Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Modern Library Reviews

Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence

I read this a few years ago. And I cannot remember anything about it. When I picked up Lawrence’s The Rainbow earlier this year (or was that last year?), I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t remember anything in Sons and Lovers. Probably less than 50 pages into The Rainbow I realized why – it’s because Lawrence is boring. That’s all I have to say about that.

The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler

This is another one that I don’t really remember, but I do remember more of it than I do of Sons and Lovers. Here’s what I remember: (1) the main character – Ernest (had to look his name up) HATES his parents. In fact, I think everyone in this novel hated their parents. (2) Ernest marries some floozy that used to work for his family. And I think she takes advantage of him. (Had to look this up to – it’s not that she takes advantage of him, it’s that she was already married when she married Ernest).

It’s really unfair that this novel made it on the list of the top 100 of the 20th century, as it was written in the 1880s, but not published until 1903. Overall, it was a snoozer.

Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara

I had been really excited to read this at first. After all, it’s about Pottsville. And though I’ve never been actually to Pottsville, I’ve been through it a number of times on Route 61 on the way to Reading…back when Reading was a place you went instead of a place you avoided. And throughout the book, I kept thinking, Haha…they’re talking about Tamaqua. It’s always great to be able to read about a community you are at least proximately familiar with. And when you’re from central Pennsylvania, there aren’t many novels available to give you that experience. It’s pretty much John O’Hara and John Updike (whose Rabbit series takes place in the aforementioned Reading). Of course it would have been funnier had the setting been, say, Shamokin, with which I’m much more familiar, or Shenandoah, just because if you’re from the Shenandoah region in Pennsylvania, you know it’s not pronounced Shen-an-do-ah, but rather Shen-do, and that for some reason has always amused me. But, I had to settle for Pottsville.

Now besides Appointment at Samarra being set in within the general region in which I live (it’s not really close but it’s a community that’s covered on the local news stations), it seemed like a story I would enjoy. But alas, it really wasn’t. I couldn’t really pinpoint for you what exactly it was I didn’t particularly like…it probably wasn’t any one thing. I just didn’t get into it as much as I had assumed I would. Overall it was a descent book, but not one I can rave about.

Tender is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was the second Fitzgerald novel I read. The first was obviously The Great Gatsby. Has anyone these days NOT read The Great Gatsby first? Let's just say Tender is the Night is not The Great Gatsby.

The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad

I’ve read three Joseph Conrad novels: Nostromo, The Heart of Darkness and this one. I read The Heart of Darkness as a freshman in college (or maybe a senior in high school…) I absolutely did not get it. For me, at least, Conrad takes the type of dedication that has only come in the last few years for me. Maybe it’s maturity of one form or another, I don’t know. I managed to get through Nostromo...I didn't particularly like it, and it was difficult, but I got through it.

But The Secret Agent - THIS is nothing like the other two Conrad's I read. The subject matter is much simpler, the writing simpler, and it's a great book. A porn peddler/anarchist/secret agent for Russia is assigned to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. He ends up getting his mentally challeneged brother-in-law involved, who accidently blows himself up during the bombing attempt. It's just a great book, and if you want to read something by Joseph Conrad that's not so, well, Joseph Conrad-like, this is what you want. Alfred Hitchcock even made it into a movie - he called it Sabotage. It's kind of confusing, the title I mean, because he also made a movie called Saboteur AND one called The Secret Agent. But Hitchcock's The Secret Agent is actually based on a story by Maugham, not Conrad!

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