Friday, July 15, 2016

Book 74- Brideshead Revisited (110th Novel)

It's been awhile since I finished Brideshead Revisited and it has been even longer since I have written a blog about one of the challenge books. Three things have happened. One is that I joined a book club, two is that I have joined the National puzzler's League and three is that I have found a  board game community in my neighbourhood. All of these new fun hobbies have been competing for my time and mean that the challenge has fallen by the wayside. I am determined not to let it slip altogether because I am now on book 75 and it would be a shame to stop when I am so close to the end! What it does mean, however is that my pace of reading the novels is significantly slowed. I am no longer determined to read a challenge book a month, but rather to plug a long at a steady pace.

I really liked this book! It has been so long since I said that. The novel follows Charles Ryder as he interacts with Sebastian and his complicated family. It is a novel about nostalgia and first love and it feels sad and beautiful.  Waugh himself says "My theme is memory" at the beginning of book three.

There are a lot of really lovely lines throughout the novel and also a lot of beautiful imagery.

Here is a line that I think sums up the novel:

"perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; vagabond-language scrawled on gate-posts and paving-stones along the weary road that others have tramped before us; perhaps you and I are types  and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us."
I picked up a real novel for this read and chose to buy a shiny new copy of it from Chapters. I really find that things like where I am when I read the book and whether I am reading a hard copy or an e copy really make a difference on my memory of the novel.  So many of the books I have read for the challenge can picture where I am when I read it. This novel for instance I read in equal parts coffee shop and bed. Other books I can remember the weather or a feeling I had while reading it. A book about memory and nostalgia is something that would obviously speak to me!

The book also touches on guilt and what draws us towards or pulls us a part from God. The Marchmain family, and in particular Sebastian, are Catholic but are never quite able to reconcile  themselves to their beliefs as Catholics. Sebastian and Charles are in love with each other and while it never quite comes out and says it are most likely lovers.  Sebastian eventually ends up an alcoholic pursued by his demons and is sent around the world in an attempt to cure him of his alcoholism. Each of his sisters feels a similar why about their faith and each for different reasons. One line summed up the conflict as it appears in the novel, "I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy."

There was also another line about how constant their faith was for the family. "God won't let them go for long" and later speaking of God, "I caught him (the thief) with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."

Given the themes and the feeling of nostalgia throughout the book I think this is a book best picked up later in life. I think large chunks of the book would be lost on a teen if they tried to read it in the midst of their angst and first loves. Overall I would recommend the book and I am happy that I have finally found a challenge novel that I didn't struggle to read. Next up is The Last Chronicle of Barset which I will be reading on my ereader.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book 73-A Farewell to Arms (109th Book)

Book 73 was A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I have lately been guilty of daydreaming about what I am going to blog about a book while I am reading it. For the books I hate this is a secret joy that helps me slog through them (kind of like watching a really bad movie with friends that becomes good because it is fun to make fun of!) I started A Farewell to Arms day dreaming about the hate blog I was going to write about it; by the end of the novel I was hooked and sped through it. It just goes to show you that this ridiculous challenge I have set for myself has its merits.

The first thing that struck me about the novel is that it has some beautiful descriptions. The novel is set in wartime Italy where the main character, an American, has decided to to join the ambulance division of the Italian army. The descriptions of both the tragedy of the trenches and the beauty of the countryside were stunning. Even when I was hating on the novel I was struck by the loveliness of the descriptions.

The second thing that struck me about this book is how sick I am of novels set in war. I have recently joined a neighbourhood bookclub. Of the first 4 novels that we read two of them were set in war. It appears that most modern novelists are obsessed with what war does to people. I will grant authors that: war makes a fantastic backdrop for novels about the human condition. It does seem to bring out the best and worst in people and it makes for a really great platform to discuss the gray areas between the good and evil. Not all questions about life have a nice pat answer.

The back cover talked about this book being a love story, but I didn't buy it. I didn't write down the quote but somewhere in the novel, Henry said something about not having any intention of loving Catherine and I believed him. Catherine is crazy, certifiably so it seems since she just can't stop asking about how good of a job she is doing being his "wife". I am not sure about Henry, but if I were in a relationship like that I would want to shoot myself. Having someone who only lives to do exactly what pleases you would be exhausting, and boring. I couldn't decide when I finished the book whether Hemingway was trying to tell us that this story was love, or that desperate times called for desperate measures. Is this a story of a war romance or a love story written for a man's man? Either way despite parts of it making an interesting story it didn't really feel very sincere.

I borrowed this book from the library as an electronic read and 4 days before the expiry date I still had 150 pages to go. Unlike, hard copies of books from the library when ebooks expire you simply lose access to them and can't pay a late fee to finish them. Thankfully, this weekend I had a friend visiting and we spent our time in a coffee shop  with her writing a novel and myself plowing through this book. It was a bit stressful to know that if I didn't finish the book that it would disappear and I would have to track down another copy of the book to complete it.

My favourite memory from this book was when I discovered that the quote "The world breaks everyone and afterwards, many are strong in the broken places". I was so excited! I have personally used that quote several times and was pleased to have found the quote in its natural setting. It was quickly followed by disappointment however when I realized that the setting was not at all what I had expected and that it wasn't uttered by someone that I felt deserved to utter it. Henry speaks about it while lying in bed with Catherine after deserting the army. While I don't fault him for deserting I DO fault him for generally trying to escape his life. At this point in the novel I don't think he is healing or making himself better. I wonder if Hemingway intended us to think that Henry was getting strong in in the broken places or only that he wished that he was? Either way it was not the setting that I envisioned for a quote like this to be uttered.

I have looked ahead to the next few books in the challenge and I will have to admit that I am pretty excited about the next few. Although I have been grumpy with the challenge since the summer, things are looking up! I am nearly three quarters of the way done and I am pretty excited about that fact!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Book72- The Death of Artemio Cruz (108th Book)

This challenge is getting increasingly harder to plow through. I have really struggled with the last two novels on this list and wanted to give up. I WILL persevere  however because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Although I still have two and a half  more years to go on the challenge if I only read a book off the list a month, the books at the tail end of the challenge look fun and a joy to read!

The Death of Artemio Cruz on the other hand was really NOT fun even if it was a cool concept for a book. Artemio Cruz is a man who lies dying in bed. Between moments of lucidity he remembers various turning points in his life where he made choices that changed the direction of his life. The flashbacks are not chronologically ordered so it becomes a bit of a puzzle to piece together what goes where. For the most part, after thinking through everything I was able to figure out what went where.

This is a piece of modernist fiction however, and although I enjoy James Joyce, even though he is REALLY hard to read, I did NOT enjoy the stream of consciousness nature of this book. It was quite hard to follow and I found myself lost because I read it over the course of 21 days and put the book down for large periods of time only to wonder where the heck I had left off. The book switches between perspectives and tenses and gives you no warning when you are slammed back into the present where Artemio is in immense amounts of pain from a stomach condition.

The book had some interesting snippets of things to say on death, dying and life. Here are just a few of them:

"Today, when your involuntary functions fore you to take account of them, will triumph, and end up destroying your person.... they will overcome you because they will fore you to take life into account instead of living it."

"We all need witnesses in our life in order to live them."

I really liked this quote and I think that this is the reason that social media is thriving these days. Those platforms give everyone an audience where they can constantly have witnesses to their life. I know I certainly made use of this when I was single. I could be alone in my apartment and have an audience to the mundane tasks of my life. Now that I am married my obsessive posting has died down quite a bit. Now I have someone I live with who is witness to my daily life!!!

"To live is to betray your God. Every act in life, every act that affirms us as living beings, requires that the commandments of your God be broken."

That is a bleak thought, but accurate to a point. Part of human nature is that we don't live up to our own ideals let alone God's. It would make an interesting conversation starter if the quote was thrown out in a group of strangers if nothing else!

That is about all I have to say about The Death of Artemio Cruz. I have been reading lots of fun and really great books this month, and this one doesn't make that list!  This month I have enjoyed Ready Player One, and The Explorer' Guild graphic novel. I recommend both to individuals who enjoy adventure since both were jam packed with it!