In some ways, the characters in these two short novels are utterly free. Just about everything is permitted in the Parisian society to which they beloIn some ways, the characters in these two short novels are utterly free. Just about everything is permitted in the Parisian society to which they belong: Become a courtesan. Take a much younger lover. Have a child out of wedlock. Become addicted to opium. Don’t ever bother to get married, but if you do, sleep around with other people. Spend your whole life in total leisure. Go ahead! No one cares. But this culture, like every culture, does have its own codes of conduct, and thus its own set of restrictions. Specifically, you must never allow yourself to feel the more heartfelt emotions, like love, and if you do unfortunately fall victim to such emotions, please keep it to yourself. Be as wild as you want, but take no actual risks. For all their decadence and ostensible freedom, the characters in this book are just as repressed as Edith Wharton’s proper New Yorkers.
Novels such as this usually seem to focus on female characters’ struggles with the repressive cultures they find themselves in, so Chéri and The Last of Chéri are unique: They focus on a young man, nicknamed Chéri (real name: Fred)—gorgeous, spoiled, privileged, and utterly trapped. Chéri is without a doubt the architect of his own despair, but his realization of the meaninglessness of his life and his subsequent efforts to change it broke my heart. These novels were published almost 100 years ago, but as with most classics, their themes continue to resonate in the present day.
So why am I not giving this book the deluxe five-star treatment? For one thing, everyone was so repressed that there was very little of the sensuality I was expecting from Colette (although its sparseness made it very effective when it did appear). For another, while the writing sometimes positively shone, at other times it was a bit humdrum, or even clumsy, so I suspect some of its real power got lost in translation. In fact, given that this translation was first published in 1951, I might say we’re due for an entirely new one. But since the only person who seems to be doing new translations from French these days is Lydia Davis, maybe we should just let it be. This was an interesting and worthwhile read nonetheless....more
Now that I've pulled myself together I can say a few words about Gatsby, like that it's beautiful, and timeless, and feels contemporary--it could haveNow that I've pulled myself together I can say a few words about Gatsby, like that it's beautiful, and timeless, and feels contemporary--it could have been written last year. It's like a razor, shiny and sharp, cutting away everything inessential and probably cutting you too if you get too close, which you probably will.
I think I was in college the first time I read this, although I didn't read it for college--I borrowed a copy from a friend, who'd gotten it from her cousin, who had read it for her eighth-grade English class (the notes in the margin, you can imagine, didn't exactly enhance the experience). But this points up the fact that Gatsby is one of those books that's usually assigned to people who are too young to appreciate it. Even at twenty, I was clearly too young. Better to read it after you've spent some time beating against the current yourself. I'm very glad I gave this another chance. ...more
Reading a biography of Sylvia Plath's summer in New York made me want to read The Bell Jar again, but I rarely reread books, and I thought it had onlyReading a biography of Sylvia Plath's summer in New York made me want to read The Bell Jar again, but I rarely reread books, and I thought it had only been about three or four years since I'd read it for the first time. Then I checked back and realized it had been over ten years. TEN years. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that just about everything that's happened in my life has happened in the past ten years. Therefore, anything with emotional import must be read again.
I remember loving the book last time, and I think I loved it even more this time. Plath's depiction of depression is amazing--she puts to words things that should be impossible to put to words. The book is also an immersive experience of that particular time and the options you had (or didn't have) if you were a young woman and/or had had a mental illness (as Esther's ex-boyfriend puts it, "I wonder who you'll marry now, Esther. Now you've been...here."). When it's not busy being harrowing, the novel is also very funny (my favorite line: "If there's anything I look down on, it's a man in a blue outfit."). Plath depicts Esther very early on as an avid observer of people, and that trait comes in handy in both the absurd moments and the devastating ones.
I've heard this book described as a sort of female Catcher in the Rye, but I don't really agree. I think a lot of people identify with Holden Caulfield when they're young, but if they go back to the book as adults they're more likely to just be amused, or even annoyed. I don't think the same is true of The Bell Jar. I think with The Bell Jar the qualities you admire are only going to show themselves more vividly and heartbreakingly as you grow up....more
Great book. It's a satire, so it's funny and clever and ironic, but at the same time it has so much heart and warmth and respect for its characters. LGreat book. It's a satire, so it's funny and clever and ironic, but at the same time it has so much heart and warmth and respect for its characters. Loved it....more
I read my first Jane Austen, Emma, only a few years ago, and I wasn't crazy about it. However, I suspect part of the problem may have been the OxfordI read my first Jane Austen, Emma, only a few years ago, and I wasn't crazy about it. However, I suspect part of the problem may have been the Oxford University Press edition I was reading--uninviting font, small print, tight type, weird layout. It made the book hard to pick up and easy to put down, and forget about reading it in situations where I couldn't devote rapt concentration to it (like, say, on an airplane).
So reading Austen this time, I went for the most reader-friendly edition I could find--a Harper Teen version clearly meant to attract Twilight devotees. It had a more modern look and more inviting text, but I'm not sure if that really made the difference, or if P&P is just plain superior to Emma. Either way, I thought P&P was delightful. Fun, funny, entertaining. It has sophisticated (for our day) language, but is easy to read on a plane, in a restaurant, or anywhere you happen to be. I usually never bring classics along while traveling, feeling my distracted mind won't be able to give them the concentration they deserve, but I had no hesitation in bringing P&P on a business trip. It worked out just as well as any beach read would, and was about 100 times as satisfying. I recommend it, and I'm hoping future Austens fall closer to this than to Emma....more
I started off hating this book and what I felt was its stereotypical depiction of small-town residents of "flyover" states as all miserable. Then I reI started off hating this book and what I felt was its stereotypical depiction of small-town residents of "flyover" states as all miserable. Then I realized that in Anderson's day small-town life was probably idealized, and he was blowing the lid off of it with this book.
The book became almost soap operatic, with people's bizarre ideas and desires coming to the surface and their paths crossing, and suddenly everyone was pouring their hearts out. Everyone had something to express, some philosophy they had kept inside and seemed only able to tell to George, a character who had one foot in and one out of the town. Interesting and affecting....more