Nothing really new to say - the saga continues! Things picked up a bit in this book, which was nice. I still have the same irks and complaints as usua...moreNothing really new to say - the saga continues! Things picked up a bit in this book, which was nice. I still have the same irks and complaints as usual, so I don't need to repeat myself. I'm still enjoying the ride!
Themes: good vs. evil, savior, duty, gender, anger, lack of communication, destiny vs. free will, war, honor(less)
I was very impressed with each piece in this book and the effort that builds throughout the book towards showing the terrible ineffectiveness of the w...moreI was very impressed with each piece in this book and the effort that builds throughout the book towards showing the terrible ineffectiveness of the way independence was handled by Europeans and Americans in Africa and India after so many years of colonization. Each story gives a chilling sense that newfound freedom for a country or even an individual isn't really as free as it might seem. The people of color in each story struggle with prejudice, and face difficulties and consequences that are inevitable and often unfair.
I really like the structure of this book. The variety of settings and characters gives a good flavor for the variety of struggles faced, as well as the similarities, as former colonies and their native people gained independence.
One line from the short story Tell Me Who To Kill really sums up the book for me: "We all come out of the same pot, but some people move ahead and some people get left behind. Some people get left behind so far they don't know and they stop caring."
My favorite story was One Out of Many, a story about Santosh, who comes to the US from India with his employer. He arrives confused, terrified and feeling very conflicted: "I was a free man; I had lost my freedom." As he gains more experience in the US, he begins to see things and people in new ways. He learns that his boss isn't the powerful man he once thought he was, and he learns that the fact that he works for his boss isn't the only thing about him that matters. But he also learns that he is very much alone in the world and life won't be easy for him.
Themes: India, Africa, London, Washington DC, colonialism, exile, freedom, race, prejudice, diversity(less)
This book meant a lot to me when I was younger, and it was such a pleasure to revisit it. I remember previously being very affected by the struggles a...moreThis book meant a lot to me when I was younger, and it was such a pleasure to revisit it. I remember previously being very affected by the struggles and unfairnesses in Francie's life - particularly her father's drunkenness and the fact that she loses him, the parent who loves her best.
Now that I've lived another decade and a half or so of life, I have less of a demand for life to be 'fair' and was able to focus instead more on Francie's optimism and drive: "Dear God," she prayed, "let me be SOMETHING every minute of every hour of my life." She's absolutely an inspiration, even still.
I also had a strong response to Francie's first heartbreak, something I didn't even recall from before. Francie's mom tells her that she'll be happy again and fall in love again but it will never be the same as the first time, she'll never forget, and any future man she loves will share a commonality with that first man. Thinking back on my own experience, this strikes me as somewhat true but also far less negative than it sounds. The first person I loved is unforgettable in ways that subsequent loves are not, but it's pleasant memories, despite the heartbreak, that rule.
I look forward to revisiting this novel again in another decade or so. The story is embedded in 1910s impoverished Brooklyn but its messages about the cycle of poverty, the importance of education, and the power of family and love will never lose their shine.
Themes: 1910s, Brooklyn, Irish, family, bildungsroman, love, education, poverty, women
I loved this story for about the first half of the book. Despite the fact that I'd be taken out of the story every time it switched characters, I was...moreI loved this story for about the first half of the book. Despite the fact that I'd be taken out of the story every time it switched characters, I was engaged by all four story lines, so I happily fell right back into the story after the jolting switch. However, somewhere between half and three-quarters of the way through the book, things began to move faster and faster. Piercy began to gloss over events, describe instead of show, and generally move from novel-style writing to biography-style writing. This was extremely disappointing, especially after much of the novel had been excellent and well-written. At the very end, Piercy even went so far as to quickly describe the rest of each character's life in just a few pages. What I enjoyed most about the book was the history of women's rights in the US and I liked thinking about it in light of the statements briefly made by Barbara Ehrenreich in "Bright-Sided" about the basis of positive thinking coming from repressed women of the late 19th century.
Themes: feminism, New York, American dream, suffrage, 19th century, immigration, gender roles, poverty (less)
**spoiler alert** Merricat tells the story of her family. They are exiled by the town as it is assumed that Constance murdered most of the family. It'...more**spoiler alert** Merricat tells the story of her family. They are exiled by the town as it is assumed that Constance murdered most of the family. It's just M, C, and Uncle Julian living in their huge house. Constance never leaves and Merricat just to get groceries, and reluctantly, as she is hated and taunted mercilessly. M seems stunted (like she didn't finish growing up) and fiercely protective of C. Cousin Charles appears (to steal the family fortune) but C chooses to trust him while M tries all sorts of "magic" to get rid of him. Eventually she sets the house on fire trying to get rid of Charles and the villagers come. They put out the fire, but destroy the home in hatred. Julian dies, Charles disappears, M and C hide. We find out M poisoned the sugar bowl (and everyone but C who doesn't eat sugar which M knew). They return home, clean what they can and close off the rest. The villagers leave food on the doorstep out of guilt from then on.
Themes: unreliable narrator, hatred, ostracism, desperate love (within the family)
I loved Merricat. She was so strong, yet so extremely terrified. Her thoughts and passions were bizarre yet interesting and what she did as a child clearly had an effect on her and made her nervous and scared and cling to mysticism and magic. A lot of food here - Constance cooking them their favorite meals and growing vegetables in the garden. The end is left with the two girls living happily in virtually just the kitchen of their house. It really feels like they are too terrified to contemplate doing anything else. Merricat will never grow up and Constance will continue to mother her.(less)
My thoughts on In Search of Lost Time as a whole are below! First, my thoughts on Time Regained:
Well, Proust definitely knew how to write a satisfying...moreMy thoughts on In Search of Lost Time as a whole are below! First, my thoughts on Time Regained:
Well, Proust definitely knew how to write a satisfying ending. The last 100 pages of the novel are a glorious culmination of the themes and ideas that have filled the previous 2900 pages. I did find things ever so slightly repetitive after a while, but not because Proust was literally repeating himself. This was more because he was coming at his major themes (time, memory, literature, art, change, identity) from an endless variety of closely-associated angles and teasing out every little nuance. For me, someone who is terrible at writing conclusions and summaries, this process was absolutely fascinating. Every step of Proust’s novel seemed to come into account here in the final volume and I was amazed and impressed.
My takeaways: It’s not the wittiest or best-educated person who is a true artist, it’s the person who “can become a mirror and thereby reflect his life.”
We as individuals are many different people – each person who describes and judges us sees us as a different person and as we change over the course of our lives we become new people all the time.
“But it would be absurd to sacrifice to the symbol the reality which it symbolizes.”
Life seems dreary, even though so many moments are wonderful, because we base our assessment on memories, which are very different from actual life moments in that they no longer contain life itself, which is what is beautiful.
Experiencing a Proustian moment is basically being in two times at once – experiencing in a flash a little bit of time in its pure state.
“The book whose characters are forged within us, rather than sketched by us, is the only book we have.”
Happiness is good for the body, sorrow strengthens the mind.
Life continues to weave new connections and ideas around old memories, even when you aren’t thinking about them. Then, revisiting them years later, you can find them much changed.
Some of the effects of time: “forgiveness, forgetting, and indifference”
“I was thinking of my book in more modest terms, and it would be a mistake to say that I was thinking of those who would read it as my readers. For they were not, as I saw it, my readers, so much as readers of their own selves, my book being merely one of those magnifying glasses.. I would be providing them with the means of reading within themselves.” (A means but not an end – a starting point.)
It is a universal feeling that we occupy an ever larger place in time as we age. “It was this notion of embodied time, of past years not being separated from us, that it was now my intention to make such a prominent feature in my work."
One niggling complaint –about the Penguin translation, not Proust. All throughout I’ve really been impressed with the group of translators who worked on this edition – the endnotes and introductory notes have been excellent, and the translation has read smoothly and fluidly. This final volume is, comparatively, quite subpar. Sentences are confusing – as though Ian Patterson, the translator, didn’t put enough time into ensuring their grammatical flow once translated – and there are actually quite a few missing words and other mistakes that aren’t original to Proust’s manuscript. Additionally, the introduction was very rushed and I got the impression Patterson’s heart wasn’t in the project. I definitely feel disappointed in his effort – especially since he chose to work on the novel’s very important culmination.
A distillation of my thoughts on In Search of Lost Time as a whole:
I’ve always said that I’d rather a book be short on plot and long on thought than fast-paced and full of clever plot devices but lacking realistic characters and something thought-provoking to sink my teeth into. The fact that I truly loved reading this 3000-page novel, from beginning to end, puts my money where my mouth is. After all, the first volume (Swann’s Way) opens with 30-ish pages describing that weird feeling of waking up and not knowing for a split where, who, or when you are.
In Search of Lost Time is impossible to summarize, but here I go: The novel is about Marcel (the narrator, not the author) discovering, after a long life of distractions and failures, that he can reach the goal of writing a novel that he gave up long ago. The novel has two “I’s” - both young Marcel and old Marcel (writing the novel we’re reading) wax and wane throughout. This provides the reader with two different looks at characters and events that combine to give us a more rounded perspective. As Roger Shattuck, literary critic and Proust scholar says, this is just like the way that our two eyes with their slightly different locations on our face work together to give what we see depth.
There are dozens of central characters and plot points and hundreds of pages of philosophical musings and digressions, but the last 100 pages are a glorious culmination. Proust comes at his major themes from an endless variety of closely-associated angles, teasing out every nuance. Ultimately, I feel comfortable distilling In Search of Lost Time down to the following themes, in order of increasing importance, that will continue to haunt my thoughts for a long time:
Art and Literature – Proust is very clear that both literature and art are tools for human growth and reflection. This does not, however, mean that reading a good book or watching an acclaimed play will automatically change the reader/viewer and help her grow. Rather, literature and art are means to an end, starting points. As Marcel (our narrator) describes the readers of his novel: “For they were not, as I saw it, my readers, so much as readers of their own selves, my book being merely one those magnifying glasses… I would be providing them with the means of reading within themselves.” Merely having and experiencing the tool isn’t enough, the reader must then do his or her own internal work to gain from the experience.
Identity – We are, each of us, an endless number of people. As we change over time, we become new people. Additionally, we are a different person in the eyes of each person who knows us. As Marcel describes himself: “I was not one single man, but the march-past of a composite army manned, depending on the time of day, by passionate, indifferent or jealous men.”
Memory and Time – I’m discussing these two themes together because they are so interwoven. Proust very thoroughly show how our memories aren’t static, but are shaped and filtered by how our identity changes and what happens to us over time. Life weaves new connections and ideas around old memories, changing them. Proust also argues that the more we consciously focus on creating or thinking about a memory, the less real and visual it will be because we wring all the strength out of it. Involuntary memories – what readers of In Search of Lost Time would call “Proustian moments” – are the most potent. The most famous Proustian moment in the novel is when the narrator takes a bit of a madeleine cake he has dipped in tea and very suddenly recalls his childhood in an extremely sensual way. This moments allows the narrator to occupy two time periods at once, the one he is in and the one he recalls – he “experience[s] in a flash a little bit of time in its pure state.” The novel closes with a rapid succession of five such moments, which ultimately lead the narrator to write his novel.
It took me six months to work my way through In Search of Lost Time and I would not be exaggerating to say that the experienced has changed me. My perspective has deepened, my self-visualization has been refined. And, to end on a lighter note, I’ve found another reason to read literature to add to my growing mental list:
“To read genuine literature is to accumulate within oneself a fund of possible experiences against which to achieve an occasionally intensified sense of what one is doing, to recognize that one is alive in a particular way.”
Through literature, the young look forward to life, and the old look back at it. (less)
This definitely feels like a mid-series book. The saga continues, there are new revelations and characters and event, but it picks up and leaves off i...moreThis definitely feels like a mid-series book. The saga continues, there are new revelations and characters and event, but it picks up and leaves off in the thick of things.
The most important new theme in this volume is homosexuality and a surprising number of characters turn out to be homosexual or bisexual. I was put off my the description of what Proust calls 'inverts' at the beginning of this volume - he basically says inverted men are women and it's obvious when you see and hear them - as any modern reader would be.
But much of what followed was interesting. I'm intrigued by the Baron de Charlus' characteristics and power struggles, and I was amused by a few episodes related to this theme: M. Nissim Bernard and the tomato brothers, Morel repeatedly ditching the Prince de Guermantes, and Bloch's cousin and another woman causing a scene at a party.
The other new theme, which builds on the narrator's obsession with place-names and the emotions they evoke, is etymology. There is endless etymology in this volume (through Brichot) and the end result is the breakdown of meaning in place-names for the narrator.
The least interesting part of this volume is the narrator and his jealousy. His treatment of Albertine is (purposefully, I know) sophomoric and agonizing. I know that the next volume is going to focus on Albertine and the narrator's jealous and crazy love for her and I'm not too excited about it. The strands of the story that focus on social conventions and many of the other silly, strange, vain, neurotic, or even crazy characters are more interesting to me.
Themes: Parisian aristocratic social life at the turn of the 20th century, social structure, climbing (and falling) on the social ladder, love and conquest, homosexuality, jealousy, changes of heart, etymology(less)
A man semi-inherits the bizarre and voluminous writings of another man who wrote about a film that might exist in the story or might not. The film fea...moreA man semi-inherits the bizarre and voluminous writings of another man who wrote about a film that might exist in the story or might not. The film features another man and his family moving into a bizarre house with an empty chambers of endlessly growing and expanding hallways with nothing and no one inside. They explore, they're afraid, the house keeps expanding in a way that ultimately could kill, despite the lack of a monster (besides one of the characters).
Themes: media (film or written) taking over the mind and making you crazy, post-modern, fear of emptiness, adventure
I've never read another book remotely like this. It was bizarre and intriguing. Boring and weird occassionally. Alternately hard to follow and impossible to put down. Written as notes and subnotes and sub-subnotes. I loved the section where the childhood was described, with the mother writing coded letters from the hospital.(less)
I read this wonderful novel once before, back in 2001, and it meant a lot to me then. It meant just as much this time around.
This is a beautiful, int...moreI read this wonderful novel once before, back in 2001, and it meant a lot to me then. It meant just as much this time around.
This is a beautiful, intriguing story. It is told out of order, with many outcomes told before their circumstances, but events at the end still felt fresh and even a little unpredictable. I love Tom's meandering storytelling and the way he remarks on his own thoughts - it's like reading a novel with the author's own notes in the margins. I like that the vast majority of the novel is calm and quiet, despite the fact that a lot happens, some of it deeply disturbing.
I think I will come back to this novel another decade down the road.
Themes: history, love, family, water, cycles/circles, curiosity, doing things over and over that undo themselves, family history, time (past vs. present vs. future), children (less)
I thoroughly enjoyed the earliest third of this book, which features Charles Carter's early life. This was the least action-packed part of the book, a...moreI thoroughly enjoyed the earliest third of this book, which features Charles Carter's early life. This was the least action-packed part of the book, and I definitely preferred this more literary part that shows how and why Charles Carter becomes Carter the Great.
My favorite moment is when a young Charles is lying in bed awake at night: "In the middle of the night, with his father and brother asleep, and his mother having an adventure, he felt fits of longing for places he'd never been, places he couldn't describe, and he wondered if there were anyone else like him in the world, awake and catching glimpses of the unknown."
The rest of the book was really not my thing (it's part mystery, part crime, and all thriller) but by then I was invested in the characters. It also really helped that all the magic and illusions in the book are historically accurate - it was a fascinating part of history to learn about that I doubt I would have come across any other way. Gold's research was exceptional, and even though I'm not much interested in thrillers, I can respect what he did.
Gold also has a literary-style, even in the midst of murder and mayhem, and I did find a few nuggets for a reader like me in the last two-thirds of the book.
About how Charles handles his grief: "Meanwhile, his astral body floated in the clouds overhead, sending back occasional faint whispers of pain along the silver cord connected to his earthly body, which moved, and smiled, and conjured."
About why people love magic: "What the public wanted was to marvel twice, once at what they'd seen, and then again at how progress, in which they had faith, could still be trumped by the hand of God."
I loved this. McCullers has an uncanny ability to write from the perspective of smart, honest adolescent girls who are just beginning to find their pl...moreI loved this. McCullers has an uncanny ability to write from the perspective of smart, honest adolescent girls who are just beginning to find their place. Mick is just as wonderful as Frankie in The Member of the Wedding. I was surprised to find that McCullers could also write three-dimensional adult men - and four different ones! Nearly all of this novel takes place inside the heads of these five characters; their inner lives managed to temper a lot of the tragedy in the story and I was left feeling hope when it ended because of this. I will definitely continue to read McCullers.
Themes: coming of age, race, the south, poverty, politics, morality, what makes a friendship, need for support, inner life, tragedy (less)
Mumbai, India, 1975ish during "The Emergency" (more government, less civil liberty). Four characters - Dina, Ishvar and nephew Om, Maneck, are very di...moreMumbai, India, 1975ish during "The Emergency" (more government, less civil liberty). Four characters - Dina, Ishvar and nephew Om, Maneck, are very different but end up living together and developing a friendship. Dina is a from a good family but her father died young, leaving her at the mercy of her well-meaning but selfish and clueless brother. Money is tight for her as she tries to avoid having to go to her brother. Ishvar and Om are untouchables who have been taught to sew to help them move up the ladder. They're hired by Dina. Maneck is a friend of Dina's son, comes to stay with Dina to get out of the crazy college dorm. Very depressing ending - things don't go too well for anyone.
Themes: vulnerability vs. fortitude, corrupt gov't that doesn't understand, class issues, a little bit of love
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, despite the general unhappiness in the end. I love this sort of epic novel that covers a large cast and time span and goes through so many themes. It feels like real life.(less)
This is short stories, not related to each other. Lots of famous folks in them (Alex Trebek, David Letterman, Lyndon Johnson) and a novella all about...moreThis is short stories, not related to each other. Lots of famous folks in them (Alex Trebek, David Letterman, Lyndon Johnson) and a novella all about child stars in McDonalds commercials going to a reunion.
Themes: celebrity, mocking/parody of literary trends (over my head a bit)
I really enjoyed "Lyndon" - it was hilarious. The one about the rich druggie who befriends republicans had a funny premise but was too over the top. The novella was interesting for a while, but got a little too nuts.(less)