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.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Cloud Atlas ... if writing were gymnastics, this would win the gold. There was a distinct 'how he do that' running through my mind ... the book made me smarter in some weird way. I loved it. I tried 'portrait of an artist' ... and got about ten pages and gave up, didn't like it at all. I'm about 40 pages from finishing your favourite book, will contact you in an email - I'm loving it.

Valerie said...

I agree with you on Tale of Two Cities and Once and Future King.

Haven't ventured near Love in the Time of Cholera, since I know I have "a problem" with Spanish magical realism. Did you know that GGM is suffering from demential. There will be no new titles, including his memoir that many were hoping for.

Hated Cloud Atlas...felt like a gimmick to me. OTOH, I loved his writing in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Black Swan Green.

Happy Reading!

Mel said...

I love reading your writing about reading! ;)

My memories of Mrs. Dalloway are pretty faded... I think I really wanted to love it and mostly felt rather depressed. I did enjoy Middlesex though.

Annalea said...

Interesting . . . it's good to hear about so many different, and unexpected books. The only thought I had (other than I hazily remember reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and must read it again, as my non-existant critical thought processes meant I missed out on most of the book), was that I don't blame you on dropping To The Lighthouse. I've read a few things by Virginia Woolf, and all I can really say is she kind of rapes her readers. Her stories, while powerful, feel thin, like a rapier. There's so little joy or happiness . . . and especially in To The Lighthouse. I read it for a college class, and am sorry I finished it. lol

Shan said...



Dave Hingsburger said...

Shan, I agree, the use of the word 'rape' in this context serves to diminish the power of the word. I heard someone who had been shortchanged say that she felt she was raped by the experience. Rape? Really. Rape? Some words mean only what they mean, this is one of them.