Monday, August 23, 2010

Age of Innocence - A Brief Post

There will be so much more to follow regarding Wharton's The Age of Innocence. I just finished it today, and I'm devastated. I just wanted to share that - DEVASTATED. I will need to digest this for a bit before my long post.

It's given me heavy boots.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Conditions under which I would reread The Ambassadors

I had a lengthy discussion the other day about books, and what we read and why we read them. It was a thoroughly frustrating conversation in which the person I was talking to tried to coerce me into both reading the Twilight series and watching The Notebook by telling me that I should be open minded – and in which I actually admitted that I would rather reread Henry James’s The Ambassadors than reread Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, I said it, and yes, it’s true.

I am someone who knows what I like. And I know what I don’t like. My tastes are rather specific. I like classic literature. I like some contemporary literary fiction. I like some of the better written science fiction and a smattering of other genres here and there. There are very few instances in which I am surprised to like something. Maybe this makes me different than the general public. I don’t know. I doubt it though.

Once I attempted to be open minded about what I read. I participated in a book club for a bit, and that’s how I discovered Cormac McCarthy – though he and I were likely to meet at one time or another. I read the memoir The Glass Castle. It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t boring. But I quickly discarded it after finishing it, and haven’t missed it since. I don’t even remember the author’s last name. It was expendable to me. Other people may like it, and they are free to do so, and I try not to knock them for it. I can understand why someone would enjoy it, but I did not in particular, so let’s stick to our respective niches and respect each other’s boundaries. Eat, Pray, Love was my last attempt at being open minded. Sorry.

I reason this way: I only have so much time in my life to read – both in terms of hours per day and years to live. And there are literally hundreds and hundreds of books I want to read currently in publication, not to mention those that haven’t been published yet. Why would – or should – I spend that precious time on books that I doubt I would enjoy as much as I would, say, read The Age of Innocence, which I’m absolutely loving, or even rereading The Great Gatsby? Why would I put them away and pick up the Twilight books just because someone who doesn’t know anything about me believes that I would just love them?

I tried to explain this in analogy after the straight-forward “I don’t want to read your book” approach didn’t work. I tried the following metaphor: if I had one pass to the movies, and could see a movie I wanted to see, or a movie I didn’t want to see, why would I ever go to see the one I didn’t want to see? If I hate cheesecake (which I do), should I be expected to eat it – to be “open minded” about this particular type of cheesecake - when there are other options – options I know I will enjoy? Like German chocolate cake? Or maybe an apple pie?

I was once accused of only reading depressing books. And that’s probably largely true. Or at least books that aren’t exactly a romp through the giggle forest. Some people read to escape their reality – to go to a world that is better, more ordered than our own. A world in which lovers reunite in the end and live happily ever after. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I believe that I also read to escape reality, but I go to a world that is worse – less ordered than our own. Because it makes me feel better about reality. Because, after all, who wants to live in a Kafka novel? The funny things that I enjoy are often intelligent, absurd comedies. I just don’t do low-brow. Not because I’m to uppity, I just don’t like it. Even as a kid, I was disgusted by low-brow. You take your Sweet Valley High and R.L. Stine and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I’ll be over here with my Jules Verne, thank you very much. One time, in high school, my friends insisted I watch Ace Venture, because it was SOOO FUNNY! I said ok – so long as we could watch Romeo & Juliet afterwards. The 1969 version. Needless to say, there were no more movies they insisted that I watch. Maybe it’s an inborn trait, somehow, what we like.

Typically I don’t recommend books to other people unless I’m pretty sure they will like what I suggest. Because I would be wasting their time otherwise. In a perfect world in which I was queen, maybe everyone would like what I like. But I’m not queen, so I have no right to assume that everyone should read what I like to read simply because, well, I like it. I’m sorry, but your enjoyment of a book is not a sufficient reason for me to want to read something.

It occurred to me later that I could have quickly put a stop to this, as I did back in high school. Instead of insisting for a half hour that I simply am not interested in “sparkling love-muffin vampires in abstinence metaphors” (as it was awesomely put recently in a blog post I read about an entirely different subject, which is why I haven’t linked to the quote), I should have responded, “Sure – I’ll read your Twilight book, if you read a book that I recommend,” and handed her Joyce’s Ulysses. I doubt she would have gotten much past “Stately, plump, Buck Mulligan” before asking for her Stephanie Meyers back.

Friday, August 6, 2010

50 Best Novels for Political Junkies

I was forwarded this link to a list of the 50 best novels for political junkies. It's a great list, and I should know, since I'm a list person :-) The only novel that stuck out as missing from this list is The Last Hurrah, but I’m pleased as punch that it’s been left off, since I abhorred that book when I had to read it in college for a government class.

Some comments on this list, because that’s one of the pleasures of my life:

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley: I read this one week during summer vacation before 10th grade. Or maybe it was 11th grade - I don't recall. I loved it, but don’t remember much more about it. There was also an excellent made-for-TV adaptation around the same time – 1996? – that I wish had been released on DVD. This novel is high up on my To Be Reread (TBRR) list.

1984 - George Orwell: See my “review” here

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury: I’ve never read this one, but I own a copy and hope to pick it up shortly after I finish my Modern Library project.

Blindness - Jose Saramago: I have long had Saramago’s The Double on my TBR list, which I have held off reading until I can get around to Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name. But perhaps I will have to pick up Blindless before then.

The Trial - Franz Kafka: One of the most awesome books ever. Kafka’s The Castle is on this list as well, which I have never read.

Animal Farm - George Orwell: I believe everyone in high school should be required to read, AND LIKE, Animal Farm. It feels like a rite of passage. Same goes for To Kill A Mockingbird, also on this list, which is definitely one of the best American books ever written, and likely in my top 5 of American books of the 20th century.

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand ooohhh oohhh! I have recently been chomping at the bit to read this, just so that I can more intelligently discuss its philosophical role in the recent economic disaster. It’s terrible to want to read such a thick book just to criticize it, but hell, that’s the type of person I am :-)

A Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood: As a female, this novel scared the crap out of me. The film adaptation was wonderful as well. Well, I don’t think wonderful is the right word to use.

Lord of the Flies - William Golding: Love it love it love it! Sucks to your assmar, Piggy.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: I have a copy of this novel that my mom gave me well over a decade ago, but it still sits on my shelf. In fact, I have a memory of sitting in middle school “industrial arts” class and trying to read it. I didn’t get very far. It’s been slowly making it’s way up the TBR pile, but it’s a big pile, and I can’t say when I’ll actually get around to reading it.

Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler: Definitely rivals the best of Orwell. Fabulous. I just picked up another novel by the author that looked like science fiction.

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy: Someday.

It Can’t Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis: A science blogger I frequently read posted a quote from this novel a few months ago, and I found a used copy while out of town at a conference.

All the King’s Men - Robert Penn Warren: I thought this was a great novel. It also contains the most tender, believable love scene I have ever read.

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne: I have to say, this was another instance of required reading in H.s. that I loved. I guess I’m just a nerd. So tragic, but an amazing love story.

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo I read this unabridged years ago. It was ok - I must say I enjoyed the musical much better. Hugo is very long winded, which I suppose is why it's so long.

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick: I once owned this novel, long before I knew who Philip K. Dick was, or that I liked him. By the time I figured that out, I had lost the novel. I don’t know what happened to it.

The Plot Against America - Philip Roth: I just picked this one up at a used book sale.

I’m not going to touch the section on the Civil War, because frankly, I don’t care about the Civil War. I know many people do, and that’s part of the reason why I don’t care. Yes – I understand the sacrifice many made; in fact, a large number of the men in my family alive at that time fought for the North. But living within 2 hours of Gettsyburg, we get a lot of local Civil War nuts who probably borderline believe they are reincarnations of various famous fighters. This is all while ignoring our locally rich frontier/colonial history and the role our community played in the French & Indian War. People would rather see mock-fictional Civil War battles than learn about the Indian village and frontier fort that actually was located here. Ok – that’s my schpeal for the day, having nothing to do with this list ;-)

There were also a number of novels on this list that I am familiar – in some degree – with the film version, but was not aware they were based on novels. (Children of Men, Advise and Consent, Wag the Dog, Seven Days in May) I should have known, since Hollywood seems unable to develop original scripts these days. I have also added The Marrow of Tradition, and The Ghost to my ever-expanding TBR list.