Monday, July 12, 2010

Vacation Reading: Time 100

I was hoping to finish the Time 100 list this year--which would be less of a problem if Gravity's Rainbow weren't on that list. I was up to 67 at the beginning of the year, but I'd only read a couple more before I left on vacation. So, when I decided to order a bunch of used books from Powell's before my trip, I figured it would be a great opportunity to get some of these out of the way. And it was! Here's what I thought about the six books I read on vaycay:

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (finished June 15)

My favorite of these six books, and also the first book I read on my first flight out of town. I'd never read any Didion (no, not even Magical Thinking) and this makes me realize what a gap that is in my reading! It's a terrific book--a blackly comic (but tragic), economical, atmospheric book set mostly in 1960s Hollywood. Please feel free to recommend more Didion, because I loved this one!

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John LeCarre (finished June 17th)

The anti-James Bond. I wanted a little more "inside baseball" on the spying--a trip to the D.C. spy museum was way more interesting than this novel in terms of the nuts and bolts of the spy trade, which was disappointing. I did enjoy the suspense and the boldness of the ending. But I also didn't find the main character to be smart or savvy enough for it to be wholly satisfying. I guess I just wanted to be inside Leamas's head a little more.

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (finished June 23th)

I took this novel along with me to a series of Irish pubs, where I read some of it every night over a pint. So I have fond associations with this book! Still, I really liked it--to my surprise, because Ian hated it and we usually have the same taste in books. Interesting ideas and a super banal unreliable narrator. I enjoyed his banality and his unsympatheticness! But according to the book cover, this is supposed to be a portrait of "humane decency" which makes me nervous. I liked him in a way, but he's kind of an awful person--did I miss the point?

I did scrawl down this quote, which I loved, from page 97: "What is friendship's realest measure? I'll tell you. The amount of precious time you'll squander on someone else's calamities and fuck-ups."

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski (finished June 27th)

Well, Bad Things Happen To Animals, A LOT, so you know I wasn't going to like this book much. I did find it interesting on an allegorical level--the suffering of animals makes sense when it is dealing allegorically with the Holocaust. But it's pretty relentlessly brutal and awful, and paints an unpleasant pictures of the "ordinary people" who allowed the Jews to suffer and die with glee, while basically raping, murdering, and torturing each other on the sidelines. Interesting to find a lot of controversy as to how autobiographical it is--I thought the allegorical nature of it was obvious and would never have considered it autobiographical. But the author comes across poorly in all the controversy, and I'll be glad never to open this book again anyway. Shudder.

Ubik by Phillip K. Dick (finished July 4th)

Inventive and interesting (I loved Joe Chip and his front door) but I had some issues with it, which I will now enumerate:

1. Runciter seems like a complete asshole at the outset, so the loyalty to him was confusing.
2. The pace is super fast, and I would have liked it to slow down a little bit so the inertials could have pieced a few more things together. I also loved all the details of the world, so more would have been nice!
3. And related to that, I felt the characters were not set up enough or distinct enough (like, Wendy's relationship with Chip would have been nice to explore), and there's really no scenes of the characters doing their jobs, which seems like a weird omission.
4. The clothes jokes were overused. The book didn't have enough of anything, except clothes jokes!
5. I felt it lacked internal logic, and the "rules" of the world never quite made sense or hung together.
6. Sexist! Like, there's this whole futuristic world, but the bosses are men, the secretaries are women, and women are still automatically taking their husband's last names? And also, the female characters are immediately plotted on a fuckability scale as soon as they appear. Very irritating.
7. Joe Chip is a super passive character--I thought he should have figured out more or explained more or done more.

All that being said, and I know those are a lot of criticisms, I kinda liked it! Chris, if you're reading this, maybe you can rebut some of my points and/or suggest one of his other books that I might enjoy more. I did love the crazy world he created, and ultimately several of my criticism are just that I wanted even more of them.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (finished July 6th)

Speaking of sci-fi, the final book I read was Neuromancer. And immediately I thought, "Snow Crash is like this, only about 100 times better, but I have a feeling there would be no Snow Crash if it weren't for Neuromancer." Sometimes books end up on the list because they are groundbreaking, and I think this is one of those. (In looking at the list again, I see Snow Crash is also on there, yay.) (The Time list really is a very good book list, overall.) And I did read up on Gibson and discover that, among other things, he coined the term "cyberspace." So I was right about him being a groundbreaker!

I thought this book erred a little bit on the side of being confusing. I don't need everything spelled out, but a tiny bit more explication at points would have been helpful. I found myself hunting for nonexistent explanations of things more than once, and I'm usually fine with just going with the flow of an invented world or language. I just thought it was a shade too opaque. I also found it ooky that the only characters of color were Rastas. And at the end, I found that I didn't really get what had happened, and I also didn't care to think about it too hard and figure it out. So, there you go.

And those were the books I read on vacation! Now I just have to finish The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and I guess go out and buy Gravity's Rainbow...



Anonymous h said...

Didion's White Album and Year of Magical Thinking are both must-reads, and I own both so you can borrow at any time! Oh, and her essay on the Central Park jogger case, "Sentimental Journeys," is amazing (I have that in an anthology around here somewhere).

10:30 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Excellent! Yay! I will do as you say.

1:35 PM  

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