Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Other people’s reading lists…

Sunday, 6 February 2011

I keep coming across these lists of “The Greatest Books Ever”, or “The Greatest Books since …”, or “Books You Must Read”, or whatever, where people mark in some way which ones they’ve already read/liked/hated or want to read. To help me keep up with the PostADay2011 challenge I thought I might find some of these and share how I do on them. Hopefully it’ll also inspire me with more books I haven’t read, although I’ll admit I rarely have trouble finding those. I have a feeling I’m going to forget have I read some of them, which probably means it wouldn’t hurt to read them again! I’ll bold the ones I’ve read (or link them if they’ve been discussed here already, although I likely won’t go back to add in ones I read after this post). I’ll bold just the author if I’ve read other books by them but not the one in question. If Zemanta suggests links for the authors I’ll add them, but I’m not going to look for links for every author.

So, the first list is Time Magazine’s ALL TIME 100 Novels, which really means their pick of novels since 1923, when the magazine was first published, apparently. I found this via 101 Books, where he’s blogging his way through the books on the list. I’m not all that keen on how they’ve listed them alphabetically by title, but not aggrieved enough to rearrange the list…

The Adventures of Augie March (1953), by Saul Bellow
All the King’s Men (1946), by Robert Penn Warren
American Pastoral (1997), by Philip Roth
An American Tragedy (1925), by Theodore Dreiser
Animal Farm (1946), by George Orwell
Appointment in Samarra (1934), by John O’Hara
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), by Judy Blume
The Assistant (1957), by Bernard Malamud
At Swim-Two-Birds (1938), by Flann O’Brien
Atonement (2002), by Ian McEwan
Beloved (1987), by Toni Morrison
The Berlin Stories (1946), by Christopher Isherwood
The Big Sleep (1939), by Raymond Chandler
The Blind Assassin (2000), by Margaret Atwood
Blood Meridian (1986), by Cormac McCarthy
Brideshead Revisited (1946), by Evelyn Waugh
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), by Thornton Wilder
Call It Sleep (1935), by Henry Roth
Catch-22 (1961), by Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye (1951), by J.D. Salinger
A Clockwork Orange (1963), by Anthony Burgess
The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), by William Styron
The Corrections (2001), by Jonathan Franzen
The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), by Thomas Pynchon
A Dance to the Music of Time (1951), by Anthony Powell
The Day of the Locust (1939), by Nathanael West
Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), by Willa Cather
A Death in the Family (1958), by James Agee
The Death of the Heart (1958), by Elizabeth Bowen
Deliverance (1970), by James Dickey
Dog Soldiers (1974), by Robert Stone
Falconer (1977), by John Cheever
The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), by John Fowles
The Golden Notebook (1962), by Doris Lessing
Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953), by James Baldwin
Gone With the Wind (1936), by Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath (1939), by John Steinbeck
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), by Thomas Pynchon
The Great Gatsby (1925), by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Handful of Dust (1934), by Evelyn Waugh
The Heart is A Lonely Hunter (1940), by Carson McCullers
The Heart of the Matter (1948), by Graham Greene
Herzog (1964), by Saul Bellow
Housekeeping (1981), by Marilynne Robinson
A House for Mr. Biswas (1962), by V.S. Naipaul
I, Claudius (1934), by Robert Graves
Infinite Jest (1996), by David Foster Wallace
Invisible Man (1952), by Ralph Ellison
Light in August (1932), by William Faulkner
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), by C.S. Lewis
Lolita (1955), by Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies (1955), by William Golding
The Lord of the Rings (1954), by J.R.R. Tolkien
Loving (1945), by Henry Green
Lucky Jim (1954), by Kingsley Amis
The Man Who Loved Children (1940), by Christina Stead
Midnight’s Children (1981), by Salman Rushdie
Money (1984), by Martin Amis
The Moviegoer (1961), by Walker Percy
Mrs. Dalloway (1925), by Virginia Woolf
Naked Lunch (1959), by William Burroughs
Native Son (1940), by Richard Wright
Neuromancer (1984), by William Gibson
Never Let Me Go (2005), by Kazuo Ishiguro
1984 (1948), by George Orwell
On the Road (1957), by Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), by Ken Kesey
The Painted Bird (1965), by Jerzy Kosinski
Pale Fire (1962), by Vladimir Nabokov
A Passage to India (1924), by E.M. Forster
Play It As It Lays (1970), by Joan Didion
Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), by Philip Roth
Possession (1990), by A.S. Byatt
The Power and the Glory (1939), by Graham Greene
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), by Muriel Spark
Rabbit, Run (1960), by John Updike
Ragtime (1975), by E.L. Doctorow
The Recognitions (1955), by William Gaddis
Red Harvest (1929), by Dashiell Hammett
Revolutionary Road (1961), by Richard Yates
The Sheltering Sky (1949), by Paul Bowles
Slaughterhouse Five (1969), by Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash (1992), by Neal Stephenson
The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), by John Barth
The Sound and the Fury (1929), by William Faulkner
The Sportswriter (1986), by Richard Ford
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1964), by John le Carre
The Sun Also Rises (1926), by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), by Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart (1959), by Chinua Achebe
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), by Harper Lee
To the Lighthouse (1927), by Virginia Woolf
Tropic of Cancer (1934), by Henry Miller
Ubik (1969), by Philip K. Dick
Under the Net (1954), by Iris Murdoch
Under the Volcano (1947), by Malcolm Lowry
Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
White Noise (1985), by Don DeLillo
White Teeth (2000), by Zadie Smith
Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), by Jean Rhys

Graphic Novels

Berlin: City of Stones (2000), by Jason Lutes
Blankets (2003), by Craig Thompson
Bone (2004), by Jeff Smith
The Boulevard of Broken Dreams (2002), by Kim Deitch
The Dark Knight Returns (1986), by Frank Miller
David Boring (2000), by Daniel Clowes
Ed the Happy Clown (1989), by Chester Brown
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), by Chris Ware
Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories (2003), by Gilbert Hernandez
Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Huh – only sure I’ve read 18 of these, which doesn’t seem all that many. There are several others I’ve thought about reading (some of which we have on our shelves), so perhaps I’ll give them a go. What I’m surprised about is that (by memory – I didn’t check) I haven’t read any of them within the past three-and-a-bit years. Perhaps I need to get back to the classics…

Changing by choice

Monday, 31 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011So, it’s the end of January, and I’ve completed the month for NaBloPoMo, and am a month on track for PostADay2011. It’s been basically all books this month, but I have some ideas for getting crafts back in for February, and will make myself do some crochet stuff for March ItCroMo, although I still haven’t come up with a pattern or game for the blog as yet. Hopefully I still will…

Cover of Speech in the English Novel

Cover of Speech inthe English Novel

14. Speech in the English Novel (2nd ed.) by Norman Page

If someone had told me I had to read this book I’d probably have been very annoyed indeed, but when I chose to do so I found it very interesting, and a fairly quick read, for non-fiction. (I tend to read non-fiction a page or two at a time, whereas I devour fiction when I enjoy it.) I didn’t think I liked literary criticism in school, perhaps because it generally seemed to entail focussing on details to the detriment of the story, and without any explanation of how or why this analysis might enhance our understanding and enjoyment of the novel/play/poem/essay under discussion.

However, coming to this book for myself, and bringing my linguistic training to a developing interest (through this blog) in really thinking about what I’m reading beyond whether or not I enjoyed it, I found it both revealing and intriguing.

While the focus of the book is the place and use of dialogue in novels, the scope goes far beyond this, discussing types of speech and speech-like narrative; stylistics and realism within written speech; differentiation between different speakers and what this portrays to the reader, and more. There are plenty of snippets and sections quoted from novels published over approximately 250 years. The author suggests that the focus of this particular work is unusual, and that his purpose is to open up a discussion by setting out various features and definitions.

I’m not sure I’m ready to look into how much this topic has flourished over the past few decades, but I do appreciate that I may now occasionally notice more about the use of speech within all novels, not just English ones (or even ones in English, since Page only tangentially mentions world literature at all). I don’t think I’ll be doing so all the time, nor would I want to, since I still feel that focussing too much on the craft takes me out of the story being told, but I do think I want to follow up and read at least one of the books discussed in some level of detail here, Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens. I’m dithering about simply listening to one of the three different versions on LibriVox only because after learning about the techniques Dickens used I’m inclined to want to see them on the page this time. We’ll see. I could read it on Gutenburg too, seeing as we don’t currently have a physical copy, nor is there one available locally on BookMooch at the moment.

Land and Sea

Saturday, 29 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011

Cover of The Sea Kingdoms

Cover of The Sea Kingdoms

13. The Sea Kingdoms: The History of Celtic Britain and Ireland by Alistair Moffat

This book was published after the author produced and presented a television series of the same name for Scottish Television, and many of its flaws and virtues reflect that beginning. I haven’t seen the series (although I might be interested). Roughly country by country the book goes through a broad Celtic history of the British Isles, including Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and even England. It does not give any focus to Brittany, despite the early assertion that Celticness should be defined by language rather than race or other criteria.

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress consider...

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress consider Cornwall to be one of six Celtic nations.

While the editing missed a few things (one chapter in particular has an undue number of proofreading and other errors, and far too much emphasis is laid on mna si being an alternate phrase for bean si, or banshee, when any Irish child should have been able to point out that mná (women) is simply the plural in Irish for bean (woman), and thus mná sí would actually be banshees) the broad strokes of the history seemed correct where I knew enough to comment. My real quibble is with the chronology, which skips around a lot, even within given chapters, often making the point in question less clear. Similarly, a point made in one chapter sometimes appears to be contradicted in another.

Still, allowing for this not being a ‘scholarly’ history, I think it’s well worth the read, for bringing Celtic past and present together, as a true cultural heritage and largely ignoring (or at least downplaying) the tourist tat. It also makes a good argument in bringing forward the sea links that were so important in the early parts of this history (which includes some decent discussion of the Viking influence on the Celtic lands, and a return Celtic influence on Scandinavia) when land travel was often more difficult and nearly always slower.

I enjoyed this a lot, and may well follow up on the bibliography, if I can find the books. (I randomly came across this in a second-hand bookshop in Jerusalem.)

Free Books!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Eight Hamodia books

Eight Hamodia books

We just got our prize from a Chanuka raffle, and it’s a nice one. Expect reviews of at least some of these in the next few months.

As for free books for the rest of you, I just learned of new ways to access the cornucopia of material available on Project Gutenberg, Librivox and elsewhere. (I’ve recommended both of those sites here many times before.)

E.C. recently recommended a freely downloadable Kindle application for the PC, which you may find useful for paid products or free ones.

Somehow I missed it three months ago when it apparently started, but ChapterMe.com is now offering random rateable chapters of Librivox books to listen to. Each chapter has a link to the work’s info and download page so that ifwhen you find something you like you can listen to the whole thing. This seems like a great way to find new audiobooks (the RSS feed of what’s newly published is another), which I believe is the intention, but I also enjoyed just listening to what came up, hitting “Next” if I wasn’t interested in what came up. For me, poetry and chapters of old favourites were best for this, but some new random chapters were good to, even without knowing what came before. (This works better with non-fiction than novels, in my opinion.)

A terrible book with atrocious morals

Sunday, 23 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011As I intimated last night, I’d have given up on this book entirely by about the halfway point, if it hadn’t been for wanting to express what I’ve been feeling about it here. I was hoping it might redeem itself towards the end, but it just kept getting worse and worse.

(I’m not going to hold back on spoilers here, so be warned.)

Cover of

Cover of Daughter of Satan

11. Daughter of Satan by Jean Plaidy

This is the story of a proud woman under a changing set of judgemental religious and other social groups, and yet it’s the morals of the narrative I have a real problem with. From a young girl Tamar is supposed to have enjoyed the power of being seen as the devil’s daughter and thus automatically a witch, and played up to her reputation. However she discovers that she wants love rather than hate, and so starts giving herself over, one way or the other, to men who abuse her and/or those about her:

  • She takes her protector’s admission that he raped her very young mother while dressed up in costume – why her mother thought it was the devil – as part of a ceremonial he didn’t even believe in as a simple explanation of why he has occasionally, most desultorily, attempted to protect her, but as no reason to find any fault in him, and accepts him as her loving father.
  • While for most of the first half of the book she hates Bartle Cavill for physically attempting to rape her, and then twice coercing her into allowing him into her bed by threatening those she loves, she later on decides it’s all okay because she really loves him, even though he continues to have no respect for her feelings. While rape fantasies have a very long literary history, I’m still really not interested, as they make me feel sick to my stomach.
  • She marries a Puritan minister she knows full well looks down on her and wants to ‘tame’ her, in alternating feelings of wanting to obey his principles and trying to show him up.

Beyond the sickening morals of the book, at least as much as the protagonist, who has the excuse of a very weird upbringing in a very charged environment (she and her family are threatened by several literal witch-hunts, which ultimately kill her mother and step-great-grandmother), large parts of the story simply make no sense. Just because it’s a topic I’ve been reading up on, for example, Tamar saves her several-weeks-old-but-near-death baby in one night by unswaddling and washing her, and then taking her to bed to breastfeed on demand all night. I sincerely believe in the importance of breastfeeding, but the storyline is nonsensical: either she has been feeding the baby since birth anyway, or she wouldn’t have the milk to do it (she has older children of three and five, but since they sleep that night simply next to her – but hadn’t been doing so previously – while the baby nurses it doesn’t sound like they’re still nursing to keep up her supply).

There simply seems no point to most of what happens, and no particular conclusion at the end of the book that we couldn’t have had several times before. While some of the emotional vacillation may be realistic for some people we’re given nothing in Tamar’s earlier portrayal to have it seem realistic for her, nor are we given any reason to like Bartle even when he becomes the hero of the hour; he’s still overbearing and emotionally abusive, if no longer physically so to Tamar.

There’s no real depth to any of the characters besides Tamar, and even what seemed interesting about her ends up multiply contradicted by the end of the book. Richard, her father, is possibly the second most developed character, and he never becomes much more than his first description:

One look at him was enough to show him to be a most fastidious man. … He was pale of face, haughty and most elegant; he looked what he was — a mixture of savant and epicurean.

It seems to me that the author simply noticed the 17th century confluence of the naval disputes between Spain and England, the Inquisition and other religious persecutions of Christian denominations other than the nationally established one, and the constant persecution of women generally and anyone who could be accused of ‘witchcraft’, however defined, as well as how that led to the beliefs and practices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She is certainly trying to hark towards historical and literary references such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and the Salem Witch Trials.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that this book had a lot of potential in its topics. Unfortunately, I hated it, and won’t be keeping it. Nor will I be looking out any more books by the author.

(Hm, I must have forgotten to ever put The Scarlet Letter on the 2009 list or then discuss it on the blog. I certainly listened to it on Craftlit.)

A couple of kids’ classics

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011These may not be their absolutely best-known works, but for young children these are authors I just don’t think you can go wrong with! I’ll be scouring Bookmooch for more by them for my little girl. Hopefully by the time she’s really ready to enjoy books we’ll have a selection. (These were the only ones available in country for the moment.)

Cover of Richard Scarry's Things to Love

Cover of Richard Scarry's Things to Love

7. Richard Scarry’s Things to Love

I actually don’t think I’d come across this particular title before, but it didn’t disappoint. Like the other Scarry books I’ve seen (admittedly hardly any in the last couple of decades since my brother got past them) this isn’t a story or even a collection of stories. Instead there’s a theme to the book with a sub-theme on each page or spread, with highly anthropomorphised animals displaying the action or behaviours described or implied in the sentences and short paragraphs on each page. The pictures are bright and cheerful, in Scarry’s distinctive style.

This particular book, as the title suggests, is about people, things and activities young children might love or enjoy, and in the case of the ‘people’ who  should love them back. It’s perhaps slightly ‘old-fashioned’ (the children play croquet, not computer games), but hopefully without sounding too much like an old curmudgeon I don’t mind that – I’m sure we’ll end up with some newer books for DD too!

Cover of "Dr. Seuss's ABC (I Can Read It ...

Cover via Amazon

8. Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book

We certainly couldn’t do without Dr Seuss! DH hadn’t heard of Richard Scarry, but I’m pretty sure he’d agree on this one. We’ve actually got the board book version of this, which should mean DD can handle it herself earlier, so that’s good. I have no intention of pushing her, but I’ve heard a few people say this one got their kids recognising letters well under the age of two years. If that happens well enough; if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

Romance for Men?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011Apparently, apart from these two books, the vast majority of L’Amour’s novels were set in the American West, and certainly I can see how they relate to classic Westerns. These are decidedly genre fiction, and follow a path laid out more (Last of the Breed) or less (The Walking Drum) explicitly. They seemed like there was going to be a romance as major subplot in each, and while it’s there, in neither does any woman ever REALLY seem to matter to the hero in the long term. To me, anyhow.

In each case the main character has a (geographically) long and dangerous journey to take on his way to a stated goal that even when fulfilled at the end (because this is genre fiction I don’t think it too much of a spoiler to say that they do each succeed) is certainly not presented as the end of the character’s adventures.

First edition cover

Image via Wikipedia

38. The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour

This one is where I decided the women didn’t matter as people in this book, and although in many ways the other is quite different, it ‘proved’ the point. Among his many adventures and accomplishments, Mathurin Kerbouchard falls desperately in love, rescues the maiden (usually), at the risk of his own life at least once, and then circumstances separate them and he heads off to the next place where he he finds another young woman with whom to do it all again.

I suppose I was just very frustrated by this book, because Mathurin goes through all sorts of fantastic adventures, picking up or displaying all sorts of implausible skills along the way specifically with the goal (beyond keeping himself alive) of saving his father, and then when he does, at great risk obviously, and after many years of separation, they basically just say, “Hi there, nice to see you again. We should catch up sometime,” and ride off in separate directions. Nothing ever has any real importance. (And no, barring a complete change in personality I don’t really believe Mathurin has actually fallen in love forever by the end.)

Cover of Last of the Breed

Cover of Last of the Breed

48. Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour

At least in this one Joe Mack only has one semi-romance, but then he does only meet one young woman on his journey across Siberia. There is in general a greater attempt at plausibility in this volume, but the protagonist is still a mystical superman from an ancient race. (Kerbouchard was the descendent of Celtic druids who had somehow passed down all their knowledge to him despite having been wiped out in Roman times, whereas Major Joseph Makatozi is Sioux, and of course has all the possible skills of the greatest Sioux hunters, trackers and warriors ever, as well as those of a specialist US Air Force experimental pilot.)

I suppose I’m just not a genre fiction reader – too much predictability is annoying, and while some of my favourite books have Renaissance men as heroes (Francis Crawford of Lymond and the later Niccolo in Dorothy Dunnett’s two major series, and Jamie Fraser in Diana Gabaldon‘s), they do have to have real flaws and weaknesses, with the ability to build emotional relationships and go through both the real highs and lows involved, for me to actually care about the characters. They have to be individuals, not automata.

Persuaded by a book

Saturday, 28 August 2010

NaBloPoMo August logo26. Persuasion by Jane Austen

So, finally here to discuss Persuasion. I have certainly read the beginning of the book a few times (I had actually just begun to do so again when Heather said she was going to do it next on Craftlit), but I amn’t sure I had previously finished it. Not that it’s a bad book, by any means, but somehow it hasn’t generally grabbed me so much as some of the others. Thankfully, listening along with Craftlit worked out very well. Some of the characters are still annoying (but then, I do get annoyed by characters, as my regular book-post readers will know), and the attitudes are worse, but that is a lot of the point of Jane Austen’s novels: she aims to show up the snobbery and other vices of the class-based society she describes, and to have (eventually, with many many false steps along the way) virtue win out. Usually.

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

Image via Wikipedia

Anyway, Heather’s commentary was helpful and fascinating, as always, although we didn’t manage to convert my DH. (He has disliked JA’s writing since school, and isn’t compelled by Austen’s portrayal of the social nuance and patronising behaviour described in her books.) Thankfully he’s enjoying the current Craftlit book (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) much more, as he expected to. I’m finding that quite interesting, as I’m not at all familiar with it, which Heather’s obviously expecting everyone to be (it is an American classic, after all). I’d heard of it, of course, but don’t know the story at all, so being told repeatedly that it’s not what we’ll be expecting doesn’t mean very much to me.

Now, as to Persuasion itself; well, as above it’s not my favourite Austen novel. Part of my problem with it is that so much of the story, and especially the character development, happens before the start of the novel. The former wouldn’t bother me half so much as the latter. In short, Anne Elliott many years ago allowed herself to be persuaded not to marry a penniless young naval officer, and has since learned to regret it, particularly now that he’s turned up in her circle again, as a very successful and far-from-penniless (as her family has become, in the meantime) career officer. Of course, having rejected him before she can’t throw herself at him now (pride good and bad showing itself as one of Austen’s recurring themes) and has to watch while younger friends do just that. I suppose what I do like about JA’s work, is that while the ending  generally is happy and predictable, the path to get there really isn’t so much, and that’s what it’s worth reading for.