Monday, June 29, 2009

Infinite Summer

I am participating in Infinite Summer this year, a project where a bunch of people have decided to spend the summer reading Infinite Jest. We're up to page 93, I think, at the end of today.

You may recall that I've been reading this book off and on this year, but I got bogged down in footnote 24 (the filmography) and put it aside at around page 65. I could have skipped the footnote, of course, but I consider that cheating. Especially if a book is on my reading list, I don't think it "counts" unless I read every word. I even read every word of Finnegans Wake (and no, I will never ever stop bragging about finishing that book, I'm sorry).

At this point it feels like DFW is throwing a bunch of balls in the air--setting up characters and storylines that will come together down the road. But many of the vignettes are enjoyable to read all on their own (like the "professional conversationalist" chapter or the guy sitting around waiting for his pot dealer to come over) even without the larger context, and some are even terribly poignant (Kate telling the doctor about her depression, which of course is what killed DFW himself). Even the filmography that undid me the first time is pretty entertaining as a standalone.

I'm not taking any fancy notes or anything, since the website has some great resources. At this point I am just taking it as it comes.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Wooden Sea (by Jonathan Carroll)

Our book club selection for the month! A surreal and whimsical book, where a seemingly normal main character (of the hard-boiled small-town cop type) turns out to be living in a world where anything can happen (time travel, the dead talking, that sort of thing). I had two issues with it, which I will share with my book group later this evening: 1. I couldn't get a handle on the characters at the beginning, and I'm not sure if they are introduced poorly or if it is my fault. For instance, Pauline at the beginning seems kind of deranged, but then later on we're supposed to see that she and her stepdad have a good relationship. Her character seems inconsistent, and that happened a lot based on the first chapter.

Then there's a lot of good, compelling stuff, with interesting characters and surreal ideas and can't-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-next plotting. And then... at the end... issue 2.... it falls apart. I can't even begin to tell you all the loose ends that are left dangling, but there are A LOT OF THEM. I'm all for a little bit of ambiguity, but it seems like most of the book goes nowhere. I looked on Amazon and saw a lot of people, even Carroll fans, have the same complaint. I liked this enough to check out some of his other stuff, but if I were coming to him for the first time, I wouldn't start here. Actually, I might just go re-read some Jasper Fforde.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Holly's Inbox (by "Holly Denham")

Ostensibly, this is a peek into the inbox of a receptionist named Holly (with occasional peeks into the inboxes of her friends, when we the reader need information that Holly does not have). I read a review of this book in Entertainment Weekly where they interviewed the actual author, who is a man. This is only the 20th book I've read this year (SIGH) but the first 19 were all by women. This one is by a fake woman, so maybe it partially counts? (The next book I need to read is a book club book by a man, so my streak is broken anyway.)

Oh, right, the book! Very cute and Bridget Jones-esque (although not quite as good). There are times when the exposition is a little clunky, and the e-mail format works against it--for instance, there are these weird back-and-forth conversations that should have been presented as IMs or something. Who sends one paragraph of a story in e-mail and then waits for an e-mail back that says "Wow! Oh my god! What next?" and then continues in the next e-mail? Nobody.

But that's really a nitpick, because I enjoyed the story and the characters quite a lot, and I will definitely be running not walking to pick up the sequel, whenever it turns up.

The Golden Notebook (by Doris Lessing)

Hmm. This novel is structurally impressive, and from what I gather, a seminal work in feminist literature. I was happy I'd read it. HOWEVER. To me, the characters do not feel real. It reminded me of D.H. Lawrence or Ayn Rand, who often write characters that I think are clearly there to espouse a philosophy or serve as a type, and who do not react or behave in, to me, a believable way.

There is also a whole hell of a lot of stuff about communist sympathizers in Britain, which apparently interested Lessing a great deal, but does not really interest me. (I would rather read Ian's copy of Young Stalin when he's done with it.) However, her definition of the successful novel does interest me, and stuck with me, and so I've quoted it below for posterity.

Most novels, if they are successful at all, are original in the sense that they report the existence of an area of society, a type of person, not yet admitted to the general literate consciousness. (p. 61)


Monday, June 15, 2009

Princess in Pink and Princess in Training (by Meg Cabot)

I finished these on some recent plane trips, as continued "homework" for my young adult novel. (At least that's my excuse.) "Princess in Pink" is about the prom, and very cute and fluffy; and I enjoyed the Lilly/Boris shakeup. "Princess in Training" is about the class elections, mostly. And wow, Lilly really sucks. On the heels of the last book, I'm wondering why on earth anyone would stay friends with her. I loved the conflicts in this one, though.

It's instructive (from my POV) that the conflicts in these books aren't really romantic. Mia and her love interest stay together (so far) but there is plausible conflict--in "Princess in Training," Mia vs. the English teacher, the class election plot, all of that stuff. And I love the way sex is handled in this book; might be my favorite Princess Diaries book so far, simply for that reason. These are just great YA, in my opinion.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Blind Assassin (by Margaret Atwood) and White Teeth (by Zadie Smith)

I finished The Blind Assassin a good month or two ago, but I never blogged about it, apparently! And then didn't read anything after that until I got on a plane this weekend and read White Teeth. (When I was packing for the plane, I was looking through my "to read" pile and plucked out the Zadie Smith book in part because it wouldn't break my streak of reading only books by women this year. It's not that I need to keep it going for the whole year, but none of the books by men that I currently have seem to be worth breaking the streak for. I did read half of a male historian's book on Henry VIII, but it wasn't even close to as good as Antonia Fraser's stuff, and Ian finished it and agreed it was nothing special and we should just send it back to the library. So I did read like 300 pages of history in there somewhere, just didn't finish it. But I digress.)

The Blind Assassin is my first Atwood, believe it or not, and I really loved it, most especially on the sentence level. Just gorgeous, luscious prose. One of my friends said the plot felt a little too show-offy and contrived, but she also admitted this is based on an overarching experience with Atwood's books. Since this was the first one I'd read, the twists in the plot didn't bother me. In fact, I have to say that although I saw some things coming, there was also some stuff at the end that I wasn't expecting. (I will be vague here but if you want to talk about it in the comments, we can, and this can be a spoiler alert.) I got absorbed in the book and loved reading it, and I came away thinking Atwood has a masterful command of the sentence, and wanting to read more by her.

White Teeth is one of those books that I had picked up a few times and then put down again. Someone in our book group has never finished a book by an Indian author (Brick Lane, Midnight's Children, etc.) for whatever reason, and I used to say if it was by an Indian author or about India, I would probably not like it. (Along with my other rule of thumb, which is that I hate reading about scenery.) Books I have disliked to varying degrees include The Satanic Verses, Kim, Brick Lane, and my ne plus ultra of hated books, A Passage to India. It's weird because it's not like I hate Indian culture. I love Indian movies, for example... I just have had bad luck with Indian-centric books. So anyway, every time I picked up this book I would get to the name of one of the characters and was like, oh god, it's about Indian people in London, and then my eyes would roll into the back of my head and I would put the book down again. So weird.

But it turns out that the book is in fact very multicultural, that the character I was reading about isn't even Indian, but Bangladeshi, that all the characters (the Bangladeshi ones included) are incredibly well drawn, and that it's an AWESOME BOOK. I completely devoured it, and I was ridiculously pleased that the ending did not go to the cliche place where I was expecting the ending to go. As a second generation child of immigrants myself, I found the book not only funny and entertaining, but also thought-provoking in terms of the relationships between the parents and children and their warring cultures. Zadie Smith and I were born in the same year, which makes me want to kill myself, because this book is a tour de force. Are all of her other books this good?

And both of these books are, I believe, on the Time Magazine booklist. That is a damn fine list, y'all.