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!

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!