Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Michael Ondaatje- The English Patient

I absolutely loved this book, which kind of surprised me since I saw the film when it first came out and all I remember is thinking, "What a stupid movie. It's basically two hours of adultery. Whoop de doo". (Also, I was young enough that I likely didn't grasp half of what the movie was telling me anyway).
Of course I'm not foolish enough to think that any movie ever fully captures it's literary counterpart, but this really blew me away. I found the book to be so very rich- and, as a classmate put it- reminiscent of Steinbeck. Every phrase effects all the senses or at least moves you, and the use of landscape and environment was phenomenal.
As a post-colonial text I was glad to see something so internationalized that spoke of hybridity- as Almasy says, "Kip and I are both international bastard--born in one place and choosing to live elsewhere. Fighting to get back to or get away from our homelands all our lives" (176). It so poignantly comments on globalism, particularly as a facet of war, and it speaks so strongly of the fundamental impact that war has on everyone. The theme of nationalism is so interesting here, especially the dichotomy between Hana, who doesn't care what nationality Almasy is and Kip, who considers it to be of the utmost importance. Of course it is possible that nationality becomes critical when the issue of aligning yourself with a power is presented (for example, spying and undermining for the Nazis, or working for the British) and this book illustrated this perfectly.
I loved the imagery of all the old art which is everywhere, even in Caravaggio's name- and the presentation of history. The setting alone was lovely, and I felt that the piognant image of Kip painstakingly dismantling so many tiny, intricate bombs to protect people he has never met, for a country he is not from and which his brother hates, only to discover that an entire people has been assaulted by such an enormous tragedy of a gigantic bomb. I am so profoundly glad that Kip didn't die (although I had anticipated it through the entire novel, dreading it but expecting it nonetheless). As much as I claim to like realism and I do generally demand reality- or some semblance of it- this book contains too many other painful elements to kill the only pure things it does contain. With something as traumatic as the world wars, especially when examining how terrible colonialism and the "West" has been ("when you start bombing the brown races of the world, you're an Englishman"(286), "they would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation", (286)- "You had wars like cricket" (283))
My personal favorite, which I find tremendously applicable to certain leaders today, is "Listen to the radio and smell the celebration in it. In my country, when a father breaks justice in two, you kill the father" (285).
I may read this again but I probably won't need to for a long time. It's like Steinbeck in that way, too; it holds you over and remains embedded and a part of you, and rereading it is simply digging deeper into something that has remained inside you all along.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Joseph Conrad- An Outpost of Progress

I eagerly anticipate reading Heart of Darkness as soon as I get a chance, but for now I am content with this. It is fabulously written, wry and subtle- yet overt when appropriate- and manages to convey such a depth and breadth of meaning without resorting to preaching.
Incredibly gentle and subtle humor that is especially impressive considering that English is not his first language, and with a shocking economy of words and careful use of language. Very beautifully written and surprisingly intuitive of human nature and very expressive. He expresses opinions about colonialism and imperialism in a modern setting (Africa) and is very astute, although his characters are harsh stereotypes (in a charming reversal of race that was an unusual perspective for those writing in his time, and sometimes even today.)
Furthermore, for a colonial text it is strikingly open to a reversal of the idea of the "Other" or the Native- it is almost Modernist or Postcolonial in its treatment of "man" as an individual entity separate from race and judged on his own merits, and portrays the nature of humanity so succinctly and effectively in such a short space.
An absolutely fantastic read- I hope to expand into his other works soon, and I now have extremely high expectations of them.

Katherine Mansfield- Bliss

Although this is a short story rather than a novel, I am including it (and will be including shorter works in the future).
I absolutely loved this story and her use of Modernist techniques, particularly the stream of consciousness methods and the portrayal of dissatisfaction with urbanity and the germ of feminism. I am not doing it justice in this small blurb, but I think it's an exceptional story, very concise and it has inspired me to read her other works (if I should ever find a moment!).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nicholas Greenwood- Bound Tightly with Banana Leaves

I swapped something else for this book in a little hostel in Hanoi, Vietnam. I liked it and was able to identify with some of the more bizarre elements, but felt that others were perhaps exaggerated or placed outside of context. I was shocked to discover that this was written in 1992; but then again, i was talking to a monk in Cambodia (who is very young) who remembers when Angkor was populated only by monks- and their dark history is still so very recent. Although not all of SE Asia has the same history- obviously- it seemed like so many of his stories had taken place years and years ago rather than within my own lifetime, and this causes me to assume that either my perceptions are wrong or things have changed immensely since then.
However, as I said before, in some ways it seems very much the same.
I was particularly moved by his representation of the Burmese (now Myanmar) people's struggles and even less oppressed people's daily tribulations. HIs humor and candor are refreshing, and it provides a true farang/traveller's perspective and experiences in a very intruiging place, but occasionally miss the mark and fall flat. Overall I enjoyed it, particularly the moments that I felt must be common to all who enter SE Asia for the first time, and these moments made my reading quite enjoyable.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Margaret Atwood- Surfacing

I enjoyed the Handmaid's Tale, but I didn't feel compelled by this novel in the same way.
I found the characters to be promising, particularly Anna and David with their interesting relationship. However, I felt that the book never picked up speed in the way that I had hoped. I loved the connection to the land and the metaphorical relationship between the United States and Canada, but I felt that the entire plot- especially the connection between the protagonist and her motives and her father- placed the characters in a conveniently isolated situation, but did not ring true for me; consequently, it felt more like a simple device than a cohesive component of the plot's development.
I suppose this might be a personal opinion based in large part on simple dislike of the characters and their personalities/weaknesses, but it may be more.
I may re-read this book sometime soon but I doubt it. I would rather pursue Atwood's other works, as I find her to be a fine author in all other regards.

Henry Fielding- Joseph Andrews

In keeping with my general irritation with poaching other author's characters, I was extremely annoyed that Fielding extended the entire Pamela concept but did not bother to correspond the facts to those originally presented in Pamela.
That aside, I enjoyed it much more than many other novels of its time. Most of the characters irritated me immensely; I didn't mind Fanny so much, and I was particularly happy to see Pamela's anorexia and general weakness and pathetic attitude countered by Fanny's general health and physical vitality. I also enjoyed Joseph Andrews as a less cunning, more legitimately honest counterpart to Pamela's hypocritical and overly fashioned personality.
Adams annoyed me quite a bit, but all in all I found this novel to be fairly funny and with a much lighter tone than so many others. I may read it again, but in any event, it was funnier than I was able to appreciate, since I read it frantically in an attempt to meet the compressed deadlines of spring classes.

Janet Lunn- The Root Cellar

I haven't read this book since I was fairly young, but I loved it as a child. I read it multiple times, and it was one of the books that really impacted the way I view fiction, writing style, and plot development (not to mention character development)- at least as far as I can tell. It really fired up my imagination, and even the artistic lockets at the beginning of the chapter were really lovely.
I remember it with a clarity that I don't remember a lot of other novels, and it is possibly responsible for my interest in the personal side of history.
All in all, a fantastic children's book, and one I would highly recommend to anyone. It's probably not going to appeal to most boys, though (or so I guess) as I seem to remember it being pretty sentimental and romanticised- althought not particularly romantic in nature.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Marta Ostenso- Wild Geese

I really liked this book, and I could relate to a lot of it as rural Canadian life, partcularly the isolation and culture of living on a farm (I've never lived on a farm for a very long period of time, but enough to understand what she is talking about.
I loved the portrayal of family and the connection between land and the people (which I actually wrote a paper on). I appreciated the awareness of that which is often overlooked, like the subtle relationships between people- particularly family members- and the impact others can have on our lives.
I thought it was very well done, especially considering the time in which Ostenso was writing. She treats such deliate matter so sensitively, and manages to effectively convey domination and isolation in a very realistic and touching way. I liked it a lot, although it is somewhat ideologically dated and might not have the same impact today it had when it was released because of what it helped to inspire, which is available and has shaped our perspective on literature. Furthermore, I don't think prairie fiction is a phenomenally popular genre, which is completely understandable considering the physical environment it is set in and the corresponding attitudes it creates.
Fargo is another good example of prairie fiction, in my opinion; the landscape contributes immensely to how the people have developed socially and culturally, and establishes a mindset within which the action can occur with relatively little emphasis on backstory aside from establishing setting and time period.
Essentially, it is a great book but may have lost some of it's appeal over time.

Roch Carrier- La Guerre, Yes Sir!

I liked this book and its representations of Quebecois life, but I can't say that I related to it all that much. I am really not sure how much is stereotype and how much is realistic; I liked the sensitivity and humor it was given as a subject matter though. II loved the ordinary vernacular and situations- it was nice to see something so informal and comfortable as a social commentary.

Maria Campbell- Half-Breed

I liked this book a lot. It was profoundly sad, but nothing particularly unexpected. I did learn more about hybridity, though, especially within Canada's history. It's something that doesn't get talked about a lot, and it was great to hear it from a personal perspective that seemed relatively (and consciously) unbiased as much as possible. I didn't know much about the details of many of these things, like the Road Allowance People and their particular struggle.
I was a little confused, though, about the fact that on the cover, Maria Campbell appears to be white. All the references to her being discriminated against for her "dark" skin didn't really seem to make sense to me- so I just assume her skin used to be darker.
I realize that this is not just in the past- there is so much that needs to be done to improve things as they are currently, and to help things progress well in the future. I wish there were more people out there willing and able to write books like this to teach people about these issues.

Geo Stone- Suicide and Attempted Suicide

I thought this book was well thought out, informative, and well written. I enjoyed the thoroughness of the research, and I have to say that I am particularly convinced now that one of the things worse than suicide is a failed suicide.
It does lead me to wonder, however, if anyone has ever used this book to aid them in their decision about how to kill themselves (it may seem overly obvious that I meantion this, considering the fact that a large portion of the book is virtually a layperson's guide to suicide.
Very interesting, and potentially very dangerous. Then again- perhaps it will help someone to avoid a lot of pain and suffering. I can't judge- all I can say is that it is definitely the most comprehensive work on this subject i could ever imagine, and perhaps the most well-researched book on any topic I've read in the past decade.

Mary Roach- Stiff: The Curious Lies of Human Cadavers

I picked this book up as soon as I realized what it was about, and it was exactly what I'd hoped it would be.
I was so glad to find a book that encompasses the physcial destinations of our bodies along with all the ramifications, be they religious, ethical, biological, spatial or functional.
I surprised myself by eating (by coincidence, not as a result of some sick fetish) almost every time I read some of this book, and I didn't have to put it down out of disgust. However, it may offend some people with weak stomachs (and I have to say, I am glad there were no photographs, as intruiging as that may have been) as I think that may have pushed me over the edge.
I learned quite a few things, and had a number of unasked questions answered as well.
I am now rabidly pro-donation (which, although I had been before, I had been indiscriminate) but with some questions about the particulars of my consent. I have not decided whether I would be open to certain experiments, particularly those involved with mutilation of limbs or other parts- or even corpse decay- if the results were not directly being used to help someone in some way medically- or at least peripherally. I intend to donate my body to science, particularly if it can help someone, and I occasionally have a perverse delight in knowing that someday somebody may get to see, or might get a new heart simply because I'm no longer using mine.
However, thanks to this book, I am now a little more concerned than I used to be about making sure I'm really dead before I give anything away. ;)

Margaret Laurence- The Fire Dwellers

I love this book. I absolutely adore it.
I haven't read anything else of Laurence's aside from The Stone Angel (and even that was so long ago that I didn't fully absorb it at the time) so I can't say whether it was simply her writing style which I love or the book itself, but either way I found it marvelous.
I have to say that I did not like most of the characters- even Stacey bothered me with her indecision and her moral ambiguity in having the affair, but I can see how they were a necessary facet of her character, and I do love Stacey, in her self-contained chaotic little world. I liked the wicked sense of humor throughout, and I enjoyed most of the characters, or at least the purposes they serve.
I was uncomfortable with certain elements simply because they are too strikingly emotional (such as Buckle's repressed sexuality and his consequent rejection of Stacey, or Buckle's mother floundering through her life with a teapot of port), but this discomfort is a product of being faced with something so real and true that it is painful.
Artistically, I think this novel is simply wonderful, and I would recommend it highly.

Norah Vincent- Self-Made Man

I was drawn to this book because of my sociological interests. I was interested not only to see what it is like for someone to experience the world from a male perspective, but also to get some kind of glimpse into the mind of someone brave (and devious) enough to attempt- and succeed- at such a thing. My feelings when reading Black Like Me, which is clearly a similar experiment- were that I did not get a clear idea of what kind of person was undergoing such an experiment and what drove him on and helped him through it. So I suppose that along with the sociological information, I wanted some kind of psychological background on the experimentor and the experiment itself so that it is not simply a series of data (although I found Black Like Me to be profound and remarkable, and I don't wish to demean it in any way).
I feel that this book did an admirable job of conveying not only the psychology behind the experiment but the results of the experiment itself- and I was very glad to hera the feedback of some of the people who discovered that they had been tricked and responded with honesty about their reaction.
Of course any single experiment can not encompass an entire gender or even an entire group of people, I think that it did give me some insight about what I had presumed about men. I don't think about it all that often- I tend to think of the world in feminist terms- such as what men have done to women, what women can do to assert themselves, the history of misogyny, etc. When I think of men I generally think of them being the same as women, with slightly different sensitivities and psychological frameworks (and of course, different hormones, which explains a lot) and I feel tremendous pity for men's balding, etc. in the same way I feel tremendous pity for the fact that women have to endure menstruation, pregnancy (for some women), and massive cancer rates for breast, ovary, etc. that far outweight prostate cancer (although men of course have heart disease, etc. to deal with). However, my awareness of male social structures was essentially based on assumption; while this book reinforced some of what I had prevously thought, it also made me question some things and probably caused me to widen my perspective about male relationships and the position of men in today's society (particularly an increased awareness of the pressure men are under- in specific ways- to be physically ideal just as women are). While I have always known this, it placed it into a context that I found very easy to relate to and that I really enjoyed.
Finally, I am extremely impressed that not only did Norah Vincent have the guts to attempt this, but that she succeeded and continued, especially considering the uncomfortable elements she experienced.
Flipping through it, I am reminded of the amazing wit in this book that I had forgotten about, which makes this book not only informative and interesting, but truly entertaining and amusing at the same time.

Hugh Laurie- The Gun Seller

I looked for this book for ages, and had trouble finding it anywhere. Then, lo and behold, I looked for it in Bangkok and it was there. One single copy, just destined to find its way into my hands.
I thought it was as delightful as I'd hoped, and that's saying a lot. I intend to read P.G. Wodehouse (and I have him bookmarked, in fact) to see what inspired him to write this treasure- to say nothing of (presumably) helping him evolve into having the kind of quirky, charming cynicism that is so wonderful about him. (From what I can tell; I do not presume to know him simply because of my rampages through the internet and tabloids and watching House over and over until the DVD gives up in exasperation).

Anyway- I have read that this is on its way to becoming movie. I do hope that is true, and while I have no doubt that it will be fabulously cast, I have my own personal dream that he will play the title character. Or at least a garbageman. If it's good enough for Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan, I guess it'll have to be good enough for the Gun Seller. Although I fervently hope it won't come to that.
Simply fantastic.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brad Fraser- Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love

(I'll discuss both it and 'Love and Human Remains" although I have only seen the script/written version for both)
I read this for a class, and I probably would not ever have read it otherwise.
I am sure that it has added merit when seen on stage or even on film, but it just doesn't work for me in the written form at all. I can see how it would have been groundbreaking and novel enough to become famous, but the actual form and content just don't work for me exceptionally well.
I like the characters but I don't really feel that their relationships were cemented very well, aside from the friendship between Candy and David, which was clearly the most solid and sincere of them. All the other interactions (aside from perhaps Candy and Jerri, which was appropriately disjointed, undeveloped and detached) seemed to lack real heart...which I don't think could be redeemed by changing the medium to audiovisual.
I found the situations, dialogue and even background stories to be bafflingly flat and uncompelling; although there are brief moments of humor, wickedness and occasionally some profound point, in general I found it to be two-dimensional and not clear enough.
Again, I concede that I might be missing a profound aspect of this, but I find it to be both too "ordinary" and mundane and fantastical and unrealistic. The setting and activities are mundane, but the characters' interactions, thoughts and compulsions leave me feeling unsettled, simply because they don't feel real or conceivable to me.
I guess that my complaint is that none of the characters are actually connected- and I realize that disconnection is one of the key points of the entire work, but even the principle relationship between Candy and David seems undeveloped or juvenile. The characters in general seemed immature beyond belief (which is perhaps intentional, but possibly not to this degree) and it feels like a sitcom that somehow had all the jokes removed. The situations are uncomfortable and nothing seems quite normal, but it cuts off without ever giving any kind of seminal parting wisdom or happiness to forgive the discomfort and sadness.

Howard Marks- Mr. Nice

I bought this book out of a box from some guy on the streets of Hanoi late at night- so needless to say, it's not the best copy that ever existed. But I think it has all its pages, and in the correct order, too.
I liked this book, but I was shocked at how unaware he was about the consequences of drug dealing in places like America until AFTER he dealt drugs there. It's phenomenal to me that someone would just leap into something (especially something with such dire results) without at least checking to make sure the penalty isn't life in prison, or death, or something else almost as awful. I will never understand that mentality no matter how long I live...I'm paranoid about driving around the block without wearing my seatbelt.
Enough random anecdotes about me... I liked this book and found it to be pretty engaging. As I recall, it has the sweet charming character that you would expect from someone with Marks' background, but he seems to have lead a life that ended up hurting those he loved. Again, a moral judgement on someone who lived their life free and happy, and I can't really judge that. I liked the way everything was presented, and I would be willing to read his other book (or are there multiple others?) although I'm not sure what is left for him to say ;)

Carol Hollinger- Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

I picked this book up in Bangkok on a whim, as I had no idea what I was buying. When I read it, however, I was delighted; I am not interested in stories by expatriates who want simply to show off their experiences. This book did for my understanding of the Thai people what When Heaven and Earth Changes Places did for my awareness of Vietnamese people. It displays the confused attitude of the farang without the traditional condescention, and with a wholehearted desire to understand and love the people.
It was written in 1965, and clearly a lot has changed. However, it allows glimpses into the mind of the Thai nation and presents it with the warmth and humot that marks Thailand itself.

Le Ly Hayslip- When Heaven and Earth Changed Places

This book singlehandedly taught me more about Vietmanse culture (TRUE Vietnamese culture, from what I have seen) than everything else I've ever been exposed to put together.
I remember that when I finished this book, I understood so many things for the first time, and in such a fully comprehending way. For example, I had never understood the true nature of bargaining; From my North American perspective, I felt that it was silly for the price of commodities to fluctuate and that it didn't make any sense. But this book showed me the true character and lifeblood of a people who adjust their own gain and their own perspectives to suit the needs of others, and who consider the person when they make a business transaction. Those in need can (presumably) be granted compassion when they most need it, and those who can afford to give are willing to give. It is a beautiful system that I never understood before, and I feel that even understanding that gives me insight into the Vietnamese people I had never deemed possible before.
Of course, this book also taught me a lot about the American War (or the Vietnam war, as I had known it before my journey). It is encouraging to knwo that life remained through the terrible veil of war, and that people like Le Ly Hayslip are alive and able to share their stories with those of us who have not endured so much, but will hopefully, with the help of stories like hers, never forget what a human being can- but should never have to- endure. The human spirit present in this book makes me want to become a better person and fills me with encouragement and praise for those who have gone through so much and have not been destroyed.

Ernest Hemingway- For Whom The Bell Tolls

This book struck me so fully that everything else pales in comparison. I bought it by fluke in the LA airport and read it across Asia (I paced myself so that it just wouldn't end, because I knew what had to happen- and I was enjoying it so much) and basically mutilated it by taking so many notes on the pages.
I will not elaborate on this novel aside from saying that it is so deeply profound on so many levels that I was simply astounded. The only other book that has impacted me so deeply was East of Eden, and possibly a few others that I will not list here. I will just say that it was one of the most dazzling peices of literature I have read in a very long time, and I can not recommend it highly enough.

Denise Chong- The Girl in the Picture

I read this book while I was in Vietnam, and I found it to be very helpful. it was not well written but knowing the story of Kim Phuc's life from a personal perspective was wonderful (I've known the basic details for as long as I can remember, as I met her once many years ago). I later went to the War Crimes Museum (which I beleive used to be called the "Chinese and American War Crimes Museum" or something like that, and I saw a recent photograph of Kim Phuc holding her little baby, at it was so wonderful (Ironically, she has been living in my home country, Canada, for almost as long as I've been alive, I believe). I was so glad to learn this while I was over there, because it gave me the perspective that I could never gain just from guidebooks and tours. It was so great to have something so iconic as a symbol of horror and shame (being ashamed of being part of a society complicit in that terrible horror) end with something powerfully beautiful and alive.

Laurence Sterne- Tristram Shandy

Yet another book I read for a class and did not fully enjoy despite its many virtues.
I appreciate the novel approach Sterne has taken and the awareness of writing as an art in itself, and his innovations in the structure of the novel, but I do find it less that hilarious and not particularly funny. The various elements that relate to his impotence and the noses, shoes, bulls, broken house, the doctor with his forceps and the winding of the clock work passably well as literary devices but in all, I found it a rather taxing read with some remotely amusing moments.
Aside: I found the movie to be quite well done, although it, too, was not something I would ever choose to spend my time on.

Samuel Richardson- Pamela

This is yet another book which I realize had tremendous implications at the time of its writing but I feel is no longer relevant except in a historical sense.
I hated the character of Pamela entirely, as I felt that she did not leave their employ when she might have (for example, she could have left to be with her parents at any time before he kidnapped her). Despite her protestations, she might have moved to be with her parents and found happiness working hard. Her primary trouble was managing to stay in high society without giving in, not to keep from sleeping with her master. She could have avoided it all from the beginning, but despite her whining, she had every option open to her if she just accepted the fact that she would no longer have the same wealth and comfort she had had before.
Although she is feminist from the perspective of her contemporaries, I find her eventual condescention toward herself with regard to her husband to be horrifying- and any man who acted as he did would have to change entirely to be worthy. The temper and attitude he kept perpetually (even after guaranteeing her happiness IF she didn't cross him) were unacceptable and I wouldn't be surprised if the changes he made were temporary- unless, of course, her beauty so enchants him and she is such a loyal servant that he reamins smitten and kind (or kindER, anyway)
I am surprised that his mother did not make better arrangements for her, or take care of her with some kind of perspective (not necessarily to recognize the evil in her own son, for we are all blinded about those closest to us) but to prepare her for all eventualities.
I don't enjoy her character; although she does value herself more than other women, and does take pride in herself, she does not do the TRULY noble thing under the circumstances, which is to run home to her parents. She risked being raped, and eventually did escape that only by her enchanting looks and pleading- and fainting, in part likely due to her anorexia- so if she truly beleived in what she said she did (and she was a hypocrite about honesty, too, for she chose to deceive them in her captiity and even before rather than the alternative) she would have removed herself from any place where she might lose her purity or have it taken from her.
I can't remember everything from this book- I studied it quite rapidly and have read many books since- but she basically irritated me with her overdramatized self-effacing and self-deprecating comments, and her perpetual obsession with the master despite all he has done wrong and all she refuses to fault him for. I suppose the worst part is how she feigned not having feelings for him; she should have admitted, at least in private, that she was enchanted with him (sooner than she did) for I think it would have seemed less hypocritical and more compelling.
I do, however, appreciate the fact that she asserts herself, eventually manipulates her way into getting everything she wants and manages to retain her virtue all at the same time- which is a big statement considering the time period it was written in. Perhaps I am too harsh on novels of this time because I tend to judge them according to what they preceded- which is utterly unfair in any field- but I can't help thinking that there is a lack of consistency and fullness of character that irritates me.

Michael Dibdin- The Last Sherlock Holmes Story

I haven't read this for several years, but I recall my horror with vivid clarity.
I was completely disgusted by this book- primarily because the author has taken an iconic character (for whom I do not have particular fondness, in fact) and warped his memory for his own purposes.
I might not mind so much if I felt that it was very well written- and perhaps it is an attempt to reproduce the original stories' style. I have not read enough Holmes stories to determine this- but I feel that overall, it was unimpressive, full of gaping flaws and contradictions, the ending was weak and somewhat poorly constructed and essentially irritated more than impressed me.
I think that people should stick to inventing their own characters unless they have something phenomenal to add, and even then, it should be done phenomenally well or not at all.

Patricia Cornwell- Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Close

Yet another Jack the Ripper book. I found it interesting and extremely well-researched, although I have heard much complaint about Patricia Cornwell and her legitimacy in this context, but I will say that it was certainly thought-provoking if nothing else, and entertaining reading for those with a criminologist inclination (a category in which I consider myself to be, despite my lack of extensive background in the field).

Daniel Defoe- Moll Flanders

I have to say that although I recognize its importance for its own day and the context in which it was written (which means that it cannot correctly be judged as a peice of art in a modern context) this book was exhausting and annoying. I could barely plod through all the various activities and found it to be simply a summary of activity (and perhaps a useful commentary on life of the time) but essentially, as my sister put it, "A one-woman soap opera". It has all the traditional elements one would want at that time; young beautiful criminal who is female, multiple marriages, intrigues, relationships, many children (who are summarily dumped at the parish or raised by someone else), a great deal of materialism, fluctuating prosperity, exotic travels, and a development of the notion of a fictional (although somewhat based on reality) criminal biography.
I found it fairly painful to read; but then again, it is simply not my favorite genre.

Shirley Harrison- The Diary of Jack the Ripper

I found this book to be pretty interesting. I believe that since its publication the diary has been proven to be a hoax, but it's pretty neat nonetheless. I am amazed- although not surprised- that someone went to all the effort to produce such a thing, and that people have consequently spent so much time obsessed with the identity of Jack the Ripper himself, considering that it is unlikely that we will ever know his identity, and irrelevant even if we did. This is especially true considering the fact that there are so many criminals out there who have done much worse who are now living; there will likely be even worse criminals in the future; many crimes were possibly not even his, but copycats; his crimes were relatively unimportant culturally (aside from the fear they propagated) because of the nature of crime then- particularly in somewhat legitimate cases such as body snatching; and reports are conflicting even in the nature of his crimes- whether they were the work of someone skilled in medicine and surgery, or a simple butchery by a layperson.
If we can't even agree on those simply facts, I think that perhaps we should just consider it beyond our knowledge and move on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shakespeare- Othello

I wasn't overly enchanted with this story, but I'm not a tremendous fan of Shakespeare's work. I find a lot worth noting and I recognize the valuable role he played in English literature. but I dont' particularly enjoy reading his work.
I was pleased to note that in Othello, at least the characters didn't act urealistically for the most part. I felt that the construction of the conflict (surrounding her handkercheif) was conceivable although not likely- however, I still think that if it were so important to her, she would have picked it up after he used it, or at least told him the truth when he asked for it- that he had had it last.
Actually, the more I question it, the more irritate I become with the entire situation and its plausability. I also argue that Othello would not have been so quick to kill, but he was a man of war and a victim of the racism of Shakespeare's day which both provide justification for his actions.
Also, I found most of the characters to be relatively shallow and undeveloped, even for Shakespeare. The motivation behind so many of his characters is unexplained, and those with motive are too simplistic. Iago is too evil, Roderigo is too foolish, Othello is too trusting, Desdemona inexplicably declines to inform her father that she is married, although she merrily announces it in public when asked, Emilia's actions don't always make sense, Brabantio is too harsh and tempestuous, and everyone is stereotypical to an annoying degree. However, I realize the limitations of the stage- particuarly in Shakepeare's day- and the many devices that have developed since his time and were consequently not available to him then.
Basically I didn't mind it too much, but I did feel that it addressed many depressing issues in sad ways without providing balancing comedy and happiness- while that in itself is not a flaw, it means that there are no forgiving virtues to cause me to enjoy this play more than I do for its literary prowess (which, I must add, is not exceptional enough in written form to give me a great deal of enjoyment).

Joseph Conrad- An Outpost of Progress

I was absolutely enchanted with this story. I can't wait to read Heart of Darkness- Conrad's style is simply phenomenal. He says so much with such humour- it's incredible. Obviously I was quite impressed.
The line that sticks with me is, "a Sierra Leone ******, who maintained that his name was Henry Price [...] He spoke English and French with a warbling accent, wrote a beautiful hand, understood bookkeeping, and cherished in his innermost heart the worship of evil spirits". There has been much complaint about Conrad as a colonial writer (particularly from Achebe, who found his writing to be demeaning and misrepresentative of reality- although that was specifically about Heart of Darkness) but I find that throughout this story, particularly in his representation of Makola from a relatively objective perspective and his portrayal of "civilation" and the white men, a number of excellent images are drawn that present a situation that- if not real- is certainly conceivable.
The deranged imperialist ideology present here amuses me to no end (specifically because it is intentionally humorous and insulting toward the improper presence of colonialism in Africa) and I could quote many different parts of the story that are well worth repeating. Instead I will just suggest that you read it yourself- it is short, and it is more than worth it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

V.S. Naipaul- A Bend in the River

I was neutral about this book. I didn't really like some elements of it- such as Salim's judgement of his neighbour for having a home to go back to (hypocricy, as he called it) when he himself ends the novel by doing the same thing. I felt that his credibility was ruined by this; whether this was an intentional internal lack of awareness instated by the author or just a flaw in the reasoning is unclear. Either way, I felt that it was not explored as an intentional element and was summarily unsatisfactory. I didn't really like Salim's character on other leves; I felt that he was presented in contradictory terms without any kind of unifying explanation; sometimes he is caring and generous, wise and aware of everything going on around him. At other times he is grumpy and stingy, resentful and fairly clueless. No attempt seems to be made to make him realistic and whole, and I felt that since the entire book rests upon his character, this lack of attention was very damaging to the book as a whole.
I did like the presentaiton of hybridity, nationalism, colonialism, post-colonialism and general cultural identity presented, however. I thought the ideas were excellent and the symbolism (particularly that of the title and concept of a bend in the river) was well constructed.
I would say that it was very informative culturally and politically but not particularly compelling reading. I found it difficult to become engaged with the text until a decent way in and even then I was not driven, simply interested. The ending feels anticlimactic but somehow fitting, given the uncertainty of the rest of the book.
All in all, I liked it but I was too distracted by the inconsistencies- and the lack of explanation surrounding the affair with Yvette, which is presumably a metaphor for the two nations they represent- to be too distracting to fully enjoy the book. Although it was by no means unpleasant, I would probably not read this novel again.

J.M Coetzee- Foe

I did not enjoy this book at all. (It has wona Nobel Prize, though, so I am willing to acknowledge that I might be missing something here)
I felt that it was being overly obvious and not subtle in its attempts to present a fractured, mysterious past. While this clearly allows for imagination and represents the subjective nature of history and memory- which I wholly agree with- all the passages referring to this were not well integrated into the story and the characters and felt contrived to me.
The back of the book claims that "the stories we thought we knew acquire depths that are at once treacherous, elegant, and unexpectedly moving", but I find none of those things here. I find a challenge to traditional form and a questioning of presentation and possession of content, but the literature as an art form does not please me.
I did not like the character of Cruso or Susan Barton- the mysterious missing daughter, or even the writer Foe. I felt that the heart of the characters was either hidden or missing, and like the notion of recording history, Susan Barton's overt statements about the necessity of writing and her desire for Foe to write her history were not an organic part of the book. It almost felt like a book written for junior high students, specifically highlighting certain topics and issues in a way that could not be missed, only misinterpreted. The colonial attitudes are very clearly laid out, and the language is generally explicative and straightforward; however, I am not drawn into the story and I find that it feels as though I am plodding through something that should be compelling and interesting.
It is interesting to note Susan Barton's possession of Foe himself, when she creates an imaginary construction to represent him, but this does not contain enough passion and promise to make it a significant element of the book, in my opinion.
I did like the last portion of the second-last chapter where Friday is writing and Foe tells Susan that she must next teach him "a", with the implication that he must return to the beginning and the reminder that all history and legacies have a beginning. I particularly loved Friday's walking eyes and Susan's lack of awareness of what they might represent; it makes me dislike her more greatly and like him even more.
Finally, I felt that the last chapter is interesting, although not compelling enough to redeem the rest of the work. It is the only place where I appreciate the vagueness of the writing and the possibilities for multiple interpretations.
Essentially, I recognize that this book has merit, but I feel that from an artistic point of view it is lacking and is not compelling. Furthermore, Coetzee (appropriately) writes like a man, not a woman; he has internalized and reproduced the dialoge of feminine literature but not the heart. I realize that it seems like a combative and highly arguable comment; however, he chose a female protagonist, whose words do not feel like the words a woman would speak and whose life seems not only unexplained, but fundamentally unlived. Also, it is dangerous to represent a time and place that is not your own, and is dealing with Robinson Crusoe, no less. The one thing that I rarely find forgiveable is to mess with the integrity of someone else's writings, but that is -strangely enough- not why I dislike this. I feel that he has interconnected his work with RC in a very creative way and I applaud it; however, I feel that he has failed in his quest but turning a potentially fascinating story in a rather depressing (not by content) text that never quite gets where it's going until the very end, when I have decided that it is not worth redeeming.

Jean Rhys- Wide Sargasso Sea

I absolutely adore this book.
I have not read Jane Eyre so I missed out on the allusions to that (aside from what I could gather in class) but otherwise, I found it fantastic from an artistic- and postcolonial- point of view.
The representation of "Other" and the creation of such a mysterious and vivid people, culture and environment is wonderful.
I foudn it to be very postmodern in narrative quality, as well. It reminds me of stream-of-consciousness in its attention to the psyche and the crisis of identity, particularly for people of hybrid anscestry. I enjoyed it most for its literary richness, I would recommend it to anyone, and I look forward to reaidng more by Jean Rhys.

Chinua Achebe- Things Fall Apart

I found this book to be supremely interesting as a response to Colonial literature (particularly Joseph Conrad, although I've not yet read all of Heart of Darkness).
The parables and cultural
However, it was Achebe's supreme awarenss and understanding of the imperialist mindset that floored me. The final paragraph of the entire book was the thing that really won me over; without it the novel fails to impact me, but with it I have such respect for Achebe and his point of view.
I do wish there had been more information given about the Igbo culture (perhaps not within the book, but as a supplement) that explained all the various cultural elements that preceded colonialism, as that would have helped to create a framework.
Then again, not explaining anything from the African standpoint is as appropriate as a "Westerner" not explaining the foundation upon which they are writing, so I respect this decision although it can be extremely confusing at times.

Virginia Woolf- Mrs. Dalloway

It took me about a year to actually read this because I enjoyed it so much. I dragged it around with me to various countries but I couldn't bring myself to breeze through it. I absolutely love stream-of-consciousness, and I love what little I have read of Virginia Woolf. I am also going to be studying this book in one of my English classes, so I will soon discover even more about it.
I love how every sentence, every phrase, every nuance holds such meaning. So many books are just full of entire paragraphs or chapters that simply establish setting or try to stage conflict. I feel that by losing an obsession with plot, Woolf has managed to improve writing as a representation of actual human existence.
That being said, I can see how the disjointed representation of reality and the human mind could be jarring and unsettling to some readers; its Modernist slant is very enjoyable to me, although it might not be to others.
I also felt that she implied so many things that she did not explore that the book almost feels unfinished.
I will be rereading this book many times,but for the moment, I would like to say that this is one of my favorite books (along with Steinbeck's East of Eden, my all-time favorite book) and I can't wait to read more of her works.

Introductory Post

Hello Interwebs;
I have decided that since I am reading so many books right now, both for school and for pleasure, that I would try to catalogue some of them. I also decided that a blog would be an ideal way to do this, so I am going to try to keep track of what I read in this journal.
I will be giving my opinions on these books. If someone should actually read this, feel free to discuss/argue/demean/agree with or comment on my opinions. Human interaction can be fun.
If anyone knows of any good books I should read, let me know! I'm always looking for new and interesting literature.