Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (94th Book)

Sherlock Holmes is a character that has stood the test of time. I had some time to kill after reading My Antonia and I decided I should tackle Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character as he actually wrote him. I am obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, but I recently realized that I haven't actually read the REAL books. I have watched several Sherlock Holmes movies and TV shows. BBC's Sherlock being the best and an Asylum movie "Sherlock Holmes" from 2010 being the involved dinosaurs and was as cheesily horrible as one can imagine.

I have also read just about every novel adaptation you can think of including "The Baker Street Letters", "The Sherlockian", the Mary Russell series and "The Art of Deception".

I have even visited "221B Baker Street" or the Sherlock Holmes Museum while on a trip to London.

All this and yet I have never been formally introduced to the man by the author himself! I started my novel 100 challenge because I believed there would be many free novels that were available on my kobo that had become public domain. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes just so happened to be one of these novels. This was an excellent read! I was not let down and thoroughly enjoyed the little puzzles that filled this compilation of short stories. This book includes such famous stories of the "Red Headed League" and "A Scandal in Bohemia". I see why the world went crazy over this intelligent detective.

One of the adaption novels that I read ,"The Sherlockian", gave me some insight into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the history of the infamous detective. Apparently Conan Doyle grew to hate Sherlock Holmes whose fame greatly exceeded his own! This novel followed a group of Sherlock enthusiasts as they try to solve the murder of one of their own, a man who had just announced he had found the lost diary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This novel pointed out why Sherlock was so accessible to people. Doctor Watson is nothing more than a plot aid to make Holmes accessible to the masses by allowing the overly intelligent detective to tell their bumbling assistant how they figured out the crime. I realized that this is a common tool in mystery novels including one of my other favourite Victorian detectives, Poirot by Agatha Christie. In her novels, Captain Hastings, does the work of Doctor Watson quite nicely! (Speaking of which I just finished an adaptation of Poirot called the Monogram Murders which wasn't too bad.)

At any rate. I LOVE Victorian mystery novels I am happy to say I have joined the ranks  of people who have actually read Sherlock Holmes. I immediately went and downloaded all the rest of novels and short stories and will hopefully find time to get to know the REAL Sherlock Holmes personally.

Book 59- My Antonia

Ah nostalgia! My Antonia by Willa Cather is a book about the things from our past that shape our lives and stick with us forever. Willa Cather set the novel in her childhood state of Nebraska, a place that very few if any novels deign to  talk about. The version of the story that I read included a foreword  that likened My Antonia to a quote by Virgil "For I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country". I do feel very nostalgic about my little hometown while still looking forward to the future. I have yet to write a novel, but perhaps one day I will do justice to my tiny island upbringing...

As far as novels go this one was not bad. I read it in fits and starts, hunkering down and reading large chunks  of the novel and then abandoning it for days. It took me almost the entire month to read this novel as a result.

As far as nostalgic fiction goes, it was pretty good, but it could never beat Laura Ingalls Wilder's books including Little House on the Prairie. I have very distinct memories of reading them as a tween just becoming a woman. I had a vintage boxed set that I picked up at a garage sale from back in the day when I regularly visited garage sales with my mom and aunt. Perhaps they are so poignant for me as a result of being tied to my own history. Hmm.

This novel has some great quotes in it about childhood and memories:

"I guess everybody thinks about old times, even the happiest of people"

"...this had been the road of destiny, had taken us to those early accidents of fortunate which predetermined for us all that we can ever be"

"the best of days are the first to flee"

The novel does a very good job of describing a scene and I can't tell you  how many times I could feel just what the author was describing as though I was right there. The colours were vibrant, the seasons were clear, the the feelings were very real. This novel is also a novel of storytelling. It includes many little snippets of oral stories told by various characters. Antonia tells several and the narrator is told several more by many different people. I think we are losing a little bit of our oral history in this modern, digital age. For most of us we are lucky if we manage to carry on a conversation face to face with anyone in a given day let alone anything that would include something that resembles passing down our history That makes me sad.

It is often said that writers should write about what they know. This novel proves that point to a tee. No one would probably think that an engaging novel  could be set in Nebraska. Willa Cather definitely set them wrong. I hope to one day use my experiences to create something that is engaging, while still being inimitably me.

As we enter the Christmas season, My Antonia leaves us with two fantastic quotes and reminds me that the symbols of Christmas are deeply important. It also reminds me that no matter what faith we are, there is something deeply beautiful about people acting out of their own personal faith. Speaking of the Christmas Tree they threw together with stuff from around the house:

"Our tree became the talking tree of the fairy tale, legends and stories nestled like birds in its branches. Grandmother said it reminded her of the Tree of Knowledge"

"The prayers of all good people are good." 

No matter what faith you are I pray that the magic and mystery of the Christmas seasons will find its way into your heart.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2666 (93rd Book)

I thought that the book of the month, The Strangers (154 pages) was too short for my liking so I picked up this behemoth (898 pages) from the Vancouver Public Library to fill the remainder of the month. I almost ran out of time to read both! I think I have been warped forever by this challenge with my perceptions of what a "normal" length for a novel is. I scoff at any book under 300 pages. I never meant to become one of those people...

2666 by Roberto Bolano was a really odd breath of fresh air in a sea of ho hum fiction. What do I mean by that? I was excited to read it, and remained excited to read the novel throughout the entire process despite a really dark topic. The novel follows a series of different, completely unrelated people  who find themselves drawn to the Mexican town of Santa Teresa. It is apparently a picture perfect image of a very real town called Ciudad Juarez. I was horrified to discover that this is a real town since the novel depicts the utterly horrific murders of women over a several year period. Sure enough, I just googled the town, and it is famous for its extremely high numbers of female murders since 1993.

 I randomly chose this novel after recognizing it on the library shelf as a book from the 1001 list. I read the jacket description and was hooked. I love novels that draw extremely disparate people together in an unusual fashion. 2666 has several vastly different groups of people converging on Santa Teresa and meeting similar people and encountering similar things. If you are interested in this type of fiction I have two highly recommended novels for you:

A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher which is a novel in which a young boy is kidnapped from a planetarium. The people that both he and his sister run across in their search to find one another are extremely varied and incredibly fascinating. Take for instance a arachnologist with 8 fingers, a man who owns a huge hotel, and wounded airman and many other interesting individuals. By the end of the novel they are woven together in a most fascinating way that left my breathless and wanting to immediately reread the novel to pick up all the pieces that I might have missed.

The other is Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner (translated by Lazer Lederhendler). This novel follows a set of 3 seemingly unrelated people who all come together at the end of the novel and several repeated images, one of which is a broken compass that points to Nikolski Alaska rather than Magnetic north.

I am not sure why I liked this novel, but I was hooked and wanted to read right until the end to figure out what the hook was. Parts of it are a slog....but they are supposed to be. The novel is broken into 5 sections and the novel, which was published posthumously, was intended to be 5 separate books. The section entitled "The Part about the Crimes" is just shy of 300 pages of horrific deaths of woman many of which remain unsolved.  I struggled there, but at the same time, knowing that the novel was based on a real life town I forced myself to be witness to these tragedies.  I mulled over how a town allows such tragedies to happen, only to realize that BC has a very similar situation with the high number of murder or missing aboriginal woman.

I don't think I fully understand the novel, but the title is a date that lies several years beyond the authors death. Apparently many of his works make reference to this date and what I take from this novel is that it is a treatise on what makes a life worth living. The theme is particularly noticeable in the first section of the novel which follows a series of German literature enthusiasts who are obsessed with the cult author Benno von Archimboldi. This author has never been seen in real life and speculation around his life is the focus of  the group of german literature professors. They travel to Santa Teresa on hearing a report that he booked a ticket to the town and one after another they slowly come to the realization that they have been hiding from real life by their obsession with Archimboldi. Archimboldi is the focus of the 5th part of the novel and there is a lot of discussion around death and what honour and purity mean throughout his story.

What ever the point of the novel is there is so much packed into the novel that it makes for an interesting read, one that I would recommend to anyone that likes a cerebral novel. It isn't terribly good bedtime reading however, and particularly after the section on the dead women, the storyline frequently invaded my dreams. I count this novel as one of the successes of these two challenges in that I would have never picked this novel up if it weren't for my obsession with lists!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book 58- The Stranger

Book 58 is The Stranger by Albert Camus. The picture to the left is the cover of the hideous thrift store version of the novel that I read from! I had no idea what to think about the novel because I only knew so much about Camus (mostly that he was tied to the Existential philosophy) and nothing about the novel itself. I started the book in high spirits and totally over estimated my ability to plow through novels at a fast pace. I read the first 70 pages at the beginning of the month and then spent the remainder of the month reading the novel 2666 thinking I would have tons of time to read both... I almost didn't make it.

I found The Stranger extremely easy to read and accomplished the task in only two days of actual reading. Throughout the majority of the novel I was reminded heavily of The Trial by Kafka who was one of Camus's influences so this is not surprising. With Mersault's ambivalence with the world the novel has the same confusing feel that The Trial has. In both novels the world feels like it doesn't make sense. The main difference is that while the protagonist in The Trial doesn't understand the world, the protagonist in The Stranger doesn't care about the world. I didn't like the protagonist in this book. I found him callous and uncaring and vaguely sociopathic. He is devoid of feeling and his apathy at his mother death, ends up being his downfall.

I used to identify with the Existential philosophy in university where I first learned about it in a psychology class. I liked the fact that existentialists embraced the inability to know for certain what the world was about. Even as a Christian who holds to some truths strongly, I identified with the idea that meaning is created by each person individually. Seeing the outworking of the philosophy identified in one character, however, I see I only identify with it to a point. While Mersault was fully alive in every moment he was unable to put himself in another's shoes and he was certainly not able to comprehend the consequences of his actions without a great deal of thought.

This novel was not at all what I expected. It is also one of about 6-10 novels that are on The Novel 100 list, but not on the list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I am always curious about the differences between the two lists, but in this case I am satisfied that the larger list made the right choice. I will be curious to read the other novels by Camus on the 1001 list to see if I have a similar reaction to them, but at this point he will not jump to the top of my favourites list.

The other day I was flipping through my former blog posts and realized that I have been working on this list since sometime in August 2010. That means I have been plugging away at this challenge I have set for myself for over 4 years. I looked at the remainder of the list and realized I still have 3.5 years left to go if I continue to read books at my current pace of 1 book a month! This is definitely a long term commitment that I have gotten myself into. Despite all books I have had to slog through I am very grateful that I started this challenge. It has expanded my horizons hugely and I have stumbled upon many unexpected favourites! I would highly recommend that people work through someone else's list of books even if you don't think you will like them.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book 57- The Princess of Cleves (92nd Book)

The book of the month for September was the Princess of Cleves. I finally got back to the original purpose of my Novel 100 challenge which was to make use of my ereader and take advantage of all the free books that Kobo has to offer; the Princess of Cleves was one of these. This novel is a French novel set in the time of Henry the second. It was written by a women of the court, Madame de Lafayette, although, during her life time it was anonymous. The novel sets itself amongst real historical characters, but follows fictional ones in one of the earliest novels to chronicle a character's psychological conflict.

I enjoyed this novel, but was not wowed by it. The story was an easy read and I found myself flipping the pages quickly. This is apparently a transition for the novel at this period which tended to focus on works that were upwards of 1,000 pages and detailed long winded histories of loosely tied in events. I was grateful for it's brevity!

If you can wade through the first 30-40 pages which place the novel in it's historical setting then the novel is an easy read. The novel starts with the reader thrown into a listing of all the figures that make up the court of the time. I actually flipped back to the beginning of the novel  to check whether or not I was reading the preface since the information was that dry! I struggled to keep the characters straight at the beginning, but once the actual plot began it got a lot easier.

I am not sure what I think of the overall story given that the Princess of Cleves denies herself of the man she loves even after her husband's death. On one hand, it is an honourable thing that she stuck to her principals and the demands that both her mother and dead husband had placed on her. On the other hand, even people of the time were unsure if this was a believable thing for a young woman in her position to do. Apparently there were debates that raged on about the novel, which was a hit even in its own time. As some one of the modern world, I get a bit uncomfortable when novels come across as being  preachy.

That's about all I have to say about the Princess of Cleves. I am excited for the next novel which is The Stranger by Albert Camus, also a French novel. I love that this challenge is exposing me to world fiction rather than simply English Literature which we are so used to reading in or North American context.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray (91st Book)

I decided to read Dorian Gray because a dear friend of mine who was coming to visit had just finished reading it and I wanted to have a good old fashioned face-to-face book discussion. I love my book blog, but nothing beats discussing a book with someone in person. I had seen the modern Dorian Gray book adaptation and like pretty much everyone in Western culture I had a vague idea of what the novel was about.

I am starting to get grumpy in my reading, but Dorian Gray is FINALLY a novel that deserved its reputation in history. It has something to say, it is a thoroughly engaging story and it was progressive for its time. And I am discovering most importantly...I enjoyed reading it!

My friend and I had a very good discussion about the book. She had bought a beautifully illustrated  copy of the original version of the novel which is quite different from the common version that most people read. Oscar Wilde received quite a a bit of flack for the original version which contained much more overt reference to the attraction and sexual obsession of Basil, the artist, to Dorian Gray. In the subsequent additions he toned it down. On the flip side my friend's version did not have the foreword which my novel had where Wilde insists that art should be art for art's sake. It emphasizes quite adamantly that if you look at a symbolic meaning in art, you do so at your own peril.

I am quite confused as to why the novel received flack for its racy content, because although the topics covered in the novel would be quite scandalous for their time the predominant message is that  the wonton things that Dorian Gray engaged in had an impact on his life. His vanity and carousing appeared on his portrait even though it did not manifest on his person. It is an extremely moral novel which shows that every action has a reaction to it.

When I was watching the film adaptation of the novel I was extremely saddened by the artist Basil who was obsessed with Dorian. His friend Lord Henry essential steals his prized possession out from under him and I was upset by the fact that Lord Henry was aware what Dorian meant to him. The novel version makes it clear, however, that Basil's extreme and obsessive love with Dorian lead to his own downfall and was  something that he regretted in the end.

This novel is extremely engaging. The story is interesting and fascinating and the plot movies quickly without bogging down. I enjoyed the whole experience of reading this book which is something I can't say for most of the books I have read lately. I am actually surprised that this book did not make the novel 100. I think when I finish this challenge and have a few more classics under my belt I will challenge myself to make a list of some of my favourite novels of all time.

I will end this blog with part of a quote that really stood out for me:

"The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion..."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book 56- Things Fall Apart (90th Book)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was the 56th book I have read on the list of 100. It was a good book with a great story, but it will not become my favourite book by any stretch of the imagination. I frequently regret starting this list at the top, because the books are definitely getting mediocre as I progress down the list!

This book reminded me a lot of The Poisonwood Bible. I am always completely disheartened when I hear stories of Christians who go to foreign countries with an eye to convert the masses. It is so prideful and always has a disastrous outcome.

The first half of this book follows the story of Okonkwo who sets out to prove that he can make something of himself despite his father's lazy and incompetent ways. He gains fame as a great wrestler when he is just a young child. As he grows up he decided that he must show no weakness and always be strong. As with anyone who causes the pendulum to swing too far to the other side he discovers that there are flaws on either end of the spectrum. On a side note I watched a great Film Noir movie called Detective Story at a cute indie theatre in town this week that told the same story. In this case, the main police detective was trying to make up for his father's abusiveness by becoming a servant of justice. His black and white views on good and evil ended up being his downfall. I highly recommend the movie if you can find it because I was blown away by the fantastic story and amazingly portrayed characters. It was filmed in the 50s though so you will have to put up with a few dated elements and a bit of chauvinism.

The second half of the novel follows  the village's downfall after Christian missionaries move into the community and attempt to convert the masses. At first, it is only society's outcasts that find meaning in story of the God of love. When a few people of high society are converted and violence ensues the novels title makes an appearance and you can see that things are about to fall apart. The novel does not end on a happy note, and you are left to wonder what will become of the village that has started to unravel.

I am extremely happy that Daniel Burt chose to add novels from more than one ethnicity and community to his list. I have loved expanding my horizons as I read literature from around the world.  I struggled to place myself in the shoes of Okonkwo as he used violence against his wives and children and killed the boy he had adopted as a son. That being said it is great to look at the world with different lenses, particularly as a person of faith. Although the tribal belief system seems foreign and outdated it is great to try on different perspectives and hopefully analyze your own beliefs. I have never been one who is afraid of the questions and have always been open to dialogue. I am happy to add new literature and cultural experiences to my repertoire.

My last comment on the novel is that I absolutely adored the title. I did  a study on  the poem that it comes from when I was in high school  and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the poem was a picture of William B. Yeats belief that the world was based on a 2000 year cycle. The words resonated with me and even though I don't believe his theories I absolutely adored his imagery and use of language. It is great that we can communicate with each other across the continents and across the centuries through the use of words.  I felt that this quote from the novel reminded me a lot of the poem:

"For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well"
My last and favourite quote from the novel is this: "There is no story that is not true". This is my favourite part of literature. I love that whether it is told in metaphor or represents a theory that you don't subscribe to there are still glimmers of truth that resonate within you. Stories are a way of explaining the human experience and I love that we have been gifted with this method of making sense of the world around us.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Castle of Crossed Destinies (89th Book)

I picked up The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino  at my lovely local library. I have loved having a big city library so close to my house. It means that whenever I want something it is almost always on hand. This book has intrigued me since I first picked up the list of 1001 books to Read Before You Die.  The novel is basically told through a series of Tarot cards which are used by a room full of mute travellers to tell the story of how they came to be at both a castle and a tavern. I loved the concept.

The thing I found with this novel is that I liked the idea better than the execution. The stories were moderately interesting and the majority of them where stories we had heard before. I found the interweaving of the tales with Tarot cards to be a bit challenging. My reading was broken up as I looked at the pictures and compared them to the stories. I don't think I was ever really lost in the story at any given point.

I love the theme which is that all tales are based on similar archetypes and that all stories intersect with others. The story made me get on a very real level that we share a common destiny with our fellow travellers in this life. I particularly loved the Tale of the Waverer which, I believe, is the first that Italo Calvino created when he wrote the novel. The tale follows a man who can not make a decision. He is asked to choose between his two lady loves, which he is unable to do. He then journeys through a forest only to find his way barred from the City of All. "Are you admitted even into the City of All only through a choice and a rejection, accepting one side and rejecting the rest?" I love that we get to choose our path as human beings. We are in control of our destiny which is both a blessing and a curse. Somewhere in my teen years I began to see that choice was freedom and instead of being bound by the fear of making a wrong choice, I embraced the chaos of deciding. Life has never been so much fun!

This book is a very short and fun read. I look forward to picking up more of Calvino's works as several of them make up the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.

The Mill on the Floss (88th Book)

I read Mill on the Floss in two chunks: one which had me in stitches, and highly amused by the antics of this interesting family, and the other, after a long break, with quiet dedication and interest to know what would become of the characters. Somewhere in the middle I got lost and had to put the book down.

I don't know what to make of this book. I think my main struggle is that I was really looking forward to it after Middlemarch which just might be the favourite book I have discovered from the Novel 100. This book was nothing at all like Middlemarch, which is not to say it is bad. It has all the marks of great literature, I just don't love it. When ever I get stuck on a novel, only then to finish it with relative ease, I am unsure how to rank the book. It sat on my bedside table for months while I stared at it with disdain. I think I got lost in the middle because the novel was just so bleak.  Maybe it was my mood or maybe the characters were lost on me, but the middle of the novel felt like a slog for me.

When I picked the book back up again, after my several month break the pages flew by fairly quickly. I was interested to know what would become of the characters again. Strangely enough I didn't like any of them. The father was a bumbling idiot, quick to anger which led to his family's demise. Maggie was passionate and flighty and tried to stuff all her feelings down in religious piety and family loyalty. Tom was arrogant and blind to all, but his own honour and redeeming that of his family. The mother was passive and let life happen to her. If there was ever a novel that depicts hubris to a tee, this is it. The fatal flaws in both Maggie and Tom lead to their down fall.

I absolutely HATED the end of the novel, don't even get me started on it. The ending made me angry, but it did make me feel and quite passionately at that. I think that is a sign of great literature. The copy I read had a summary at the end about what the book was about and a bit of George Eliot's history. There was a quote in it that I thought summarized why I can hate the characters, but still not hate the book. George Eliot wanted readers to "be better able to imagine and feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring human creatures"

The one thing I will say for this novel is that it has a completely differ theme and feel to Middlemarch. I have often found that writers have one pet theme and one main idea and they create novels that are simply variations on the same theme. Unlike Middlemarch, this novel sets out to show the idyllic time that childhood is for a lot of people. It is also a bildungsroman as Maggie is a character that goes through a lot of development. Here is a quote that summarizes the tone and feel of the novel well:

"There is no sense of ease like the ease we felt in those scenes where we were born, where objects become dear to us before we had known the labour of choice."

This novel is basically about growing up and moving away from the easy times of childhood. It is also about the ties that hold and bind us in family. Maggie loved her brother Tom and it lead to her demise. She was also someone who chose to sacrifice herself for others happiness quite a bit. Normally I would say that this is an admirable characteristic, but in Maggie's case it is an unnecessary self denial.

"We can't choose happiness either for ourselves of for another; we can't tell where that will lie. We can only choose whether we will indulge ourselves in the present moment or whether we will renounce that for the sake of obeying the divine voice within us, the sake of being true to all the motives that sanctify our lives."

That is a beautiful quote which I wholeheartedly agreed with. Maggie was an honourable individual,  but the choices she made while listening to her inner voice were awful.

I have written my review and I still don't know what to make of this novel. It certainly won't make it to my top ten, but it definitely is not the worst novel I have ever read. I am curious about George Eliot's other novels now. If they are each completely different from each other I would love to see what else she tackles. I am really glad that I didn't completely give up on it when I ran into the snag in the middle.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book 55- Petersburg

I thought I liked Russian literature, but with the last few novels I have read I have been proved wrong. It turns out I like a very specific era of Russian novels, or perhaps just two Russian authors: Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. With the Russian novels on the Novel 100 list I have been highly disappointed. One of my friends sent me a highly amusing summary of Russian novels that is worth a read. I recognized quite a few novels on the list! It is interesting to point out that Petersburg by Andrei Bely is one of about 10 novels that does not also appear in the 1001 Books list that I am also reading.

One good thing about the list is that I am starting to draw parallels between the novels I have read and I found a few with this novel. The strongest correlation I found in this novel was to Fathers and Sons by Turgenev. The two main characters Abluekhov and Nikolai are at war with one another just like the father and son duo from Turgenev's novel.  I didn't like that novel either.  There was a Russian symbolist movement? Who knew. This novel also has a few comparisons to Ulysses and  James Joyce. In my mind, there is no comparison between the two, although this novel precedes Ulysses by nearly a decade. Having recently read Grapes of Wrath I also found elements of the weird poetic breakouts from that novel in this one. I didn't like those elements in Grapes of Wrath either. Generally, I like symbolism, and I imagine I am one of the few people who truly like Joyce. The movement loses something when you try to place it in the Russian context. All my favourite elements of Russian novels (the focus on the poor, the focus on the human condition, and a connection to the environment around you) get lost in this novel. The final novel I was reminded of, mostly because of the use of a bomb in the novel, was The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

I spent a large portion of my time reading this novel completely confused. It jumped around in time and and from several points of view. It retold incidents from several angles. I would eventually figure out what was happening, but not before floundering around helplessly. The one thing that this novel had going for it  is that it had elements of a nightmarish dream world. Reality and dream were intermingled in it and the feeling I was left with was one of impending doom. None of the characters in the novel are having a good time in life and we are viewing the world through their eyes. This leaves everything with a distorted feel to it. I don't think there is a single neutral narrator in the novel. They are all unreliable.

I am grateful to leave this novel behind and will probably not think of it again. I am still left mulling over Grapes of Wrath, however. Although I didn't love the entire novel it had a lot of really great things to say and I am constantly reminded of it when I think of the world today and the disconnect between the rich and the poor.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book 54- Grapes of Wrath (87th Book)

I was so excited to read book 54- The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck was one of my favourite authors as a teen. I devoured several of his books including East of Eden, Winter of our Discontent and several of his short stories before crashing and burning on his novels. I made the early discovery, which I made several times in my teens...if you read too much of the same author     you are struck with the fact that they really only have one main theme and all the books start to blur together.

This is one of Steinbeck's best sellers but it is by no means my favourite.  The first novel I ever read of his was East of Eden and it will always be my favourite. I love the angst in that novel and connection to the land and the deep things inside of each person. The Grapes of Wrath is great and I can see why it became a classic. I was silently filled with horror as I read the novel and completely uncomfortable the whole time I was reading. Why? I thought it foreshadowed a little too much about the direction we a going as a society.

I have always been a bit of a rebel and held very disparate views. While being a conservative in my faith, I am a bit of a radical in my political views. The novel tracks the Joad family as they travel west after losing their farm to the bank. The trip West shows a growing discontent in the poor population as they scramble for food, shelter and an identity for their family. The novel goes behind the sense to the political forces at play in time of the Great Depression. The farms out west need a few hundred workers, but send out a few thousand flyers, knowing that if too many workers arrive the price of labour will go down. It sounds eerily like what is happening in British Columbia right now. With the teachers strike happening I have had several conversations with others and the theme always seems to go something like this, " those damn teachers! Why do they think they deserve more money than me?" to which I invariably reply, " they don't, but they are willing to fight for their rights." I had a similar conversation with a friend when the minimum wage was increased. She works at a job which she has been at for 10 years and who valued her slight raises over the years. She was annoyed that now others would be able to have a wage that was dangerously close to hers. Rather than try to press her employer for a greater raise in light of the increase she was frustrated at the poor who we're trying to rise.

Poverty does horrible things to people and this novel shows the damage from both sides. The wounds to dignity inflicted on the poor are doubled by the fact that the wealthy direct their hatred and fear  towards those less fortunate. This cycle creates what the novel refers to as the "grapes of wrath". One of my favourite novels of Steinbeck, Cannery Row,  has a quote that I absolutely love:

 "It has always seemed strange to me...the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest' are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second."
That quote  is mirrored throughout the novel The Grapes of Wrath. The novel shows that the Joad family are willing to help others despite their limited means. The people they interact with on the road and in the Hoovervilles behave like family and lend a helping hand whenever they see a need. I have always felt that when I interact with poor. On my way home I pass a panhandler every day and he always has a smile on his face. Although he rarely gets money from the passersby he greets me everyday with " have a good day, dear". He warms my heart. When the Joad's cross a picket line and find themselves in a camp with a store that is overpriced Ma finds it is the equally as poor clerk who reaches out to her. She utters a quote that rings true to me " if you're in trouble or hurt or need- go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help- the only ones". Rich people have a reputation for being stingy. It's a sad but true fact.

This novel was an adventure for me. Everything within me made me want to fling the book across the room in anger and disgust. It was like staring at a very bad car accident or a horrible act of cruelty. History repeats itself they say... And I am scared that The Grapes of Wrath is foreshadowing of the worst kind. We have seen half hearted attempts in the 1% movement, but God help us if the poor ever do get frustrated with the way things are going. There is power in numbers when mass amounts of people are angry and it seems to me that the wealthy have oppressed the poor (and even middle class) for too long.

The Grapes of Wrath is a political novel. It will never be my favourite Steinbeck creation, but it is a masterpiece that sadly needed to be written. It moved me in a way that only a great novel can. I was sad, angry and horrified and yet kept reading. Like life, the novel really doesn't have a resolution but it seems appropriate given the content. I would be curious to know what others reactions were to the novel since my reactions were so strong.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Alice in Wonderland (86th Book)

Ah, Alice in Wonderland a story that everyone knows, but few have read. I fell into that category until very recently when I quickly finished my book for the Novel 100 challenge and wanted to read a book from the 1001 Books challenge. I am starting to get grumpy about my fiction though and I didn't want to read anything that would be as slog. I was also lazy and needed to find either something I had on my Kobo or something I had on my shelf. I chose to read Alice in Wonderland, because I knew it would be a joy to read and I wasn't wrong!

I don't think I have ever read Alice in Wonderland even though I, like the rest of western civilization, know the story by heart. I read the book on my Kobo and was very sad that the images were listed, but did not appear. I love the original artwork from this book and used several of the images to make jewellery when I was on a kick of making scrabble tile necklaces. Lewis Carroll does a good job of describing the life of a young child. His depiction of Alice prior to her tumble down the rabbit hole reminds me of every toddler I have ever known including myself. Kids are easily bored and have trouble sitting still. They also have vivid imaginations and Alice's "dream" is full of wonderful imagery and fantastical occurrences. I still remember when I started to fell weird about engaging in imaginary play. The transition from child to teen is so hard.

When I googled Alice in Wonderland to find an image to include in my blog the book covers and pictures didn't even appear as an option. The categories included Disney, Tim Burton and the various movie images, but not a single book cover. I find that sad. Don't get me wrong, the movies have made Alice in Wonderland available to the masses, but there is just something amazing about reading something in its original form.  I do, however have a favourite adaptation of Alice and that is the Scy Fy Channel's made for TV Mini Series: Alice. The Mad Hatter, or Hatter, is fantastic in the show and the depiction of Wonderland as a casino where people feed on human emotions is both creepy and fantastic.

I can't wait to read Through the Looking Glass which is also on the 1001 Books to Read list. I am not sure I know much about that story and have been enjoying the books on the list that make up great story telling. I can see why Alice in Wonderland has been pasted down for generations and also why there are have been so many remakes of the books and movies. It is a tale that has definitely stood the test of time!

Book 53- Red Badge of Courage (85th Book)

Those who know me personally, know I have a trauma reaction to war. I am particularly traumatized by anything First World War-ish. The thought of trench warfare sends me cringing into a corner, rocking back and forth on my heels. I once had a friend who caused me to collapse in a heap in a drama game simply by whispering things about a war scene from Legends of the Fall. Remembrance Day is a hated holiday for me and I avoid war movies like the plague. So, needless to say, it is was with great trepidation that I picked up Book 53-The Red Badge of Courage. I was just stubborn enough with this challenge to push past my fear and read this extremely short novel about the American Civil War. I was pleasantly surprised. As much as I hate war I love novels of development and this definitely fits the Bildungsroman category.

The novel follows Henry Fleming as he sets out for his first real taste of war. He starts out idealistic and hopeful, but then runs in terror when he first encounters battle. Although he eventually goes back and finds his troop, he has to live with his initial desertion through the rest of the novel. He struggles with how to assimilate his cowardice with the idea he has of himself and it makes for a very poignant novel. Henry is a very relatable character who I felt for very much. He is real and honest and his struggle to live with himself in the wake of his desertion is absolutely touching.  The descriptions of war are horrific, but are off set by a large amount of internal dialogue. It is as much a critique of war as it is a critique of the unrealistic standards we hold up for ourselves.

I loved when I discovered that the phrase "Red Badge of Courage" was a description of wounds. In the novel this refers not only to physical wounds, but I also believe it refers to the more permanent emotional wounds that we carry around with us. Although Henry might have been cowardly for running away, he is courageous for coming up with a way to live with himself in the face of personal disappointment. "A moral vindication was regarded by the youth as a very important thing. Without salve, he could not, he thought, wear the sore badge of his dishonour through life."

This novel deserves a place in history as a classic novel because it was able to bring something hated and distance from me into the forefront of mind in very real way. I have loved this Novel 100 challenge for the simple reason that it has pushed me to read things I would have otherwise avoided. The next novel has been on my to-do list for years. John Steinbeck is one of my favourite novels and I am very excited to read Book 54-Grapes of Wrath next.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book 52- Jane Eyre (84th Book)

It seems I was badly mistaken. For years I have railed against the likes of the Bronte sister's and Jane Austen. I have staunchly refused to read anything that smacked of cheesy romance....the closest I got as a teen was Wuthering Heights. All the other "classic" novels that my friends read were lumped into the fluffy romance category that somehow  managed to be passed off as classic literature. I was sorely mistaken about Jane Eyre. While Jane Eyre IS a romance novel it is also falls into a category of fiction that I have recently discovered I love: Gothic fiction.

Gothic fiction pulls off a mood of eeriness that is very rarely accomplished in modern day horror. The use of lightening and remote locations and forlorn situations are tied together in such a way that suspense is added to a simple situation that would otherwise be quite normal. I have recently read Uncle Silas and Rebecca. Here is my simple breakdown of what makes a novel Gothic given the small sample I have read.

  • A life situation that makes one lonely and vulnerable (widow-Rebecca, orphan- Jane Eyre and the Uncle Silas)
  • A remote location (a forlorn house-Rebecca,Uncle Silas, Jane Eyre)
  • A mystery (Uncle Silas-Uncle Silas, the mystery woman-Jane Eyre, and Rebecca- Rebecca)
  • A strong constitution that allows the main character to face difficult situations (Mrs. De Winter, Jane Eyre, Maud Ruthyn)
  • Horrible caretakers that make the characters lives miserable (Uncle Silas and Madame de le Rougierre- Uncle Silas, Mrs. Reed- Jane Eyre, Mrs. Van Hooper-Rebecca)

I love  mysteries, I love psychological suspense, I love strong heroines, I love rambling old houses. What's not to love about gothic mysteries!? It just goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover and you can't judge a story by the category that you lump it into. I was thoroughly engaged with the story of Jane Eyre and desperately wanted to know what was going to happen. The novel has all the elements of good story telling and a suspense that makes it a page turner.

One thing that makes me extremely uncomfortable about the love story in Jane Eyre is the age difference of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester. I teach about age of consent and Sexual Exploitation as part of my job and I just can't get over the fact that very little concern is brought up about the age difference in this story. On the plus side, the novel is not glorifying two beautiful people who just so happen to find each other across the distances. It is a love story for your average individual. I don't think you would find a true-to-novel hollywood version of this story since both the characters are described as having very little going for them in the looks department. In fact, I just googled Jane Eyre to see the movie versions of the novel and found that the movies are filled with beautiful people.

I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to novels. I like my books to have a point and I like to feel enlightened when I read them. Nothing, however, will ever take the place of a just plain good story. I suppose for that reason Jane Eyre deserves a place in history.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Uncle Silas (83rd Book)

I decided to read a themed book for my 1001 Book this month. Since Saint Patrick's Day falls in March I chose to read a novel by an Irish author. I could have chosen James Joyce, of course, but as much as I love his novels (and I really do) they hurt my head. I took a look through the 1001 Novels to Read Before You Die book and stumbled upon Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu. I had never heard of this author before, but the novel peaked my interest with its description of mystery and investigation surrounding an old house and a young heiress. I was not disappointed.

The novel follows Maud Ruthyn who is orphaned at the age of 16 or 17. Upon her father's death, she is sent to her Uncle Silas, whose life has always been surrounded by mystery, until she turns of age. While her father is still alive she finds out that her uncle was once accused of murder and his name was never cleared of the charge. He has lived as a hermit ever since. Before her father's death he asked if she would help to clear her uncle's name even though it may be a trial for her. She heartily agreed and the way she was to clear his name was revealed in the will.

As much as  I love this novel there is one thing that confused me. It was never really made clear whether her father was aware that her Uncle had never changed. I am assuming since he sent his daughter to live with him that he did not. To me Uncle Silas always seemed a bit mysterious and the father's blind trust in his brother seems a bit contrived.

The rest of the plot had me riveted. I was desperate to know what the outcome of the novel would be and sped through the book at a quick pace. Although the book was written in the late 1800's it has all the classic mystery/ horror features we have grown to love over the years: a family with a secret, a run down house that has seen better days, a physically creepy relative shrouded in mystery and a helpless girl with no one to care for her. The novel reminded me of Rebecca which has several similar elements included a mysterious relative, a murder in the past, and a rambling old house. I liked both of these novels and I am a fan of the genre. This novel has been likened to the novels of Wilkie Collins and I am very excited to read The Women in White when it appears on the Novel 100 list as I thoroughly loved The Moonstone.

It has been a long time since I have been sad when a novel has ended, but I felt that way when I finished Uncle Silas. I am at loose ends to know what to start next before April arrives and I can start my novel 100 book for the month, Jane Eyre. In keeping with reading themed books off the 1001 Books list I may read one of the novels focused on the life of Jesus for Easter. I have found two on the list so far and will have to make a trip to the library to pick one up if I decided to do it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book 51- The Trial (82 Book)

I read The Trial by Franz Kafka quite quickly. I was definitely engaged and interested in the material and I loved the sense of incomprehension and mystery that the novel presented. It seemed like a great allegory for the existential angst and guilt that we all face as humans and as I have expressed before, I love that stuff! This novel is gripping and engaging and it has been a long time since I have been able to say that about one of the books on the list.

Josef K. is a man who wakes up one morning only to discover that he is under arrest. Having no recollection of a crime, and being completely incomprehensible of the legal system he is ensnared in he limps along trying his best to live his life while he is under a trial of guilt. The novel progresses to his eventual execution at the hands of others and the reader is left wondering whether it might not be true that we are all guilty.

There are a lot of allusions to the Christian idea that we will all be tried and judged at the end of our life. "the final judgement can often come without warning, from anyone at any time". There is a reference made at one point by a lawyer who points out that the only way to escape these trials is to admit your guilt. There is also another reference to the fact that this trial is ongoing and that there will be no end. The book leaves you with the eerie feeling that you have felt the things Josef feels before and that as confused as the novel (and Josef K. ) is that there is something familiar about the whole process.

There are several references to the fact that the accused are still human beings and still beautiful even in their guilt. I love that! I have always been a big fan of human dignity and treating the worst offender with respect. "How is it even possible for someone to be guilty. We're all human beings here, one like the other." Even though we are all "guilty" in different ways (some more appalling in our eyes than others) we are all bound together by the same fate. "If, in spite of that, you're are still a gentleman then I'm just as much a gentlemen as you are" I love that on the show Doctor Who the Doctor makes frequent references to how amazing humans are. Even though his character is always rescuing humans from a horrible fate we caused ourselves, he finds us beautiful in our ability to be creative and amazing. I think that is how God thinks of us too. "If you look at them the right way the accused really can be attractive quite often".

There was also a beautiful metaphor used in the book about a man trying to enter the gates of heaven. It talks about how the gate was only for him, but the gate keeper wouldn't let him in. The man stood outside asking the gate keeper every now and again for entrance, but was frequently denied. It isn't until the end of the life that the gate is closed. Although we are all tied together by the common fate of existential guilt and anxiety. We are also alone in our "Trial". We are the only one that can walk the path set out before us and that can be a lonely feeling. We can receive help from others, but we must walk the path ourself. There is a great quote from a Mumford and Son's song that expresses this idea so well. I have always loved it. "As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand...but I can't move the mountains for you". The final thing the gatekeeper tells the man trying to enter heaven is "Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I'll go and close it". The man waited at the gate instead of living his life. In the end he faced remorse. The last few lines of the book, as Josef K. faces his accuses, are absolutely beautiful. I think he expresses the greatest human fear about death. Both the fear of death itself, as well as the fear of being found wanting in the end. "I always wanted to snatch at the world with twenty hands...Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of my case I wanted to finish it, and at the end I wanted to begin again? I don't want that to be said."

Friday, February 28, 2014

Book 50- Dream of Red Mansions (81st Book)

"There is nothing new under the sun" Ecclesiastes 1:9. The entire time I was reading Dream of Red Mansions this is the verse that was running through my head. It has always been a favourite of mine from my days as a youth worker. Parents are always shocked and appalled at the "new" ways that youth end up getting into trouble, but in reality they are simply variations on the things youth have been up to for centuries. Dream of Red Mansions is much like that. Although the novel is written in the 18th Century in China the things the characters got up to weren't very different than the things we get up to today.

One of the first things that I was surprised at was the detailed description of drinking games that the characters were always playing. They were elaborate versions of the modern day equivalent; the only difference being that the majority of the games involved reciting poetry and remembering verses from classical literature. Some of the titles included the Finger Game, Grabbing the Red, and the Flower Game. They all involved drinking if you screwed up the task set before you and they were played by the young characters as well as by the oldest person in the book, The Lady Dowager. One of the most carefully described games was called Forfeits and the task that the characters were set was to come up with a description of A Girl's Sorrow, The Girl's Worry, The Girl's Joy and the Girl's Delight" The answers to each of these categories were both clever and scandalous! They were good for a laugh.

The other thing that surprised me was the swearing that was scattered throughout the novel. The young swore at the old, the old swore at the young. Servants swore at each other and about their masters. I am so curious what the actual words used in Chinese were, but translated they were your standard english swear words.

Lastly, the final thing that surprised me about the novel was the amount of sexual content in the novel. There were several encounters between mistresses and their lovers, several encounters with homosexual relationships and a few more scandalous comments about sex with animals.  The sexual banter seemed to be a part of the culture and didn't seem to be as frowned upon as it did in various other parts of history. For 18th century China I was surprised by the level of comfortability with their sexuality. There were a  few characters that were timid or shy, but mostly it seemed to be a more open culture.

I was reminded of reading The Tale of Genji (book 10). Even though that was an 11th Century Japanese novel I found a lot of similarities between the two. If you remember from my review on The Tale of Genji you will remember that I absolutely despised it. This book, had all of the things I loved about The Tale of Genji (the poetry and the description of the gardens) and none of the things I hated about it (the whoring around and complaining when it caused trouble). The book was filled with poetry and the young people in the book all lived surrounding a beautiful chinese garden. I loved the description of the plum blossoms and other flowers. I would love to stand in the garden and just smell what it smelled like. It sounds heavenly. Most of the homes of the main characters had colourful names such as "Pear Fragrance Court", "Happy Red Court", "Seeping Fragrance Pavilion".

I was quite surprised by how much political commentary there was in the  novel. I giggled to myself in the description by the author at the beginning of the novel as he talked about how this WASN'T a novel talking about the political climate at the time. "At present the daily concern of the poor is food and clothing, while the rich are never satisfied. All their leisure is taken up with amorous adventures, material acquisition or trouble making. What time do they have to read political and moral treatise". The novel was enjoyable for the most part, while still trying to convey a point. Even though it sits at just under 1800 pages I enjoyed most of the reading. I was happy that this novel fell when it did, as I started reading it during the Chinese New Year celebrations. The novel made several references to Chinese New Year and I was happy to have the experience of attending the parade in Chinatown and testing out dumplings during the Lantern Festival. Both of these reference points allowed me to appreciate a few of the references in the novel. Despite it's length I would recommend Dream of Red Mansions to others. It is probably a 3 star novel for me, but one that I am quite happy to say that I have read.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book 49-Clarissa (80th Book)

February 10th
Family Day, Late morning

Dear Reader,

I have just finished the mega novel known as Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson and I should be happy if I never have to see that beast again. I was excited to pick up this book, because I had heard a lot about it and it sounded like it could be interesting. Boy, was I wrong! I figured it was a larger novel so I made a quick trip to the Vancouver Public Library on January 2nd so I would have time to finish it within a month. I knew it was a large novel, but I was completely unprepared for just how large! The book is huge and physically intimidating sitting at just under 1500 pages. My jaw dropped as I stared at it sitting on the shelf, then I quickly picked it up and checked it out before I could change my mind. Thankfully, I have taken to carrying a giant tote around the city with me so I was able to lug the beast home!

Clarissa is a novel composed entirely of letters back and forth between all of the principal characters in the story. It follows Clarissa Harlowe, a young, pure girl in her downfall at the hands of a rake named Lovelace. The story to me seems a little too trite to be taken seriously. Essentially, a good pure innocent girl is taken advantage of against her will and, her heart is broken beyond belief until she dies, but justice is served to the evil doers in her death as they are raked with guilt (some even dying a horrible death) as punishment for all they have done. It is basically just an extremely long, and terribly dreary (read: boring) parable on how purity and goodness are traits that will get you far in life (or in this case the afterlife). The story could only be more simplistic if she was vindicated in her life rather than her death. Here is the purpose of the novel as described by Richardson in the Postscript: "We find that (in the dispensation of Providence) good and evil happen alike to ALL MEN on this side of the grave: and as the principle design of tragedy is to raise commiseration and terror in the minds of the audience, we shall defeat this great end if we always make virtue and innocence happy and successful". So essentially, Clarissa is a parable about living the good life in order to reap eternal rewards. 

I am not sure why this novel became a classic novel, but it is interesting to note that Samuel Richardson ran his own publishing house and essentially self published his own novel. This would explain how the terrible book came to print, and also the length (which in my opinion adds very little to the novel). I have read several books, where the length added to the books rather than took away from them. I can think of two off the top of my head: Vanity Fair and Middlemarch. Those books flew by and I was engaged in the characters and cared about the story. I found the characters believable and even though they weren't perfect I enjoyed reading about them. I hated every single character in Clarissa.....Clarissa included. The only person I ended up liking a bit by the end was Belford who was Lovelace's best friend. I found every one else whiny and flat. They annoyed me and there were a few times I couldn't help, but scream profanities against them out loud.

Let this letter serve as a warning to other reader's; if you are not working on a list of novels, as I am, and you aren't a glutton for punishment avoid this novel like the plague. You can thank me for the torture that you will avoid and the drudgery that will be bypassed later. It is only by sheer force of will and stubbornness that I was able to keep the 50 page a day pace to finish this novel and tick it off the list of 100. If I wasn't determined to read every last one of the Novel 100 I would surely have given the book up before the end.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book 48- The Golden Notebook (79th Book)

Sigh, I think I have gotten too snobby from my Novel 100 list. Although I haven't loved all of the top books on this list, I am finding the further down it I get the more dissatisfied I become. Book 49 was The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and I wanted to like it, but felt that it fell short of my expectations. The premise of the story is about Anna, a women living in the time of Communism and Women's Liberation. She writes about her life in a series of notebooks each separated by colour and topic since she can't reconcile all the pieces of herself into a whole person. I picked this book up at a great little used book shop in Vancouver called The Paper Hound. I was very excited to find what I was looking for there as I had just finished reading an article about the store in The Georgia Straight. As a side tangent, the store is fantastic. It is well organized and easy to find what you are looking for. They also have a rack of bookmarks and papers they have rescued from within the pages of books.

I was excited as I read the preface to the book written by the author. She talked about how she became an accidental mouth piece for the Feminist movement. As she wrote her semi autobiographical story in the context of things she knew about she covered the topic of liberated women (and communism) to accurately portray the time period she was writing in. Despite the book also covering the topics of Communism and mental breakdown, it got co-opted by Feminists as a manifesto of the times. I was endeared to the author's heart by a quote from the preface where she talks about agreeing with their ideas, but not liking the manner in which they spoke. "I support their aims, but I don't like their shrill voices and their nasty ill mannered ways". When I was getting to know my husband he was surprised to discover that I was a feminist, but I reacted violently to the word. I described my beliefs to him in much the same way as Lessing; I liked all of their ideas, but hated the working out of their values.

During the rest of the preface, Lessing breaks down the intent of her novel to cover the fragmented aspects of personality and how people take on different roles in different parts of their lives. Having read the preface of the novel before reading the book I don't know if I would have seen all these elements without the prompts. It is curious though because the "Golden Notebook" is the notebook where she finally writes down all of her fragmented selves in one volume. Thus the title itself gives the clue to the author's intended vision. I find it fascinating that authors can write books that can be taken in a completely different light than what they intend. Lessing was very vocal in her preface about her disappointment about the fact that the topic of mental break down got lost. For me, this is my favourite part of the book and I found a lot of great quotes in that context.

"I know what I don't want, but not what I do want". Anna struggled to figure out what she wanted to become amidst the competing roles of mistress, Free Women, Communist, mother  and friend. The clearest statement of the wealth of human experience the novel takes is shown in this simple quote, " Men. Women. Bound. Free. Good. Bad. Yes. No. Capitalism. Socialism. Sex. Love." I loved all the philosophical pieces to the novel, but I kept getting bogged down in the actual plot of the novel. The notebook that focuses on Anna's  time in a communist outpost in Africa was a slog. Parts of the story between Anna and her friend got bogged down as well.  The parts of that tale I loved were when people questioned Anna about her inability to write all the messy pieces of herself down in one journal. "Are you afraid of being chaotic?", "Why shouldn't it be a mess?"

I also loved that Anna was struggling with the future because she was excited about the possibilities. She tried on various identities in the characters she wrote about in her journals. She struggled when she had to pick just one future possibility. "I am a person who continually destroys the possibilities of a future because of the numbers of alternative viewpoints I can focus on in the present".


"A hundred things to do, but only one thing to be".

I love quotes. I love thinking through philosophical ideas. I love novels focused on character development. This book has all of those things, but it is a slog through much of the middle to read. I have discovered after pushing through so many of the novels on the list that high flying ideas are great, but a novel actually needs to be fun to read as well. In my teens, a smattering of great quotes would have been enough for me, but this project has taught me that in rating books, enjoyment will be the thing that pushes a novel to the top of my list every time.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Void (78th Book)

Dang! Another great book that I am extremely tardy on a review for! Despite being unemployed, I have found it difficult to blog about the books I am reading. This is mostly because I spend the day looking for work, which is harder to do than expected coming from a smaller town to the city. The great thing about being in the city is that this book was actually in at the library when I wanted to read it! I am so used to dealing with the Vancouver Island Public Library where I often had to order books from another branch which would take upwards of two weeks to come in. I am now walking distance to the Vancouver Public Library which is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen:

A Void by Georges Perec is one of the most delightful books I have ever read. It is a 5 star book in a sea of below 3 star duds I have read this past year. A Void is a novel that doesn't have a single E in it. An incredible feat in and of it self, the novel has been translated from the original language. The translator had the triple hard task of translating the novel without "E's" as well! The story is a mystery where the main character Anton Vowl (A clever play with the words A Vowel) suffers from insomnia. He is trying to solve the mystery of something he feels is wrong. This thing (the fact that there are no "e's) lies just beyond his reach. Anton disappears before he has solved this mystery and his friends set out to solve the mystery of his disappearance dying, or disappearing at an alarming rate themselves.

I love mysteries, I love puzzles, and I love things novels that are a task to understand as a reader but brilliant on the part of the author. I am one of the few people that enjoys James Joyce despite the challenge of reading him. This book was tailor made for me and I read through it so fast. I would recommend this novel to everyone and I can't wait to pick up some of Perec's other novels which are also on the list of 1001.

You would think a novel without e's would be difficult to read, but it flew by surprisingly fast. After awhile I stopped noticing the patterning of the words and just enjoyed the story. I did spend the first part reading trying to catch out the author by spotting a stray e somewhere in the novel. I really wish that I hadn't discovered the fact that this book didn't have any e's in it, because I am dying to know if I would have figured the puzzle out on my own. I honestly don't think I would have, because except for a few weird phraseologies such as the use of stylo for pen, the novel flows quite easily. A Void is famous for it's lack of e's however, and it was the description of the book in 1001 Books that drew me to read it. I couldn't have avoided the knowledge even if i hadn't read the description because the novel I picked up from the library had a giant e with a strike through it! 

Having known that there was no e's in the novel I was able to enjoy the author/translator's interpretation of Shakespeare "To be or not to be" and other snippets of writing. There was also several references to 27 things with the 5th being missing. I was also amused by the repetition of the the phrase a void, which is exclaimed several times as the gang of mystery solvers tries to crack the puzzle. I was so amused by the whole book, that I could go on forever, but I would really like everyone to read the book for themselves. 

This is one of the few books that I think would be even better on the second read through because you would pick up even more of the clever plays on words and puzzles than in the first read through. I have very few books that I would say that about, but this is one of them. I am so happy to finally have a review on a book above 3 stars. I was becoming disheartened by my snobbery and dislike or ambivalence of so many of the books that I was reading. If any of you read it I would love to hear your comments on it. 

Book 47- Lolita (77th Book)

Oops! I read this book quite sometime ago and forgot to do a blog on it. I have been surprisingly on top of my reading despite getting married and settling into a new life in a different city, trying to adjust to married life, and looking for work. I read Lolita in the first month after I got back from my honeymoon. I was surprised by the book because I had only heard half of what the story was about from people in passing and it was not accurate at all. The part that I had heard about Lolita was that it was a novel about a young sex obsessed girl who flaunted her sexuality. In actual fact, the book is about a pedophile who places the girls sexuality at the forefront of her personality because that is what he sees. What a difference!!!! For that reason I am glad that I actually read it. Other than that, I could have done without this book.

The main trouble I had with this book was that I struggled to figure out why the author needed to write it. I know most writers have burning issues that they need to speak about and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why this book was burning in Nabokov's heart. It had a very American feel to it, despite the fact that Nabokov is a Russian author. I read the foreword in the novel I picked up, and he talked about the fact that he was intentionally trying to write an American novel since his move to the States. I do see glimmers of Russian novel themes in it....mostly the focus on a flawed character with the hope of showing them as a human being. The difference with this novel is that I didn't feel a sense of oneness with the character or their flaws. Usually, with Russian novels I fall in love with the character's flaws and understand where they are coming from. That didn't happen with this novel. I don't like Humbert Humbert, although I pitied him.

The story was an easy read, despite the fact that I was highly disturbed by being thrown into the brain of an active pedophile. It was a quick read for me, so there is one redeeming feature of the novel. The story follows Humbert Humbert as he moves into the house of the Haze's and slowly becomes obsessed with the 12 year old daughter Dolores. It is written as a retrospective account after he is put in prison for his indiscretions. The novel is also one of the shorter ones I have read so I flew through the novel quite quickly. I think the reason I am lagging on the blog, is that I struggled with what to say about. I spent a lot of time mulling over what the writer's intentions were in writing the novel and in my delay, I forgot that I hadn't actually put pen to paper to collect my thoughts.

Someone noticed Lolita on my shelf and was asking me about it just the other day. I offered them the novel to read and then told them my thoughts on it. They asked if I would recommend they read the novel despite my dislike of it. My answer was that I would recommend it, mostly because it is so different from anything I have ever read before. I am curious to see how it affects other people, as well.  I personally will never read it again, nor will it shine as one of my favourites on the list, but I am not unhappy that I read it. I have enjoyed this project, mostly because it has been a chance to pick up titles that I would otherwise have never picked up.