Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Knocked down and trampled all about.

Well, I think this may be a record.

I started "Great Expectations" on Sunday night, and I have just finished it an hour ago. Three days! Dear me.

It was my first introduction to the famous Pip, who I will never, never forget. As far as winsome and compelling narrators go, he is right up there with Cassandra Mortmain and Holden Caulfield.

Reading this book, and writing this review, I feel such a sense of frustration that there's nobody to TALK to about it! Even if you've read it, it was probably a while ago. (Finally - the reason for Lit classes - so SOMEBODY is reading the same good book that you are reading.)

It makes me really, really, really miss Sandy. Did I ever tell you she was my grade 12 English teacher? I was 15, she was 25.

I bought a copy of "Villette" from a local used-bookstore a few years ago, and after Sandy died I finally got around to reading it. I opened up to the first page, and guess whose handwriting I saw, noting: "space and time harmonious"?

Yep, it had been Sandy's copy, from one of her university Lit classes, taken to the store after a fit of purging, as part of a misplaced effort to "help my family not have to deal with so much, later".

All this is to say, I wish she was still alive JUST to talk about "Great Expectations" with me. I can see it now: I would call her up and say "Can I come over tonight?" and she would say "YES! Yesyesyes, I was JUST going to call you!" We'd hang up and then fifteen minutes later I'd be at her door, Pip in hand, saying "WHAT ABOUT THIS HAVISHAM NONSENSE!!!" and she'd throw herself back on the couch, hands held in front of her, palms up, fingers clawed towards the heavens, scream out "AAUUUGGHHH!!! HAVISHAM, I CAN'T STAND IT!!!" And then we'd move on to the pathos of the whole thing, and I'd say "Joe!! Joe!! That's the worst part!!" and she'd say "'Wot Larks!'" and then we'd both dissolve into tears.

Then we'd have an extremely strong coffee and she'd dig out some chocolate.

A few other notes:

* Dickens had an amazing ability to change up his voice and his style. Great Expectations is completely different from A Christmas Carol is completely different from Barnaby Rudge is completely different from Tale of Two Cities.

* I laughed so hard at this book, I shouted out loud several times.

* I cried so hard at this book, I alerted several startled passersby to the fact that no, that car is NOT empty. There is a sobbing woman sitting behind the wheel, poor soul.

* I loved this book and loved the way it ended, and loved the.........[trying not to give it away] surprising negative aspects of the plot.


Mrs. Dalloway awaits. Onward.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Purpose-Driven Reader

Trademark lawyers, do your worst.

You might not remember, but I was once working my way through a list of books given by Library Thing as the 106 books most often listed as not read by users. (Which I don't know to be true, but in any case.) I had originally read 41, and then when I posted a second time two and a half years later, I had read 46.

Now, I've read 50. I have added

Tale of Two Cities
Love in the Time of Cholera
Cloud Atlas
Once and Future King

I am behind my self-imposed schedule, but that's okay. Life has to be lived - you can't just read all the damn time.

I asked you guys for recommendations and followed up on Confederacy of Dunces which several of you seemed to love - HATED IT. Didn't even finish.

Cloud Atlas, recommended by Dave, was an utter wonder. A completely original, completely riveting work that built me up to a crescendo and then brought me crashing down to complete silence. If you can read it without first reading ABOUT it, you should. I didn't know what to expect and was confused at first, until suddenly I turned a page, looked at the next page and said "HOLY CRAP." I flicked back a page, flicked forward again, and said to my mother who was sitting next to me on the beach, "This guy has some serious writing chops. He is not kidding around."

Once and Future King. Well......I felt like I'd read this book before. And I hadn't - but it's very much of its genre. I think there are two types of people in the world: people who are captivated (for a time) by the Arthurian legends, and people who couldn't care less about the Arthurian legends. If, like me, you belong to the first group, then you've probably read all the usual suspects and "Once and Future King" will hold no surprises at all.

Tale of Two Cities - I raved about this amazing masterpiece in an earlier review. I loved it so much that this entire silly list, in many ways, justifies its existence simply by virtue of getting me to read Tale of Two Cities.

Lastly, I've added Love in the Time of Cholera. This is a strange book, in some ways. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an odd narrator. I loved Of Love and Other Demons (I reviewed it four years ago -- sheesh! does the time pass.), which is by the same celebrated author. "Cholera" has some of the same bizarre qualities of "Demons", but is maybe a little more realistic in style. Marquez has an unparalleled ability to fascinate - his sense of language is complex and extremely - persuasively - unexpected. I like his depictions of sexuality and love: he portrays them in their impossible complexity and in their devastating simplicity.

I wish I knew Spanish so I could read it in the language he used originally, and see how similar or how different it might be. 

Something odd happened to me on page 337. I read this line:
"Most of the passengers, above all the Europeans, abandoned the pestilential stench of their cabins and spent the night walking the decks, brushing away all sorts of predatory creatures with the same towels they used to dry their incessant perspiration, and at dawn they were exhausted and swollen with bites."

Hm, I said to myself. I'm sure I've read something very like that before. And after a few minutes' search, I found this on page 141:
"Most of the passengers, above all the Europeans, abandoned the pestilential stench of their cabins and spent the night walking the decks, brushing away all sorts of predatory creatures with the same towels they used to dry their incessant perspiration, and at dawn they were exhausted and swollen with bites."

My gut says it was not a deliberate device - more a mistake - but I could be wrong.

Odd, though.

So, here we are. I have read 50 of 106. Not even halfway done!

Someone remarked, two years ago (!) when I last mentioned this project, that if I insist on reading all the books on this list, more power to me - otherwise, she felt, I should go on to something else and save myself the trouble. Well, she has a point - I certainly won't read anything I don't like or care about - but I still feel it's a useful exercise. I have been hugely entertained, moved, challenged, and educated by the books I've read from this list. And many of them probably would never have made it to my hand were it not for the list.

Here are my next choices, in order:

Great Expectations (I bought this, so no library request necessary)
Reading Lolita in Tehran (en route from another branch of my library), maybe Middlesex? Maybe Mrs. Dalloway? Maybe Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

I did try To the Lighthouse but lost interest quickly. I think my enjoyment of the book was handicapped by its being sandwiched in the middle of several excellent novels of very different styles, so my ear was tuned to a different sort of voice, as it were. I will try it again someday.

Read on!

PS: Something interesting has been happening in the backyard lately, and I will tell you about it next time.