Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some reviews that I have previously posted elsewhere...

Native Son - Richard Wright:
I really enjoyed this book. I was a little worried, of course, because it’s known as quite as sensational book, and purportedly purposefully. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf since high school. I remember talking to my english teacher at the time about it, asking if she had read it. She told me that she didn’t read things that were written purely for the controversy they would cause. Whether that’s true or not about this book, I don’t know. I believe it was James Baldwin who wrote a damning piece about Wright’s novel, stating that Wright fed into stereotypes about black people that probably shouldn’t be perpetuated.

I have a tendency to read not so exciting books – not in the sense of “not good” but just not with a lot of action, so this book kept my attention, particularly in the first half. I knew starting out what Bigger Thomas was going to do, thanks to a show called "Great Books" that used to air on TLC about 10 years ago. But I often find that knowing the outcome of a story will make it more intriguing (and less annoying – I’m someone who hates surprises!) because rather than wondering what is going to happen, I’m wondering how. Anyhoo, I thought that it was good.

I particularly thought that certain social commentaries in the novel were very poignant: Mr. Dalton appears to be the wonderful philanthropist, giving money to black causes and hiring black laborers, donating ping pong tables to boys clubs on the South Side of Chicago (where the novel takes place), etc. But what is the use of all that when we find that he is the owner of a major real estate company that not only refuses to rent apartments to blacks outside of the “designated area” so to speak, but he also charges ridiculous rents for the apartments in the south side which are basically rodent infested fire traps. Though Mr. Dalton and his wife are dedicated to having their “Negro” laborers get an education, they then do not hire them after they are educated. The second piece was at the inquest for Mary Dalton’s murder. They use Bessie’s body as evidence. Nobody cares that he killed Bessie (who was black), except for how they can use her body and death to show Bigger’s guilt in the murder of Mary (who was white).

I thought the last part of the novel (“Fate”) was a little drawn out, but while that might bother me in other books, for some reason it didn’t bother me with this one. I suppose I felt that the speeches fit the narrative, and the action in the first two parts was balanced out by the lull in the end. I was glad, though, that the story ended when Max left. I really didn’t want to read about Bigger being led to the electric chair (images of “The Green Mile” came to mind…along with how ill that movie made me). All in all – good. I would say, 4/5

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
I thought that this book was really good. I can see why it’s #10 (which is a lot more than I can say for many books on this list!). Ma Joad is one of my favorite literary characters.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
I didn’t find this book really interesting. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t overly good.

Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz That’s all I have to say about that. Could someone please tell me what it is about this book that landed it on the top 100 of the 20th century? I just don’t get it.

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
I liked it. But then again, I loved the movie, which was exactly like the book.

Kim, Rudyard Kipling
For some reason, I had some difficulty with this book. I REALLY wanted to like it, but I just didn’t. Again, it was all right, but not great, IMO

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Road and more Dance complaints

Finished The Road last night. I would give this a 4/5 stars if I was rating it. A bleak picture of the future, after some sort of disaster which covered the earth in ash, a group of remaining humans have turned to cannibalism, keeping people locked in basements to harvest their body parts for food. But this is the story of a man and a boy who are "the good guys" who are carrying the fire...which at first is meant to mean the lighters (or so I thought) so that they literally were carrying fire, but then it seemed to take on a new meaning as a fire within. The two are essentially on their own, treking through the US to get to the south/coast with all their belongings in a grocery cart. Off and on throughout the book, I kept thinking of The Stand, which I HATE with a passion (the Trash Can Man being the only redeeming point). I was very glad when the people didn't start having dreams to guide them where to go.

Some questions remain though: The people who adopt the boy at the end...were they following the man and the boy? It seemed to be suggested that they had been, as I assume that the little boy that The Boy had seen was the same one that was with the family. Also, what was up with The Boy being "The One"? Is it supposed to imply that he is a type of messiah (second incarnation of Jesus)? The novel was good overall.

So, now I'm back to trudging - grudgingly - through A Dance to the Music of Time. Did I say that I detest this book? But, I determined to get through it, as it is in the way of my goal of reading the Modern Library's Top 100. I hadn't read a word in it since the first week in January, so I'm a bit lost, but I did find the following websites to help me through it: and

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Emma, The Road, and Wide Sargasso Sea - The Movie

Finished Emma yesterday. It was as I expected it to be. Enjoyable, mostly on a superficial level, not difficult to read, and everybody was happy in the end. The whole way through the book I was thinking of and comparing the novel to the movie Clueless, which was based on Emma. Now I want to watch that movie again. To picture Britney Murphy (the fat version) as Harriet Smith, and Frank Churchill as being gay made reading the novel more fun. I did think that maybe Emma would set her father up with Miss Bates, as they both were prone to Polonius-length speeches (“As brevity is the soul of wit, I shall be brief” or whatever it is that he says). But alas, it was not to be.

I also got Wide Sargasso Sea in movie form and watched it this weekend. What can I say… the wimp that they chose to play Mr. Rochester (Nathaniel Parker) was very disappointing, especially after the strapping version presented in the recent production of Jane Eyre (Toby Stephens). He (Parker) was a skinny, little weirdo with very nearly a uni-brow. Bertha/Antoinette was decent, though I imagined her to have a darker complexion, given the description in JE. It also really annoyed me that while in JE, she is called Bertha, but in WSS (the book), she is Antoinette until Rochester starts to call her Bertha. (I did notice in the film JE, she is called “Bertha Antoinette Mason,” which I didn’t recall from the book). In renaming her, Rochester is essentially removing her identity and heritage, as there is a great deal of issue made that she is French, and not an English woman…I guess because the French are wild and passionate, and the English are the pillars of civilization. Anyhoo… in this movie, rather than call her Bertha, he starts to call her Nettie, which is (in the movie at least) what Antoinette’s mother was called. This was extremely annoying. So, the movie for me was a flop. I was encouraged by the fact that the DVD came with the R rated version and the NC-17. I opted for NC-17, hoping it would live up to the rating. It didn’t. I think that the one view of Nathaniel Parker from the front was probably what gave it that rating. Not something I really wanted to see.

Onto better things… I’m really enjoying The Road. I’m on about page 90-something, and they just found the people in the basement of the house. How creepy! And he dropped the lighter! That’s where I stopped. It goes quick, it’s straight forward, well written, with lots of breaks. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a while...though there’s still a lot of time and potential for this to go downhill.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Sea - Banville

Just finished The Sea by John Banville. I don't really have a reaction to this book. I think that it took me longer than it should have, mostly due to the new job, and partly due to my new diet/exercise regime, which in all honesty I was more interested in than this book. But that's really all I can come up with to say about it. The language was good, and the plot wasn't bad. I'm pretty neutral here. Was I supposed to have figured out before the next to the last page that Miss V. was Rose?

I'm also reading Austen's Emma. I like it, like I like all Jane Austens. Except Mansfield Park. I wasn't crazy about that. Austen is my form of "lite" reading. In addition, I'm still "reading" Dance to the Music of Time, though "reading" isn't exactly a true statement, considering that I haven't opened it in two weeks. I really don't care.

The next book that I'm going to start is The Road, which was loaned to me in November (or was it October?) by one of my mothers-in-law (because I get two! - it's really not so bad though). I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise. It's also the book to be discussed at the library book club in March. I was supposed to be at book club tonight discussing The Sea but didn't finish it in time to go. Shawn (my husband) said I should just read the last page and be done with it, but that wouldn't have worked - I would just have been confused. But back on track, The Road appears to be short. I just hope that it isn't dense. I really just want to finish what I've got on my plate for January and move forward to Sister Carrie and I, Claudius in February.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

More Modern Library Reviews

I think I said in a previous post that prior to doing this blog thing, I kept track of reviews in a notebook. Here are some more off the Modern Library list:

#52 - Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
Funny - yes, very funny. Lewd - very lewd. A portrait of a Jewish kid trying to become a Jewish man, but unable to overcome his domineering mother and pathetic, constipated father. It's Fear of Flying for men. Enjoyable but not a favorite.

#75 - Scoop - Evelyn Waugh
I'd been scared of Waugh for a long time. Maybe not scared, but I didn't particularly expect to like him. I didn't think that he was a male iether. But this story of mistaken identities - the rural, backwards nature writer is sent to cover a war in Africa instead of the cosmopolitan journalist (they have the same name). Hilarity ensues. I hope that the remaining Waugh books on this list are equally good.

#56 - The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammet
It was like the movie, or more accurately, the movie was like the book, except that Sam Spade is blonde. I liked it, but the movie is so iconic, I couldn't stop thinking of it, so at times it was like reading the movie script.

#98 - The Postman Always Rings Twice - James Cain
I read this and Double Indemnity back to back, and now I can't remember which one was which. But each involves a jaded morally ambivalent male, a femme fatale, and killing someone...I think in both it was a husband. Typical noir book, which I liked, even if I'm getting it confused with other novels like it.

#83 - A Bend in the River - V.S. Naipaul
It's about an Indian merchant in Africa. Couldn't stand it.

#11 - Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry
Another one that I thought I would like but didn't really. Though it seems to be one that I like more and understand more the farther away from it I get. The consumption by alcohol: he is always thinking and considering it - where the bottle is, etc. That's something I can identify with, and that's really disturbing. This is one that I may revisit in a few years and find that I like it more the second time around.

#73 - Day of the Locust - Nathaniel West
A short read that I never got into. In general, I love the idea of L.A. stories, because there is so much to write about it, particularly in the time period West set Day of the Locust (I'm thinking Black Dahlia but not necessarily murder, intregue, etc.) So I was excited to read this book, but it was really disappointing.

Wide Sargasso Sea - Rhys

Inspired by Masterpiece Theater's broadcast of Jane Eyre, one of the best books that I ever read, I picked up Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys's "prequel," revolving around Bertha Mason-Rochester's life in the Caribbean. II was afraid of its characterization as specifically "post-colonial." I'm still not entirely sure if that's a descriptive only of the country/time of origin, or a category liked "post-modern," which I don't entirely get either. All I know is that the disaster that was Coetzee's Foe (another reaction/retelling of a literary classic), is "post-colonial" and it made utterly no sense to me. I just can't deal with that. But WSS was DEFINATELY an improvement. It was coherent and logical, for starters.

So we have Antoinette. Her mother is her father's second wife. her father dies. They had been slave owners but slavery was abolished. The mother, Antoinette, and her brother (who is mentally challenged or something) are dirt poor, living in Jamaica, surrounded by their former slaves. Her mother withdraws and starts to go "crazy." Is she organically crazy or reacting to her surroundings? I don't know. What categorized a woman as "crazy" in the early 19th century is vastly different than what we would call crazy today.

Then her mother marries Mr. Mason. The former slaves burn their house down, killing her mother's parrot (very disturbing). The brother dies, and the mother finally really goes crazy. Later, the Masons fix Antoinette up with Rochester. They are married less than a month after he arrives. Then her possible (disgustingly characterized) half brother tells Rochester about the craziness in the family. She starts to act a little out of sorts at time, then he takes her back to England and locks her in the tower.

The voodoo practicing caretaker - Christophine - very interesting. Antoinette is going to her to make Rochester love her. Is this a cause for her madness? Did Mr. Rochester have an affair with Amelie? It was suggested that he did. Who wouldn't be crazy being locked up in the tower? Rochester renames her Bertha - taking her identiy. The marriage wasn't what either of htem expected.

This short novel, for some reason, reminded me of Charolotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." It wasn't until after she was "treated" for being crazy that she went crazy.

Dance Update

I'm still trying to plug through Dance to the Music of Time - 1st Movement. I'll be honest - I couldn't care less about this book. Which is unfortunate, because after reading it for a month, I'm only about 1/8 of the way through the book. I don't care about the characters, I don't care about their lives, or what happens to them. I had intended to read one movement per year, but have decided to change my approach and read one book (3 books in a movement) per month, so that I should be done by the end of the year. Then I won't have to dread what is coming as I work my way through the Modern Library's I do with Henry James. At night I think to myself, oh God please just let Wings of the Dove be better than that scourage of the earth, The Ambassadors. It still is an irritating mystery to me how The Ambassadors made it on the list, and not To Kill A Mockingbird.

Some Modern Library Top 100 Reviews

Before I started this blog, I was writing brief reviews of the Modern Library's Top 100 in a notebook. Here are some of them:

#27 The Ambassadors by Henry James

I will not waste any more words on this book than have already been wasted on its writing. I hated this book and fear the remaining two James "novels" on this list. Please see Doug Shaw's review for a good look at why I didn't like it.

#82 Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I Promising in the beginning, with discussions of telling the stories of one's ancestors. But then it disintegrated into a story about the west with characters I mostly disliked or despised. I never want to read this again.

#50 Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

I was excited to read this book. Miller's decadent romp through Paris in the 1930s. I like decadent romps! But oh how I hated this one. Horrible! HORRIBLE! incoherent, disgusting dribble. I have nothing more to say about it.

#37 The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

I didn't like this book. I just didn't care.

#91 Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

This is another book I didn't particularly care for. It was Faulkner-esque in setting and social status of the characters. But I didn't really like it. Faulkner is beeter, and I can't help but compare all rural southern writers to him.

#24 Winesburg, Ohio

I couldn't have cared less. One of my least favorites thus far on the list. Well, besides The Ambassadors.