Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Satanic Verses (by Salman Rushdie)

Okay here’s the thing. About Rushdie. The guy is clearly a genius. It’s Joycean wordplay plus magical realism plus a bold, mythic originality that is his alone. And yet, like Midnight’s Children, this book left me emotionally unmoved and vaguely irritated.

I have come to the conclusion that he is simply Not My Thing. I can find no reason not to enjoy him, yet I don’t. I find his playfulness tiresome, the magical and mythical elements confusing, and his characters annoying. I just can’t let go and get into the poetry of it and love it the way I know I should. (However, he does make an allusion to Pale Fire in this book. Which is a surefire way to win my heart a tiny bit.)

I can’t say this book isn’t great; it’s great. It’s deservedly a classic. It’s a wonderful book to study and think about, and poses major questions. What is the nature of evil? What is the nature of divinity, of humanity, of prophecy? You may like it; you may very well love it. But I personally am glad to be done with Rushdie.

"The anger with God carried him through another day, but then it faded and in its place there came a terrible emptiness, an isolation, as he realized he was talking to thin air, that there was nobody there at all and then he felt more foolish than ever in his life and he began to plead into the emptiness, ya Allah, just be there, damn it, just be." (Page 30)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

100 Best Lines

Another list for us to argue over. First of all, I don't see how "Call me Ishmael" is even on the list, much less number one. The opening of Moby-Dick is amazing, and I am marrying a man who can recite it from memory so it is also sexy, but it's not the first line that does it. I mean, "Call me Ishmael" is just not exciting by itself. And Lolita has the exact same problem: one of the best openings in literature, but it goes way beyond that short first line. The list is obviously seriously flawed.

I do love the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, though. Salinger is great. And Wharton. My old favorites, Virginia Woolf and Henry James are on the list. Middlemarch. And Dickens gives great first line. There are a lot of good lines here, in fact. The first line of Wings of the Dove made me fall in love with the book then and there, although if Henry James isn't your thing it might drive you mad. Speaking of which, the James Joyce ones make me want to scoop out my own eyeball with a fork, but I think that's just a personal thing. I will never get over my hatred of the moocow and the tuckoo.

And dude, #43 is not the first line of Pale Fire. It's the first line of the poem inside the novel, but not the novel itself. Who the hell wrote this list? Don't fuck with Pale Fire, people, or I will cut you.

And Then There Were None (by Agatha Christie)

It's difficult to write about these books; I don't want to give away any crucial plot points or hints! I will say that I finished two Agatha Christie books today, and I found The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to be far better than this one, although both are, of course, quite clever.

(By the way, both books have uncomfortable ribbons of anti-Semitism in them. When reading novels that make casual use of racial slurs, you can tell yourself "it was a less enlightened time" and yet it still makes you squirm. At least that's what I usually feel.) (And... according to a few reviewers on Amazon, the original title of the book, prior to Ten Little Indians, was Ten Little Niggers. Um, it was a less enlightened time?)

As for the book at hand, I felt it was lacking some depth. Lots of ellipses all over the place, lots of surface things going on, but ultimately not as multilayered as Ackroyd, and definitely not as believable. I still thought it was a great twist, though. That Agatha Christie and her twists!

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (by Agatha Christie)

Another book with a famous ending, but unlike the Orient Express ending, I didn't know what it was. I just went through the book suspecting absolutely everyone, and so I did in the end at least have an inkling as to who the murderer would be, although there was a lot I missed. If you like mysteries at all, I recommend this one very highly. I don't want to say too much, but I was really impressed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why, An Analogy

Mo : Books :: Montykins : Movies

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Wives of Bath, by Wendy Holden

As you can see from the below posts, I brought four novels along on my vacation, but between jet-lagged early mornings and long plane rides, I finished them all. I bought this fifth book in the worst airport on earth, Charles DeGaulle, from a scanty selection of English-language novels.

The airport may suck, but this book certainly doesn't! It is frothy, funny, and fluffy. Just don't expect the supporting characters to be realistic, and do expect the ending to be extremely pat and contrived. Basically, it's the perfect book to read while you're waiting for your plane, and definitely as far as chick lit goes, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway, and The Beautiful and Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I actually finished the Hemingway on the 16th and the Fitzgerald on the 19th, but I am putting them in a double entry because I think these two books have a lot in common.

The former is a collection of short stories that prefigure many of Hemingway's themes: fishing, bull-fighting, war. It also is the collection that introduced Hemingway, and his prose style, to the world. Some of the same characters recur throughout the collection, but it's disjointed overall, and important mainly because it's Hemingway, and he would go on to expand on these themes in his later, better works.

The latter is a novel with some autobiographical elements, about a rather disastrous marriage between two appalling people. The reader is, I gather, supposed to feel some sympathy for Anthony Patch, who lives off his inheritance and believes he's above doing any sort of work whatsoever. He knowingly marries a beautiful but very vain, self-centered, and spoiled girl. They drink a lot, fight a lot, and waste money. Oh, the tragedy of it all. Except, of course, not. This book is important mainly because it's Fitzgerald, and he would go on to expand this theme in The Great Gatsby, his later, better work.

In other words, no need to bother with either of these. They are important because they prefigure the books that you really should read: Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises (and probably For Whom The Bell Tolls although I've not yet read it). So feel free to skip them both, unless you want to study either author more in depth. In that case, you'll enjoy reading these earlier works.

"The strange thing was, he said, how they screamed every night at midnight. I do not know why they screamed at that time. We were in the harbor and they were all on the pier and at midnight they started screaming." (Hemingway)

"Poetry is dying first. It'll be absorbed into prose sooner or later. For instance, the beautiful word, the colored and glittering word, and the beautiful simile belong in prose now. To get attention poetry has got to strain for the unusual word, the harsh, earthy word that's never been beautiful before." (Fitzgerald)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie

While I was in Paris, jet lag woke me up early one morning at around three, and so I read this entire novel in the wee hours of the morning. I knew the ending, of course, because there are references to it everywhere; it's like Rosebud. But I enjoyed seeing how it played out nonetheless, and the ultimate resolution was a surprise after all in several small ways. I don't want to say too much, in case someone, my some miracle, isn't spoiled. But anyway, a very fun and quick read, even in the pre-dawn hours.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

I always wondered what book the students are reading from at the end of Sideways and now I know! It's this one! It was in the Young Adult section of the library (and Miles was an eighth-grade teacher in the movie) so it is obvious not Ulysses-level reading difficulty. Still, far from simple.

A Separate Peace is a somewhat spare story of two boys at a boarding school, and the Summer That Changed Everything. Spare, as I said, but with a great deal of depth and insight into the characters of the two boys, Gene and Phineas. Quick but thought-provoking; a book I probably would have enjoyed even in eighth grade, although who knows? I enjoyed this one.

""All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way-if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy." (Page 196)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (by L. Frank Baum)

(I updated Cloud Atlas, just for you, Anonymous.)

This book was on my reading list, believe it or not! After zipping through Atlas Shrugged in three days, I figured I deserved a book I could read in an hour. (And I did zip through the Ayn Rand, the below notwithstanding. Stuff annoyed me, but the book still kept me interested, and I enjoyed Dagny in spite of everything. I definitely didn't think it was a slog by any means. It was one of the more fun classics.)

Anyway my friend Queen M. gave me a copy of Wizard for Christmas and I read it on the plane. It's been years since I've read it; I'd forgotten a lot of it. (Like the town made of china, which was always a favorite, and the little golden cap.) My favorite will always be Ozma of Oz, but it was fun to re-read this one. And I love the illustrations, especially the very first one. Aw, nostalgia.

"'What is that little animal you are so tender of?'
'He is my dog, Toto,' answered Dorothy.
'Is he made of tin, or stuffed?' asked the Lion.
'Neither. He's a--a--a meat dog," said the girl.'
(Page 60)

Atlas Shrugged (by Ayn Rand)


Hello, I'm Ayn Rand. I wrote a novel based on my Objectivist philosophy called The Fountainhead, but I don't think 700 pages was quite enough to get my point across, so I will write the exact same novel, only it will take 1100 pages this time.

Hey, great.

I'm Dagny Taggart. I am a railroad tycoon, woman-in-a-man's-world, stunningly beautiful heroine. I am the only person capable of running this railroad. I am the only woman in the universe worth a damn. I am also the only woman in the universe with a real job. I am basically the only woman in this novel.

I have worshiped you, the only woman in the universe worth a damn, from afar for my whole life.

That's nice.

I have worshiped you, the only woman in the universe worth a damn, naked on the forest floor. Yet I will nobly step aside in the name of noble idealism, despite the fact that I love you and want you, the only woman in the universe worth a damn, desperately.


I worship you, the only woman in the universe worth a damn. Let us have creepy rape fantasy sex now. I will not ask permission to do all these kinky things to you, but luckily you want to be forced into all the kinky things, you dirty bitch.

This is clearly true love! Stick it in me.

Who is John Galt?

I am not telling. Instead, please listen to someone pontificate about my Objectivist philosophy for a while.


There are many of us, but we are all exactly the same. We are caricatures of evil socialists and embodiments of pure evil. Let us create a perfect socialist world order ruled by the inept! We all suck! Socialism sucks! Ha ha!

We are all exactly the same. We are noble and perfect and have very angular and insolent faces. We can read each other's minds and the minds of everyone else in this novel, leaving less room for misunderstanding and more room for pontificating. And we are all in love with Dagny Taggart, the only woman in the universe worth a damn.

Who is John Galt?

[Threatens hero.]

[Flips coin]
If it's heads, I will gaze apathetically. If it's tails, I will laugh heartily.

Although these are the only two things any of you heroes have done for the past 800 pages, I am shocked at this response! How could you! How dare you!?!

I will now pontificate about Ayn Rand's philosophy. It has been at least 50 pages since you've heard it.

It is so convenient that all of my heroes are in perfect agreement about my philosophy so that their pontificating is so interchangeable.

Who is John Galt?

Hello. In this, the culmination of all the pontificating, I will explain Ayn Rand's philosophy for a full 57 pages. No, I am not kidding. This one monologue will last for 57 pages. Oh and also, I love Dagny.

I love you too. Man, this is really going to suck for Love Interest #3.

Despite my passionate love for you and enjoyment of our rape sex, and the fact that there is no other woman on earth worth a damn, and the fact that I sacrificed my life's passion on your behalf, and that I spent my entire fortune to get a divorce to be with you, I will now nobly step aside in the name of noble idealism.

Great! I will miss our creepy rape sex. Farewell.


Wait, what?



Sunday, January 01, 2006

Murder in Retrospect (by Agatha Christie)

I thought I had totally figured out who did it, but it turns out, I didn't. My first Agatha Christie! And my first book of 2006. I strongly suspect that I'll be picking up some more of these for the plane ride home; a fast and entertaining read.