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".