Saturday, December 03, 2005

Neuromancer

Neuromancer, William Gibson

Third time.

While I read it, I was hyped as hell. Now I'm depressed like a betaphenethylamine comedown. And I think it's because of Molly. I think she was in love with Case, but couldn't admit it. I've got quotes to prove it.

So it's funny: the first two times I read it, I was spatially disoriented; I didn't know what was going on. Honestly--some passages I read this time recalled images in my memory from the previous reading, and the old images were completely wrong. I had this one picture of Case watching the ninja from the top of a narrow tunnel, maybe over a TV screen, when really they were both standing beside a pool. I think it's fascinating how Gibson whips you around in space; how if you're not careful you can have no idea where the characters are standing.

But I don't want to analyse; I want to transmit. It's a hyped book, ruthless, sensitive, like Molly. And I like Molly, and she's gone, and that's tragic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Oryx and Crake


Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

After being forced through Handmaid's Tale in highschool, I vowed: "No more Atwood."

But this was good. The greatest improvement over Handmaid is the lack of preaching. It's funny (as in humour), a fast read, conscious of the present, imaginative of the future.

The best though, was its ambiguity. Ie., what happened? Who loved whom? What happens after it ends? Who did what, exactly? Structurally, I have the impression that this book leaves multiple possibilities open at numerous points of the narrative. I feel like I could pick a spot in the middle and read a whole different book depending on how I interpreted the text.

In literature courses, we actively search for these points, and put great effort into uncovering ambiguity and non-intuitive possibilities, but the unique feature of Oryx and Crake is that these possibilities are unavoidable.

And yet... we never feel let down that the author is hiding something. No, rather, she seems to intentionally "paint herself into corners" where she is obviously no longer able to explain what is going on, and therefore we must do so.

So where Handmaid was patronising, this rough vision is pleasantly Socratic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pelagie-la-Charette

Pélagie-la-Charette, Antonine Maillet

This is my second reading, this time in French to see what the big deal was. They do use a lot of funny expressions and grammar like "J'allons au noroît" ("Nous allons au nord-ouest.").

It made me want to cry again, so epic it gets at some points. Twice, I think, there's things that are very touching, because you realise they're true and they're enormous.

It also made me think how my education confounded the Acadians with the Quebecois; how all I was told came from maybe a single page of a textbook.

Oh, and it also struck me structurally: especially when the author's own ancestor appears in one of the characters' tales. I can't stop thinking of the people as characters, but on a parallel plane they were real people. I still can't get my head around it: usually books either talk about historical figures, or about fictional characters, and the situation is clear. Here, no; they're both.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Fine Balance


A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

I suppose I would sound smarter if I hadn't read Pico Ayer's afterword before writing down my thoughts, but what he says is spot on: this book is timeless.

I was sitting there trying to figure out what the story was, and I realised that the story is simply that of a bad government, or even more generally: destiny. The people whom the bad forces harm as they go along don't really suffer any discernible narrative progress. Other than learning how to live with calamity.

That, of course, makes it sound much more depressing than it really is; its fine balance comes from how much happiness the book is able to bring you amidst a sorrow that seems insurmountable.

It's just brilliant. The writing feels as natural as if the author was just making light, regular breaths, and they were floating down and lying on the page as sentences. And yet, this effortless, instinctive activity results in a remarkably structured and profound text. But then, hey, breathing is profound.

One flaw, I felt, was the Anna-Karenina-ending. That single instant wasn't as richly motivated for me as the rest of the events in the novel. It serves to highlight, though, that all the events, all the decisions and reactions of the characters, are explored through a crystalline myriad--tragic, comic, everything--of facets. It really does make you feel like you are living these people's lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Harry Potter et l'ordre du phénix

Harry Potter et l'ordre du phénix, J.K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard.

This is the first Harry Potter book that did not give me the "Tetris-effect". Although the story is still fairly captivating, something is missing, something which made me unable to get rid of any of the first four books from my mind. I do not know what this missing element is; my going hypothesis is that as the kids have aged, I no longer feel any protective parental instinct towards them?

Based on that theory, the attraction of the previous books was that they engaged my protective parental instincts. I wonder if anyone else has felt this.

Again, a decent read, though fairly disappointing action scenes, where one feels that the resolutions of certain tensions are cheap. I think I can now wait patiently until the series is finished before I continue to the next one.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Watermark 2004

Watermark, MA Creative Writing Bath Spa University College 2004, Pridy, R., ed.

This is a collection of short stories and excerpts from the Bath Spa MA in creative writing, which my buddy Dan did.

There is some really good stuff in here. Some of it is just brilliant. Some of it is crap. My attention was drawn to one of the critics' comments printed on the cover: "there is no house style, no School of Newton Park", referring to the fact that everyone writes in their individual style. This is an interesting thing to look for in a collection from a creative writing programme: I generally agree with the guy. There is a story that's insanely funny; another one ominously troubling, and a few other interesting pieces in between.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry

Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry, Isabel Rivers

Although this is a textbook and, as such, not necessarily the most attractive casual reading, once into it I found that it gave me the most incredible ideas. For creative writing, I mean. I'm talking about ideas that are hardly possible to bring about. They all had to do with writing on four- or five-fold exegeticable structures, or exploring the relationship between classical and modern religion.

This is an interesting book because of its surveying quality of thought in both classical and medieval times. As such, it opens up vast complexes of ideas.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu

Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu, J.K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard

As addictive as ever. The "darker" edge of this one made me more uneasy when I finished it. But my main reaction is how goddam invasive these books are. It's not even impossible to put down; it's impossible not to keep thinking about it even after you have put it down. I don't know what it is... it's not like it's even the best story I've ever heard; it's pretty mediocre that way. What could it be that gets Harry so inside my head, dammit! (Note the lack of question mark.)

Saturday, April 30, 2005

An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

Historically-set murder mystery. Mystical ending. A rare structure: four manuscripts tell the same story, in sequence, from four different angles. Only the last writer has access to all the other manuscripts. And thus the exciting and unexpected truth is hidden from us until the very end.

The trouble is that it takes a great deal of pain to read through the first three manuscripts. It's as if the author's heart wasn't really in them, but he knew he had to write them to fulfill form. A gruelling read; somewhat rewarding at the end. Some of the historical details (English renaissance) are interesting.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban

Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Very good escapist fiction. Again, I saw a couple of lapses in the resolution of the story at the end, but the book was impossible to put down. The continuity in the series is becoming impressive, because Rowling is maintaining a rather mundane form (one book=one year at school, Harry saves world), but each time she adds more elements, and these elements do not conflict, but rather reveal more information about the previous books. Which indicates that Rowling must have a fairly large plan in her head to keep all this straight.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Harry Potter et la chambre de secrets

Harry Potter et la chambre de secrets, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard - Again, once I started, I could not stop reading it, and images of Harry kept floating into my consciousness at inconvenient times of the day. I find the story is again fairly classic, and slightly more solid than the first book, although there are one or two elements that feel a little contrived. Nevertheless, excellent reading.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Original title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone First: why in French? Because it was a gift, and I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. I had been meaning to, but putting it off because I thought it might be boring. I was wrong. Harry has vividly enraptured my mind. I think of him constantly, like when I was addicted to Tetris. Compared to my expectations--that it would be a light read full of childish references--this is a great surprise. Harry has a simple structure, following the classic romantic form, straying rarely from my expectations, but masking its elements sufficiently to create surprise and suspense. For me, classic form is a quality in a book. It's not perfect. When a novel chooses to closely follow a conventional structure, it should take such confidence from that structure that it can make hyper-caricatural experiments and stray wildly before returning at the last minute to familiar resolution. Harry is not as confident as its structure allows it to be, but it does better than a lot of things out there. Da Vinci Code, for example. A word on the French translation: it puts one at an intellectual disadvantage in Potter-society, because it translates the names of certain people and places that take the form of English puns. This is unfortunate, I think, and in some cases avoidable, but French culture has a tendency to appropriate material in this way, and it's part of the grand scheme of French things, so we must accept it.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Dilbert Principle

The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams - Reading this just made me realise what a good writer Dave Barry actually is. Okay: Scott Adams is a successful cartoonist, and here, he decided to write a book with cartoons interspersed. The cartoons are good, but the text of the book is so-so. The writing style reminds me of Dave Barry; in fact I believe that Scott was trying to write like Dave Barry. He uses the same absurd logic and off-topic footnotes, and makes fun of himself as well as people in general, but I think he just fails to hit that effortless Dave Barry stride. Also, I'd like to note that at the time I was reading this, I noticed a book on my co-worker's desk called "The Peter Principle". I picked it up and read the back; it turns out that Scott Adams based his title on the title of this other, well-known(?), business tome.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Green Grass, Running Water

Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King I feel so relieved to have finally read a good, postmodern book in a lit course. Ok: it's a textbook for lit students, considering how packed it is with "this means somethings", but it's also funny. I don't usually laugh out loud, especially not at books, but I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Obasan

Obasan, Joy Kogawa I feel terrible. It's not only that the story of Japanese Canadians during WWII is so sad, but this book is told through the eyes of a little girl who doesn't understand what's happening to her and her family. So the worst is not what the government does to the families, but the ominous experiences the girl has in her little girl life. I guess the author did a great job getting the inability to comprehend across. I also found it reassuring that a Canadian author could talk about Canada this way. This is the first time I hear of Canada being bad. In all though, I can't like the book. It's just too gently gut-wrenching.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Pélagie

Pélagie: The Return to Acadie, Antonine Maillet, tr. Philip Stratford - Although I didn't enjoy the story that much, it made me cry at the end. Why? I think it was because it's a true story, and despite the irreverance of the narrator, and the characters, the families in this book survive some unimaginable tragedies. I was disappointed to have to read it in translation. I don't know if this is the reason for the choppiness of the narrative, but I found that most of the scenes didn't resonate with the larger text. So I don't give it high marks, but I wouldn't mind a go at the original French.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Double-Hook

The Double-Hook, Sheila Watson - Warped, extremely bleak, (Subarctic-?)Western-Canadian fiction. I found this very difficult and slow, but that's all intentional in this book. The author writes very "sparse prose" in which each word unfortunately packs in a great deal more information than most books do in a chapter. And that's tiring. I can't say I don't like it, though. Something is itching at me to go back and figure out just what the hell it was all about. The ending is good.

Barometer Rising

Barometer Rising, Hugh Maclennan - Very good, Eastern-Canadian fiction! This is a book with a very engaging narrative, set to the backdrop of an event whose importance to Canadian history you probably don't realise. Very good: both nagging and fulfilling. However, uh, this is another Grapes-of-Wrath-case, where a lecture I heard after reading brought the book down somewhat from the greatness I had imagined for it. If I think about it, some of those characters were indeed two-dimensional. But for both its narrative and historical value, I am rating this one high.

Tay John

Tay John, Howard O'Hagan - Somewhat good, Western-Canadian fiction. This Tay John is hard to forget. And some very interesting narrative techniques used in this story. I especially like the native-oral-tradition-inspired first section. That said, if I hadn't read it for a course, I might not have enjoyed it. Oh, but Hell - I enjoyed it.

Grain

Grain, Robert Stead - Somewhat bleak, prairie-Canadian fiction. Look: it seems to me like a book with good qualities, but just not my cup of tea.

A Man in Full

A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe - Extremely good. My parents say it's written too much like he was hunting for a movie deal. I think that's one of its qualities! The fun thing about both this and "Bonfire of the Vanities" is how high he raises his prominent, arrogant figures before letting them drop, drop, drop all the way to the concrete sidewalk. Watching them fall is a good ride.

Dave Barry Does Japan

Dave Barry Does Japan, by Margaret Atwood - I like Dave Barry, and I recommend this one. One interesting thing is that the Hiroshima chapter is the only time I've ever seen Dave get serious. The change in tone is even physically marked by a grey page where he ends his sentimental section and starts up the humour again. What I think is very commendable is that he is able to bring off the switch credibly. I don't quite agree with his argument, but still, kudos on being able to write seriously.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, Tolstoy, tr. ? - Read this in English. It's very good. A good, solid narrative. I am branding it a comedy, and I think it's a testament to Tolstoy's patience that he can start and end a book with people getting their head chopped off by a train and still make it a comedy in the classical sense.

The DaVinci Code

The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown - That gnostic stuff is interesting, although my friends who had read about gnosticism were not impressed. What's not interesting is the puzzles (predictable), plot (not credible), and descriptions of Paris (inaccurate). In the end, a decent, light read. But I'd prefer a Wolfe or an Irving.

Les Cinq personnes que j'ai rencontré là-haut

Les Cinq personnes que j'ai rencontré là-haut, Mitch Albom, tr. Edith Soonckindt - I read this by accident. It's alright.

La Disparition

La Disparition, Georges Perec - This is one of those books that people advise you not to read. You see: it's based on a gimmick. And the gimmick is why I read it. Mostly, it's enough just to know what the gimmick is to get 80% of the enjoyment of the novel. Alright. After reading it, I'd say 40% comes from the gimmick, and 60% from the innards. The end's a kick, but you have to suffer a lot to get there.

A Widow for One Year

A Widow for One Year, John Irving - I think this is the first Irving I've read cover to cover. Liked it. A bit jealous of the ease with which he drops rhymes on the mic.

Memoires d'Hadrien

Memoires d'Hadrien, Marguerite Yourcenar - This is solid as a rock, and brilliant as a diamond. It is crystal clear, and flowing-hot like the Nile. Now I need to justify all that. I'm not sure how to put it into words. I'm very impressed by this project, which I learned was life-long. It's not light reading. But it's damn rewarding.

Living to Tell the Tale

Living to Tell the Tale, Garcìa Marquez, tr. E. Grossman - Ok story. It's funny that even in an autobiography Marquez still uses his magic realism. Not as unified as Hundred Years though.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey - I have rarely read anything this hard. It's funny, if I know something's hard in advance, I can gather my forces and plow my way through it, but the title of this made it seems a lot more promising than it managed. That's unfair: I just thought it would be about something different than it turned out to be. But come on - who wouldn't?

The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels - I was curious.

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (third time) - This one's really topping my list. The reason I like it so much, though, is because Dr. Paul Beam of UWaterloo taught it to me twice in two separate courses, and revealed something I would never have caught on my own. There's something to be said for somebody telling you what a book is about. If you don't believe a book can straight-facedly tell you something that is an outright lie the whole time it is telling, then read this.

The Life of Pi

The Life of Pi, Yann Martel - This thing deserves that prize that it got. From the reaction I had upon finishing it, I thought it would stalk me much longer than it has. Yes, I probably reacted more violently to this than most other things I've read. I was depressed, even indignant. That's one thing. The second thing is that it's another one of those impossible-to-put-downers. Those two facts combined make it worth classic status in my book. It manages to do something I've never seen another text do.

The Aspern Papers

The Aspern Papers, Henry James - For a long time, I've had this book, which accompanies "The Turn of the Screw" in the edition that I have, the latter which I have read I think three times and really, really like. The Aspern Papers is about as good as Turn of the Screw. Similar kind of naïve narrator to whom things are happening that he reveals without being aware. This is not a heavy book, but you need to be just slightly willing to "analyse" it to enjoy it.

La Metamorphose

La Metamorphose, Kafka - Once, hungover, I read half of this in English at a friend's house. This time I read it in French. Since I can't read German, I think it's reasonable to try to linguistically outflank it. There's not much that I need to say about La Metamorphose. It's as good as the rumours say. As soon as you pick it up you won't be able to put it down.

Solaris

Solaris, Stanislaw Lem - This is the second book I got in order to practice reading in Polish. Fucking incredible! I don't remember ever reading science fiction that is this grounded in humanity. I want to read it again and again... Why? Because of the extent and number of completely fictional discoveries, theories and hypotheses made about "The Ocean", and the unparalleled humility with which Lem, after offering up so much of his imagination, in a gesture completely uncharacteristic of the usually-boastful genre, says "I don't know what this means." Think of the imagination of Borges, but matured from an experiment into a story with a classic structure.

The Lady and the Monk

The Lady and the Monk, Pico Iyer - This is pretty good, light reading of Pico's experience in Japan. Pretty much everything about somebody's experience in Japan is good, light reading.

Kongres Futurologiczny

Kongres Futurologiczny, Stanislaw Lem - This is the first of two books I got in order to practice reading in Polish. I found it disappointing. The story was lame, and the linguistic hypotheses are the sort of Orwelian-paranoia that I don't buy since reading Pinker. The only positive of the book were some imaginative visions of the future.

The Master and Margerita

The Master and Margerita, Mikhail Bulgakhov - An intense fantasy. A good one. One where even Satan turns out sympathetic. A plot entangled in a history we've forgotten to remember. We are fearless after reading the end of this. And although the book is deep, I think the story doesn't put demands on you, and the reading is easy.

The Language Instinct

The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker - Read this alongside my course in linguistics, and found it much more entertaining and much more rigorous than the stuff I was reading in my textbook. It is as engaging as a good novel, and the theories have really opened my eyes to a lot of stuff that happens in language.

Cent Ans de Solitude

Cent Ans de Solitude, Gabriel Garcìa Marquez - The "magical realism" is surprising yet somehow familiar. Incredibly, the story shifts from one tale to another without ever leaving you without landmarks. This just feels like the work of a master.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Idiot

The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky - I read this knowing that some critics maintain that Conrad could not have created Stevie in the Secret Agent without it. Dostoyevsky's idiot is so much more profound that Conrad's: Stevie is just a prop, really. The Idiot: wow, I don't know what to say. I can't say I liked the story a lot, but I'm struck, still branded with the characters and the scenes that play out between them. Supernatural.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones, Henry Fielding - I read this because Frye often calls it "the perfect novel". I read it expecting "the perfect novel", and indeed it is a perfectly-structured novel. You could probably take the plot and replace the characters to get almost any story out there.It is also often funny; the language is so hyperbolic. Colourful, too. Only problem is it's long as fuck.

Discovery of Heaven

Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch, tr. Paul Vincent - Definitely not what I expected. I expected them to discover Heaven! Actually, somebody does discover something in the end, but I'm not sure what this character is and what he discovers. There's a lot of very tantalising ideas in this book, and the characters are multi-faceted. The story is good, and although I found all the angel parts awkward and weak, I really like how the rest of the book continually moves between fantasy and realism, with much more weight on realism.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (second time) - The story is decent, although often lags. The end is pretty good; by that time you're really into the characters and suffer with them. But a lot of the significance is lost on me.

Long Day's Journey into Night

Long Day's Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill (second time) - Convoluted and straightforward. Story is near-impossible (though somewhat rewarding) to unravel, but characters just sound like they're shouting the same thing over and over again. Takes an effort to appreciate, and not sure it's worth it.

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck - Loved it while reading it: extremely well-told; both colourful and profound, moving, meaningful, beyond its boundaries. I was disappointed to hear a lecture on it describing it as rather propagandist and shallow. I would read it again, although I will probably do it with a subtly bitter taste in my mouth.

The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence, Edit Wharton - an American novel mocking pompous folk. Unfortunately, I found the novel itself somewhat pompous, or too ladylike.

In Our Time

In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway - bleak, disconnected. This is apparently intentional, and, yes, there are some powerful scenes if one looks at the very closely, like when he's fishing at the end. But difficult to enjoy as a whole.

Les Rois Maudits 6: Le Lis et Le Lion

Les Rois Maudits 6: Le Lis et Le Lion, Maurice Druon - It's at this point that the story must fall prey to history; by the time the real events play out, we have lost a lot of motivation to follow the narrative. There is one more book after this in the series, but I could not get into it.

Les Rois Maudits 5: La Louve de France

Les Rois Maudits: La Louve de France, Maurice Druon - It's at this point in the series that it becomes difficult to swallow how often we are asked to switch sympathies between the main characters. There are few solid pillars left from the beginning of the story on which we can keep solid footing. But it's saved by the electric adulterous romance.

Les Rois Maudits 4: La Loi des Mâles

Les Rois Maudits 4: La Loi des Mâles, Maurice Druon - exciting, tantalising, fast-paced; good reading

La Symphonie Pastorale

La Symphonie Pastorale, André Gide - I loved Les Faux Monnayeurs. Here, Gide again explicitly uses a textbook "technique" to tell a story that the narrator is not even aware is unfolding. Makes you shudder in how simply you get something so deep; narrator is naïve like Remains of the Day.

Les Rois Maudits 3: Poisons de la Couronne

Les Rois Maudits 3: Poisons de la Couronne, Maurice Druon - engaging, fast-paced story; one learns a little history to boot

Love and Longing in Bombay

Love and Longing in Bombay, Vikram Chandra - non-closured and haunting

Les Rois Maudits 2: La Reine Etranglée

Les Rois Maudits 2: La Reine Etranglée, Maurice Druon

Les Confessions I - IV

Les Confessions I - IV, J-J. Rousseau

Poetry: T.S. Eliot

From T.S. Eliot - Selected Poetry

Stories by Katherine Mansfield

At the Bay The Garden Party The Daughters of the Late Colonel

Women in Love

Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence (second time)

Ulysses

Ulysses, James Joyce (second time)

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Journal d'un Ti-Mé

Journal d'un Ti-Mé, Claude Meunier