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.