Soundtrack: Lost in the Trees’ A Church that Fits Our Needs
This might just be my tersest 2013 review thus far, simply because, unfortunately, I did not finish The Sound and the Fury in the two weeks which I afforded myself to do so.
Now, to be fair, there are certainly several factors which contributed to this insufficiency, not the least of which being an atypical amount of activity taking place these last 10 days or so. Still, I feel it compulsory to mention my inability to connect with Faulkner’s words as well.
In a story broken down by the author into four intentionally flawed narratives, the reader is required to simultaneously follow the unconstrained observations of the current narrator, while trying to make sense of them. And while this is normally a quite peripheral task, TSatF (or at least the first two narratives, as this is as far as I’ve progressed) seems to be a deliberate challenge toward it, as though Faulkner wanted to maintain the reader’s confusion to serve his story.
To be honest, though I understand and even appreciate his intent, I have to confess that the first narrative was the most difficult sixty two pages I can remember reading. It was an absolute affront to my ADD, and as most books take quite a lot of concentration and occasional rereading of paragraphs to stay focused on, I found Benjy’s delineation stressful and almost impossible to bear, and was more than relieved when I reached it’s conclusion. After such an experience, it seemed as though my mind went on the defensive and would not let me fully grasp Quentin’s words.
So, in conclusion, I didn’t get there. At some point further along in this process, I am quite sure I will find myself with days left over after finishing another classic before it’s due date, and will subsequently return to finish The Sound and the Fury, returning also to review this work in it’s entirety. Until then, I can only suggest that you take some sort of calming medicine before you start this one.
WARNING: This review will no doubt be controversial (well, if anyone actually reads it), as The Catcher in the Rye contains language indigenous to non-Christians. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this book to those possibly offended by such language. If, on the other hand, you are able to look past Salinger’s/Caulfield’s no-worse-than-yours depravity, there is A LOT to be learned here.
Soundtrack: Hundred Waters’ Hundred Waters
For a book that supposedly inspired an infamous murder, The Catcher in the Rye strikes me as decidedly understated. That apparent restraint, though, is most likely a product of my environment, one dripping with embellished and sappy teenage angst. Everywhere you look, you find books by talentless authors and movies by overrated directors leaning on hyperbole and induced emotional response to sell their poorly-constructed words and works.
Sadly, the eyes with which I was forced to read this book are jaded by such distortion and manipulation of man’s emotional setup. In this regard, I did find TCIR to be quite anticlimactic. As far along as the final few pages, I was desperate for something to go awry. I yearned for the type of tragic goings-on that would bring the resolution of chaos and grief and reevaluation for which this story cries out. Isn’t that where Salinger’s genius lies, though? The more I think about this seemingly uneventful glimpse into a typical 16 year-old’s life, the more I begin to unpack the greatness hiding just beneath the ink.
The angst, the feeling of insignificance, the powerlessness to do anything about it, all these things that Holden feels constantly, the reader feels as well. The closer we move toward the final page, the more anxious we become for something truly cogent, elegant, pronounced to arrest the mundaneness of this cycle and banish it forever. We participate, more than any book I’ve read to date, in both his emotional pregnancy and his
daily moment-by-moment struggle to induce labor and force the birth of his purpose. And that gestation is truly almost tangible by the end.
Once you’ve read chapter 26 and you pull the back cover from right to left, you are abandoned with really just one question:
Was it a miscarriage?
And that’s a question that must be answered by each reader on their own. For me, the existence of the book itself is evidence of a healthy infant.
Soundtrack: alt-J’s An Awesome Wave
True to his on-page persona, Jay Gatsby is often a maddeningly-polarizing character. As recently as the Occupy movement, he has been used as a pawn by both those in the streets attempting to indict pointless and wasted wealth and those in the offices high above attempting to defend their right to spend their wealth however they see fit. On either side of this great divide are folks that pedantically believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald spent what turned out to be highly-valuable ink and time and heart exclusively and undividedly to support their position in the matter.
And while I respect and understand both sets of outwardly-pointed fingers, I don’t think it’s adequate or accurate to reduce Fitzgerald’s most lasting work to the bankruptcy of such scrawny, fragile conclusions.
In Gatsby, we see a man driven to the point of near-madness by his memories. From the final flash of her the past allows him, to the eventualities that the resolution of the last words bring, Jay Gatsby is a man frenetically haunted by his future. To this end, he does what any flawed human being obsessed with achieving perfection would do; he finds a way.
For that reason, I see Jay Gatsby as a noble, if not pertinent, man, desperately longing for yesterday to become tomorrow. Sadly, as it always seems to happen, his ideal cannot hold up under the strain of reality once he is confronted with it, and buckles in such a remarkable and frantic manner that we are required to decide for ourselves whom exactly is the villain.
For me, that villain was Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a contentious view that undoubtedly would spark debate if only anyone was actually reading this. One thing is undeniable though: the single thing which made Gatsby so “Great” and took away his choice to do anything but live, at the culmination, was the single thing which drove him, again involuntarily, in the opposite direction.
P.S. How Baz Luhrmann turned this near-novella (180 pages) into a two and a half hour film is something I can’t wait to learn. Either way, should be interesting.
Soundtrack: John Coltrane’s Traneing In
A lot of friends, when they learned I was reading On the Road for the first time, made comments that, when roughly summed up, sounded something like, ”Yeah, I read that when I was 19 and it excited me to no end but that of the road, but when I opened it again a few years later it was at best pedestrian,” as though to warn me against any high hopes my thirty-year-old eyes may have been harboring at the outset. And to be fair, the typical thirty year old has long since dealt with (or pushed down, smothered and buried, anyway) the more vocal sections of their youthful angst and disquietude, settling appropriately and graciously into their societal groove; alas, I am still not there.
Whether my still-pending arrival is because I am somehow emotionally stunted or because of some other more or less noble reason is of no matter; what matters here is only that it is still pending, a fact that reading OtR only served to illuminate beyond all doubt.
As in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, sentence structure and writing rules and novel phrasing are thrown out the window here, though with entirely different motives. While Hemingway so vicariously used Frederic Henry’s uneducated hand to craft his account, Kerouac fastidiously and unabashedly pushed his square-peg-of-a-life into the round hole of words on a page. By the end (heck, by the middle), you are looking for your very own Neal Cassady to precariously slide across your front lawn in his beat Plymouth yelling something incomprehensible while flinging the door open and motioning to you to get in and quick.
It’s not that I want to be gone on Benzedrine, or dance with Mexican prostitutes until dawn, or steal cars to get back to the bar from which I stole a car; far from it. It’s not that I want to hitchhike across America or shoot whisky with farmboys on the flatbed of a truck with nothing to hold onto but my view of the stars, though I would not turn much of this down. It’s simply that I want to live outside of my society-assigned groove, out from underneath the layers and layers of wet blankets to which my feeble frame has so vaguely given shape.
For that reason and many more, I will keep this extraordinary book on a close table for a long time. And hopefully, the next time I open it’s pages, I won’t be struck with what I at that point see as “at best pedestrian.”
Soundtrack: How to Dress Well’s Total Loss
If taken in standalone sections, this book would seem an auspicious collection of short stories about an obdurately meek woman drifting in no specific direction while desperately trying to will herself into purpose; nothing strange for a 19 year old in her first year at college. When one takes all 244 pages in together, however, what results is nothing short of extraordinary.
The reader is taken on a guided tour, not of an individual’s degeneration into madness, but instead of that delirium’s proliferation inside of her. The subtle progression is allowed to materialize at it’s own pace, and page after page has the reader wondering very little until the last few chapters, when those pages suddenly and boisterously demand the proverbial question, “How did we get here?”
As a person who has struggled with a lot of the issues that surface within the pages of this diaphanously-veiled roman-a-clef, I appreciate the candidness with which Sylvia Plath writes. Even in our “modern”, “open-minded” culture, it is certainly atypical to find wounds laid bare in such a way as in The Bell Jar. We witness the existential curtain being drawn back and, alongside Esther Greenwood, have our menial distractions halted, our collusions rendered ineffective and the illusions we so willingly accept as truth shattered. In effect, we are shown why the depressed so easily believe in their hopelessness. As Esther says, “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.”
In other words, this book is important.
PS - The Bell Jar is NOT going to plunge you into depression. You won’t want to kill yourself any more than you did when you started reading it. What it will do, however, is help you understand, whether it’s someone else’s feelings you need to comprehend or your own. This book is important, enough said.
Soundtrack: Balmorhea’s Live at Sint Elisabethkerk
I’m not sure what it is, but this year has started with an irresistible penchant toward the classics; books that, until very recently, I had no interest in reading. I remember begrudgingly skimming celebrated works like Ethan Frome, The Scarlett Letter, even Hemingway’s novella The Old Man and the Sea, and not understanding their appeal; I couldn’t feel them.
Things have definitely changed.
After finding myself feeling deserted when I reached the end of Huxley’s Brave New World (see my review below), I decided to stick with the goading and grab another standard: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.
And just so you know, I LOVED IT.
On pages that so easily could have been covered with a gluttonous amount of young men’s blood, tragedy-at-the-front cliché and war-as-an-excuse writing, Hemingway typed words that all but ignored Tenente’s surroundings. In fact, he seems to have made it a point to present all of the violence and gore and death as though it were as commonplace as trees in a forest, almost plodding descriptions of critical events as though his fingers were preoccupied with anticipation for the next scene that would involve Catherine. And it’s this nonchalant irreverence to these normally fatal agendas that creates such a stark juxtaposition and allows us to so dotingly fall in love alongside him. (And alongside her.)
Theres a war on. He’s wounded. She has other friends. He has other friends. They’re in a boat while using an umbrella. These are the types of things you, while noticing, may not notice. And that, I found out the good way, is how Hemingway’s brilliance emerges in A Farewell to Arms: He somehow convinces us that, without our Tenente and his Catherine, all of World War 1 would have fallen apart, as though it existed only to frame their lives so beautifully.
Hey Ernie: your genius is showing.
Oh and, PS: He ignored every grammar rule known to man. And I liked it. ;)
Soundtrack: GoGo Penguin’s Fanfares
For all the boxed-in narrowness that so prominently features in conventional reviews of this novel, I will freely concede that I had certain expectations. The endless comparisons to Orwell’s 1984, the conservative Republican perspective that Huxley was simply speaking out against the liberal agenda to replace the need for God, the (sometimes reeeeachingly) drawn parallels between the dystopian fiction found in Brave New World’s pages and our own Dionysian (if not incredibly dystopian in it’s own way) society; all of these things were thrown in my face before I bent back and creased BNW’s spine. So, it is no wonder I assumed that this work would be cold, callous, mechanical and technical in nature.
I can gladly report to you that it is none of these things. Yes, it takes on the issues of genetic engineering, preconditioning and man’s root desire to remove the need for an outside deity. And yes, Huxley fearlessly paints the vision of a future without consequences, without effort, without the need for self control, but those things simply serve as the context within which his characters must play, to which his characters must react. He creates a world that is neither brave nor new, and he creates it beautifully. He designs a place so sanitary, so tidy, that all you can hope for is that someone comes in and messes the place up a bit, comes in and gets some things dirty.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when, from the first paragraph on, I was thoroughly enthralled by these pages. What a great start to this experiment (part deux).
Three years ago, I decided that for the following calendar year, I would read twenty four books in twelve months, meaning that I would read two books per month from January to December. I then would blog my review of them, every fifteen days, on this here interweb. Unsurprisingly and like many of my endeavors, I didn’t finish. Sure, I went strong for three (maybe two?) months, which resulted in the few book reviews you’ll find below this post. Great books like The Road by Cormac McCarthy, No one belongs here more than you. by Miranda July, and not so great books like Catch 22 by Joseph Heller were a part of my failed experiment. These were my rules:
1. I can only pick a new book once I’ve finished the last and have posted the review.
2. I have to read at least 18 different authors.
3. I can only pick a book that I have not read before.
4. I can only pick a new book once I’m inside the store. No researching, no anticipation; just pure, unadulterated guessing. and just so you know, this is how I’ve always chosen my books. always.
5. I can’t read two books by the same author in succession.
Well, I’ve decided to give it another go in twenty thirteen. After all, I’m three years wiser, three years stronger, three years more determined, right? I guess we’ll see, huh..
I’ve got to be honest here, this is the first book I’ve read during twenty4.twelve that I didn’t absolutely fall in love with. Now, don’t get me wrong, the first quarter to third of Catch-22 was phenomenal. I loved the writing style, the characters, the storyline. We’ll just say I was optimistic. I mean, between Yossarian, the Captain Bombadier and protagonist; Major Major Major Major, the supremely mediocre squadron commander; and Nately, a nineteen year-old boy who’s only chore seems to be to get Yossarian out of trouble, I thought, “Hmm, this is turning out to be a great book!”
Then I kept reading. and reading. aannd reading.
Maybe its just the structure of the book, which requires countless retellings of the same events, but the creativity of this book disappears more and more with every page, being replaced with redundant arguments and generic events. In fact, by the beginning of the second-to-last chapter, I was excited, not by the climax and resolution of this story, but by the thought that all of this unnecessary, recycled conflict was over.
I’m sorry if this review sounds harsh, but I supposed I’m a little angry.. It started as disappointment, but as the story continued to be repeated, I started feeling a frustration with the author. If you decide to read this book, and you disagree with my assessment, then I will be glad that you have found a story you like. For me, though, the only redeeming quality found with this book is Heller’s attempt to write a story in a structure not quite traditional. Maybe he should have tried reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand first.
I can’t decide whether I want to file this under ‘poetry’ or ‘philosophy’. I’ve almost come to the conclusion that it’s both, though some might vehemently disagree. Either way, there is obvious reason that the untimely death of O’Hara was regarded as “the biggest secret loss to American poetry since John Wheelwright was killed.” by John Ashbery.
Meditations is not a long book, but it certainly is a deep one. And though there aren’t as many words to read, the reader will find that this is more of an unapologetic invititation, as is most of O’Hara’s work, into the immediate mind of the author. Whether he is writing from belated remorse, as in the first ‘Poem’, or flawed curiosity as he does with ‘Ode’, O’Hara’s typewriter produces timeless questions with very few answers to them.
I think thats why I am so drawn to him and his writing: He shows no penchant to hide the things he struggles with; He seems completely undesiring of projected perfection. I’m not even sure he would accept it if it were offered him. Great book, great read. Everyone should consider O’Hara. Everyone.