Tuesday, February 22, 2005
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: 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, 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, 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, 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.
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, 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, 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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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, 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, 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, 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.
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, 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, 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.
Monday, February 07, 2005
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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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.
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: 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.
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.