Monday, August 29, 2011

A Question of Upbringing: Book One of A Dance to the Music of Time (by Anthony Powell)

So I was taking a look at ye olde Time 100 book list to see if I had any prayer of finishing the list before the end of the year. I only ("only") have 21 books left, but it turns out that in addition to Gravity's Rainbow, which I know is very long, and The Sot-Weed Factor, which I started but misplaced in the move (bad since it's a library book), which is also long, The Recognitions is also almost 1000 pages long. (It sounds absolutely amazing, though; apparently it was a huge influence on Catch-22.)

So I learn all of this and think, well maybe, and then I get to A Dance to the Music of Time, which it turns out is not one but twelve novels. Twelve! So, yeah. Finishing the list this year might be a challenge.

Anyway, I bought this first book on my Kindle. It was only $6, but still, buying all twelve books won't be cheap, so I'd better look into library lending for the later volumes. (If I can learn not to lose books.) It also was a quick read; 223 pages for the paperback version. I also love love loved it. It's more of a British novel of manners, not a whole lot of action, more human observation, but the writing is just fabulous, with a lot of wit, and I loved the characters and the details of this world (aristocratic England in the 1920s). I'm not sorry at all there are 12 books in the cycle, because I have a feeling I'll enjoy them. How great is this quote?:

"I thought, at first, that he worked far harder than most of the men I knew. Later I came to doubt this, finding that Quiggin's work was something to be discussed rather than tackled, and that what he really enjoyed was drinking cups of coffee at odd times of day."

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Herzog (by Saul Bellow)

Another one of those books on my reading list that was a slog to get through. I'd call it a "novel of ideas," but only because it doesn't have much of a plot. (There are hundreds of pages of random stream of consciousness letters.) It deals with the idea of modernity and what it means, and in a way is a rejoinder to the idea of the modern world as a Wasteland. But I would much rather have a conversation about that or read a really good postmodern poem. This novel isn't postmodernist, although it's a 1960s novel, and this makes it feel kind of stale. Basically, it feels like the poor man's Ulysses, and I don't even love Ulysses.

"He noted with distaste his own trick of appealing for sympathy. A personality had its own ways. A mind might observe them without approval. Herzog did not care for his own personality, and at the moment there was apparently nothing he could do about its impulses." (p. 20)