Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Should Nabokov's Last Work Be Burned?

That is the question.
As things stand, there's a chance we may never know. What we do know is that the Laura manuscript consists of approximately 50 index cards covered in V.N.'s handwriting. Dmitri has said in the past that the text amounts to some 30 conventional manuscript pages. (To those familiar with what is perhaps Nabokov's greatest work, Pale Fire, the use of index cards as a draft medium will not seem strange. Indeed the parallels to Pale Fire's account of a struggle over the disposition of an index-card manuscript border on the uncanny.) But in any case, before he died in 1977, Nabokov made clear that he wanted those cards destroyed.
I personally am selfish and want to read it desperately. I mean, thank god for all the work that authors wanted burned that survived--Emily Dickinson's poetry comes to mind, but I'm sure there are others. Don't do it, Dmitri!

Via Bitchypoo.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Plum Lucky (by Janet Evanovich)

One of those holiday-themed "between the numbers" Stephanie Plum books. Once again, a disposable and entertaining piece of fluff. This time, it's St. Patrick's Day related, and features a little person who thinks he's a leprechaun. Really, exactly what you'd expect.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Revolutionary Road (by Richard Yates)

Recommended by my friend Stephanie and also on the Time List that I seem to be committed to reading next. (That list has some cool choices on it, including things like Snow Crash and of course, Pale Fire.) I wanted to see it before the movie version comes out, which obviously I will be seeing, since it's Kate and Leo, reunited! Although it's no Jack and Rose type story, but instead a story of middle class alienation in the 50s. Cool Yates quote from Wikipedia on the novel's title:

"I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witchhunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that — felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit."

Overall, an excellent and thought-provoking book, very real and relatable, and very much on the theme of the American Dream. It makes a good companion to books like The Great Gatsby, Appointment in Samarra, and even, in a weird way, Under the Volcano. Definitely a classic.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Under the Volcano (by Malcolm Lowry)

After I finished the Radcliffe list, I peeked at my booklists again. I'm still 41 books short of the MLA list and something like 50 short of the Time Magazine list, so both of those will take a while. But I did make a note of six books that I haven't read that are on both lists, figuring I'd start there. Then I read the list to Ian and asked if he had any of them, and he handed me this one. Which is a really long-winded explanation of how I decided to read this book!

It's very interesting, and I'm surprised it's not on the Radcliffe list. It's a largely autobiographical stream-of-conscious novel about an alcoholic living in Mexico. The introduction to the book (which I went back and read last night) talks about how Lowry is compared to James Joyce a lot, but that Joyce's characters embody the collective unconscious, while Lowry's characters are more specific and in many cases, they represent himself. I don't think that's a bad way to differentiate the two. It's not necessarily praise or criticism, it's just a difference. Lowry's SOC is easier to read than Joyce's or Woolf's, for what it's worth.

I also noticed Lowry's incredible use of metaphor and symbol. Ian told me that there was an article where Lowry said, "I'm going to see how many symbols I can squeeze into this novel!" and once he said that, it all made sense. It does seem overstuffed with them. The elements I most enjoyed were the amazing metaphors and the wonderfully specific description of the experience of extreme drunkenness, which is not a pleasant sensation. The stream of consciousness style worked so well to convey that. Lowry also gets inside the brains of multiple characters, which is also well done. Really, I would recommend this book to any writer of novels, because Lowry does such unique and sophisticated things with point of view.

My biggest complaint was that you didn't get enough of a sense of the relationships--why did Yvonne come back? Why was she so heartbroken by the end of her relationship? What are the details of her relationships with Hugh and Jacques? And why, above all, does she want to be with the Consul in the first place? All we see of him is the alcoholic. We never saw what he used to be, or could have been. It would have added so much depth and poignancy, I think. (It's not like it's totally absent, it's just really subtle, and requires a lot of reading between the lines.)

And finally, my biggest personal failing in reading this novel is that there is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of descriptions of scenery. I had to force myself to re-read sentences over and over and really work on visualizing. The tremendous metaphors really helped; at times I felt like I really understand why descriptions of scenery exist and what they add. But at other times my mind wandered away, as usual, because I couldn't be bothered. It's good, though. It is good. It's not you, Lowry, it's me.

"He watched the clouds: dark swift horses surging up the sky. A black storm breaking out of its season! That was what love was like, he thought; love which came too late. Only no sane calm suceeded it... And let such love strike you dumb, blind, mad, dead--your fate would not be altered by your similie. Tonnerre de dieu... It slaked no thihirst to say what love was like which came too late." (Page 11)

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Schulz and Peanuts (by David Michaelis)

This was a Christmas book (I bought it for myself with a Borders card) and the first book of the new year. Totally fascinating biography of Charles Schulz. I thought it was comprehensive and satisfying, although I would have enjoyed 600 more pages, talking more in-depth about the comic itself, its characters and real-life counterparts, and comparing the characters' personalities over the years(which it does at the end, for instance, when talking about the development of Lucy Van Pelt).

As a huge Charles Schulz fan, I found it compelling, enlightening, and convincing. Plus, it reminded me how uncomfortable I was to see the Peanuts characters shilling for different products. Like many people, I love them and want them unsullied. Linus is still my boy name!

Sorry if this makes no sense; I've had some wine. Maybe I'll rewrite this. But anyway, thumbs up; couldn't put it down!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Year-End Book Wrapup

Here is last year's wrapup and I did a top and bottom five, so I will do that again. This year I read 55 books, 33 of which were by women and 22 by men. The list is skewed towards women mostly because I went on an Agatha Christie spree at the beginning of the year; other than that, it was actually pretty balanced. Again, I wish I'd read more books, but since I was reading Finnegans Wake at a crawl all year, I'll cut myself some slack.

Top five books of the year:

1. I Capture the Castle. It may not be as skillfully written as the books I've picked for number two, but in terms of pure love for a book and pure enjoyment, you can't beat it. I loved it so much… I don't know what else to say about it. If I hadn't loaned it out, I'd be reading it again right now.
2. Black Swan Green and Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, who is a genius. Black Swan Green is the better of the two; it's a near-perfect book, in my opinion. A modern day Catcher in the Rye, and good in such a different way from his brilliant Cloud Atlas. A great place to start, if you haven't read Mitchell, is with these two books.
3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I apparently like books with the word "castle" in the titles! This one had to sit with me for a while, and I liked it better and better the more I thought about it. (It was the same with The Remains of the Day, which I was initially lukewarm about but is now one of my favorite rereads.) It might be the unreliable narrator thing, which you know I always love.
4. There's no way I can leave off Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I stayed up all night to finish. What a great ending to the series. I am still feeling post-Potter letdown. This is an experience you either had or you didn't, right? The midnight book sale, reading under the covers until dawn…
5. Love in the Time of Cholera is a beautiful book, but I'm actually torn between that and Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. If you want to go by pure fun, the latter would win. Which book I think is more enduring and masterful, obviously, you go with Marquez. Or should I put Finnegans Wake on here? I should, if I'm going based on literary merit. Or maybe I should just make it a three-way tie. Jasper Fforde and James Joyce—basically the same thing, right?

Bottom five of the year. In contrast to last year (boy, did I hate me some books last year) I didn't really read much that I hated. So this is a list of one that I hated, one that I didn't like, two that were kind of at the bottom of the list of eeeh, and a terrible musical. (I reviewed it in this blog so it counts.)

1. The Tin Drum. Oh god, the bodily fluids. This book was just an unpleasant reading experience with lots of bodily fluids and I will be very happy to never have to read it again. What else can I say?
2. Louisa May Alcott. Totally disappointing biography, which left out key information and details at every turn. All it made me want to do is read Alcott's letters, which I bet are actually interesting and in-depth, as opposed to this kind of superficial skimming of her life.
3. Summer. I had to look up my review of this Edith Wharton book in my archives, because I'd forgotten what it was about. I don't know; it is fine, I guess. Very bold about sexuality and womanhood, and I'm sure at one point it was scandalous and ballsy. However, it's very "of its time" which makes it, these days, quite predictable.
4. How to Be Good. Mediocre and not quite convincing novel by Nick Hornby. Maybe I should read High Fidelity before I give up on him completely. I didn't hate this; I was just unimpressed by it.
5. Legally Blonde Colon The Musical. Last year when I wrote that I loathed Look Homeward, Angel, someone called me a twat. The response to my bad Legally Blonde review was not quite as good but still funny. "Hating this musical is like hating Mozart!" Good times.

How about you?