Saturday, June 28, 2014

Reread: Into Thin Air (by Jon Krakauer)

This isn't an "official" reread, but I thought I'd talk a little bit about my rereading habits anyway since this is the year I am actually blogging rereads, and I'm not sure I've really made it clear just how much I reread stuff.

I Capture the Castle is a relatively new discovery, but I read it every year or so. Same with The Remains of the Day. I've been reading In This House of Brede once or twice a year since I first read it, which was in the sixth grade, so I'm going to conservatively say I've read it 30 times. And I often go back to childhood favorites, some classic, some not: Anne of the Island, Little Women, Little Men, The Black Stallion's Filly, Adorable Sunday, Invisible Lissa, The Club, The Game of Life, Jurassic Park, Annie on My Mind, the Anastasia Krupnik series, Gordon Korman's books, Ellen Conford's, Daniel Pinkwater's, a few of my favorite BSC books that I would be happy to enumerate at length (Mallory on Strike), and more that I'm sure I'm forgetting. Those are my comfort books and I'm often reading one alongside whatever my "assigned reading" is. A lot of them are short enough that I can read them in an hour or two, or sometimes I skim them, so I never add them to my booklists or count them in any way. Even this year, I've read a bunch of these without blogging them.

Into Thin Air is one of those comfort books, which is kind of weird since it's not exactly a feel-good book and it's nonfiction. I do occasionally reread nonfiction, stuff like the oral SNL history Live from New York, but this is one that really grabs me somehow, and I'm not sure why. It's Jon Krakauer's story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and I don't climb mountains or know any mountaineers. I know I'm a birder, but I've been reading and rereading this book since long before I was anything approaching "outdoorsy."

I used to read a battered old paperback until someone (I thought it was Ian but he has no memory of this) got me the illustrated edition for Christmas one year, and now I read both or either, depending on whether I feel like lugging around the giant illustrated edition. (I did this time; the pictures are awesome, definitely worth getting this version.) I guess the point about this book is: it's really well written and incredibly compelling, and so I keep coming back to it. And my point about rereading is: I do it a lot, which is why my bookshelves are overstuffed with things I know I'll probably come back to one of these days.

And this whole post just makes me want to go grab my copy of In This House of Brede again, and so that's what I'm going to do.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Trial (by Franz Kafka)

This was the inaugural selection for my book club, the League of Unreliable Narrators. (The book club is conducted over Skype and consists of me and my friend Chris.) Chris had read it multiple times, but I had not read it at all, and we selected the Breon Mitchell translation. We had lots of intense late-night conversations about Josef K. and his trial and the nuances of the translation and what is Kafka trying to say anyway and how did he feel about religion and isn't the fact that it's unknowable what makes it so amazing and holy shit that ending. 

My primary takeaway is the complexity of this book. Josef K. is not sympathetic; he doesn't act in the most self-interested way that the reader might be able to identify with. But the character who arguably does, Block, is not particularly sympathetic either. But least of all is the system they are both enmeshed in. And there are parables inside parables inside parables. So much of it has a dreamlike quality--I have this pet theory that the final chapter is Josef K.'s suicidal hallucination, based on absolutely no evidence.

I don't feel like I can write a cogent blog post about this novel, really. I'll be turning it over in my head for a long time. It's excellent and elusive, and so fun to talk about into the wee hours with a good friend.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reread: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (by Milan Kundera)

Memory Reaction:

I was eager to go back and re-read this book because all I could remember about it was that I felt that reading it would change my life, my perspective on humanity, and my entire relationship to the world. So... no pressure, then.

Reread Reaction:

This is a relatively short, fast read, except that it took me a while to get through it.  I was especially worried at first, because for a while I couldn't figure out why I'd remembered the book being so good and I thought this was going to be a huge letdown. However, the book gets more philosophical as it goes, and I did enjoy the wonderful nuggets of philosophy and the sense of history (post-Prague Spring) that Kundera explores.

The novel is self-consciously metatextual at times (the narrator talks frankly about his characters as created characters, although he does also give them agency and solidity, which is interesting) and not really overly plot-driven, so I think that's why it was a bit of a slow read. It's also got at least one questionable "she secretly wants it in spite of herself" sex scene, so there's that.

So, did it change my life and my philosophy of the world? No, not really. But I did ultimately come away understanding why a younger me might have felt that way, and I still think it's excellent. Especially in quote form. I guess in that sense, the parts for me are greater than the whole.

Previous Reaction:

Yep, there I am talking about it being life-changing, which is a little embarrassing, but apparently I caught the undertone of sexism ten years ago too, so go younger me. The really creepy thing is that as quotable as this novel is, I chose the exact same quote about Anna and the train, so I'm going to use a different one instead.


Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can make only one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions... There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite a word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture. 

Labels: ,

The Cuckoo’s Calling (by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling)

The sequel to The Cuckoo's Calling has just been released, which reminded me that I'd never read the first one. The sequel sounded intriguing so I figured I'd catch up.

(Here I made a miscalculation. I noticed it was kind of pricey on the Kindle but figured it was the J.K.Rowling factor. In truth, it's a Hatchette book, which means Amazon is gouging customers on the price, which reminds me that Amazon is sort of evil. I will be trying out Kobo for the sequel, which is an independent bookstore e-reader. I'll let you know how it goes.)

So, all that aside, The Cuckoo's Calling is incredibly enjoyable. I'm not sure exactly what Rowling's secret is, because the plot is not super propulsive, it's more like Strike goes here and has this conversation, then there and has that conversation, and picks up these little clues that Rowling only puts together at the very end, Agatha Christie style. But the characters are great, not just the detective Cormoran Strike and (especially) his resourceful assistant Robin, but all the various suspects and players in the murder itself. They're well-drawn and interesting, and it's fun to "go along" on the investigation, as it were.

(Something interesting that Rowling does with point of view: it's third-person-limited-omniscient, but it switches between Strike and Robin, sometimes at random in the middle of a chapter. Like they will have a scene together narrated from Robin's point of view, then Strike exits the room, and we start "following" him instead. It works well, and I can't remember another author who's used this technique to essentially have two protagonists.)

There were a couple of points where I couldn't help remembering that Rowling was writing it. A little shoutout to Pinewood Studios, a page full of ellipses, some touches of humor. But mostly it is a solid, classic-style, very fun murder mystery. I'm looking forward to the sequel.


Saturday, June 07, 2014

Reread: The Wives of Henry VIII (by Antonia Fraser)

Memory Reaction:

I got this book as a Christmas gift one year, I think, and I remember being totally unable to put it down. I wanted to re-read it because my memories of all the wives after Jane Seymour had become slightly fuzzy--The Other Boleyn Girl and Bring Up the Bodies stop there, after all, I didn't have any trashy or literary fiction to remind me what was the deal with Catherine Parr. (I also remember that Beth is more an Allison Wier person and dislikes Fraser. Did I get that right Beth?) 

Reread Reaction:

Still totally could not put it down! At least not until we got to Catherine Parr who, as it turns out, is slightly less exciting than some of the other queens with their "dramatically dying in childbirth" or "being beheaded" and all. Fraser's prose is erudite but still accessible, the story is compelling, and I  enjoyed it just as much the second time around.

Previous Reaction:

I swear I've read this since I started blogging my reading in 2000, but I can't find a previous review of this anywhere, though I've mentioned it a bunch. Weird.

Labels: ,