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.