Thursday, September 22, 2011

57/365 The Adulterous Woman by Albert Camus

Ditto.  Except I liked this one less than the last one.  And didn't get it completely, as opposed to a faint glimmer of "oh I think I might understand one teensy facet."  I'm not deep enough for these Great Modern European writers.

56/365 The Infant Prodigy by Thomas Mann

I'd like to say I liked this.  But if I claim to like something - and then am forced to acknowledge that I didn't get it at all, I feel like the liking doesn't count.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

55/365 The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The best thing about Agatha Christie is that when you become a rabid fan (as I am) and have read every book (as I have) and then you don't read a particular title for a year or so, there is a very good chance that, when you pick this particular title up again, you've forgotten the whole plot.  I almost never forget books, and this happens to me all the time with Agatha Christie.  Usually I remember who gets murdered and who did it and who pairs off and all that - but the stops along the way?  Not a clue.  (Ha ha! Bad joke!)

It happened with this one.  I expected it to be about Bundle, but I think I had it mixed up with The Seven Dials Mystery.  I opened it up and had no idea what was going on.  It was lovely.

I would like to be fascinating like Virginia Revel.  And as that ranks up there on the possibility scale with trading bodies with Keira Knightley, I will also say that I would love to have Bundle's wonderful turn of phrase.  And also a nickname.  Not Bundle - but so many Agatha Christie women have nicknames.  Tuppence, for heaven's sake.  Socks.  Egg.  How do they acquire these?  I have always wanted a nickname, but I think I'm a bit too old to pull a C.S. Lewis and inform my family that they're to call me Jack from now on. A pity.

Anyways, this book is fun. Princes and crown jewels and wonderful one-liners.  I do so love Lord Caterham.  I made my own papa read a bit of Lord Caterham's talking this afternoon, laughing my head off all the while.  My poor dad.  It wasn't even funny out of context.  I just can't help myself sometimes.  I've got the SHARE virus.

CONCLUSION:  Classic Christie.  Gosh, the woman can entertain.  In my book, there really is no better way to spend an afternoon than at a country house party gone murderous.

54/365 The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry

So.  I've said it before, I will say it again - I will always like The Giver best of her books.  Not really because it scares me or makes me want to take up some sort of activism and save the world, but because I've read it so many darn times that it's become a comfort book.  (Which is sort of strange, now I think about it.  I don't know why I find negative utopias so enjoyable.  Some deep, horrible psychological mess of a reason, no doubt.  Or just regular morbid-ness.)  Even A Summer To Die, which was the first sad book I ever liked and cried in, didn't shake The Giver's spot as number one.

I suppose if, you know, I actually belonged to the target age range I might have enjoyed this one more. But even for an aged spinster it was a pleasant, mindless way to while away the hour after lunch. I enjoyed myself, but I don't think I will ever feel compelled to read it again.  I laughed a few times. The illustrations reminded me somewhat of my beloved Quentin Blake.  It was all very nice.

That being said, I feel like this isn't really Lois Lowry.  Or, at least, that she is capable of way, WAY more.  Yes! I understand that this was meant to be light and occasionally funny and cute!  But anybody can do light and occasionally funny and cute.  Yes! I can understand if Lois Lowry doesn't want to write intense stuff her whole life.  But I also think that there's something to be said for keepin' the quality high and books that are worthy of the writer.

Gee whiz.  It's ridiculous that your humble, spotty, slacker servant is criticizing LOIS LOWRY.  And it's such a high-profile blog, this one! What a way to show her!  Now I might go post a disapproving facebook status!  I'll show her!

But, seriously, I did sort of like the book.  I swear.  I just didn't adore it.  I can see two me's ago liking it.  (When I speak of two me's ago I am being swish and referring to the whole "you get new cells every seven years" thingy.  Which is like that bit in Amelie where the guy reads that there are more connections in his brain than atoms in the universe - I've heard these statements from fairly credible sources, but I still have a hard time believing them.)

CONCLUSION: Pleasant characters who are enthusiastic about learning, proud to be able to read and write, and respectful and kind to one another.  Also, there is a man who makes comments about the magnificence of his own thighs.  Which was entertaining.

53/365 Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

I'd honestly forgotten how WONDERFUL this book is.  Ridiculous, right?  How could I forget the PERFECT illustrations and completely charming story?  How could I forget about it's wonderfulness when we saw the public park this very summer? While we ate our sandwiches a group of ducklings swam over to squeak at us.  It was delightful.  These statues:

Were being sat on by small children.  The only thing that wasn't 100 percent perfect - and, in a way, it made it better really - was that the swan boat guy (they pedal them like a bike!) was texting while he was driving around the pond, and he bashed into things.  But, like I said, it almost made it all better.

CONCLUSION:  I will never be an illustrator.  This book makes me too ashamed of my scratchings.

Friday, September 9, 2011

the week in reading

So... not horrible this week.   Not good, but better.  At least I tried.
I'm still yards behind, but whatevs.  I WILL catch up.  50 books is too far in to stop now.

52/365 High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Okay.  I have no idea where to start. 

Um.  I like this cover?  

(Still trying to find somewhere to start... ga...)

OKAY!  So.  Here we go:

I liked this book.  But I liked it not for the story or the language (especially not the language, if you catch my drift) or anything that I usually like most books for.  I think what I liked it for was its pitiful honesty.  
It's one of those situations where I like something, and I know that it's changed me in a way and so it is to some degree important to me - but I couldn't recommend it to anybody.  I don't mean I couldn't recommend it to a single person on earth; I mean I couldn't recommend it to just anybody.  It's like trying not to lie to my little sister when she asked about State of Fear (which I read, like, once every two weeks when I was 15).  I liked it, and wanted to tell her I liked it - but I knew it wouldn't be right for her.   Sort of a bigger, more difficult version of that because it means more and they swear more.  A lot more. 
But even the swearing!  It isn't One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (which by some miracle I spelled right!) which could not work or be good without the swearing.  But I understand and it's in there and there's no use getting all twisted up about it.  That's the way the people are - and maybe I'm being silly, but there's something to be said for not trying to change things.  I mean, if that's the way they were to Nick Hornby, they wouldn't be real after I censored them, if I tried.  You see what I mean?
(Maybe I don't care enough about swearing in books.  I don't care too much about swearing in movies either.  Swearing is more awkward than violence when you're watching a movie with your mom, but I'd rather have swearing any day.  Violence grosses me out.  Though, weirdly, it mostly doesn't bother me in books.  The only time, ever, that it has was - get this - in one of those Eragon books when the queen girl does that trial of the long knives and slices her arms off.  A whole chapter of spraying blood.  I almost had to sit down.) 

This was one of those books where every other page had something so true that it made my stomach hurt.  There were so many that I can't chose an example.  Gosh, so many.  

Love is such a weird thing.  Even in the supposedly straightforward courtship world (which horrified me into giving panicked squeaks of 'I will never marry! I will never marry!" when I was in high school) where, in the ideal model, everything is parents-sanctioned and safe and squared-away and you spend more time in pre-marital counseling than on dates, there is still the whole falling in love with someone/attraction thing to negotiate.  And then how do you manage the whole "it won't always feel like this, you have to work at it" thing?  How is that not horrible?  My parents do it, but they're better people than I am, and I have no faith in my ability to be mature and wise about that sort of thing.  Heck, I have no idea how some of my friends are getting married.  I mean, the guts they have to have!  I need a much, much stronger personality before I even think of getting married.  

Good title. Clever. 

Completely shallow - I so wish I knew someone who would make me mix tapes.  Not even a boyfriend.  I want to be told what music to listen to.   Once I've listened I will reserve the right to decide whether I like it or not, but I would love to be given some guidance.  I know it's not life or death or really anything even remotely important - but how am I supposed to know that Pink Floyd is not cool and Black Sabbath is?  Is Pink Floyd not as cool, or is that just Nick Hornby?   I haven't even listened to Pink Floyd or Black Sabbath.  Not consciously, at least.  It's like me and Dr. Who right now.  I know I need to pick it up, but I'm too lazy to do the work and figure out how far back I need to start to get all the references and stuff. 

I'm almost done, I swear. 

Top 5 reasons I think this is an Important Book in My Life:

1. It's about love and life and dying and I, along with every other human being, have to deal with that at some point.  I don't mind my dying (in the spiritual sense - I'd still like it not to be horribly painful or pathetic), I know what I should do in a basic sense in life - though I don't do it.  But throw another person, other people in general into the picture and I'm dithery and helpless. 

2. I hate the main character and I am him.  Or, hopefully, was him.  B.C. I was just as self-centered and spent all my time thinking about how unhappy I was.  During the book, I kind of loathed my old self and Rob at the same time for doing it.  It's such a stupid, stupid waste!  I can't believe I wasted so much of my life.

3. I do not want to have Rob's story as my own.  I don't mean I don't want to own a record store or something dumb like that (I would love to own a record store).  But I don't want to always feel inferior.  I'd like to get over being needed.  Inferiority vs humility is a bit of a puzzle to me right now. One of the many, many bits of Mere Christianity that I have yet to understand even at all is where he talks about real humility.  How the heck are you supposed to be able to know you've made the best cathedral on earth and not let it puff you up?  

4. The painful truth bits I talked about earlier.  They shot home like nobody's business.  Like - yes, I'm breaking down and giving an example - where he can't bear to see photos of his young self because he's so disappointed by what he's become.  "... I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me."  That's killer.

5. It made me think more about meaning.  Which is good, you know?  

CONCLUSION:  My head's too full.  First imaginary reader to get that quote wins an imaginary prize. And eternal glory.  And I haven't seen the movie, but I can already hear Jack Black in my head.  Casting gods, whoever they were. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

51/365 A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle

Oh my oh me oh dear I do so love Madeleine L'Engle. It almost doesn't matter what the books are about - for me she's always a dead cert, as they say.
This one was sadder than the others, I thought.  Not only because a lot of characters went through a lot of pain, but also because the book's resolution relates more clearly to real life than some of the others in this series or family or whatever you want to call it.  A great deal of it seemed to be about the importance of choices - how a single person's life can change the world.  Which is hopeful and totally depressing at the same time.
Sometimes I wonder if we don't even need evil to destroy the world - carelessness seems to be doing a fine job on its own.  A great many things are all floating around in my head - beer bottles on beaches, politics, unborn babies, how "we are the first culture in danger of amusing ourselves to death" - and it's making me feel muddled.  I always feel a bit weird while I'm reading, and right after I've finished a Madeleine L'Engle, but, without being fanciful, I think I can say that this feeling is a bit different than normal.
Maybe that's what she planned.  You know, to give the reader a "now get up and go make the world better!" sort of feeling.  She did a good job, if that's what she wanted.

This is a teensy bit unrelated (though the connection makes perfect sense in my mind), but this morning I read that 3,000 babies are aborted in the U.S. every day.   I can have compassion, I can listen, but no matter how hard I try I can't understand.

"Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest" 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

50/365 The Whipping boy

Good.  Short.  Cheerful.  Read it over one cup of hot water (I do not like tea or coffee), and enjoyed myself thoroughly.  And it's so nice to read a Newberry where the main plot device is not the mother (or sister or grandmother) dying.

CONCLUSION:  I ought to read all the Newberry winners again.  I am wondering why this "Newberry" is being underlined by spell check, while the one above was not.  Hmmm.

Monday, September 5, 2011

49/365 Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield

Where's the like button?  Like! Like!

I enjoyed this one immensely.  I might have read more meaning into it than there actually was, but I loved the way she's terrified by what the fat man says, and then forgets and is happy again and it's good and tragic at the same time.  His prophesy is, like, fulfilled right before your eyes.  Am I being fatuous?  Yes.

CONCLUSION:  Will note this lady's name down on the PEOPLE TO READ MORE OF list.

48/365 The Horse Dealer's Daughter by D.H. Lawrence

Okay, I know I've read this one too before. Intro to lit?  Who can remember.
I also know that I don't get this one.  There's some sort of deep meaning I'm missing here too, isn't there? I don't enjoy being this dense.

Overall, I think this story scares me more than anything else.  I don't really like or dislike it - it's just there and I am here and there are no feelings at all.  Slight confusion, maybe - but otherwise nothing.

CONCLUSION:  Erm.  I don't know.  I'm neutral on all fronts here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

47/365 The Colonel's Lady by W. Somerset Maugham

Okay! I really want to read more by this guy! So good!

You meet the characters of this story every day in Agatha Christie.  Which - though I don't approve of them - may be why I felt so in-sync with the story.  It was like putting on a new sweatshirt as opposed to a new suit jacket; they both may fit, but the jacket takes getting used to, while the sweatshirt is easy as pie.  I know these characters, and snap! it's easy to get into the story.

I can't say why I like this sort of story.  A big squashy mix of reasons, I think.  I like the real-life moral puzzle stuff.  I like to see inside people's heads.  I like a clean style.  And a quick pace and lots of plot are always appreciated.  So who knows.

I liked this story very much, felt sorry for both the characters (he because he was a moron, she because, well, obviously...), liked the style, liked it all - but I will never, ever approve of affairs.  Never.  People went on and on about Doctor Zhivago to me, and then I saw a new-ish film of it and didn't even wish I could shed a tear.  I have a lot of very strong opinions about the difference between lust and love, but I'm going to spare you, my imaginary readers, and not air them here.  Heaven knows they've been aired enough elsewhere.

CONCLUSION:  As I said, I am so, so going to read more by this author.  I LOVED this.  These sorts of stories just

Just did a spell-check re-read.  Ha!  How vulgar and cheap I am! "A quick pace and lots of plot" indeed.  Gee whiz.

46/365 The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre

I know I've read this before, but I can't think why or when I would have done so.

I wanted to put off writing about this story, because I feel like, in the right mood, I could get up enough steam to write something really thoughtful and good about it.  Right now I am not in that mood.

I have a difficult time thinking seriously about a story like this because I honestly have no idea how I would behave if I knew I was going before a firing squad in the morning.  I have a feeling that I'm a bit of a physical coward; I'm pretty sure I could never chop one of my own limbs off a la 127 Hours, for instance.  I (obviously) don't know how my body would react to the prospect of death either. For all I know I might pee my pants without knowing it, the way Tom does.  But apart from all the physical stuff, I honestly don't think I'd be too horrifically scared to die.  I don't mind death - but pain, yes.
I suppose the main reason I don't think that dying - apart from pain - scares me is because I think life has meaning; and I don't have to "create" it, or "find my own".   I think it's a sort of black and white thing.  You accept it or not.
I also believe in life after death - and I believed in it in a shadowy way even before I became a Christian.  I remember thinking that there couldn't be any other explanation for the longing I felt for "more time", because you can't have a desire for something that can't be fulfilled.
I really wonder how the other kids my age feel about dying.  I remember talking to a kid in my British Lit class about it, and she said - with really awful feeling in her face and voice - that she was terrified of dying, just terrified.  It still makes something behind my sternum hurt.

So... I don't know what else to say.  I would not want to face death the way the main character did - and I don't mean the prospect of going by firing squad.  Existentialism seems very depressing to me.  I can see how the absurdity in the world leads people to that way of thinking.  But I can't see how the whole world turning existentialist could possibly be good.  I know I don't have the whole picture - the very little I know about existentialism I learned in Intro to Philosophy - but isn't the whole, you have to make up your own meaning for life thing a part of it?  Because that sounds terrible to me.  It's like that line, "living for today" - it sounds nice, but I don't think it could possibly work.  But I'm also coming from a man-is-essentially-bad POV, so "living for today" gives me visions of chaos.

CONCLUSION: Jeez! I finally understand why they have Death and Dying lit classes!

45/365 The Kiss by Anton Chekhov

Now this I can handle.

I really like Chekhov.  Even though my first real exposure to him was a painful college production The Cherry Orchard - and I've hated many a writer for less. (Question: Why have I never seen an even halfway good college play?  They've been universally agonizing.  I just don't understand.)

I like a lot of plot, so I don't understand why I genuinely enjoy his stories and plays.  It might be because the handful of Chekhov I've read felt... relatable, I guess.  The feelings he talks about make sense to me.  And I enjoy the stories enough not to mind when I miss the deep meaning.  Which is always nice.

Anyways, this story was about a guy named Ryabovich, "a short, somewhat stooped officer in spectacles, with whisker's like a lynx's."

For reference:

That is a lynx.  Poor Ryabovich.  Lynxes (which is the most awkward plural I ever saw) are apparently a medium-sized wildcat.  It's also the national animal of Macedonia and you can't hunt them.  The Iberian variety iS going extinct.  I'm wondering if lynxes as a genus or whatever are particularly known for eating or maiming humans in interesting ways, but wikipedia is disappointingly silent on the subject, and I'm too lazy to read about every different type of lynx to really find out.

But! To return from this delightful tangent!

I think the reason I liked this is because if I were a stooped, short, unfortunately whiskered, lonely young Russian who got kissed by mistake (which - surprise! - is what happens in the story) I would feel and behave the same way.   Even though I'm not a whiskered Russian soldier, I (cliche! cliche!) really relate to a lot of his feeeeeelings.  He's awkward, he envies people for the easy way they start mixing and talking with one another, his unattractiveness makes him sad.  He's delighted when he begins to believe that he can marry and have a happy, normal life - he's crushed when his illogical, barely-formed daydreams don't happen.
I love how sharp Chekhov is.  The officers have been asked to tea by a local family, and asked more because the family knows they ought to ask than because they want to.  When they put on a good show to make the evening pleasant, Ryabovich becomes more and more "attracted by this insincere but splendidly disciplined family."  I mean! I just love that sentence. How many people like that have you met?  I've spent hours with that family!
I also love the description of Lieutenant Lobytko - "renowned in the brigade for his peculiar ability to divine the presence of women at a distance".

CONCLUSION: Good, good, good.  It had a kind of bright, bitter taste of truth to me.  And that I like.

44/365 The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad

Yes, I am resorting to short stories to get caught up.  But who cares! I will get back on track this labor day weekend if it kills me!

So.  The Secret Sharer.  Uh.  Well, first off, I've read this before.  And I think it's interesting and well-written and a compelling story and all that, but I can't enjoy it.  Until I am a much smarter person I will never enjoy it, because I know there is a deep meaning that I'm supposed to get.   I know I've been told or have read about this deep meaning, and I remember thinking that it made sense and was great and blah blah, but I just can't remember what the meaning was.  I really am trying, too.  If the writer has some Great and Powerful theme they want to get across to me, it has to be of the giant brick wall right in the way variety, not a tree root in the jungle that I might trip over but probably won't.

CONCLUSION:  It's probably for the best that I went for art instead of English.  I would have really almost enjoyed this if I hadn't known I was missing, like, the whole point.