Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Can't Wait for this Movie!

Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is going to be made into a movie. I read the book last October and loved it. I wonder if the part about Fitzgerald's size problem will be included?

Chocky

My mom has been talking up this book to me since I was in middle school. She had an old copy with the covers long gone. I remember trying to read it once - maybe I was 13 or 15, and didn't get very far into it. So it's appearance on the 1,001 books list (2006 edition - it was removed for the 2008 version) gave me a great excuse to finally come around to it.

I have a love-hate relationship with science fiction. In theory, I love it. But I often find that the stories are poorly written. A notable exception is Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - friggin awesome). For me, the plot is only ever half of the enjoyment of a book - the language, style, etc. is the other half. A terribly boring book can give me the greatest pleasure if it's well written, and a great story can be ruined by the writing. Unfortunately, Chocky has fallen into the poorly written category. I just didn't like the prose.

I was also a little disappointed in the plot. It was interesting, but in the end, it just became really strange (and not in the sci-fi awesome strange way). Matthew (who talks to Chocky, an alien, in his head) is kidnapped by a mysterious "they" and it is said that Matthew will be followed for the rest of his life because of Chocky. Because of that, Matthew isn't supposed to have a career in science because of the things that Chocky told him. Also, though Chocky has determined that Earth isn't a place that his species could colonize, he stays in contact with Matthew because he wants to teach him about harnessing different types of power. Yawn. I don't mean that the book was bad, I just didn't like it.

Wyndham's Day of the Triffids is also on the 1,001 list...I'm hoping that it's better than Chocky. In the mean time, I'll stick to Philip K. Dick for my sci-fi fixes. And I would do well to remember that my mom and I don't have the same taste in books.

New Book Site Discovered!

I just came across this website that I'm really digging. I wish I had more time to just sit and read all the articles. I had read somewhere - don't remember where - that the site was ranking the top 20 books "of the millenium thus far." Could just be the top 20 books of the decade, but I suppose they're trying to be dramatic. Whatever - regular readers know how much of a sucker I am for book lists. And lo and behold, the site has a lot of other awesome stuff too. They are also reviewing the Modern Library's Top 100 list! - again, I wish I had the time to really sit and read the articles.

So far, I've read three (Middlesex, Atonement, Never Let Me Go) off of their best of list, which is pretty good for me, considering I tend to stay in the pre-1960 literature.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Balthasar

Book II of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet is a departure from Book I - Justine. That book was so stylistically beautiful; Balthasar was much simpler in its narrative style, which was a little odd because it was told from the same character's point of view.

This installment had me very confused at first. Articles I had read about it lead me to believe that it was Balthasar himself that would be narrating this volume and not Darley, the narrator from Justine. But that's not the case. Actually, what has happened is this: Darley has written a book about his experience in Alexandria and his affair with Justine. Balthasar gets a copy of the manuscrpit and creates and interlinear - a commentary on the text to show Darley all the things he got wrong, all the stuff he didn't know about about, and sends it back to Darley. Darley thought he knew what was going on, but in reality he didn't. We only have our perspective in events, and it's always limited - it's never the full story. That's what Alexandria Quartet is - the same story told from different perspectives.

Like I said, it's not the same lyrical style as Justine. It's Darley coming to realize that he didn't know the whole story, and that his affair with Justine wasn't what he thought it was. In a way, the different narrative - much less poetic - made it easier to read. I'll reserve my opinion until I get through the next two books - Mountolive and Clea, but overall it was good.

Pale Fire

This is the fourth Nabokov novel I've read. The first, obviously, was Lolita. A few years ago I also read Laughter in the Dark and The Eye, neither of which I remember anything about except that I didn't particularly care for them. Ada has sat on my TBR list for at least five years. There are others by Nabokov I have long hoped to pick up as well - Pnin and Invitation to a Beheading chief among them, but when your book list runs several hundred long, it's hard to keep up.

So Pale Fire - I didn't know what to expect going in and I will admit that at first I really didn't like it. But as it went on, and the riddle of what was really up with this Kinbote guy got deeper and more bizarre, I started to enjoy it more.

In this novel - you've got this guy, Charles Kinbote, a visiting professor from the country of Zembla (imaginary or not?) who is writing a commentary on his "friend" John Shade's poem. It quickly is apparent that the commentary has nothing to do with the poem but rather dwells on the deposed king of Zembla, also named Charles. Eventually, the reader comes to understand that Kinbote is - or believes he is - this king.

Pale Fire thus presents two possibilities: (1) Kinbote is telling the truth and really is the King of Zembla or (2) he is insane. As the narrative progresses and it appears that he is stalking Shade -finding out where he is vacationing and renting a cabin at the same place - I come down on the side of insanity. But is Zembla real or not? I would guess not, but if it isn't, what the hell is Kinbote doing as a visiting professor at the University? What university would hire someone who claimed to be from an imaginary country?

The structure of the novel presents a slight challenge for reading. Kinbote suggest reading the poem, then the commentary, then the poem again, but I read them both together - a few lines of the poem and then the commentary on those lines. This seemed to work out well.

Overall, I liked Pale Fire - it was interesting and unique. While a reader - myself included - often returns to a writer expecting something similar to the first enjoyed book, and it can be disappointing to find something completely different, but there is definately something to be said for an author who can successfully switch it up for each novel. Nabokov presents something different in each book I read of his (unlike some others on the Modern Library list - James and Lawrence, I'm looking at you!), and I appreciate that. I've read enough by him to know not to expect Lolita II (if not in subject, at least style). Pale Fire really was good, and deserving of a spot on a list of top 100 novels of the 20th century.