This is probably a really good book, but what 17 year old white girl is going to realize that? I should reread it. (But what if 17 year old me was rig...moreThis is probably a really good book, but what 17 year old white girl is going to realize that? I should reread it. (But what if 17 year old me was right about it being super super obvious and literal? I mean, that paint scene? Maybe it has the same problems as Another Country.)(less)
Crime and Punishment is the best example I can think of for a book I have a love/hate relationship with. Reading it is miserable, until the last fifty...moreCrime and Punishment is the best example I can think of for a book I have a love/hate relationship with. Reading it is miserable, until the last fifty or sixty pages, when you can see the light. But every time I step back from it, or close the covers, I am simply blown away.(less)
I guess it is not really possible to like existential novels that you have to read for school. But I don't think I would have enjoyed L'etranger under...moreI guess it is not really possible to like existential novels that you have to read for school. But I don't think I would have enjoyed L'etranger under any circumstances.(less)
Okay, admittedly, I just had to read this for a class I disliked intensely which may have colored my thoughts on the book. On the other hand, they see...moreOkay, admittedly, I just had to read this for a class I disliked intensely which may have colored my thoughts on the book. On the other hand, they seem pretty in line with things I have already thought about Camus in general, so I don't think it's as much a concern as it could be (plus, I am good at compartmentalizing when it comes to books and classes). My main issue with Camus has always been that he writes from a very narrow perspective, and his characters do not seem to step outside it. Then Camus Otherizes everyone who isn't part of this group, even when they are the ostensibly the focus, like "La Femme Adultère" (which also Otherizes, i.e. Algerians, another persistent theme for Camus . . . if he mentions them at all). But even outside the gender/race factors, his focus is so narrow as to be alienating. It is difficult to find yourself in his works.
I'm divided on the merit of The Plague. As much as I love existentialism, Camus' focus doesn't work for me. What is the value of fictional suffering? It's easy to alarm and elicit sympathy or empathy with fictional suffering - I don't know how much it transfers over to real suffering. If La Peste were straight philosophy, I would probably admire it. As fiction? Well, I admire the techniques and I admire the sentiment but I don't really admire the book.(less)
I'm so glad I started reading James Baldwin, because I really like him. He is perceptive and sensitive and intelligent - which is kind of a rare combi...moreI'm so glad I started reading James Baldwin, because I really like him. He is perceptive and sensitive and intelligent - which is kind of a rare combination. Usually intelligence cancels out compassion in writers, but not in Baldwin. Go Tell It On the Mountain is notable for the way Baldwin interweaves Biblical stories and the (I think semi-autobiographical) religious community. I enjoyed Notes of a Native Son and I look forward to reading more of his novels.(less)
James Baldwin has an amazing ability to write about feelings. Giovanni's Room is in some ways almost entirely about emotions, and I don't mean this as...moreJames Baldwin has an amazing ability to write about feelings. Giovanni's Room is in some ways almost entirely about emotions, and I don't mean this as anything by a compliment. We feel things along with his characters, rather than observing their interactions with their emotions. The book is, therefore, quite powerful (which is maybe facilitated by how close to despair his main character is, despair being a hungry kind of feeling . . . still, it's remarkable) and immediate and sharp.
I must admit, I was not expecting it to be quite as good as it was. It was risky for 1956, and I think it's really daring for 2009. Finally, I want to say that this isn't a love/morality choice presented to the protagonist. It's a choice between ethics and cowardice. You can probably imagine which he chooses.(less)
Baldwin has an eminently readable style of writing that I hope very much carries over to his fiction. I always admire clarity in writing, and the rich...moreBaldwin has an eminently readable style of writing that I hope very much carries over to his fiction. I always admire clarity in writing, and the richness of his work doesn't suffer from the clarity, as sometimes happens with other writers. Also, he has very interesting things to say! Very much recommended.(less)
I found The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura a terribly frustrating read. It is a book that really ought...moreI found The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura a terribly frustrating read. It is a book that really ought to have pushed my buttons, and there were parts of it I loved (the first third, I think, was my favorite), but overall it just . . . dragged. Morgner's book is clearly meticulous and an admirable achievement, and her humor and intelligence are amazing. But it did not work for me, and although I suspect this is my fault and not Morgner's or her translator's, the fact remains.(less)
I don't know if I've ever read a book so infuriating and unsatisfying. (That's a lie: I definitely have, but I can't remember what it is right now.) E...moreI don't know if I've ever read a book so infuriating and unsatisfying. (That's a lie: I definitely have, but I can't remember what it is right now.) Even The God of Small Things, of which I was strongly reminded while reading Desai's novel, had some sort of fulfillment.
Still, when a book stymies me I tend to admire it, since it takes guts to ignore narrative conventions. I don't mean minor conventions like the unities or quotation marks, but major ones like the emotional journeys on which we expect a work to take us.
This is a coming of age novel in all kinds of ways. There's the traditional coming of age, undertaken and endured by the young people, Sai and Biju. And then the grappling with the modern world of the two sisters in late middle age, Lola and Noni. Held up by Gorkha nationalists hoping for contraband (or, I guess, something that can be turned to contraband) and called to account for some library books, Lola explains
"I always said," she turned to the others [her friends] in a frivolous fashion, "that I would save Trollope for my dotage; I knew it would be a perfect slow indulgence when I had nothing much to do and, well, here I am. Old-fashioned books is what I like. Not the new kind of thing, no beginning, no middle, no end, just a thread of . . . free-floating plasma . . . "English writer," she told the guard.
Now, I'm inclined to be over-generous to any self-aware piece of art (oh, Community!) so naturally I loved this part, Desai's wink at the audience. Because The Inheritance of Loss is a bit of postmodern plasma, indeed; around page 150 I was starting to wonder if the book would be any actual plot. (There is, but it's toward the end.) Not because I have any particular bias against books without plot (if you do, though, let's be Vampire Diaries buddies, because that show has more plot than it knows what to do with and not enough people watch it) but because I like to know what kind of book I'm reading in order to think about it more clearly. I mean: you don't downgrade a gymnast on the vault over the absence of a floor routine.
But I also love that part because it's such a great illustration of the ethnic and class tensions at work throughout the novel. Indian/British, Hindi/Parsi, Bengali/Gorkha, ICS/the help. Actually, the town in Uttar Pradesh is made up of all kinds of bits and pieces of ethnic groups: Tibetans, a [gay] Swiss priest, Nepalis and Gorkhas, Gujaratis, Hindi-Parsi girls educated at a Catholic convent . . . no one really belongs. (The same is true, naturally, of New York.)
I also really liked the relationship between Sai and Gyan, although only once it had soured.
Part of me wishes this had been a short story, though. It was a little bit baggy, and I think in some ways it could have been more effective as a short story.
Note: this book employs Chekhov's Dog, a term I've just made up. I have a hard time reading about animals in peril because x, y, z. Forewarned is forearmed.(less)
I admit that I found the long sections of scientific information about Solaris (the planet) rather dull, except when they really delved into the devel...moreI admit that I found the long sections of scientific information about Solaris (the planet) rather dull, except when they really delved into the development and history of theories - I guess it's scientific historiography? - which was quite an interesting aspect, however much the specifics went over my head. But overall Solaris is a thoughtful, meditative book which is mostly about the way we react to despair when continually confronted by it. That is what I will take away from it the most, anyway. In some ways it is a book of continuous, tightly-focused character development.(less)
The five stories in Love and Longing in Bombay are connected in a few ways: they're all told through the same character, to the narrator, at varying d...moreThe five stories in Love and Longing in Bombay are connected in a few ways: they're all told through the same character, to the narrator, at varying degrees of distance; they're all really about Bombay (except, perhaps, "Shanti," the final story); they're all about some kind of love; they're all really, really about storytelling. I liked that Chandra uses the stories to explore a variety of genres, linking the stories through framing device and theme while exploring other areas in each individual work.
Some of them, of course!, worked better for me than others. I liked "Shakti," best: a sort of Edith-Wharton-in-Mumbai story, sharply observed, but not without compassion. "Artha," about a Muslim programmer trying to balance a search for his missing boyfriend with major problems at work, was my other favorite. "Shanti" expresses the largest themes of the collection through a quasi-filmi love story, and is moving and sweet and convincing.
"Dharma," the ghost story, seemed a little obvious in its conclusion. "Kama," the mystery, didn't do much for me. I know it introduces a character who Chandra uses again in Sacred Games, and I can see why he would be compelling, but the story wasn't quite enough. Overall, though, I thought this was an interesting and thought-provoking collection, and I liked the questions it raised.(less)
I love James Baldwin, and I mean that in the most sincere and least hyperbolic way possible. I also respect and admire him (and his writing), and Nobo...moreI love James Baldwin, and I mean that in the most sincere and least hyperbolic way possible. I also respect and admire him (and his writing), and Nobody Knows My Name is quite as good as Notes of a Native Son. They should probably print his article about Richard Wright as an appendix to editions of Wright's books (are you listening Norton Critical Editions). However, I was honestly shocked at how few women were present in these essays - it was really shockingly few. On some level I can understand why . . . but it was still a gaping hole.
Besides the aforementioned memoir/essay about Wright ("Alas, Poor Richard") which contains many gems, I thought some of the most interesting essays were "Princes and Powers," "Faulkner and Desegregation," "The Northern Protestant," and "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy." This list reveals a great deal about my own preferences, I realize.(less)
I don't really know why this got classified as a mystery, since it seems like just a regular novel to me? Like, I'm pretty sure any Dickens novel has...moreI don't really know why this got classified as a mystery, since it seems like just a regular novel to me? Like, I'm pretty sure any Dickens novel has more of a traditional mystery format. Bleak House! Our Mutual Friend! This wasn't a mystery or a thriller, really, so much as a novel that looked at the way trauma transforms your life, even years down the line. So, psychologically, it is really interesting, although it's tiring to read so much about bad faith. (Right? Other people feel this way, don't they?) Eliza's life is actually enviable, except for the summer when she was fifteen. She's fulfilled in it, the things that distress her are, for the most part, banal - but that doesn't mean they're unimportant! They are The Most Important. Her life is about creating other people.
But, I dunno, the prose was fine - but there was no spark, and some of the themes (teen idols, literature, grooming your victims) were kind of literal.(less)
For one, Weeks isn't a particularly compelling narrator/storyteller (whatever you want to call him): as a compa...moreSo, this book. It's just not very good.
For one, Weeks isn't a particularly compelling narrator/storyteller (whatever you want to call him): as a companion to history, he's not that interesting, he doesn't make you feel interested in the world he explores. Admittedly, this is an academic book, not a popular or literary one, so "interesting" is less of a priority - and maybe Weeks is great in the classroom and just not good on paper? IDK, IDK, IDK. But I didn't want to spend time with him and there was no urgency to reading this.
Also, there's something off about the writing, stylistically. Like, there are these little asides where he's kind of coy or disingenuous or snide, and I felt a little like: dude, this is your project, if you're not interested enough to be excited about it, then why should we? Those bits don't add anything to the discussion, they don't even add anything to his personality! So, that's a point against it.
Historically, I guess Weeks is okay, and he is okay on the "strictly" religious aspects, too. He has a bad habit of agreeing with everybody until someone critical of them shows up, so then it's a bit confusing and difficult to know who to take seriously. (Although, this is a book about mysticism, soooo.) And he's not very good at mixing the historical background with the academic jargon or with the concepts; it's a bit like playing leap frog or something. Philosophically . . . well, his philosophy is very shallow, let's say (he thinks Schopenhauer is neglected! even in the 90s I don't think Schopenhauer was neglected! except possibly by his parents?). The existentialist terminology in the introduction made me excited, because WHOO IMMANENCE AND TRANSCENDENCE FTW but ugh, he doesn't follow through with them at all.(less)
If I hadn't read The Year of the Flood first, I probably would have been more impressed by Oryx and Crake. Three stars might be unfair. Oryx and Crake...moreIf I hadn't read The Year of the Flood first, I probably would have been more impressed by Oryx and Crake. Three stars might be unfair. Oryx and Crake does a couple of things really well: it's a page turner, it uses a very tight narrative style, and it conveys the major themes without hitting you over the head. Like The Year of the Flood, there is a sharp, bitter, funny edge and some razored satirical flourishes - sometimes you are like, "Damn, Margaret Atwood, you have been reading Evelyn Waugh" (it is actually kind of like A Handful of Dust*!).
Maybe because O&C is such a tightly controlled, tightly structured novel, it feels less grounded in a future world than TYotF. We spend so much of the book inside Jimmy's head (I cannot think of him as Snowman, sorry, kid) that the world-building isn't so rich. I guess it's more of a typical literary effect than the more typical sci-fi focus of TYotF? Because it's all "let's explore this dude's psyche, wow, it's a shitty psyche" instead of "these are the socio-political changes that have lead to the current state of the world." You read TYotF and are reminded of China Mountain Zhang, rather than A Handful of Dust. I mean, both are good, and I think CMZ is at least as good as AHoD (did I just lose all credibility? oh well) but they don't aim for the same things.
Anyway, this didn't feel as solid as TYotF, even though it had a more privileged (eh? eh?) viewpoint, so some information was made more explicit. But I think the story TYotF tells is a bit more interesting, and if you are reasonably intelligent you could skip straight to that one.
* I know Jimmy and Glenn are walking examples of bad faith as exhibited by smart people, but what is this "every happy couple means one unhappy person uncoupled" idea? That is ridiculous. UGH, BOYS.(less)