Wednesday, December 29, 2010

There Sure Are A Lot Of Words.

I had a weird experience a few days ago - I got to the evening of Boxing Day and was conscious of a falling-into-an-armchair feeling, accompanied by an inward sigh of relief. Imagine my amazement when I realised I am "glad It's over". Never before have I been, and hopefully never again will I be, pleased to see the back end of Christmas while the calendar still showed December.

A low-key Christmas, of course, with bits of melancholia mixed in to relieve the near-total apathy. But, all in all, I believe it was no worse than expected, and maybe even a little better.

I was reading an old post the other day - the one about the 106 most unread books. I wanted to assess my progress through my self-imposed program of Improvement. And I've done okay - I have added five to my "Have Read" list, and I have added three to my "Have Started" list. (The library wanted them back.)

Have read:

Vanity Fair
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
The Fountainhead
Watership Down

Have started:

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Tale of Two Cities
The Once and Future King

Initially I was disappointed to see only five pins down, but two of them are Ayn Rand meisterwerke, so I shouldn't feel badly about that. I nearly went blind reading Atlas Shrugged in particular. It was during our June visit to Ontario, and I read that sucker in eleven days. About 1100 pages, in teeny print.

I had a lot to say about Atlas Shrugged after I read it, but that was six months ago and now I'm not nearly so motivated to talk about it. Plus, it's really long and preachy. But on the up-side, the sexual tension is handled brilliantly. If there's one thing Ayn Rand knows, it's timing. (Except "when to quit" - that part she struggled with.)

The Fountainhead made me tired.

Vanity Fair, it turns out, is a page-turner. It's one of my friend Bethro's favourites, and I can see why. I didn't LOVE it, but it's a good one for discussion. I personally think Thackeray likes Becky better than Amelia, but that's despite himself. Or maybe he's just being ironic - giving Amelia the rewards of virtue in the end although he, himself, values Becky's acerbity over Amelia's insipidity. Hm.

Anyway, a word on style: Vanity Fair is like a really long and rather slower-paced Georgette Heyer novel. If you have managed more than a handful of Heyers and enjoyed them, you will probably like VF. I did find, though, that VF is hard to read when spread over a long period. You have to concentrate on it, and that's easier when you read it in, say, two weeks rather than six.

Watership Down, on the other hand, is one of my desert island books now. I always thought vaguely that it was a gentle, pastoral children's book, on the lines of "Wind in the Willows" for a slightly older reader. I certainly wouldn't have called it "edgy", or anything.

Boy, was I wrong.

It's about animals, sure, but it's totally serious, not in the least tongue-in-cheek, not at all wry about the fact that these bunnies have their own myth tradition and none of them can count past five. The world they live in is masterfully set up. I can't say anymore, except that you should read it. If you find it a slow start (there is some background to get through), just at least finish off the first three chapters. If you're not hooked, you probably never will be and you can go on to something else.

Lastly, the self-effacingly titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And my only comment on that is: neither. It was good enough - certainly had its poignant moments. Lots of gratuitous bad language, which got annoying in a surprisingly short amount of time. So maybe I'd amend the title to "A Slightly Emotive Work of Mediocre Talent".

What am I reading next? I was thinking that maybe you should give me some recommendations. Pick something from the list, and leave a comment saying which book I should tackle next, and I'll read and review it.

If nobody expresses a preference, I'll go on to Anna Karenina, which has just been lent to me by a friend. I've ordered The Once and Future King from Chapters with Christmas money (thanks Mom!), for the #2 spot, and I believe after that will be Catch-22.

Here's the list of what remains unread. I have just counted, and there are 60 titles here, which means I've read 46. I'd like to get half done this list, which is seven more books, by the spring. Just for bragging rights, nothing important.

Tell me what to get from the library, and I'll get started. (Just please, please don't make me read non-fiction. I don't care much about Guns, Germs, OR Steel. And not that true crime one either. I don't like crime.)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
The Silmarillion
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Tale of Two Cities
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (I do not want to read this.)
War and Peace
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books (I don't really want to read this either.)
Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Foucault’s Pendulum
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present (No. I don't want to read it.)
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything (It better be.)
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (Uh uh.)
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
On the Road
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (Nothing by an economist, please.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
Gravity’s Rainbow
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences (Yuck. No.)
White Teeth
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers


kate said...

A lot of words, indeed.

I loved Watership Down, although it was a long time ago that I read it.

Off that list, my picks would be Moby Dick, Ulysses, and Catch-22.

I've read a number of the ones on that list - some are ok, some were really good. I have yet to finish Atlas Shrugged, so good on you!

Carolyn said...

I love Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities was a good read in my adulthood, as was David Copperfield. The first one is much shorter! Madame Bovary is another one on my shelf, but I haven't read that since I was a sophmore in high school. I made it through then, so it should be readable.

WV: Misticul. What a bad speller thinks of some fantasy books, or what one does with bad-quality mistletoe?

Jadekitty said...

This is embarrassing to say, but of the ones you've listed, I've only read The poisonwood bible. I loved it, so I'm going to recommend it.
When I can finally get a library card, I will be off to get Watership down, I have a very old copy at my parents but I can't remember if I've read it.

Dave Hingsburger said...

oh my, such choices, I loved Watership Down, glad you enjoyed time with the bun rabs too. As to other books, the choice is daunting. I absolutely adored Cloud Atlas; 'the curious incident' was an amazing read; the kite runner was splendig ... but Madame Bovary (do you know the story of it being purposely misnamed Madame Ovary to keep people away from it as it was seen as a filthy book?) and War and Peace are musts. But you do have a lifetime so sprinkle ligher fare amist the deeper stuff.

Valerie said...

Loved your comment about Ayn Rand not knowing when to stop. She was quite the character.

Well, Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell is the book that our computer monitor is sitting on to bring it up to the right height for my bifocals. Before that it was an okay read.

You might like Freakonomics and Reading Lolita in Tehran more than you expect. Freakonomics is more about unintended consequences, events that may co-vary but not necessarily affect one another, and some pop-culture.

Reading Lolita in Tehran has more to do with the cultural revolution in Tehran and its effect on women than Nabokov's story about pedophilia.

I loved Catch 22 when I was a senior in highschool. Don't know if I'd like it now.

Kiterunner is good, but depressing.

Poisonwood Bible is the character who does the anagrams.

Angels and Demons...meh.

Have a good new year, Shan.

Emily said...

I loved many, many of these books, but my favorite (like, favorite book of all time) is Mrs. Dalloway. That said, Woolf isn't for everyone & I won't be offended if you don't like it. :-) I also love Great Expectations and White Teeth.

Dave Hingsburger said...

What's life without risk. I've decided to tell you a little secret. My favourite book of all time is one that I've only read once. Years ago I decided to read Plath's 'the bell jar' again. I had loved the book dearly. When read a second time, at a different time in my life, I simply hated it. I hated it for not being what it was when I was who I was. So ... with my favourite book ... I've never read it again. I didn't want that to happen to it. It was, and is, to important in my development as a person and as a writer. The book? Well, I found that after I read it I asked my friends not to read it, I couldn't bear the idea that they may hate it, or worse, find it so so. But I relented and several friends read it and all said they loved it. I think they may have been afraid not to. Well, I'm much much older now and can cope with others disapproval of what I find meaningful. So, here it is ... my favourite book ... Mrs. Steven Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton. I've read all of Sarton's work and never understood why she isn't more widely read or more often discussed. But then, that happens with greatness sometimes. So there you have it. My little bit of input. I'm not suggesting you read it if it's not to your taste - but I'd be interested in other readers here telling of their favourite reads.

Elizabeth said...

I'm so glad you liked VF even if you didn't love it. The weirdest thing about it to me is that of everyone, Jos Sedley comes out on top. It's oddly realistic in a depressing way. Becky and Amelia are both reduced to their simplest forms by the end (whore, wife - that's it). I'm not sure Thackarey liked anyone, really. You can either despise them or pity them (and that fluctuates back and forth) but never like them. It's hard if you are fond of liking your main characters (I sure am), but wonderful as a distant portrait.

I just read a biography of Charlotte Bronte and Thackarey is painted in a pretty unflattering light. Not awful, just not a guy you would want to know.

I haven't read Watership Down in ages but now I need to re-read!

Joan said...

I love Barbara Kingsolver, and adored the Prodigal Summer. I sat down to the Poisonwood Bible with great anticipation, only to hate the first few chapters. But I stuck with it, and now it is my favorite of her books. I love the way she developed the different characters' voices.

Middlesex is beautifully written, and a very original story.

A Confederacy of Dunces made me laugh out loud in the Paris Metro.

Annalea said...

Here are some thoughts on books I have read, or am going to read:

The Silmarillion -- I've read the beginning part of this, and it's an amazing, epic tale. Written in an arching, grand style, there's very little showing and a lot of telling . . . and yet it's gripping and poignant. It has a lot of sorrow and sadness, for it's how middle earth began. The way Tolkein portrays the creation of that world still haunts me sometimes, it's such a sad and beautiful tale. It also is where we found the name of one of our daughters. I highly recommend it, and I need to put it on my "to read" list so I don't forget to finish it again in the whirlwind that is my life.

The Tale of Two Cities -- I read this in high school, and remember being really touched at the end. I would definitely read it again, and probably understand it a whole lot better, to boot. I have a far, far better mind now than I did then.

Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West -- I've heard smashing things about the play, and want to read this one.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man -- Curiosity, mostly, drives my desire to read this one. I've heard it mentioned in enough books that I've read that I want it to be part of my cultural knowledge.

Foucault’s Pendulum -- Ditto.

The Poisonwood Bible: a novel -- I've read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Loved It. I really like Barbara Kingsolver's writing, and this one is currently on my list. It was recommended by one of the women in my book review club, and several of us have read it.

To the Lighthouse -- I didn't like this one. At all. I read it for a college literature course, and the strangeness of the family culture just didn't do it for me. Well that, and the incest.

Les Misérables -- I've gone back and forth on this one, but after reading a recent review, it's back on my to read list.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time -- The title alone had me at "hello". Didn't it for you?

Dune -- Vern has read these, and I've watched the first movie. I just can't quite get into it now, as the move ruined them for me forever. They should have waited until now to make them, as they may have been more believable. (Star Wars was more believable than Dune.)

Slaughterhouse-five -- I thought I had read this in high school. But, after reading up on it at Amazon, I realized I hadn't. But I'm going to. And it puts Catch-22 back on my list.

Catch-22 -- Because I didn't read it in high school, and I'm highly intrigued by the reviews.

Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (Nothing by an economist, please.) -- I think you should give this one a chance. I've read several economists, and they're a fascinating bunch (if you get the right type). Don't read any finance-economics books. Economics isn't a finance-bound discipline. It's the study of behavior, and what motivates it. So, banish thoughts of Keynes from your mind (he didn't know what he was talking about anyway), and see what this guy has to say. ;o) If nothing else, it looks like a fun an interesting mental exercise, to see things they way he does.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values -- This is one of the most interesting and mind-bending books I've ever read. Sad, and yet it has a good ending . . . it's almost what you want when you get to the end, but not quite. It's beyond explanation . . . you've just got to read it. (And make sure you've got some quiet time to digest it, too. This isn't a speed-read.)

The Three Musketeers -- Love the story and movie. I wonder if I'll love the book, too? It's on my list.

Cynthia said...

Others have commented on books I like, so I'll just mention two that I don't think anyone else has: Cryptonomicon was a blast -- kind of like a Dickens novel, with several different storylines going at once, each with a zillion characters, and everything intersecting eventually. It might be hard to read slowly since you might forget who's who and what was going on when.

And I have to confess I've made several tries at the Satanic Verses without getting through it -- but I loved Rushdie's earlier novel Midnight's Children so I expect that if I got going on the Satanic Verses it would be fun. I think it's another cast-of-thousands novel. Plus I want to see what all the fuss was about.

lizbon said...

Yes yes:

To the Lighthouse


A Clockwork Orange
The Three Musketeers

Boywich liked Cryptonomicon.
I wanted to like The Simarillion but couldn't get through it.

Natasha said...

I've read The Kite Runner. Very good book, splendid really, an absolute must. I read the God of Small Things a number of years ago... I don't remember a lot of the details, but I remember thinking it was a really good but weird book. My mom also JUST finished Madame Bovary. In her words, "Scandalous! You should read it!"

On another note, I read Wicked... well, started Wicked and hated it. If you insist on reading ALL the books on this list, more power to ya, otherwise just move onto something else and save yourself the trouble.

tara said...

Interestingly enough, I found Freakonomics to be quite engaging, but have been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for years. Probably have to restart the second one.

Of the ones I've read on the list, I particularly enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and A Confederacy of Dunces and Lolita were both interesting, if occasionally uncomforatble.