Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book 71- Cities of Salt (107th Book)

Cities of Salt was the 71st book in the Novel 100 Challenge. I picked it up from the Vancouver Public Library since it is a newer novel and not in the Public Domain (thus not easy to find for free). I was fairly certain that I wouldn't fall in love with it so I didn't want to spend money on a novel I didn't want to keep. I was right to be so thrifty, since it won't jump to the top of my ever growing list of classics i have read.

2015 was an interesting time to be reading a book about unrest in the middle east seeing how the Syrian refugee crisis has been in the forefront of everyone's mind. Although this novel is likely set in Saudi Arabia and the antagonist is the evil American's who are taking over the native land and subjugating the people, I drew a lot of parallels with the general sentiment I am hearing in the news against refugees. In the novel, a large American company takes over first the small town of  Wadi Al- Uyoun wiping it completely off the map and dislodging its citizens, making them refugees. The remainder of the novel takes place in Harran a port city several miles from Wadi Al-Uyoun where the Americans again relegate the citizens to the edges of their town outside their walled compound. The original residents were treated like second class citizens and seen as animals or dogs, only good enough to work, but not to associate with. I think this quote best describes what it must be like to have your homeland wiped off the face of the map:

"...what had happened was not just the loss of a place called Wadi Al-Uyoun, nor any loss that a man could describe or grow accustomed to."

Here is a quote that emphasizes the view that the American's took of the Arabs as second class citizens:

"The company would pay compensation for any subsequent accidents, whether loss of life, total or partial disability, loss of injury of limb or organ, eye, leg or ear, or even less serious injuries; the compensation would be generous, just as if the Arabs were regular people." 

I love that this novel challenge has exposed me to a vast variety of world fiction. It has been great to see the world from different perspectives across the world. We often hear about how unrest in the middle east affects oil prices, but we forget that it also has a human cost to it. Rather than simply making the price of gas go up, the chaos  also means that thousands of children are growing up in a time when they may killed for being an innocent bystander.  I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up in a war zone.

Despite appreciating having my horizons widened I didn't enjoy this novel all that much. The plot line wandered aimlessly not really having a main protagonist. You start the novel following Miteb Al Hathal and his family and end the novel following a series of vastly different characters. It is a great overview of the people and the times, but without a protagonist to guide me through the story, I felt lost and ambivalent as to what happened throughout the novel. It didn't help that I have recently gotten involved in a book club in my neighbourhood and have been excited about all sorts of other fiction. My to-be-read list is growing faster than I can keep up and I am desperate to start some really interesting books that I picked up in the last few weeks! I am very much looking forward to 2016's reading challenge and I hope to continue to add on new and interesting reads with my book club and other literary pursuits. I set myself a challenge to read 50 books this year and I got SOOO close. I came in at 42 although I may have missed a few of the smaller ones that I read here and there. Next year I will do better and try to get even closer to my goal, although as my husband pointed out if I met my goal it would mean I would be reading close to a book a week and (with the 1,000 page monsters this challenge keeps throwing at me) I am not sure I will keep up. It is good to have goals though and I like a challenge. What are you reading goals for 2016?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book 70- Berlin Alexanderplatz (106th Book)

Berlin Alexanderplatz is the 70th book on the list. I read it throughout the month of November which is fitting since the novel is pretty dreary. The novel follows Franz Biberkopf on his release from jail after killing his girlfriend in a jealous rage. He tries to make a good life for himself by sheer willpower, but is faced by many trials. The book ends in hope when he realizes that the only way to face challenges in the world  is to connect with others in your life.

This book is a stream of consciousness novel which makes it challenging to follow at times. Bits of german folk songs are interspersed throughout the novel and various sound effects are employed to support moods and themes. The one repetitive song that stuck out to me was a 17th century German hymn.

"There is a mower death yclept. Hath power which the Lord hath kept. When he 'gins his scythe to whet, keener it grows and keener yet, soon will he slash, man must endure the gash"
The repetition of this hymn throughout the novel creates quite a creepy feeling to it.  It appears whenever Biberkopf struggles with life and drives home fore me the fact that although he struggles he is still alive. I had to look up what the phrase yclept meant and it means "called". In this instance, that means that the mower is called death. I love that I am able to learn new words through reading. This one would make an excellent word in a scrabble game!!!

The novel is set in Berlin and in particular the Alexanderplatz. This is a square in the heart of the city and it seems to echo with what I take to be the central theme of the novel. The main message of the book seems to be that man needs other people in order to deal with the harshness of life. This theme appears briefly at the beginning of the book and is reinforced near the end by a long paragraph about the need for others. Here are a few of the quotes that pass on this message:

"You shouldn't bother so much about your own person. You should listen to others."

"God won't let any man drop out of his hands, but then there are also other people don't forget."

"Much unhappiness comes from walking alone"

"A ship cannot lie in safety without a big anchor, and a man cannot exist without other men."

This is a tough novel for me to rate. I spent most of the novel  wanting it to be over, but near the end of the book I was interested in it again. Due to this I think I would have to rate it a 3 out of 5. My next novel is Cities of Salt which is a novel set in the Persian Gulf in the 1930s. There is one thing I can say for this challenge and that is that it is exposing me to literature from all over the world.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book 69-Hunger (105th Book)

The book of the month for September was Hunger by Knut Hamsun....never mind that it is now October! I read through this novel in less than a week and I am hopeful that means I will catch up in the following months. My slacking off in the month of August has really set me back! Hunger was an easy read and one that I was thoroughly fascinated by. It is written by a Norwegian author, but has a lot of similarities to Russian novels, namely in its treatment of the poor instead of the wealthy.

Hunger reminded me a great deal of Crime and Punishment, Malone Dies and also Kafka's novels. The further down the list I get the more I realize that having these classics under my belt will allow me to make comparisons between authors and novels. There is truly nothing new under the sun.

This novel follows a nameless narrator who is slowly starving to death as he fumbles around trying to make a living. The story follows him as he tries to raise money through various means, as his hair falls out due to malnourishment and also as his mind gives way to fantastical ramblings. This is one of the clearest and easiest to follow examples of stream of consciousness literature that I have read to date. I am not always a fan of stream of consciousness literature, but this one does the job well.

I have always been a fan of literature that focuses on the poor and this novel didn't disappointment me. It really shows the struggles that the poor and homeless face in a realistic and terrifying manner. It is HARD work trying to find a way to feed yourself everyday when you don't have a roof over your head and every action is harder when compounded by hunger. Rather than focus on just the day to day suffering of the narrator we also see some of his psychological troubles as well. Like many, when faced with hard trials he believes that God is against him. "Was the hand of the Lord turned against me?" He also wonders what makes him different from everyone else and why all this trouble has to happen to him specifically. "Was I not just as much entitled to live as anyone else?" I think these are common thoughts that people ask themselves when facing difficult challenges.

The novel also has a feeling of poetry to it. There are several descriptions of surroundings that are quite beautiful. "It is the reign of Autumn, the height of the Carnival of Decay." The narrator has heightened senses due to his hunger and pays attention to everything including the minute details.

I had never heard of these novel before, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. It may just be one of the few novels that I would rate highly at the tail end of this list. The further down I go the grumpier I get. I was happy to find this gem which I was quite pleased with. I have no idea what to expect from the next novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz but I will pick it up from the library this weekend since it is still quite pricey as an ebook and I don't know what I will think of it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book 68- The USA Trilogy (104th book)

The USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos was the 68th book on the list and it took me two and a half months to finish. This makes this the book that has taken me the most time to complete in the challenge so far. Technically, this trilogy is actually THREE novels, but since they are inherently tied together I can forgive Daniel S. Burt for only making them one novel on the list. Although this is the book of the month for August I am just now finishing the books and the review in October.

I am not sure why I struggled with these novels since I actually quite liked the novels every time I read them. Perhaps my main struggle with them was that I read them in the dog days of summer and I really wanted to be doing light summer reading. (I was also reading a book about 19th century magicians at the same time which seemed infinitely more interesting than this massive overview of American culture!) It might have also had something to do with the fact that the novel is partially set doing the First World War and the period following, which, if you follow my blog you will know that I hate.

This novel has a truly interesting structure which can be hard to follow. Thankfully I had read up on the USA trilogy in the Novel 100 so I learned about the structures and found them interesting.

  • There are several characters the novel follows who are average everyday citizens. Their life is hard and the characters are realistic in how they handle their trials
  • There are several biographies of famous people as well. In contrast, these are heroic and often have repetitive phrases throughout them to emphasis the one one point the person is known for
  • There is a section called the Camera Eye which is a stream of consciousness account of John Dos Passos life
  • There is also a section called the Newsreel which involves headlines from several major newspapers around the time that the novel is set. Some of these show realistic snapshots of events that affect the novel's characters, other simply help to give a picture of the times.
I think the thing that stands out for me about this novel is that the characters are very real to life. They seem very authentic and as a result are very likeable. They are all represented as fallible and seem to struggle with life while having moments of joy. I think if this novel had attempted to cover the same period in a different way that the book would have been rather dry. There are some characters I liked better than other and their are some of the books that I liked better than others. I liked The Big Money and The 42nd Parallel far better than 1919 for instance.

The other thing I liked about this novel was that it brought me into contact with a great Vancouver used bookstore called MacLeods. The ugly novel cover featured in this review was the covers of 2 of the 3 books that I picked up for this challenge. I had always heard about this institution but had taken to mostly visiting the cute counterpart across the street called The Paperhound. This bookstore is a maze of novels stacked as far as the eye can see although there is some semblance of order it helps to find things if you have help from the store owners. They were knowledge about all books and gave me an overview of what I was getting myself into.  Since this is a trilogy I would have had to purchase three separate books and even at Kobo digital prices they would have been $13 each. Thankfully, I was able to find 2 of the 3 novels used for $5 a piece. The first novel I had to buy on Kobo.

The next thing I liked about this book was that even though the novel was told from several  completely different characters points of view at times the characters lives intersected. You would see some characters from their own perspective and then also read about them from another's perspective when they interacted with someone else. This was very cool concept and reminded me a little bit of Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. I was also reminded of this novel since the USA Trilogy also covered the "wobblies" or union men from the same period as Against the Day.

For the next novel I get back to the roots of why I started this challenge in the first place, reading free books on my Kobo. The next novel is Hunger by Knut Hamsun and I already have it loaded on my Kobo and ready to go. Perhaps I can get myself back on track and make up for lost time!

Book 67- Call It Sleep (103 book)

Book 67 was Call it Sleep by Henry Roth. It was the book of the month for July, but I somehow missed doing a review and now the finer point of the novel seem to have escaped me. I liked this book, that much I remember. The story follows David Schearl a young Jewish immigrant as he grows up in a new and terrifying world. It is coming of age story that rang very true for me.

David reminds me a lot of myself at that age because he finds the world a frightening place. A classic example of my early fear was the fact that my mother had to sneak out of my Preschool class when I wasn't looking after 3 days of accompanying me. I also, apparently, taught myself to read because when ever we had guests arrive at the house I would run upstairs and hide. I was always found reading books after the guest left.

David is a mamma's boy with a father who is a tyrant. He constantly lives in fear of upsetting his father and causing a huge row in his house. This shapes part of who he becomes later in the novel since he is timid and fluctuates between the fear of his peers and the fear of his father. These two opposing worries shape a lot of his encounters throughout the rest of the novel and ultimately shape his destiny.

David is also Jewish and his mother decides to send him to a Hebrew school to further his religious education despite the fact that the family isn't really devote. It is at Hebrew school where David learns the story of Isaiah and the coal being pressed to his lips to purify him. David instantly falls in love with this story and becomes obsessed with trying to have an encounter with God. One day on his ramblings throughout the city he stumbles upon a group of boys who show him the power of electricity in the live trolley lines. David somehow equates this experience with the story of Isaiah and believes that he has seen God.

Later in the story he meet a Catholic boy who lives in the neighbourhood. He discovers a rosary and becomes obsessed with having it at all costs. This obsession is used as a bribe by the neighbour boy to convince David to introduce him to his female cousins. David lives in constant fear of male/female relations after an encounter he had with a girl when he was younger and also after hearing about his mother affair with a non Jewish man before she met his father. David is constantly racked with guilt and his religious interest in partially based on him wanting to be good and feel clean.

The neighbour boy gives David the rosary and meets David's cousins only to assault one of them who then tells on him. David in a fit of panic runs to the Rabbi who is teaching him Hebrew. In order to cover up why he snuck into the school David tells the Rabbi an elaborate lie about his parentage based partially on the story he hears about his mother's encounter with the non Jewish man. The story culminates in a dramatic encounter where the Rabbi, the aunt and her new husband all converge on the Schearl house at the same time.

In owning up to the crime that happened the rosary falls out of his pocket and the father flies into a rage believing that it has all been an elaborate plot against him since the beginning. David runs out of the house and heads down to the trolley rails wanting to have another encounter with God. He jams a piece of metal into the tracks and is electrocuted. As he lies there with people trying to help him the title of the novel becomes clear as he utter the final line of the book that "he might as well call it sleep".

Normally, I don't retell plots when writing a review, but as I set out to write this review I needed to refresh the story in my own mind. The pieces of the story that stuck out the most for me are so tied in with the events that happen to David it is hard to share the details without sharing the plot. I think the most defining feature of this book for me was finding my childhood self mirrored in the  main character. This story portrayed both my fear of the world which lasted well into my teen years and also my dedication and devotion to God which developed as a direct result of myself trying to make sense of a world I found terrifying and confusing.

Although my fear and need to cling to God eventually lessened, my faith and belief in a very personal God never disappeared. I think this is what drew me to David's character the most. While all his fellow Hebrew schoolmates saw their religious education as a chore David found meaning and hope in it. The story of Isaiah stuck with him when he heard it told to an older student. He was also struck by the story of Christian faith as told by his Catholic neighbour. These things endeared David to me.

I like that this quest of reading the 100 greatest novels has lead to me hearing about different life experiences. Henry Roth is Jewish and wrote this story as Jewish immigrant and it reflects parts of life I will probably never have to experience. It is still great to be able to read it and find a deeper human meaning behind someone who had a vastly different experience of the world. Great literature is literature that makes us think and also literature that unites us together in the human experience. I would recommend this novel to anyone.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book 66- Germinal (102nd book)

It has taken me a long time to get around to writing my blog for Germinal. I am not sure why since I enjoyed the book despite its fairly dark plot. Germinal follows Etienne Lanthier, an outsider, as he arrives in the mining town of Montsou only to realize that the conditions there are deplorable. He searches about for a solution and is eventually able to convince the miners to strike...with disastrous consequences. The novel ends ambiguously as Lanthier leaves town. The images of spring and germination, however, hint at the future hope that one day the power of the people might be restored to them.

Canada has long been accused of being a socialist country, but I think the one thing that sets it apart from Communist Russian is that there is a desire to raise EVERYONE up to a level of comfort and ease rather than bring everyone down to a level of suffering and pain. There is certainly nothing wrong with capitalism, but there is something wrong with income disparity and the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.

Germinal clearly portrays the trouble when the people in power hold all the purse strings. The miners of Montsou live in homes provided by the mine, heated with coal doled out by the mine and shop at stores owned by the mine. The miners have taken pay cut after pay cut only to watch the mine owners get rich. Although there was unrest before Lanthier came a long everyone just assumed that their life was always going to continue to be the way it had been in the past. I was reminded quite a bit of The Grapes of Wrath as a result of the company owned stores. I think I prefer that novel to this, but I feel that the abject poverty of the workers is more clearly outlined in this novel. It is just so dark, and the miners lives are just so difficult. 

Unions no longer have the favour of the general public that they once did, but this novel chronicles a time before they existed and shows the pitfall of what can happen when workers have no power or safety net to support them. Without the safety net of having saved for hard times the workers would have no ways of disputing changes to pay because if they stopped work in protest they would quickly starve. This is what happened in this novel. I am surprised how quickly we have forgotten in North America that it is unions that have brought us the weekend, the 40 hour work week and the end of child labour. Although unions do have their pitfalls, there is a lot to be said for people banding together and fighting for what they believe in. 

This blog is not meant to be a political treatise on workers rights and unionism, but there is no way to write a blog about this novel without addressing the class war depicted by the novel.  Zola was inspired by a strike that occurred in 1884 in France. He actually posed as an engineer and entered the mines to interview the workers. He was much loved by the people and miners shouted "Germinal! Germinal!" at his funeral as a way to honour him for the work that he had done in accurately representing their plight.

I would recommend this novel for people who are sturdy of heart and in a good place emotionally. It is a dark book and with much of the novel taking place in the mines  with the dark, close spaces and constant fear of fire damp it is quite claustrophobic.  If things are tough for you in your life at the moment, or if you are feeling down, perhaps I would suggest reading this novel at some point in the future. Since it doesn't explicitly have an answer to the question of whether people can make a difference in the face of overwhelming social pressure it might be hard to stomach. That being said, the book covers a topic that we should not ignore, that of the fate of the poor and powerless. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book 65- Herzog (101st Book)

Dear Saul Bellow, 

Your novel Herzog is terrible and I disliked reading it greatly. I know you were trying to create a bildungsroman about how to make sense of life in a meaningless world. I know you wanted us to get angry at Herzog for intellectualizing his life only to realize that we too do the same thing as humans. I know that you wanted me to end the novel with a great sense that even though our lives are a comic failure that we can still bring meaning to our life in the face of death. I GET that, but yet, I still dislike your book.

Do you like random letters to famous dead people? Than Herzog is the novel for you! This novel follows the main character Herzog as he tries to make sense of his life with two failed marriages, a failed academic career and a failed novel behind him. Yes, you guessed it, this novel also includes everyone's favourite topic: Adultery. I suppose you might find this novel refreshing since it is one of the few novels that looks at the impact of adultery on cuckolded individual. Honestly, however, I am beginning to doubt that there is any other topic for a novel  an I am beginning to weary of it as a subject matter.

The random letters I referred to are penned by Herzog in his borderline insanity as he struggles with what to do with his life in the wake of his completed failure in almost every area. I found the letters extremely irritating and also extremely self-centered (which was what Bellow was going for when he wrote the novel). Bellow wanted us to dislike Herzog and the intellectualizing  of his problems, but he also then wanted us to make the leap to applying that dislike to areas of ourself. That leap, for me at least, did not happen. Of course I intellectualize. Of course I struggle when I feel like a failure in one or more areas of my life, but by reading this novel I did not feel that I gained any new perspective on life or any new grip on my reality....also I just plain didn't like reading this book.  Bellow said it best himself,

"These personal histories, old tales from old times that may not be worth remembering. I remember. I must. But who else-to whom can this matter?"

For me, this is one novel that tells of a personal demise that just doesn't ring true for me as a story with a general application. Either that or reading the best classics at the beginning of the book has made me grumpy. Or the fact that this must be the 12th or 30th tale of adultery has made me angrier than I have ever been before at fiction.

Today is May 30. I had 12 or so pages left to read on this novel. I struggled through the book for a week at the beginning of the month and left the last 12 pages until today. I had no desire to finish this book, but for the sake of the challenge I did. i am nothing if not stubborn and I haven't devoted the last few years of my life to completing this challenge only to give up at the well over half way point.

Dear blog reader, 

Unless you are completing some sort of life list like I am let me give you some advice. Pass by Herzog if you see it on the shelves at your local book store or for sale at a garage sale on the side of the road. There is a reason why this novel has become one of the lesser known classic novels of our time. I don't think that this particular novel will weather the tests of time.

Onwards and upwards to the next book on the Novel 100 list: Germinal!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Against the Day (100th book!)

My 100th book read on the "1001 books to read before you die" list was Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. It was a regrettable choice, and one that took me over 6 weeks and cost me .90 in late fees at the library.

I can't say that I loved this book, but then, in retrospect, I didn't really like the first novel of Thomas Pynchon's that I read, Gravity's Rainbow. (Read my review here). I liked it once I reflected on it, because I felt like it had some good themes about free will and choice, but when I was actually reading it I just wanted it to be over. I chose this novel after perusing the library one day for a book off the 1001 list. I picked this one up because I had been intrigued by the latest movie that came out based on Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Every time I saw a preview for it, it looked weird....and interesting. I still haven't seen it yet, an perhaps I never will, but I though I would give Thomas Pynchon a second was not an enjoyable experience.

Against the Day had an extensive cast of characters who were slightly intertwined. Their story lines were all separate, but by the end of the novel most of the characters had met each other. Some story lines I never got into and others I enjoyed part of the time. One of the storylines that held my attention was the Chums of Chance. These individuals were the crew of a zepplin style balloon who travelled around the world on mysterious missions. They had a series of novels written about them and anytime something  interesting happened it referred to the  novel  where a similar event happened ie Chums of Chance and the Great Escapade. I would have much rather read any of these fictional books than Against the Day.

Like Gravity's Rainbow this novel mentions the concept of zero quite a few times. I have noticed after you read a few novels by the same author you can oftentimes pick up on their pet idea. This appears to be Pynchon's. Also like Gravity's Rainbow this novel has characters randomly bursting into song for no apparent reason. It is like a musical in book form! Similar to Gravity's Rainbow this novel is quite lewd, and seemingly for no point. I wanted to put down the novel several times and walk away, but by the time I had made that decision I had invested too much into the novel and wanted to see it through to the end.

Unlike Gravity's Rainbow this one didn't seem to have a lot of repetitive phrases or themes. The only one that I picked up on was a focus on light and its counterpart: darkness. Since the novel itself is quite dark this is not surprising.  Here are a few of the quotes that stuck out to me:

"Differences among the world's religions are in fact rather trivial when compared to the common enemy, the ancient and abiding darkness which all hate, fear, and struggle against without cease."

"When something is born of light, what does that light enable us to see?"

"Nobody can withstand pure light, let alone see it. Without her to reflect, God is invisible." (referring to the feminine side of God)

"Light, in any case, among these Indians  of Chiapas, occupies an analogous position to flesh among Christian peoples. It is living tissue. As the brain is the outward and visible expression of the mind."
At the end of the day, I would say that this novel was too long, had too little resolution, and either didn't have a point, or had a point that was too convoluted for me to pick up. Most of the stories dragged on for me and I soon lost interest in the novel as a whole. I am still so curious about what makes Thomas Pynchon tick, (he must have a fascinating story) but I other than that I don't believe I will become a Thomas Pynchon fan.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book 64- A Passage to India (99th Book)

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forester is book 64 on the novel 100 list. I still marvel that I am plugging away all these years later since I have a habit of abandoning projects part way through. I did a photo a day project for half a year until I eventually abandoned it and I have given up on shows in the last season because I have moved on from them. I am hopeful that this book and blog project will continue on to the end since I am now well over half way through the list of 100 books.

I liked A Passage to India. The novel is very clearly a novel about ideas and the way that the world is. Although the novel at times seems a bit preachy about racism, religion and what makes us human, the characters are truly human so it doesn't seem forced or fake. I liked this novel and found the characters very engaging. Adela Quested is a very human character and many of the other characters Aziz, Mr. Fielding, Mrs Moore serve a purpose more than just helping the story along. The characters reactions and actions are authentic to human life and their motivations are very real.

The story follows Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested on a tour through India as they set about seeing if Adela could marry Mrs. Moore's son Ronny. Both want to see the "real India" beyond what the Anglo-Indians who live in India want to see. This desire, though genuine, is very English in nature and leads to the eventual crisis that shapes the novel.

I didn't realize something very cool about the novel while I read it, but it was pointed out to me after reading the short description of the book by Daniel S. Burt in The Novel 100. The novel is laid out in 3 sections for the seasons of India (cool, hot, wet) and the three sections also mirror the three major religions of India (Muslim, Christian and Hindu). On the surface this is a novel about the racial and religious tensions in British India (with racism being the easiest theme to pick up on), but the true theme of the novel is the divisions that divide people from having authentic relationships.

Aziz is someone who constantly strives to have authentic relationships with people and he has several throughout the book despite his comic blunder that get in the way. He meets Mrs. Moore in a Mosque and after his initial blunder they are able to communicate on a real level and move past the roles they are expected to play. He also finds a friend in Mr Fielding who is an Anglo-Indian who refuses to side with his race when a crisis arrives.

I found the crisis that happens in Marabar Hills very telling of what happens so much in our society. People side with the majority of voices and let emotion take them away. I learned about the concept of group think in my Psychology 101 class at university and it has been very real for me ever since. The theory basically states that conformity happens in a group so that any dissenting points of view are suppressed and people make decisions that they would never make if they were left to their own devices. There were two good quotes in the novel that illustrate this point of view.

"He was still after facts, though the herd had decided on emotion"

"evil was propagating in every direction, it seemed to have an existence of its own, apart from anything that was done or said by individuals."

Over all this was a good read. I would recommend it to others and I think both the message and story are worth the time and effort of others. That is something that I can't say for all the novels on the list so when I find both in one book I am quite happy.  One of the discoveries I have made during this novel challenge is that a good story has to be coupled with a good theme for me to rate a book highly. Each on their own is not enough to make a classic in my opinion. Good literature will be engaging and thought provoking.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book 63- The Awakening (98th novel)

I am so sick of novels about affairs. It seems that the novel 100 list is absolutely chock full of them. Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, The Scarlet Letter, and The Age of Innocence are just a few. I have loved some of those novels, but I have to say that the subject matter is getting very old. Is there nothing more interesting to talk about?

The Awakening was more of a novella and the copy I had included a few other short stories. I enjoyed the setting since the stories were set in New Orleans, a place that very few of the novels on this list have been set. Absalom, Absalom was set in the South but I am no longer remembering what state.

I read this novel quite some time ago (I finished it in March), but I have, quite simply, not had the heart to do a blog about it. I can think of nothing that the book made me feel other than,  "meh." I didn't like the main character and I found her selfish and unlikeable. In my mind she had no redeeming qualities and I didn't feel like her plight was really teaching me anything.

The focus of the novel was a woman who was suddenly awakened to the fact that she could have a private identity outside of her duties as a woman and a citizen of a certain culture and place. There were a few quotes that I liked in regards to this topic but the out workings of her discovery just made me angry. While I agree that we all have a private identity beyond the roles that we take on, I don't think we should be selfish with this freedom.

"In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position to the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her."

"But I don't want anything but my own way. That is wanting a good deal of course, when you have to trample upon the lives, the hearts, the prejudices of others."

The only other thing I have to say about this novel is that it has some cool things to say about the spiritual qualities of the ocean and how it can speak to the soul. As someone who was raised on an Island and currently lives a block from the ocean I can attest to the fact that the ocean (and water in general) can have a therapeutic effect on a person.

"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation."

"The voice of the sea speaks to the soul."

With this review done I can put this novel to rest and move full speed ahead with the April novel which is A Passage to India. Although it is April 18th I am just starting the novel now. I took on a challenge of reading Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon which is a 1000 page beast. True to Pynchon form it is a weird novel and I am having a bit of trouble plowing through it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book 62- The Good Soldier (97th Book)

You can not imagine my relief when I discovered that The Good Soldier was not a novel about war. I dislike war. I once collapsed in a fit of tears the middle of a room full of people when a friend of mine whispered lines from a war movie in my ear. We were in drama class and the point of the exercise was to find unique and different ways to break into a circle of people....mission accomplished! While The Good Soldier is not a book about war it does show the battle of wills between several different people one of whom is Edward Ashburnham the "good soldier" of the title.

The title was selected in a rather tongue in cheek sort of way. The author sent out the book to be published originally under the title "The Saddest Story".  In the gap before it was published, the First World War broke out. From the front lines, Ford Maddox Ford received a letter from an editor letting him know that the title was not marketable in war time. He sent a wire back saying, "Dear Lane, why not The Good Soldier?"

This novel is an attack on British culture and the restrictions of the social props of the time. It is loosely based on Ford Maddox Ford's own experience as a man who struggled with adultery in his own life. this novel is about two couples the Dowells and the Ashburnhams. Nothing is what it seems amongst them and their seemingly perfect lives are marred by affairs, jealous and battles of will.

The novel's narrator is John Dowell, an unreliable narrator if ever I saw one. The story is told through stream of consciousness and jumps backwards and forward in time as the Dowell tries to piece together the mess of his life. The novel is a bit of a mystery as the reader is left to try and piece together what is going on. "I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze"

The novel makes a rather ambiguous point. Through out most of the novel I was wondering what it was all for. Dowell, too wonders why there is so much suffering and whether life is really worth it. After reviewing the many quotes that stuck out to me I think the number one thing I am taking away from this novel is that no one is what they same and no one is perfect.

"And yet I am so near to all these people that I cannot think any of the wicked."
"There is not even any villain in the story"
"We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist."
"The human heart is a mysterious thing." 
"Not one of us has got what he really wanted."

Overall, I would say this is a good book. For the most part it kept my attention. I wasn't in love with any of the fact I despised all of them the hapless narrator included however, I think that is the point of the book.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book 61-The Age of Innocence (96th Book)

The Age of Innocence is the 61st book of my Novel 100  challenge and the first book I read for the challenge in 2015. I found this book easy to read, but lacking in interest. The story flowed well and the characters were interesting, but I wasn't wowed by the book. I was, however, quite interested in the theme which was a retrospective on New York in the 1870s.

The Age of Innocence details the lives of Newland Archer, May Welland and May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. Newland is engaged to be married to May when her much more unpredictable cousin Ellen appears on the scene. Newland has started to have unconventional views about the social mores of New York Society and he finds these mirrored in Ellen's thoughts and lifestyle.  Here are a few of the things that he thought: "Women ought to be free-as free as we are." and "marriage was not the safe anchorage he had been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted sea." Although May is everything society would want for him, he is attracted to Ellen for her unpredictable nature. The affair is never to be carried out however, and the novel follows Newland as he grapples with his own beliefs and the society that would hold him back.

I found this novel very intriguing because it is about unconsummated love. I was reminded of a paper I wrote in university on courtly love in the middle ages. Courtship amongst knights and ladies of the time was seen to be at it's highest ideal if it was never consummated. Knights would fight wars and win battles in the name of their chosen lady, but their feelings were supposedly devoid of physical desire. Some of the knights had never even met their chosen lady and only corresponded with them through letters. This novel follows along those lines because even after May dies and Countess Olenska's estranged husband has passed away Newland prefers to hold on to the ideal of his attraction for Ellen rather than the consummation of it. "I can't love you unless I give you up." The novel closes as Newland sits on a park bench outside of Ellen's house while his son goes in to dinner  with her.  He slowly walks away as a servant comes out to close the blinds.

According to Daniel S. Burt in The Novel 100 readers of Edith Wharton's time did not pick up on the ironic nature of the novel and were convinced that Newland did the right thing in conforming to society's views and marrying May. It is clear as a modern reader that Wharton meant for the novel to be a scathing and ironic depiction of New York in 1870. It is interesting how novels are seen as time goes on. This was one of those rare novels that did well in it's own time and continues to do well today.  Although it has lost some of its meaning as time has gone on it is still represented as a classic novel.

I am little nervous about book 62, "The Good Soldier" since I am not a fan of war. The thing I like about this challenge is it is forcing me to read things I would never have picked up.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book 60- The Counterfeiters (95th Book)

My last book of 2014 was The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide. I quite liked this book as I read it and I loved the themes! It was a book, within a book, within a book. What I mean is the book is about an author writing a book about writing a book. Huh?! Yeah, it is as confusing as it sounds. It reminds me a little bit of the movie Inception or The Matrix. The novel is really an investigation of what it takes to write a book and how novels are only the counterfeit to life.

The novel follows several characters some of whom become important some of whom do not. The one mainstay throughout the entire novel is Edouard the novelist who is writing a book called "The Counterfeiters" which is about an author writing a book called "The Counterfeiters". The actual novel that Andre Gide writes includes the journals of Edouard while he is writing his novel. In it he summarizes the actions that other characters take as he tries to find uses for his daily life in his novel. The version of the novel I read also included Gide's journals while he wrote his novel, as well as news articles that inspired parts of his story. It is great to see the writing process so clearly analyzed in the novel.

If you are of a philosophical bent then this is the novel for you. It has several themes in it including many characters who are coming of age and trying to find an identity in the face of real life. "I don't know enough about other people's live to write a novel; and I haven't yet had a life of my own." It also has a theme about the structures that bind us and sometimes shape our identity including religion, family and sexual orientation. "Family egoism, hardly less hideous than personal egoism". It also analyzes the theme of what fiction is and what it does for both the reader and the author. "The novelist does not as a rule rely sufficiently on the readers imagination" There is a lot of stuff jammed into one small novel!

This book is chock full of fantastic quotes about writing. I used to want to be a writer before I realized that I didn't have the internal motivation necessary to plug away at a project of my own accord. I also realized that journalism, which would provide me with deadlines, wasn't a match for my personality. Regardless of all of that, writing will always be a hobby for me and I created The Novel 100 project to give me structure and a purpose to keep writing. As such, the quotes about writing really stuck out for me.

"It sometimes seems to me that writing prevents one from living, and that one can express oneself better by acts than by words"

"...making a novel about ideas instead of about human beings?"

"Yes I know, it sounds stupid. Let's say, if you prefer it, it hasn't got one subject...'a slice of life'"

I don't know if I will ever write a novel, but as an avid reader I like when authors explore what writing does for people. I have had a lot of epiphanies from novelists accurately capturing life. It is much easier to see a situation or problem when you see it represented outside of yourself.

Although this book doesn't have a very high rating for me (I only gave it three stars) I did like it. I think the trouble with my  project is that I have refined my tastes to such a point that I can now rate a book on many things. I am learning to grade novels on a curve. Not all books are going to get a 4 or 5 star rating from me. As the list of novels I have read grows, I think there will be far less 5 star novels  and a whole lot of  "middle of the road" or 3 star books for me.