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.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (52nd Book)

I have picked up the pace of my 1001 book reading. For awhile I was struggling to keep up to reading one Novel 100 book a month, but have now discovered I have a lot of time to read. I guessed I have adjusted to having a boyfriend in my life! I have taken this opportunity to start working my way through some of the books on my shelf that are also on the 1001 books to read before you die. When I first started the two list I went around purchasing every cheap book on the lists I could find. I soon realized this was a habit that was doomed to fail, as my bookshelf is only so big!

I purchased  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd at a book bag sale in my town. It was well worth the dirt cheap price I paid for it. I am a huge Agatha Christie fan at the best of times and love how the mysteries  are often of the "locked room" variety. These books are the type where there are a limited number of suspects and an element of confusion as to how the murder was accomplished right under everyone's noses. This book is a classic in that way.

I am always SO sure that I know who the murder is with Christie's books but I am always dead wrong (no pun intended!). I am not sure whether to be annoyed by that fact or pleased because the puzzles are so clever. I quickly devoured this book however, and I was kept guessing right up to the last page. I can't get too much into the details of the murder without giving things away, but I will suffice it to say that it was cleverly planned out. A Doctor Who episode that feature Christie talked about her insight into human nature and this novel definitely shows that. The varied crimes committed in the novel have brilliant reasons behind them and are clearly portrayed by the description of desperate people doing desperate things.

This is the first novel of Christie's that is written in the first person by a doctor in a small town. At first I was confused by this fact, because it was so uncharacteristic of her novels, but when I realized that Poirot was "retired" and the country doctor was to become his sidekick it made sense. I love Poirot's quirky "foreign" expressions and the fact that he is so cocky and sure of his use of his little "grey cells".

I will end this review by saying that this just might be my all time favourite Christie novel and I would recommend it to anyone who is a mystery fan. It is quite clever and I completely understand why it made it on the list of 1001 Books to Read.

Book 37-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (51st Book)

Okay, It's official with book 37-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I am a James Joyce fan. I know that sounds pretentious but I swear that it is true and not just me trying to be a book snob or a hipster. I haven't always loved the process of reading James Joyce but by the end I have been awed by the brilliance that is James Joyce. I haven't understood 1/2 of what I have read with Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake but they are brilliant I have liked brief ideas in them. With A Portrait, I understood the majority of what I read, but again....didn't enjoy part of the process. I was however with Joyce the entire time I was reading. I GOT what he went through as a young man and how he was shaped into the man he was in his life.

James Joyce's journey parallels my own so it makes sense that I would have enjoyed the process. As a young 13 year old girl I felt lost and adrift in a confusing world. My faith, unlike Joyce's,, was my own and had nothing to do with my family. Like Joyce, however I had a brief period in my teen years where it was my life preserver. I clung to it and thought if I just followed the rules and played fair that everything would be okay. Stephen, Joyce's character who presents several autobiographical details about himself, has a very intense period during his school days where he is racked with guilt as he struggles with his sexuality. He finds beauty and truth in some of his faith but he also clings to it out of self preservation. I can identify with that.

There were several really beautiful things said about God during this stage:

"We came from God, we live by God, we belong to God: we are His, inalienably His"

"But he could no longer disbelieve in the reality of love since God Himself had loved his individual soul"

I writhed in pain right along with Stephan as he listened to a special sermon on Hell and Hell fire. I was angry that poor Stephen/ Joyce had this experience because my upbringing in the church was quite different. It was not tinged with so much fear, and terror. It makes me sad when the church uses their power as a big stick to beat people into submission. This is particularly true after having several conversations with my boyfriend on this topic recently. I wanted to fling my book across the room  during this sermon and it took all that was within me to keep reading. That being said, commentators on Joyce's other books often talk about the ironic nature of a lot of Joyce's portrayals of the church and faith, but having read his novels as a still devout Christian I found a lot of truth and meaning in his words.

The other part of his book that I found particularly beautiful was his belief in his calling as an artist. His moment of rapture on the beach won me over. Alongside my faith, I developed a love of truth and beauty which has never gone away. I grew up during my tumultuous teen years reading good fiction and loving the tidbits of truth that jumped off the page for me. Although I still have my faith in God, I also have a highly developed love of beauty and truth and will find it all over: in nature, in literature, in art and in others.

Here are some quotes from the chapter where he solidifies his career path:

"He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul"

"He was alone, he was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life"

"To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life"

"Had he found the true church all of a sudden?"

"the true and the beautiful are akin"

This novel is a classic Bildungsroman, a novel of development and is fast becoming one of my genres. I love discovering what makes people tick and this definitely helped me to do that with Joyce. I don't know if I would recommend it to everyone, but it was definitely a happy read for me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book 36-Le Pere Goriot (50th Book)

I liked book 36- Le Pere Goriot. It feels good to say that. I have felt like a book snob in the last few review since I just haven't fallen in love with  any of them. What makes this even sweeter is that Le Pere Goriot is a French novel and I haven't liked the last few French novels I have read. This book focused on the poor class rather than the wealthy though and for that reason I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is set in a French rooming house run by Madame Vaquer,  a lady who is herself down on her luck. The story centres around two central characters the poor Rastignac and the doting father, Le Pere Goriot. It is the encounter between these two that shows the effects of poverty working out in the lives of two very different people.

I think it is the books refusal to candy coat the wickedness of society or of humanity that makes me like this book. It is very much reminiscent of Russian novels to me in that way. It is a book to me, that feels like real life. I didn't feel enlightened by any deep insights into humanity with this novel, but I was thoroughly engaged in the story and I finished it quickly.

Here are a few of the insights the book makes about the dark side of life.

"mankind are not perfect"

"man is not the same, high or low, or wherever he is"

"Everyone believes in virtue but who is virtuous"

"Indifference to the fate of others is a matter of course in this selfish world"

One of the most interesting portrayals in the book is Le Pere Goriot. He is a father that is doggedly devoted to his daughters and his love destroys both himself and his daughters. It is the clearest example of codependency I have ever seen. This psychological problem was most clearly shown to me in my first job out of university where I worked at a Christian women's home for a few months. After completing a psychology degree, but feeling very unskilled I was happy to have a job in the field even though it was not well paid. One woman there struggled with codependency and it came out in all sorts of ways. She told me one day, how she had ended up in the home and it was as a result of giving all her money to a aboriginal tribe who was trying to buy a historical site and ending up homeless herself. Goriot is not far off this real life example. Although being generous is a good thing, giving at the expense of yourself to the point of ruin is both pointless and unattractive. For those who have struggled in life, finding an identity as a helper can be a crutch that is relied on too heavily in all kinds of troubles. This is where it becomes problematic.

Although it is not my favorite book of all time, it is certainly a worthy read, and a find I am happy to say I stumbled upon as a result of reading the books on the Novel 100 list. It has given me determination to continue to read the books on the list in hopes of discovering more enjoyable reads I would have never picked up on my own.