One of the few times that a book of historical social commentary held my interest. Shelley was really a master of symbolism; I thoroughly enjoyed the...moreOne of the few times that a book of historical social commentary held my interest. Shelley was really a master of symbolism; I thoroughly enjoyed the whole product-of-the-common-man thing. I read this in a "Women Writers" class in college that was part of my minorities requirement. It was the only book we read in that class that didn't absolutely beat the reader over the head with "all men are pedophile mysoginists with big beer guts and stained t-shirts." (see Foxfire) Of course, this man created a monster that was a murderous, child-killing affront to God and nature...but...at least he didn't beat his wife.
That's something that always pissed me off about that class. It was "Women Writers" not "Man-Hating Writers". On the plus side, I was one of 3 guys in a class of 30, and I always got a lot of attention from this svelte brunette who sat beside me. She was thin, as tall as me, had long straight hair and wicked green eyes. If I believed in demons or succubi, she'd have been one. I was in a relationship at the time, though, and never significantly took her up on her many attempts to engage me in conversation. One time, while leaving class, one of the other 2 guys in class came up to me (I'm pretty sure he was an ex of hers) and said,
"Yeah man, she likes you. Go for it, but let me warn you: she will eat you alive..."(less)
Yeah, so we get what a Catch-22 is. You don't have to pummel the reader over the head with it EVERY FUCKING PAGE. Heller must have thought he freaking...moreYeah, so we get what a Catch-22 is. You don't have to pummel the reader over the head with it EVERY FUCKING PAGE. Heller must have thought he freaking invented the damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. His relentless, pedantic use of the situation ruined a story that I probably would have otherwise enjoyed.(less)
I got my hardcover copy of this book at a library book sale. As far as I can tell, it had never even been opened. No page had been turned, the spine w...moreI got my hardcover copy of this book at a library book sale. As far as I can tell, it had never even been opened. No page had been turned, the spine wasn't bent, the corners of the covers were crisp and sharp, not blunted and turned in by being carried around in a backpack. It never had been stamped or had a check-out card envelope pasted inside it. As near as I can tell, it was donated to the library, sat on a shelf for a decade or so, and then it got sold to me for one dollar. I don't think I could possibly have more love for library book sales. (less)
This book was given to me by a high school english teacher who thought I'd like it. She was terribly wrong, but I pushed through and finished it since...moreThis book was given to me by a high school english teacher who thought I'd like it. She was terribly wrong, but I pushed through and finished it since I appreciated the gesture. I can understand why she thought I'd like it, also - I was definitely one of the unpopular, loner kids for most of my highschool career. I didn't really start making friends until I was a Junior and all the younger girls wanted an upperclassman for a boyfriend.
Anyways, my assessment was that this was basically a book about a rude, angsty teenage kid who, if he were around in present day, would have dyed black hair with long bangs and an iPod full of Good Charlotte, My Chemical Romance, and Dashboard Confessional. Don't get me wrong, I had my emo moments when I was a kid, but those were ridiculous, embarassing times and certainly something I'm not particularly interested in reading about.
At the risk of stereotyping, I'd say this book is far more suited for women than men. It's romantic, tragic, and poignant. It's about a girl who falls...moreAt the risk of stereotyping, I'd say this book is far more suited for women than men. It's romantic, tragic, and poignant. It's about a girl who falls in love with her suitor, and then is forced to see her man betrothed to her sister by an arranged marriage. Yeah, it's a real tear-jerker. I did enjoy the theme that cooking for someone is a display of affection - that rang true. (less)
This book will separate the true feminists from the women who just don't like men. I read it in my Women Writers class, and actually found myself bein...moreThis book will separate the true feminists from the women who just don't like men. I read it in my Women Writers class, and actually found myself being glared at by girls sitting near me. Not because I had said anything or even laughed inappropriately, but just because men are quite poorly represented in general in this novel. I'll say one thing for Oates, she's got some skill if she can stir up that kind of hostility. God, there were some pissed off broads in that class. Anyways, man-haters have done to this book what racists did to the Rebel Flag. If you can put that aside, however, this book is worth a read. For the steamy girl-on-girl action if nothing else. ;-)(less)
I found this in the Sci-Fi section at my local library. Thought that was kind of odd - sort of like putting Edgar Allen Poe and Dante Alighieri in the...moreI found this in the Sci-Fi section at my local library. Thought that was kind of odd - sort of like putting Edgar Allen Poe and Dante Alighieri in the Horror section, isn't it? I wonder of librarians break out in fights over which section to place a book...
Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed this work and read it cover-to-cover over the course of an afternoon. If Bradbury's dystopian future isn't frightening enough, one could always read his essay, "Coda", which was added as an afterword to my copy of Farenheit 451. Coda was a response to editors and others who attempted to censor Bradbury's book on the dangers of censorship. People never cease to amaze, do they?
Some five years back, the editors of yet another anthology for school readers put together a volume with some 400 (count 'em) short stories in it. How do you cram 400 short stories by Twain, Irving, Poe, Maupassant and Bierce into one book?
Simplicity itself. Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy. Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquito - out! Every simile that would have made a sub-moron's mouth twitch - gone! Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writer - lost!
Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepenciled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story. Twain read like Poe read like Shakespeare read like Dostoevsky read like - in the finale - Edgar Guest. Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instant's attention - shot dead.
Do you begin to get the damned and incredible picture?
How did I react to all of the above?
By "firing" the whole lot.
By sending them rejection slips to each and every one.
By ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.
The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. (less)
A great character study and walk of life story. Zorba has discovered that the secret of happiness in life is enjoying and appreciating the simple plea...moreA great character study and walk of life story. Zorba has discovered that the secret of happiness in life is enjoying and appreciating the simple pleasures: food, work, women and wine. It is a terrible waste of time to ponder God, death and human suffering because there is little that can be done about these things and a life can be wasted mulling them over. Zorba spends much of the book trying to enlighten his friend to these truths. His friend spent much of the book frustrating me with his inability to understand.
The two have many adventures together which are humurous and entertaining, from dealing with lecherous monks and ancient trollops to trying their fortunes in lignite mines and lumber operations. Throughout it all, Zorba patiently tries to rescue his ascetic friend from an empty life. I thought one of Zorba's more amusing lessons was this: when a woman comes on to you, it's a sin to allow her to go unsexed, even if you find her ugly. Women are vain and weak, he says, and an unsexed woman can poison an entire village. She will sigh her laments so that everyone can hear and she will madden the men who want to satisfy her but can't. It's a man's duty to render her safe whenever he can.
I got a chuckle out of that, but as you can see, there's a fair bit of chauvinism in the story as well. As a man I could just take it with a grain of salt, but a woman might find it annoying. Zorba has a marvellously deep appreciation of the beauty of women and the love they can bring, but extolling those virtues does not quite make up for the fact that there are no well-rounded, (other than their "haunches") intelligent female characters in the book.
Still, it was a fascinating read and does a fine job of illustrating why a life's mysteries and misfortunes should be considered trivial - it will all go on without you. Perhaps my favorite quote from Zorba:
"I tell you, my heart split in two. But the knave soon stuck itself together again. You must have seen those sails with red, yellow and black patches, sewn with thick twine, which never tear even in the roughest storms. Well, that's what my heart's like. Umpteen holes, and umpteen patches: it need fear nothing more!"
**spoiler alert** Rating this book on a 1-5 scale was very difficult because it was, strangely, a book that I thought was phenomenally good but I woul...more**spoiler alert** Rating this book on a 1-5 scale was very difficult because it was, strangely, a book that I thought was phenomenally good but I would never recommend to anyone.
Before I get into what turned me off I should mention Saramago's gimmick. Sometimes an author will center his book around a literary gimmick or at least make it a major feature of the work. Think of Heller's heavy-handed use of the paradox in Catch-22 or Burgess' invented lexicon for A Clockwork Orange. Saramago, in Blindness, omits almost all punctuation save for the occasional comma, apostrophe, or period. He also does not typically separate paragraphs. The result is that all the text and dialog runs together in a uniform block on each page. The static appearance of the pages is meant, I believe, to make the reader sympathetic to the stricken vision of the characters. I figured this out pretty early in the book and afterwards the lack of punctuation started to become annoying. I get it, I thought; you don't have to beat me over the head with it. Then, much later in the book, I realized what else he was doing. He never uses names in the novel. There are no "Barbara said," or "shouted Jake" phrases. You begin to figure out who is talking by listening to the characters' "voices" as they speak - which is how the blind inmates recognize each other as well. Pretty neat.
The other thing that I enjoyed about this book is that it is essentially post-apocalypse fiction, which I love. Saramago makes a believable, honest description of a breakdown of industrialized society, the re-structuring of rules when we're reduced to just surviving. I always enjoy watching the character development of simple house wives and taxi drivers in that setting. It was beautifully done.
And now to what turned me off from this novel. About half-way into the story, there is a chapter that consists of an extremely graphic description of a gang rape. There are several victims and they are all key characters in the book. By this point, the reader has gotten to know them fairly well. The abuse they suffer is very detailed and beyond repugnant. It's offensive and gratuitous. These are my issues with that chapter:
1) Saramago was using the rape scene to vilify the ward of prisoners who were stealing food and robbing the other inmates. He was doing an excellent job of portraying them as inhuman without the rape scene. The reader already knows that the thugs are capable of starving their fellow inmates to death for no other reason than greed and the pleasure of inflicting suffering. Dozens of earlier chapters have already shown the reader how debased these people have become. The rape scene was unnecessary.
2) It was a cheap shot. Using something as reprehensible and sickeningly graphic as a gang rape to pull an emotional response out of the reader is just lazy writing. It's like you're watching a movie, and in the first scene where they show the villain, he crosses the street and stomps on a puppy. It's simply not good writing - that sort of scene does not require any effort to make the reader hate the character. Any hack writer can do that. It would have been a better test of skill to elicit the same response by another means. The rest of the novel is evidence enough that Saramago is an excellent writer - I don't know what happened to him in that chapter.
3) The events leading up to the rape are not believable. The women submit to the assault because they are starving, the thugs hold the food, and the women and other inmates will not be allowed to eat unless they submit. It is understood that this sort of "trade" will be required any time they want to eat. The women resignedly agree to the terms with little discussion, as well as their men. I can say without doubt that I would never, ever ask a woman I loved to allow herself to be gang raped so that I could eat, even if I were starving. I don't know many men who would say different after serious consideration. Saramago would argue that we never know how we would respond under threat of starvation, but I just don't buy it. That's an underhanded argument anyways since most of us have never been starved. I can say for certain that I would rather fight and die trying to defend myself and my loved ones - there are fates worse than death. Also, one of the female inmates has her sight and is armed - she has a tremendous tactical advantage over the blind aggressors. She could kill or at least maim each one of them at her leisure and yet she doesn't. She is raped and the other female inmates suffer the same. Saramago fails to give a convincing argument as to why she didn't defend herself.
I read mostly for entertainment and education, and the graphic description of this horrible scene really ruined the book for me. It made me sick to my stomach and that's saying something coming from a paramedic. I am inclined, however, to mistrust my judgment due to my strong emotional response to the chapter. I also realize that I was not particularly offended by the other acts of violence and suffering in the novel. It is possible that I'm a bit of a hypocrite and a chauvinist. So, if you don't think you'd be particularly bothered by that scene, you should definitely pick up this book. It does at least have a happy ending.(less)