Monday, February 27, 2006


I knew we were bound to get one of those Ayn Rand fanatics over here. The cogent defense of Rand starts off with "you are a dumbass" which is kind of beautiful.

"And do you know why the heroes are 'perfect'? Because they WORKED to become perfect. That's one important fact that you faild to include in your synopsis...they're rich and intelligent because they know how to live and 'think'! Maybe your readers would understand better if you mentioned that."

Well there you go. I hope you understand better now! He has kindly included an e-mail address if you want to argue with him; as for me, I think life is too short to fight with the Ayn Rand fanatics.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An American Tragedy (by Theodore Dreiser)

I loved the beginning of this book, which is so open and frank and full of interesting details. It’s a bildungsroman about a boy whose fatal flaw is being horny, basically. The book doesn’t shy away from acknowledging things like abortion and prostitution and birth control, either. And it paints an interesting picture of a wholly convincing social world, and a main character who’s somewhat of an antihero—more aggravating than sympathetic. It’s sophisticated and unpredictable and a lot of fun to read.

However. Once it gets to the tragedy part, which I won’t spoil, the novel becomes extremely dragging, repetitive, melodramatic, and predictable. And mind you, this goes on for hundreds and hundreds of pages. The beginning of the book keeps you wondering and guessing—what will become of Clyde?—but once you’re in the middle section and you realize what’s happening, the progression of the rest of the book is painfully obvious.

I guess that the plot, which seems so very conventional at the moment, was at one point not conventional at all, hence this book’s appearance on the list. (This is a guess on my part. I’m sure its honesty was also appealing.) But as engaged as I was at the beginning, by the mid-point of the book I just wanted to get it over with.

"And besides, as he now saw, this girl was really pretty. She had on a Delft blue evening gown of velvet, with slippers and stockings to match. In her ears were blue earrings and her neck and shoulders and arms were plump and smooth. The most disturbing thing about her was that her bodice was cut very low—he dared scarcely look at her there—and her cheeks and lips were painted—most assuredly the marks of the scarlet woman. Yet she did not seem very aggressive, in fact quite human, and she kept looking rather interestedly at his deep and dark and nervous eyes." (Chapter 10)

Friday, February 10, 2006

On The Road (by Jack Kerouac)

Like a giant frenetic poem. So much wild, manic energy, and such great fun to read. I also enjoyed reading up on the autobiographical elements of the novel--to see which characters represented Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac himself, and of course Neal Cassady.

I'm not really into the beats (in spite of the fact that two of them were my college professors) as a general rule, but I loved On The Road. It reminded me weirdly of Hemingway, although Kerouac didn't like Hemingway and his sentences are about three thousand times longer. But the spirit of it seemed very Hemingwayesque. It is to the Beat Generation what The Sun Also Rises is to the Lost Generation. Both awesome books, and very worth reading.

"We had come from Denver to Chicago via Ed Wall's Ranch, 1180 miles, in exactly seventeen hours, not counting the two hours in the ditch and three at the ranch and two with the police in Newton, Iowa, for a mean average of seventy miles per hour across the land, with one drive. Which is a kind of crazy record." (Page 237)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lord Jim (by Joseph Conrad)

All about how a whiny white man redeems himself by solving all the problems of the "natives" with his wise white wisdom, and sacrificing himself to them. So condescending. And the narrative is this one guy delivering a florid book-length monologue (same gimmick as Heart of Darkness though we're supposed to be impressed with its "narrative density" rather than turned off) and pondering the "nobility" problems of the main character. Oh no, a young imperialist failed to be noble when he was supposed to be noble! Thank god he could go tame the natives and reclaim his nobility! I hate Joseph Conrad.

According to Spark Notes, by the way, Conrad's characterization of the natives "seem[s] to function as a subtle critique of representations of colonial subjects. At times, Conrad can be too subtle, though; he has occasionally been accused of racist discourse himself. The juxtaposition of extremes and the replay of stereotypes suggest, however, that Conrad is fully knowledgeable of his literary actions and means to be subversive." Personally, I don't buy this one little bit. Nice try, Spark Notes.

My notes in the margins read: "Oh quit whining, you giant effing baby" and "Stupidly British imperialist honor nobility bullshit." Which makes no sense, but you get the point, I think?

"The sting of life could do no more to his complacent soul than the scratch of a pin to the smooth face of a rock. This was enviable. As I looked at him, flanking on one side the unassuming pale-faced magistrate who presided at the inquiry, his self-satisfaction presented to me and to the world a surface as hard as granite. He committed suicide very soon after." (Chapter 6)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

One Thing I've Learned

I'm sure you've all had this happen: you're reading along, and suddenly you find that your mind has wandered off and you have no idea what you just read. I realized recently that this always happens to me when scenery is being described. I totally lose interest in scenery. Why, I have no idea. But it just happened again (while reading stupid ass Lord Jim) and I had to share.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (by Muriel Spark)

Seeing this movie on the plane ride back from Paris made me curious to read the book. And it's very short, under 200 pages, so a very fast read. The film is so fresh in my mind that it's difficult not to compare the two.

I loved the film, and I liked the book very much. They did change some important things in the film, but since I saw the movie first, I guess I minded a lot less. (Then again, I read A Little Princess many times before seeing the movie, and I didn't care at all how badly the movie butchered the book, because I loved that movie so much. So maybe it isn't inevitable for me to love whichever I encountered first.)

I read a criticism of the movie that it "simplified" the book, but I honestly don't see that. If anything, it deepened it. In the film, I liked that there was a confrontation at the end, that the death of one character wasn't glossed over, and that the movie treated all the sexual issues quite frankly and openly (as does the book, of course). There is definitely more drama in the film; in the book, we find out almost everything right from the start, whereas the movie holds it all back. I guess the novel is more subtle, and I can see where people might prefer that.

Of course, the character of Miss Jean Brodie is all Muriel Spark's creation, and an absolutely wonderful character she is, too. As amazing as Maggie Smith's performance is, the character of Jean Brodie is really created on the page, and I give Spark the bulk of the credit (though Smith should get some for a tour de force performance).

I think the novel (well, novella) is charming, and I recommend that you both read the book and see the film, and then let me know what you think. I'm especially curious about the experiences of people who read the book first. I think you'll enjoy them both, in whichever order you come to them.

"The Brodie set did not for a moment doubt that she would prevail. As soon expect Julius Caesar to apply for a job at a crank school as Miss Brodie. She would never resign. If the authorities wanted to get rid of her she would have to be assassinated." (Page 6)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Orlando (by Virginia Woolf)

Beautifully written, as always, but not my favorite Woolf; I liked both Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse much better. This is a satirical biography that skewers the whole genre, and is based on the life of a friend (and lover) of hers, to whom the book is dedicated. It is frequently very funny and witty, but also just as frequently a little too inside-jokey for me. And it gets downright weird at the end.

I expected more of a serious meditation on the meaning of gender, which is in there somewhat and definitely worth reading for, but as far as I’m concerned it’s sort of diluted by the satirical aspects of the whole thing. If I were Roger Ebert I would give Orlando a thumbs-up, but not “way up” as for Woolf’s other works.

“...she was like a fire, a burning bush, and the candle flames about her head were silver leaves; or again, the glass was green water, and she a mermaid, slung with pearls, a siren in a cave, singing so that oarsmen leant from their boats and fell down, down to embrace her; so dark, so bright, so hard, so soft, was she, so astonishingly seductive that it was a thousand pities that there was no one there to put it in plain English, and say outright, ‘Damn it, Madam, you are loveliness incarnate,’ which was the truth.” (Chapter 4)