the book is called "The Nun of that". The book also plays with several rather silly word anagrams. The narrator has three of the same classes on poetry with each of the sessions varying in silliness on the inane thing she tells them, and the themes for poems that she forces them to write. Benna and her sometimes, neighbour, sometimes friend, sometimes lover Gerard have the funniest puns that they say to each other.

The book is also about loss, connection and the fear that prevents us from making deep and meaningful relationships. The novel had me in sad tears by the end of it, both for myself, but also for the narrator. I think she presents in a very meaningful way the human condition about the troubles in connecting to others on a deep level. One of the repeated phrases throughout the novel is "Life is sad. Here is someone" Although that is a sad and disheartening statement I think it is also accurate. We fall in love with people who make us a feel a little less lonely. We are friends and lovers with people who we think "get" us on a soul level. In a world full of disconnection it is nice to finally be seen by someone.

Here are a few quotes that stuck out for me:

"People have lives. As difficult as your own has been, there are others whose lives have been more so".

"words are all you need for love"

"you can not be grateful without possessing a past"

And the final one, a silly one:

"People didn't get married, because they had found someone. It wasn't a treasure hunt. It was more like musical chairs. Wherever you were when the music of being single stopped, that's where you sat".

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is an honest look at how we make a life out of mediocrity and what we do when our lives are not what we would have them be. It is  frighteningly raw self analysis of what is truly important in life and one that I would say is not for the faint of heart. That being said, it is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone, particularly those between the ages of "stupidity"!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Everything is Illuminated (59th Book)

I feel like I was tricked. Everything is Illuminated makes you laugh until you all of a sudden aren't anymore. I made it the majority of the way through the book, giggling and laughing and having a jolly good time of it, but then I got to the last third of the wasn't funny any more. The author says it best when he says, "Humor is a way of shrinking from the wonderful and terrible world".

The first 100 pages of this book were a slog for me. However, despite all that I laughed my head off at Alex, the Ukrainian translator for the narrator's journey to find the lady who saved his grandpa. He was presented with a thesaurus by the narrator and some of his slip ups in word usage are extremely witty and clever. Unfortunately, it made it also made it slightly hard to read, and I kept setting the book aside after reading a few pages. Thanks to the book's odd post modernism and magical realism I decided that I couldn't read it before bed, because it would screw with my already extremely vivid dreams. This turned out to be a wise choice given the subject matter.

If you had asked me what I thought of the novel in the first 100 pages I would have been frustrated and annoyed because I was so sure that I would love the novel, but I wasn't yet. It took a quick turn for me when Alex's English started improving and the story started progressing.This is why I love reading from the lists, because it forces me to step outside of my literary comfort zone. It turned out to be quite a quick read. The post modern style of the book reminded me very much of James Joyce (who I have also decided I love), but it is much easier to follow. The book is littered with different literary styles including encyclopedia entries,  play dialogue, letters, songs, and poems. It is funny, but also not.

This book had so many of the themes that I love: the idea of love, whether there is a God or not, what the nature of good and evil is, free will and dreams. I snapped up all these references and thoroughly enjoyed the process of thinking through the questions. Here are a few of my favourite quotes around the themes:

"we are always drowning and our prayers are nothing less than pleas for rescue from deep spiritual waters"

"a bad person is someone who does not lament his bad actions"

"I loved him so much I madeloveimpossible"

"Every love is carved from loss...but we learn to live in that love"

One of the characters, Brod reminded me a great deal of my teenage self. She, like I, was in love with the idea of love. She wanted so badly to be in love, but it  was harder for her being a truthful person, and unwilling to lie to herself if she was not feeling it. Here are a few of the things that were said about her:

"she had to satisfy herself with the idea of love"

"love itself became the object of her love"

"she loved her new vocabulary of simply loving something more than she loved her love for that thing"

One of the most shocking themes in the book, was the idea of choice and how we have to learn to live with ourselves when we make absolutely horrible ones. I won't go into details for fear of wrecking the story for someone but I was blown away by the thoughts in the book. I think this is the ultimate question in life, and one that makes us human. How do we live with ourselves, when we makes choices that  are counter to our own sense of moral code? How do we live with ourselves, when we become someone we would no longer love?  This book does an absolutely amazing job at rectifying the choices each of the character's made that they struggled to live with.

"We all choose things, and we all choose against things. I want to be the kind of person who chooses for more than chooses against"

"You had to choose, and hope to choose the smaller evil"

"Try to live so that you can always tell the truth"

This book was a pleasant surprise to me. I was happy I stuck with it and thoroughly loved the process of discovery though the book. I liked it so much that I would like to read another or the authors books to see if it is equally as good.

The Thirty-nine Steps (58th Book)

Whoops! I have been reading so many books in the past month that I forgot about this short, but good novel. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads because it was interesting and engaging. It is dubbed the first spy novel, and one that created a lot of the standards in the genre: car chases, disguises etc. I wanted something light and fluffy and this fit the bill. It was a short read, and very engaging. I have always wanted to go to the play recreated by Alfred Hitchcock It was playing in London when I was there, but I unfortunately missed the opportunity. Interestingly enough, I think that the novel and play are quite different. I don't know much about the plot of the play but I know it has something to do with a girl. There isn't a girl in the original version. I also know that it is supposed to be riotously funny, and the novel is extremely engaging, but not comical in anyway. I feel bad for the original author, John Buchanan who has been trumped by the genius of Alfred Hitchcock. Everyone is far more familiar with his story than the original.

One of the interesting things about this novel, is that it was written during the First World War and involved a German plot to start a war and make it look like the British caused it. It is a highly plausible plot, and it makes me wonder how it was received at the time. It seems like it would be a little too close to  home for comfort, but perhaps it only added fuel to the fire, in the British's hatred of Germans.

At any rate if you are looking for a good read between some of the heavier classics I would definitely recommend this. It would hold a candle to any of the modern day spy novels.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Fall of the House of Usher (57th Book)

I seem to be on a roll these days. I have a lot of time on my hands and have been finishing books quite quickly these days. I wanted something quite fluffy and short, because I intended to read Everything is Illuminated this month, but didn't feel this was a good book to read before bed since I tend to have weird dreams already and that book is kinda crazy. Instead I perused my Kobo and found this short story from Edgar Allen Poe, that is also on the list of 1001 Books to Read before you die. It probably seems like an odd choice given that it is Poe and also weird, but it thankfully didn't infect my dreams.

The book is set in a crumbling mansion on the lonely moors and narrated by an old friend who is sent to visit his former companion who he hasn't seen in years. When he arrives he finds his friend and sister much changed and in ill health. Over the course of the novel his friend comes unhinged and the sister dies. It is an eerie tale, filled with an remote setting, scary story telling, death and a madman. It is a quick but engaging read.

I enjoyed the story, but did not think it Poe's best. For me nothing can replace the eerieness of The Tell Tale Heart. It is interesting to see which novels make lists, and which don't. The Novel 100 list is one person's interpretation of what is best, and even though the 1001 Books list is compiled by more than 100 critics I still occasionally find books that I wish were on there. For instance, it blows my mind that East of Eden isn't on either list, when it is one of my favourites.

At any rate, this was a quick and enjoyable read, and definitely had the haunting and eerie  feel of many of  Poe's stories. I am looking forward to reading The Pit and the Pendulum which is also on the 1001 List.

Book 39-The Tin Drum (56th book)

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass is one odd little book! I'm not saying that is a bad thing because I read the book pretty fast, but it is about the only description I can think of to describe what the book is like. I purchased this book from my local used bookstore for $3 and I'm glad that was all I paid. Although it is an intriguing and engaging read, I don't think I would read it again. It is a bizarre snapshot in time to pre-war Poland and Germany....but through the eyes of a midget who willed himself to stop growing at three. This is the first book I have reviewed for The Classics Club challenge that I signed up for last month.

The best thing about the book is it does extremely well with descriptions. There are several disturbing, but very vivid moments in the book. One of the most horrifying is when Oskar and his family comes across a fisher at the seaside. When he pulls in his bait it turns out to be a dead horses head which he is using to catch eels. The book describes in graphic detail how he reaches in various orifices to pull out eels, the most disturbing being and eel hauled out of the ear, with a bit of brain still in its mouth. Apparently this is fairly well known scene, because as I talked about this book at work, it was one of the first things that my co-worker remembered about the book.

The description of this book in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die actually made me appreciate this book slightly more. It talked about how this book was about Nazi Germany written through the eyes of an outcast from this society. It also talked about how the book used literary forms that were not condoned during that time: fairy tales, carnivalesque and harlequin (2010 Edition). That is definitely what this book is like. A few parts of it reminded me of Gravity's Rainbow which I didn't like. The more books off the list I read the more I realize that I am not a terribly great fan of fantastical literature. That strikes me as odd, because given what I know of my personality I would think it would be right up my alley. I guess when I read classical literature I want to do so for edification and I find a lot of the comic, fantastical literature tends to focus heavily on bitter revelations about the world, some of which I would support, others which I see as taken to far.

There were a few quotes in this book that I found interesting:

"Even bad books, are books and therefore sacred"

"Love knows no time of day, and hope is without end, and faith knows no limits"

"My presumptive father took so realistic a view of war that itw as hard, in fact impossible, for him to be brave"

"He who doubts, believes, and it is the unbeliever who believes the longest"

Since I finished this book so early in the month, I will have plenty of time to read books off of the 1001 Books list. I think I am even going to read Everything is Illuminated along with the 1001 Books club on Goodreads. I have had it on my shelf for awhile so it will be good timing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Foucault's Pendulum (55th Book)

February left me without a Novel 100 book to read having already read Wuthering Height's as an angsty teen. I quickly devoured two Umberto Eco books off the "1001 books" list instead. Foucault's Pendulum was the second Umberto Eco book that I read. Unfortunately I didn't love it as much as the first, The Name of the Rose, but it is still a four star novel. I read this one almost as quickly as the first.

The premise of this novel is that three individuals from Garamond Press decide to make a mock book based on the Templar Plan that many of their reader's are obsessed with.  They spend days piecing together a plausible plot only to be taken completely seriously by the individuals they were trying to make fun of. Their game turns deadly when one of their members is kidnapped.

I loved this book almost as much as The Name of the Rose, except for two things. One was the infernal lists of variations on various occult groups, Templar levels and Rosicrucian rites etc. The lists, which filled up several pages at a time, I am sure, were included to show that every occult group has their variation on a theme. Stylistically though, they were difficult to read and I always had to slog through them to get to the other side. The second thing that dropped this book by a star was the fact that the book jumped in time by use of the phrase, " I really wish I had known then what I know now standing beside this periscope" etc, etc. The Name of the Rose frequently jumps in time like this book does, but the transitions were smoother in it. These transitions felt more  pretentious to me and although I was able to follow what was happening for the character they felt a bit contrived.

Despite those two things, this book is great. You are taken for a thrilling ride in a giant conspiracy theory that leaves you wondering if you will manage to remain sane at the end of the book. Never fear, by the end of the novel your senses have returned to you and you are left planted firmly back in reality.The novel spends quite sometime showing how everything in the world is connected. It's a dangerous experiment to get into as my friend and I discovered one summer while camping. Out of boredom, we both decided to track, out loud the paths that our brain's took to get from point a to point b. After speaking aloud the train of thought which lead from such things as stars in the sky to our favourite TV star your thoughts become really loud. We were blissfully unaware until that day how important it is that a lot of our thought processes are unconscious.  This book is a little like that, you could see connection everywhere, but the process will likely exhaust you.

This book is full of Umberto Eco's characteristic semiotics. I ate up these tidbits on symbolism as I did in his first novel:

"I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom"

"From prohibitions you can tell what people normally do."

"Resemblance: the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else"

"historia maistra vitae" (or history is life's teacher)

"he gathers together all the shreds of light, from wherever they may come"

The thing I like about Umberto Eco as a Semiotician is that despite studying symbols his whole life I think he still believes that there is inherent meaning in the world. I don't know much about the field of semiotics, but I have this idea that if you spend your life studying symbols, you would likely stop believing that they had any meaning.  Here are a few quotes I liked that pointed to the fact that despite all the chaos and craziness that there still could be ultimate meaning:

"There is nevertheless something that has more meaning than the rest"

"To be saved at the very beginning, for all eternity, it is necessary for that being to be tangled"

"But every book is interwoven with the name of God"

"Synarchy is God"

"The conspiracy of society...comes form abandoning God and then asking: 'Who is in his place'"

I would highly recommend Umberto Eco to anyone who is of a slightly philsophical bent. My boyfriend and I who have very different thought processes both loved The Name of the Rose. This one might be a bit more of a stretch for someone like him who is logical and rational....but for someone like me who has a mystical/ spiritual side I lapped it up.

The Name of the Rose (54th book)

It seems that I have a lot of time on my hands. I managed to squeeze in not one, but two books from the 1001 books to read before you die list. This month I didn't read a Novel 100 book, because I had already read the book slated for this month. I recently took a trip to Victoria with a friend and picked up The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco for $6.99 at a cute independently owned book store called Munro's. I was pretty excited because my boyfriend really liked the book and  thought I would too.

What's not to like about a mystery set in a abbey with a labyrinthine library and a secret to keep?? I read this book in no time flat. I have heard that if you can get through the first 100 pages of this novel than the book is for you. Since I didn't even notice that the book was slower at the beginning it must have been tailor made for me!

I liked this novel because I knew absolutely nothing about this period of history. I am fascinated by it however, and have read a few books set in this time period, mostly because of my love of labyrinths. The Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie were my original two novels about monks and the secrecy of this period. Eco does a good job of giving an overview of the historical time period throughout this novel.

Umberto Eco is a Semioticist which is a person who studies signs. I am a fan of symbols and thought this book was brilliant. The book's name, "The Name of the Rose" refers to a quote in Latin which states, "what is left of the rose is only it's name." The book is interesting because it plays with the idea that meaning can be lost easily and that symbols can stop meaning what they once did after repeated use. Even though that is what the novel's end hints at, I still felt like the book was hopeful.

Here are a few quotes from the book on meaning and symbols:

"He was thinking of the endless array of symbols with which God through His creatures speaks to us of eternal life."

"The whole universe is surely like a book written by the finger of God, in which everything speaks to us of the immense goodness of its Creator"

"When we consider a book we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means"

"A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things"

I love things like that! I am a fan of symbols and I am a huge fan of philosophical thinking. This whole book is  just ripe with these ideas while still having an absolutely engaging murder mystery to solve.

Here are some quotes that I loved. Most of them were written in Latin in the book, but thanks to the magic of Google and my love of languages (I actually started to learn Latin while reading this book) I decided to find the meanings of them and boy, am I glad I did:

omni Mundi creatura
quasi liber et pictura
nobis est in speculum

or "every creature on earth resembles a book and a picture like looking through a mirror"

amor est magis
cognitivius quam cognito

"we know things better through love than through knowledge"

"Non in commotione, non in commotione Dominus

"Not in confusion, God is not in confusion"

There is so much I could say about this book, but I think I will leave it at that. Immediately upon finishing this novel I discovered that another Umberto Eco book was on the 1001 list, Foucault's Pendulum. I loved The Name of the Rose so much that I immediately bought the Pendulum on my e-reader and started in on my second Eco book.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Classics Club

One of the book blogger's I follow posted about the Classic's Club. It looked fun so I thought I would join. The premise is essentially to make a list of 50 classics that you want to read and set a finish date up to 5 years in the future when you will have them all completed. Since I am already working on the Novel 100 project and the 1001 books list this will be a way for me to keep on track. If I read 1 book a month from the Novel 100 book here is my list of what I will have done in 5 years:

39) The Tin Drum-Gunter Grass

40) Molloy, Malone, Dies the Unnameable- Samuel Beckett

41) Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen

42) The Scarlet Letter- Nathaniel Hawthorne

43) Fathers and Sons- Ivan Turgenev

44) Nostromo- Joseph Conrad

45) Beloved- Toni Morrison

46) An American Tragedy- Theodore Dreiser

47) Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov

48) The Golden Notebook- Doris Lessing

49) Clarissa- Samuel Richardson

50) Dream of the Red Chamber- Cao Xueqin

51) The Trial- Franz Kafka

52) Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte

53) The Red Badge of Courage- Stephen Crane

54) The Grapes of Wrath- John Steinbeck

55) Petersburg- Andrey Bely

56) Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe

57) the Princess of Cleves-Madame de Lafayette

58) The Stranger- Albert Camus

59) My Antonia- Willa Cather

60) The Counterfeiters-Andre Gide

61) The Age of Innocence- Edith Wharton

62) The Good Soldier- Ford Madox Ford

63) The Awakening- Kate Chopin

64) A Passage to India- E.M. Forester

65) Herzog- Saul Bellow

66) Germinal- Emile Zola

67) Call it Sleep- Henry Roth

68) USA Trilogy- John Dos Passos

69) Hunger- Knut Hamsun

70) BErlin Alexanderplatz- Alfred Doblin

71) Cities of Salt- Abd Al Rahman Munif

72) The Death of Artemio Cruz- Carlos Fuentes

73) A Farewell to Arms- Ernest Hemingway

74) Bridgeshead Revisited-Evelyn Waugh

75) The Last chronicle of Barset- Anthony Trollope

76) The Pickwick Papers- Charles Dickinson

77) Robinson Crusoe- Daniel Dafoe

78) The sorrows of Young Werther- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

79) Candide- Voltaire

80) Native Son- Richard Wright

81) Under the Volcano- Malcolm Lowry

82) Oblomov- Ivan Goncharov

83) Their eyes WEre Watching God- Zora Neal Hurston

84) Waverley- Sir Walter Scott

85) Snow Country- Kawabata Yasunari

86) Nineteen Eighty-four-George Orwell

87) The Betrothed- Allesandro Manzoni

88) The last of the Mohican- James Fenimore Cooper

89) Uncle Tom's Cabin-Harriet Beecher Stowe

I have left the list numbers on so that people can follow along with my progress on my original challenge of the Novel 100. At my current pace I still won't be done in 5 years and I have been working on it for just over two years already. My end date for this particular challenge will be March 2018 as I won't start The Tin Drum until March.

If you are interested in checking out the Classics Club you can find the challenge here. Happy Reading!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Children's book (53rd book)

The Children's book by A.S. Byatt could have been so much better. I wanted to like this book, I really did, but it fell sadly short of what I hoped for. It potentially had everything I could want in a book, because it was filled with imagery and ideas that I love. It had magic which blended into reality, lots of beautiful things, and a study in the darker side of humanity. It's the execution that was lacking. I got bogged down somewhere in the middle of the book and let it sit on my bedside table for a year and a half. I would pick it up for small periods of time when I was in between books, hoping I would finish it at some point. It is on the list of 1001 books to read after all, and I refuse to give up on any of those. It was a long slog to finish it, but one that I am glad that I made, because the end is stellar, and made me want to love it. I give it only three stars however since it took me so long to read it.

The book is set in the period between Victorian England and Edwardian times and ends at the end of the First World War. It follows the Wellwood family and their varied connections through this period. The Wellwood's are part of a group of Fabians and their children are free to explore and play. The mother is a children's book writer and creates an individual volume for each of her children. These stories are incredible, and beautifully portrayed. The fairytale world that they live in however, is covering up a vast array of secrets and confusing inter-familial relationships. The family is on the brink of falling apart, and the cracks begin to show. One of the kids make this discovery and utters this philosophical line, "If you find out your parents weren't your parents, would you be a different person?"

The family  is connected to another family called the Fludd's who are potters and the description of the works they create sound absolutely beautiful. The fantastical elements portrayed in the clay sound mysterious and beautiful. The book is filled with the lovely elements of art and story. I was enamoured with the description of all the artistic people and their creations: puppets, pottery, the Gloucester Candlestick in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the plays they perform. The book also includes several real works of fiction that were created around this time including the play Peter Pan and varying poets and works of art. I loved this reference to a poem of the period. "Love is a standing, or still growing light"

What bogged me down was the historical elements of the story. The author makes an effort to tie in historical pieces to the story that tell you what was current and interesting to the people of the society around this time. These descriptions although fascinating for their historical value and picture of a different life, make the story slow and bogged down. They are not blended into the magical elements of the story, and stand out like sore thumbs amidst the more fluid elements of the story.

This ideas in this novel definitely fit with mine, however. There were many points in the story where I would get very excited by things that varying characters in the novel said. Since one of the main characters is a writer there are a lot of references to what role stories play in our life. One of the daughters Griselda, sets out to study fairytales at university to figure out what themes emerge from them. Here are a few things she says about her studies. "It's really the ways in which fairy tales aren't myths that interest me" and "They work according to some sort of rules and I'd like to work out what they are". I have always been a huge fan of the idea that fairy tales convey deep truth. It is one of the reasons why I chose this book early on in reading books from the list of 1001 because I felt I would like the ideas in it.

Lastly, although the historical parts bogged down the book, there were a few interesting moments for me in it. The status of women was very clearly portrayed through this book. The suffragette movement was depicted in all it's gruesome details, as was the fact that women couldn't study for full degrees at universities. One of the women in the book gets pregnant out of wedlock and it is clear that her fate is horribly changed by this mistake. The other thing that was very clearly portrayed was the horror of the first world war. It devastated many of the characters in the book, and was very accurately portrayed in all its messiness and horror. I have always had a trauma response to the First World War and can cry at a drop of a hat with the least mention of it. I was a mess as I read the last section of the novel. Fortunately for me my boyfriend was here to comfort me or I might stepped away from the novel altogether. I was most struck by the fact that a generation of men was decimated by the war.

Although the book has a low rating, I did enjoy large parts of the book. It took me a lot of weighing to give the book a rating out of five stars, because I so badly wanted to like it. In the end I decided that the fact that I got lost in the middle was fact enough that I couldn't rate it higher.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book 38- Wuthering Heights (31st book)

Ah, Wuthering Heights. One of the first classical novels I ever read. I picked it up as a teenager out of anger that Jane Austen's book should be considered classics. One of my friends were reading  everything they could get by her, but to me the novels seemed like fluffy fiction. I chose Wuthering Heights for its darker elements and as a more realistic counterpart to the Jane Austen classics. In terms of re-reading it for the  list of Novel 100, I didn't. I purchased a 1967 BBC DVD version of the story so that it might refresh my memory of my teen reading of it. Book 38- Wuthering Heights was the very first one I ever read off of the list.

I am highly amused, because it now seems equally as contrived as Jane Austen's novels. Although it plumbs the depths of  the darkness of the human heart and shows how singular incidents in a person's life can twist them into "monsters" beyond human recognition, it is filled with angst. It takes the theme to an extreme and reminds me of just how angst-y I was as a teen.The story is good however, and keeps the attention. This time around I hated everyone in the book though and wanted to beat each of the characters to within an inch of their life!

The one part that I did like, and the only memory I have of the book from my original reading of it is the image of the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange being confronted by Catherine's ghost. I found that image extremely chilling, and they movie version watched did equally as well at portraying the eeriness of it.

The other thing that the DVD did well at conveying was the wind along the moors. I remember that being a very big feature of the book too. Overall, the thing that I like Wuthering Heights for is that it conveys a mood of melancholy very well. I have always been a fan of blustery days and would love to see what Wuthering Heights would actually be like.

I will very quickly be on to book 39-The Tin Drum. I happened to find it at a used bookstore for $3 so I am very excited to read it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A fluffy tangent...literally

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

What a clever, completely ridiculous book! I read it as a tangent from classic literature and picked it up at a book bag sale on a whim. I love silly and cheesy fiction when I am not reading classic literature and I was not let down by this novel. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that the book had a deep philosophical bent to it about God and the universe.

This appears to be a novel that people either lover or hate, from the vastly divergent reviews I have read. It had everything I was looking for in fluffy fiction. It made me laugh out loud, was filled with a completely ridiculous plot and witty characters. I was not disappointed one bit by this book.

What's not to love about a young boy who sets out to find his fortune in the world, a PI detective's bear named Eddie and nursery rhyme characters (or Pre-adolescent Poetic Personalities as they are known in the book) who die in bizarre ways?!

There were such silly ridiculous things that the author made up that I am curious to read one of his other books. For instance a sexual position named "taking tea with the parson" and an object called a Maguffin which is described as "the all important something, the all importantness of which will not become apparent until its important moment has come"

Here are a few of the philosophical bits that I just loved:

Eddie to Jack when he questions how a teddy can think, but is not confused by how a human thinks.

"It's a piece of meat' said Eddie, ' And how does a piece of meat think?"

"Not magic', he said, 'Science'"

"They believe the entire universe is a construction kit, taken out of the big box and assembled by God"

"When things are not as they appear to be it is because they are far simpler than you think them to be"

If you have a silly bent, but also love to think a bit deeply....than I would recommend this book for you.