jfetting's 11-11 Challenge
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1) Short story collections
2) 1001 books
3) Revisiting Jane Austen
4) Revisiting the Brontës
5) In Search of Lost Time
8) Spy novels
9) LT Group reads
10) The Ancients (Greeks and Romans)
11) Author Theme Reads main author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Both anthologies and single-author collections count!
1) The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever - 10/13/11
2) Varieties of Exile by Mavis Gallant - 4/28/11
3) The Oxford Book of Short Stories ed. by V. S. Prichett - 7/5/11
4) The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke - 1/28/11
5) Beirut 39 edited by Samuel Shimon - 3/3/11
6) Dubliners by James Joyce - 6/5/11
7) Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield - 11/18/11
1) The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong'o - 12/12/11
2) Small Island by Andrea Levy - 8/12/11
3) Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison - 11/11/11
4) Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker - 5/15/11
5) Suite Francaise by Irene Némirovsky - 6/12/11
6) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - 3/20/11
7) The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - 1/7/11
1) Jane Eyre - Charlotte 5/14/11
2) Wuthering Heights - Emily 6/24/11
3) Shirley - Charlotte 8/6/11
4) The Professor - Charlotte 12/17/12
5) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne 2/28/11
6) Agnes Grey - Anne 10/7/11
7) Villette - Charlotte 12/28/11
possible extra credit: The Complete Poems of Emily Bronte (see poetry category below)
1) Seven Plays by Henrik Ibsen - 1/17/11
2) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett - 6/22/11
3) The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams - 5/1/11
4) The Crucible by Arthur Miller - 8/17/11
5) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard - 1/28/11
6) No Exit and three other plays by Jean-Paul Sartre - 12/16/11
7) The Misanthrope and other plays by Moliere - 11/18/11
1) The Collected Poems of W. H. Auden by W. H. Auden - 2/25/11
2) Final Harvest by Emily Dickenson - 7/15/11
3) Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte by Emily Bronte - 10/5/11
4) The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. Yeats - 9/21/11
5) Poetry: a pocket anthology ed. by R. S. Gwynn - 3/21/11
6) The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop - 3/30/11
7) Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda - 8/28/11
1) The Honorable Schoolboy by John le Carré - 1/24/11
2) Smiley's People by John le Carré - 3/27/11
3) A Perfect Spy by John le Carré - 10/2/11
4) The Russia House by John le Carré - 10/29/11
5) The Constant Gardener by John le Carré - 11/28/11
6) The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum - 5/14/11
7) The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum - 7/4/11
1) Nobody Said Not To Go by Ken Cuthbertson - Missouri Readers 1/23/11
2) Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo - Missouri Readers 4/2/11
3) Private Life by Jane Smiley - Missouri Readers 6/1/11
4) Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne - Group Reads - Literature 8/21/11
5) Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy - Group Reads - Literature 10/20/11
6) Welcome to the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg - Missouri Readers 10/9/11
7) The Tender Land by Kathleen Finneran - Missouri Readers 12/9/11
1) The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides - 9/23/11
2) Sophocles: the Complete Plays - 3/10/11
3) The Complete Tragedies of Aeschylus volume 2 - 6/9/11
4) The Golden Ass by Apuleius - 8/24/11
5) The Politics by Aristotle - 12/12/11
6) Cleopatra: a life by Stacy Schiff - 6/20/11
7) The Histories by Tacitus - 11/9/11
1) Conversation in the Cathedral - 2/11/11
2) The War of the End of the World - 6/18/11
3) Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter - 2/20/11
4) Feast of the Goat - 9/5/11
5) Death in the Andes - 10/31/11
6) The Bad Girl - 8/27/11
7) The Cubs and other Stories - 9/11/11
These are books read with the Author Theme Reads group here at LT. Our main author is MVL himself (the 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature). Our mini-authors are Jose Saramago and two other people who I can't remember right now. I'll be reading way more than 7 books for this category!
Thucydides may be a group read in 2011, in case you're interested. I have it lined up too.
pammab & Christina - I'm excited about the Proust, too! I figure that this year I'm picking a lot of shorter things (plays, poetry, etc) and so I'll be able to devote time to Proust without feeling rushed.
auntmarge - I LOVED the movie of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, especially when they're playing tennis ("rhetoric!"). Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are geniuses.
(Bruce's evil twin :-))
Overall: Ibsen was WAY ahead of his time, I think. These plays, despite being around 150 years old, are incredibly modern in the issues they address. Wow.
1) Hedda Gabler - one of his most famous. Hedda herself is one of those trapped-in-the-wrong-time women of literature, whose longing for a huge, beautiful, grand gesture on the part of anybody leads to tragic results.
2) Ghosts - all about STDs, and the resulting madness in the offspring. With some additional narrowly-avoided-incest! Fun for the whole family! (no pun intended)
3) An Enemy of the People - this one is great; all sorts of speaking truth to power! Also, since it is about what happens to one man who tries to expose corporate pollution, it is hugely relevant in today's society.
4) A Doll's House- obligate reading for the young feminist. Nora's journey to selfhood is an amazing story.
5) The League of Youth - power corrupts, and everyone is out for themselves.
6) The Wild Duck - don't be assholes to your kids, people. Your mistakes are not their fault. I spent most of it worrying about the actual wild duck (there is one; it isn't just a symbol although it is also a symbol).
7) The Master Builder - please tell me there is another level at which to read this, besides "old man desperately trying to convince himself that he is still sexually attractive to young women". Please.
#7 Nobody Said Not to Go by Ken Cuthbertson
This is a biography of a woman named Emily (or Mickey) Hahn and is the next Missouri Reader's group selection. On one hand, it is really badly written. Cuthbertson is one of those authors who is convinced that his audience can't remember, from one chapter to the next, important names, places, and events. So he keeps reminding you, over and over, that the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong was called the Grips, that so-and-so's first wife died, etc. It drove me crazy - I, like most people, are actually not stupid, and don't need to be written down to.
On the other hand, Mickey Hahn was an absolutely fascinating woman. She was a St. Louis native, went to high school in Chicago, then college at Wisconsin. She was a prolific novelist, biographer, and contributor to The New Yorker. When she was in college she and a friend took off on a cross-country road trip from Madison to LA (in the 1920s, before such things as expressways and decent cars), she went to the Belgian Congo with the Red Cross for a couple years by herself, again. Then to Shanghai where she became an opium addict and concubine (no, really! All while writing for the New Yorker!), then to Hong Kong where she was trapped when Japan invaded in 1941, and where she also got knocked up by the head of British Secret Service (who she later married). Overall, one of those ballsy, outspoken, who-cares-what-they-think types that I admire the hell out of but am not nearly brave enough to be. She had a crazy, fascinating life. I need to read her writing, which I'm sure is much better than this book.
Three stars for this second of the Smiley spy books. It wasn't anywhere near as good as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but it was still a good read. (I may up the stars to 4 in the future, but we'll see). I love all the parts where he goes into nitty-gritty detail about spycraft; I don't at all like the behavior of Jerry Westerby. Also, le Carre follows the Trilogy Rule (#1 ends happy, #2 ends on a downer, #3 ends...?), and as this means that my favorite character got screwed over, boo on that!
Le Carre writes terrible women. There are 2.5 "women" in the book. One is the awesome Connie Sachs, aka Mother Russia, no scare quotes needed for her. She's one-dimensional, but then so are the other spies so that is ok. The problem comes in with the alleged love interests. I'm sorry, Mr. le Carre, but no women in the history of the world has ever fallen in love with a man who she meets 2 times, and the second time he shoves a gun in her back and tells her to shut the hell up. NO. This does not happen outside of the minds of certain dudes. Please stop. The 0.5 woman is this underage chick that Jerry is shacking up with in the book. She is, essentially, a body part, and really only speaks one time.
You are saying this becuase of the gun in the back thing right? Because I know several people who didn't even need 2 times to fall in love (and are still together) My in-laws fell in love across the room. To quote my mother-in-laws college roommate - I felt him fall in love in my arms and then discovered that it wasn't with me.
(Bruce's evil twin :-))
ETA: sweet story about the inlaws, though! Very cute. I'm told that my maternal grandparents fell in love at first sight, too (cute hearing them telling the story, as well. I have it on CD, from a family history interview, so I can hear it even though my grandfather has passed on).
I finished a collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke. She wrote Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a Victorian-ish novel set in a universe where the boundary between the fairy world and ours is much thinner. These stories are set in the same universe. My favorites were "The Duke of Wellington Loses his Horse" and "Mrs. Mabb", although really I enjoyed them all. Highly recommended.
The book is framed as a conversation, sort of, between two people, Santiago and Ambrosio, who meet after many years and decide to go have a beer or 30 in a bar called La Cathedral. Stylistically, it follows conversational patterns. There is lots of jumping around, back and forth in time, as the characters reveal more about themselves and their relationships to everyone else in the book. The arcs of their lives, and their search for identity (Santiago's search for identity, especially) are depicted against the background of the Odria presidency/dictatorship in Peru in the late 40s and early 50s.
It is hard to follow at first, especially when the scene changes from sentence to sentence. And, of course, I know absolutely nothing about Peruvian politics, but that isn't necessary to enjoy the book. I liked it a lot, but it wasn't one to read while my mind is preoccupied with something else.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (re-read)
Polished this one off in an afternoon. I love this book - it is Jane at her snarkiest, before she learned how to polish up the bitchiness (and I use the word "bitchiness" in the best possible way. Reverently, even, in this case). An example:
"Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can."
Plus ça change, plus c'est le meme chose! I've totally been on that date. About 50 times.
I finished another for my Mario Vargas Llosa category - Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Unlike Conversation in the Cathedral, this isn't a deep, political novel. It's much lighter and funnier than CitC. The main story (the narrator Mario's romance with his uncle's wife's sister and his work with the Scriptwriter) alternates, chapter by chapter, with the start of the Scriptwriter's radio scripts. They're fantastic - increasingly deranged as the Scriptwriter starts to go off the deep end. They remind me a lot, or at least the set up reminds me a lot, of Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller (no story is ever resolved). Overall, a great read.
Some of his more famous works, like "September 1, 1939" are omitted (I guess that Auden himself had a lot of control over what went into this collection, and he didn't like that poem). Also omitted is the dirtiest poem I have ever read in my entire life - which is called, for the curious, "The Platonic Blow". (Yes, it is about what you think it is about.) This omission is probably a good thing.
Anne really could write, too. I'm looking forward to Agnes Grey.
The subjects and settings were all over the board, which is to be expected since the Arabic-speaking world is by no means monolithic (despite what some of our US nutjobs would have you think). Overall, I really enjoyed it, and the exposure to something completely different from what I normally read.
1) Ajax - Ajax is mad because he doesn't get Achilles's armor after his death, goes on a rampage (very unfortunate for local livestock), realizes what he did, tragedy ensues.
2) Electra (my favorite of the bunch) -
3) The Women of Trachis - Heracles is back from the wars, bringing back spoils including the princess Ione. His long-suffering wife decides that she'll just be nice to the new girlfriend, and put up with the situation. After all, she has the ring, right? To prove to her husband just how cool with the situation she is, and secretly to win his love back (having been told by the centaur Heracles had just shot with a poisoned arrow that this would work), sends him a robe made with wool that had been used to clean the centaur's wound. It turns out that dying (murdered) centaurs lie. Tragedy ensues. I liked this one a lot too.
4) Philoctetes - so sad, this one. Odysseus is such a dick, honestly, I don't understand why Homer made him the hero of the Odyssey.
5) Oedipus the King - we all know the basics of this one, but it really is a spectacularly crafted play. You see the tragedy coming for miles, and just want to start shouting at Oedipus to just leave well enough alone and stop asking so many questions.
6) Oedipus at Colonus - another sad one, although it is nice to see someone (Theseus, the Athenian king) be nice to Oedipus. Creon is also a dick.
7) Antigone - more tragedy. Poor Antigone. Roche seemed to think that I would feel sorry for Creon by the end of it, but nope.
I finished the first book of In Search of Lost Time, Swann's Way, yesterday. This means that I have finished one book in every one of my categories. Whohoo! Proust's writing is every bit as beautiful and long sentence-y as reported, and since I like that sort of thing I really enjoyed the book. It definitely isn't for anyone who requires meaningful plots, though.
I fully admit that I don't really understand modern poetry (a sentence which always manages to infuriate poets). Some of it really resonates (but then, is Elizabeth Bishop a modern poet? Doubt it, since she's dead), like "One Art", but a lot is either right over my head, or blah. Overall, this is a good anthology with a nice mix and a decent introduction to newer stuff.
I finished off another poetry book, as well, The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop. Well, complete as it stood back in 1969 - I really need to pay closer attention to editions when I get books out of the library. She's an excellent poet and I enjoy her work very much.
Had to laugh about the Dickens comments - I think I was scarred by reading David Copperfield also. The only Dickens I've read since high school is Hard Times and I wasn't very impressed. I'll have to try Bleak House some time, though.
My favorites were the title story "Varieties of Exile", "Let it Pass", and the ones about Linnet.
I'm never sure what to do with these sorts of stories, really. Not being a terribly dreamy, artistic, detached-from-reality type of person myself (I'm the kind of person who, while watching Rent, starts to wonder why some of those people don't get jobs and pay for their own wine and beer). So for this play, I couldn't really sympathize with all the crazy.
It may be one that works better on stage than on paper. I've seen a movie version with Katherine the Great as Amanda and Sam Waterston as Tom, and I remember enjoying that more than I liked it when I read it.
So I read this for the first time when I was twelve, have read it every year or two since then, am now 33 (yikes!), so that makes probably somewhere around 15-20 readings? It is that good.
For my 1001 category: Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker
Now how to review this? It is horrifying, and fascinating (like a train wreck), and powerful, and beautifully written. Towards the end, it gets a bit too... well, if you go up to the messages around 34-45 or so, I have, in fact, found a female author who writes obsessively about female genitalia. However, this is justified since the book is about female genital mutilation (hence the "horrifying"). Quite a bit to think about in this book, on top of the knee-jerk OMG what a horrible thing to do. I think I have a better idea now of why such practices continue, as a way to maintain a sense of culture and to defy those who would try to come in and destroy your heritage. Plus, if that is the norm in the region - I mean, we live in a society where wealthy people inject themselves with BOTULISM TOXIN, for crying out loud, or chop up other body parts, to achieve a beauty ideal. Which is admittedly not the same thing as an non-consenting child being subjected to FGM.
But in the end, I'm right where Walker wants me to be - appalled by the practice and wanting it to stop.
Yes, which really is the key, isn't it!
Really puts bad day with the family in prospective. That is just some kind of crazy!
(Bruce's evil twin :-))
And I finished another volume of Proust - Within a Budding Grove. The unnamed narrator is older, an adolescent, and so this volume is all about girls. First Gilberte, then Albertine. The narrator is a bit of a jerk - self-centered, manipulative, using people and then dropping them after he gets what he wants from them (status, attention, an introduction to better people). As unlikeable as he is, however, as he thinks back over these events, Proust puts some really universal thoughts into his head. Beautifully written book.
Scientists in books are always crazy. Always, always, always (except for Meg Murray's mom in A Wrinkle in Time), and this book is no exception. An old maid (of 26) in post-Civil-War Missouri finally marries the local boy who had made good (sort of) and moves to San Francisco. She is repressed and moves through life as if it wasn't real, or as if she had no say in it. He is a arrogant, overbearing jerk who falsifies data and who eventually becomes the crazy guy who all of his colleagues make fun of.
I wasn't a big fan of the book, but it wasn't terrible. Andrew's character is a very common sort in my world - I know far too many scientists who make mistakes in their data but whose massive egos prevent their being able to publish retractions (which would be both the grown-up and the ethical thing to do).
I also finished off another for my "The Ancients" category: a trio of plays by Aeschylus (my copy is the second volume of Modern Library's set from like the 1960s. Old book in perfect shape, and I just found out that since the pages were still uncut in places, never read.) But enough about that; on to the plays.
1) The Suppliant Women: 50 daughters Darius don't want to marry their 50 Egyptian cousins. Somehow, the Egyptian rules state that the girls don't have a say. They go to Argos for help and protection, but since they aren't fully Greek they aren't guaranteed help. They get it, of course. This play was a little strange. The women's part is spoken by a chorus, which takes away from the drama a little bit. Individual characters are more sympathetic than a disembodied chorus. But overall, a good play.
2) The Persians: This play was a surprise. It was written about 10 years after the Persian wars ended (as described in Herodotus) with Greek triumph and Persian loss. The play is entirely from the point of view of the Persians, and they are presented very sympathetically, even though they were recently Greece's bitter enemy. It speaks well of the Greeks that they were able to look past their own anger to see their enemies' humanity.
3) Seven Against Thebes: tells the same story about Oedipus's children and how the boys go to war with each other and kill each other. Antigone is there too, at the end, insisting on burying Polyneices. Overall, this play cracked me up. All the action occurs offstage; the bulk of the play is spent introducing each of the Seven against Thebes, and what is painted on their shields, and which Theban gets to go fight him.
For my 1001 category:
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Wow. Such an amazing, incredible, fantastic book. Nemirovsky managed to capture the humanity of both sides during the early years of WWII (and by that, I mean both the best and the worst aspects of humanity). She was not inclined to sympathize with either the French or the Germans as entities, but the individuals who populate her book are written as people, not heroes or monsters. They are cowardly, warm, selfish, brave, greedy, stupid, angry, sad, proud, etc. You start to love them, even the more odious ones.
It is heartbreaking that she never got to finish it. There should be three more sections! My copy (and I'm guessing all copies) has appendices with her notes for the rest of the book, and her correspondence before the war, and her husband's increasingly frantic letters and telegrams and attempts to find her after she was arrested and shipped off to Auschwitz before his arrest. And those bastard French collaborator police spent three years hunting down her teenage daughter trying to get her too (and didn't, thank God).
Now, I always side with the underdog, and if there is a question of whose side I'm going to be on, soldiers or a community made up of society's marginalized and downtrodden who only wants to live in peace and be left alone, I'm picking the commune. And MVL does too - everyone who is involved with the government in any way, anyone who isn't somehow outside society in some way, is completely despicable and loathsome. Why couldn't they just leave the poor people alone? They weren't bothering anybody.
Downside to the book - lots of descriptions of battles (attacks, counterattacks, etc. Boring) and there are probably at least 10 rape scenes. I can't tell if MVL is trying to make a point, or if he is one of those writers.
The book: three stars. It was ok - very readable, not dry or boring. Too readable, actually. While she has a couple pages of citations in the back, they aren't marked in the text. So if you want to know who the "someone" or "a twentieth-century historian" actually is, you have to go hunting. Important note: she doesn't actually tell you, all the time, who she is quoting. This gets annoying fast, makes me question her scholarship, and makes me suspect she is making things up. Probably she isn't, but she needs to tell me so.
As far as content goes, Cleopatra was super interesting, and it is unfortunate for her that history is told by the victors. It really does sound like Roman historians had a huge problem with powerful women.
Thank you also for the rankng of Austen books.. I have a nice hardcover complication I inherited, but was uncertain where to start. I was tending towards Northanger Abbey and you seem to agree.
I see you own even more Fforde books than I do! :P When you read Jane Austen do you go back and read through some of them as well? :P
1) Pride and Prejudice
3) Persuasion (2&3 switch places a lot - can't decide!)
4) Northanger Abbey
5) Sense and Sensibility
6) Mansfield Park
I think NA is a great place to start - it is nice and quick and fun. She's so much bitchier in it than she is in later novels (although she is always a bit snarky).
I managed to fit in a quick read last night, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett for my drama category. I'm sure this is one of those works that can be read on multiple levels, and has lots of symbolism, and if I'd read it in a college class I'd get as much out of it as I got out of Endgame. But I didn't. Waiting for Godot is absurd, and really funny. I'd love to see it staged.
34/77 books read (close to half, but not quite)
Short stories: 4/7
Jane Austen: 2/7
Spy novels: 3/7
LT group reads: 3/7
The Ancients: 3/7
My most-complete categories are short stories, 1001 books, and drama. No surprises there. My least-complete are Proust (not a surprise) and Austen (that one astonished me. I wonder why I keep putting her off?). I think I'm in decent shape to finish everything off by the end of the year, especially if I cut down on the off-challenge books. I'll have another book of ISOLT polished off by the end of the week, as well as another spy novel (the Bourne Ultimatum. Early review: this book is total crap) and a book of Emily Dickenson poems.
Seriously, this book is one of the worst I have ever read. The characters are all idiots, to the point where their actions are no longer believable (the uber-assassin Jason Bourne not recognizing obvious traps? traps that are so not-subtle that the reader is left yelling at him? His tragically not-dead wife Marie - the movies again did the smart thing there - standing in the streets of Paris shouting "Jason" during an ambush? Come on people).
In short, this book sucked. All three of them did. Not ok.
Finished another volume of In Search of Lost Time: The Guermantes Way. Lots of social climbing, lots of our unnamed narrator acting like a sociopath, combined with lots of beautiful writing and spot-on observations about people. A wonderful book, my favorite of the set so far.
My latest is The Oxford Book of Short Stories, edited by V.S. Prichett back in the early 80s. It is pretty great. He tried to pick less-anthologized works (not totally successfully - I think "The Fall of the House of Usher" might be one of the most anthologized short stories of all time, and I would have gone with "The Cask of Amontillado" instead). As usual with this sort of thing, I liked some and others not so much.
Favorites included "The Birthmark" by Nathanial Hawthorne, which is good but not as good as "Rapaccini's Daughter" which is the best story ever. Another goodie was "The Demon Lover" by Elizabeth Bowen. I've read one of her novels, wasn't too impressed, but obviously the reason why is because instead of writing novels she should have been writing short stories like "The Demon Lover". Ambrose Bierce's "The Coup de Grace" is excellent, like all his stories. Henry James's "Paste" is almost perfect, as is Somerset Maugham's "An Official Position". OH! And Ring Lardner's "Who Dealt" is amazing, too. I'm trying to think of ones that didn't work - none come to mind.
Ha ha! Really? You? I'm shocked.
I read a DH Lawrence short story in uni that I didn't mind. Can't remember much about it. There was a married couple, and a visitor, and a barn with a horse. I think. Or maybe not. Can't remember what happened but I managed to write something about it.
sorry, suffering from heat exhaustion in MN. . . you know it's been hot when 86 degrees feels COLD!
(Bruce's evil twin :-))
I wonder what U2 really thought of the weather at last nights outdoor concert. Nothing like heat and a lot of rain to go with stage lights and electrical equipment. Thankfully today it is cooler, but it looks like that isn't lasting for long!
(Bruce's evil twin :-))
The only real reason to read the book is because of main character #2: Shirley Keeldar. Shirley is a wealthy young lady, with money and land and charm and a fantastic personality. If Caroline is a totally unrealistic and annoying and insipid character, Shirley is real and vivid, almost as if she was drawn from life. Which, of course, she was. Shirley is Charlotte's tribute to her sister Emily (dead by the time the book was finished) - Emily as she might have been, with money and security and perfect health. Half the characters in the book are immediately recognizable as people in Charlotte's life (if you've read any Bronte biographies), especially the curates and the Yorke family. Heck, even Emily's dog gets a part. The writing in sections is heartbreaking, where she starts philosophizing and trying to work through her loss. It was a very good book, and I think I like it better now that I know more about Charlotte's backstory. In the future I will skip the Caroline parts. They are not good.
Two more books finished that fit into my challenge. 1) Small Island by Andrea Levy for my 1001 category, which was fantastic. It was about a pair of Jamaican immigrants to London back in the 40s after the war, their back stories, and their experiences in England. I was surprised, though I really shouldn't have been, but all the racism they encountered.
2) The Crucible for my drama category. It was a fantastic book, but it was horrifying, too. Miller did a great job relaying a sense of helplessness and insanity. How could this possibly be happening?
That said, I absolutely loved it. Five stars. This book is awesome.
For my Author Theme Reads category, I read The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa. MVL seems to write two kinds of books (my n=4 though, so this may not really be the case). He writes big, sweeping, epic, political novels that are very deep and depressing and take a long time to read. Or he writes relatively lighthearted love stories. This book is one of the second type, and I liked it a lot. The titular Bad Girl pops in and out of the narrator's life, over the course of decades, so on top of the love/hate story we get glimpses of Lima in the 50s, Paris in the early 60s, London in the late 60s, Paris again in the 70s, Peru again in the 80s, Madrid in the 90s.
I finished two short volumes of In Search of Lost Time today - The Captive and The Fugitive. Plot-wise: in The Captive, our unnamed narrator acquires a name (Marcel), and keeps Albertine locked up in his house to prevent her from having sex with women. Every time she behaves, he gets bored with her. Every time she leaves the house, or has a friend over, he freaks out and falls back in love. Finally, finally, finally, she comes to her senses and leave the jerk.
In The Fugitive, Marcel plays a lot of douchey tricks to get Albertine to come back to him, but just as he succeeds she dies tragically in an accident. Does this stop Marcel from obsessing over whether she had hot girl-on-girl action while she was away from him? Or ever, in her life? NO! No it does not. So 200 pages of sending people out to investigate, losing it when he finds out that yep, she slept with women, and going on and on about losing the woman he loved. Then he goes to Venice, gets over it, a bunch of random things happen to random characters from earlier books, and then the volume ends. Sigh.
Other observations: Proust died while editing Sodom and Gomorrah, and the lack of his editing in these volumes shows. He keeps killing people off, but then forgets about that because they appear again (not in flashbacks), living their normal lives. This is probably also why the books are so short compared to the rest (400 and 550 pages, compared to almost 1000).
The narrator remains a little creeper, and if he was a real person in real life would be exactly the kind of guy you stage an intervention to get a friend away from. But he does come up with really profound statements, particularly about love, jealousy, and grief, which redeem a lot of the nonsense. One more volume left; I wonder who Marcel will inflict himself upon now.
Ahem. Excuse the shouting, but I FINISHED PROUST. With Time Regained, the final volume of In Search of Lost Time, Proust totally gives up on even the most basic attempt at plot. This is basically 500 pages of reflections on WWI, memory, loss, aging, death, literature, society, etc. One of my favorite volumes.
And with that... I did it! I did it! I read all of ISOLT! All 3000 pages! Overall, I'm torn. On one hand, everyone who says that Proust is a beautiful writer and presents these really universal themes and ideas is fully right. On the other hand, the snobbishness is really obnoxious to modern readers (or at least this modern reader), and the relationship between Marcel and Albertine is totally appalling. Marcel, as a character, is revolting. In this last episode, he wanders into some sort of S&M male prostitute brothel, and stands around and watches the Baron de Charlus get whipped by some footman. Ick, Marcel. I realize that, with a first-person narrative, in order to work these scenes in (and Marcel-the-character is very much only a frame for the book as a whole - things don't really happen to him) Marcel has to be a creepy voyeur stalker weirdo, but he's really hard to read about.
But definitely worth reading. I'll pick it up again, someday. In a decade or so.
I finished another poetry book, too: The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats. It was fantastic; I've always liked Yeats - he wrote some of my favorites, including "When You Are Old", "Cap and Bells", and "The Second Coming". The whole collection is great, and I even liked the narrative poetry at the end (I don't, usually, unless it is Paradise Lost).
For my Austen category, I read Pride and Prejudice for the eleventy-billionth time. It is as good as ever. For my The Ancients category, I finally finally finally finished The History of the Peloponnesian War. I didn't like it as much as I liked Herodotus, but the speeches were great and was very interesting to note all the times that the war went one way or the other based on one person's defection (Alcibiades, especially) or betrayal or motivating speech or whatever.
And I finished off my Poetry category with The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte. They're exactly the kinds of poems you would expect her to write, so whether or not they are good depends on whether or not you think she is overly dramatic or a genius. I loved them. I was surprised to learn that they mostly fit into the Gondal universe she and Anne invented, and aren't really personal poems at all. My favorite is the one that starts "No coward soul is mine". The only bad thing about this book is that now I'm dying to read the whole Gondal saga, and I don't know if that is possible.
The latest film edition was beautiful, and I liked the acting, but WHY DID THEY LEAVE OUT THAT THE RIVERS FAMILY WERE HER COUSINS!?! Kinda a big flippin deal, especially when she leaves them 3/4 of her fortune. Jane was definitely a giver, but there was no way she would have offered money to as proud a family as the Rivers family unless they were related, and no way the Rivers would have accepted it unless they were family. That whole bit was completely unrealistic.
I wasn't thrilled with the director's attempts to make it a "horror" film with the quick jump-cuts and a few startling loud noises. I know he was trying to set a tone but it was jarring.
I liked the part after the discovery of Bertha where Rochester asks Jane if she's ever seen a mad-house and he says 'at least I spared her that'. And the fire scene, the realization of attraction, that was good. I thought he was an excellent Rochester. Still doesn't replace William Hurt in my mind, but very good.
And Dench! Need I say more?
Welcome to the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg with the Missouri Readers group
I hate when this happens. A book starts out so well; it is clearly going to be one of those how-she-got-to-this-point books, with some nice comparison/contrast between City Mouse (here, a TV reporter named Dena) and Country Mouse (her Missouri cousins and Alabama college roommate). You always sorta know, in these books, that City Mouse is going to chuck it all because life in the country is better, fame isn't everything, etc. Like I said, it goes along so well for about 400 pages. Then the author tries to do to much, make too big a stretch, adds in one of the least believable "love" stories I've come across in a long time, neatly ties up every single loose end, and everyone lives happily ever after. Which turned out to be a really sucky ending to what had seemed like it would be a fun book. 3 stars.
I may be guilty of voting for it but not reading it--so many books, so little time.
I'm not sorry I read it, and I gave it 3 stars, but it isn't up to the others. And OMG those people are crazy. You should totally read it, so that we can discuss the crazy. Sue, especially, drives me nuts. I get that she's rebelling against Victorian morals, and all, but wow.
Another depressing book about Peru, and people being very mean to each other. I gave it 3 stars. I don't know about this Vargas Llosa. I realize he's a Nobel Prize winner, I appreciate that some of his books are very profound and well-written and cover very big and important political topics. It's just that in general, I don't enjoy reading those books of his. I like the sillier ones, but even those I don't like that much. He's this year's Author Theme Reads author, but I think I may be done with his work for awhile.
These were fantastic short stories! "The Garden Party" was in there, of course, although it wasn't the best in the set. There were some wonderful character sketches, set in Germany, and then quite a few of her privileged-people-in-New-Zealand stories (always with an undercurrent of something not-quite-right). Also, it was a very pretty Folio Society book with lots of pretty illustrations and nice paper.
#102 The Misanthrope and other plays by Moliere
Tragic comedies? Is that the term? These are deservedly famous.
1) The Misanthrope - So this guy, he's so determined to stick with his principles, despite common sense and good manners suggesting he maybe not. An interesting idea: which is more important, principles-at-any-cost or civilized-society-involves-compromise?
2) The Sicilian - a very silly but fun comedy about what happens when a dad gets in the way of his daughter marrying who she wants.
3) Tartuffe - I would've liked it better if everything didn't work out at the end. That seemed a little too contrived. Although maybe the hypocrites and thieves did get punished back in the day, as opposed to now when they do just fine for themselves. The play also contains a subplot in which a dad gets in the way of his daughter marrying who she wants.
4) A Doctor in Spite of Himself - hilarious farce, about a peasant who gets pressed into being a doctor, to treat a daughter whose father is getting in the way of her marrying who she wants.
5) The Imaginary Invalid - a father imagines his is much sicker than he is, and because of this tries to get in the way of his daughter marrying who she wants.
I sense a theme...
Oh, God, I just cannot stand Fanny Price. I want her out of this novel, or any other novel. I don't understand the point of her - she's so different from Austen's other heroines, in a bad way. Even Anne from Persuasion has some spunk to her. She's so good; there is no bad to her; there is no interesting to her. She moons over Edmund for the whole book, despite his confiding in her about how he feels about Mary Crawford (who is actually super interesting up till the point where Austen must have realized "Oh, no. The book is going to end in a chapter and I still have not justified why Fanny should end up with Edmund" and then she throws a not-in-keeping-with-her-character-up-to-that-point nasty mercenary quality to Mary.
Everything having to do with Fanny is just such moralizing bullshit. Except that, oh wait, being quiet, and never speaking up, and having no opinion, and always doing what you are told, and being too weak to WALK HALF A MILE are NOT VIRTUES. They are barely tolerable in live human beings; they are inexcusable qualities in a fictional heroine. I say, kick her out. Outside of the Fanny horror show, the rest of the book is quite good, and really pushes the envelope (for Austen) when it comes to behavior.
The category overall has been split. The John le Carre books varied between "ok" and "OMG best ever", while the Bourne books sucked. Fun category, in general.
Lady Susan is a brilliant little novella, in which the title character is a evil villain along the lines of the Marquise de Merteuil from Les Liaisons Dangereuses, who happens to be one of my absolute favorite characters ever (although somehow omitted from the list somewhere in this thread). Lady Susan isn't quite there, but still delightfully nasty. It's a really good story.
The second half of the book contains lots of Austen's younger work - sketches, stories, plays, etc. They're hilarious, really. So melodramatic! People fainting, falling into one another's arms, sobbing, etc. But then she'd stick in a completely Austen sentence, snide and hilarious.
1001 books, with The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. This book is amazing; it is pretty difficult to read (another dealing with FGM). It is about the clash of two cultures, and how that tears a tribe apart, and the fate of one man who was raised to believe that it was his job to unite them. 150 unputdownable pages of awesomeness.
The Ancients, with Politics by Aristotle. Oh, Aristotle. So, he sets forth the different kinds of government, and their strengths and weaknesses, and which are better applied to which state. He throws in some child-rearing advice, and suggests that women shouldn't have kids until they are at least 18 years old (good advice) and men shouldn't until they are 37 (hmmm). Everyone should stop at age 50 (good advice, again). Then men and women could live together for "reasons of health or some such reason" - maybe love and companionship? maybe not, since this is Aristotle we're talking about.
If you can keep all that in your head, separate from the other things Aristotle says, the book is boring but fine. The parts that upset me are his statements that "some men" are just born to be slaves. Designed by nature! You can tell this because they have no souls. Like women! Who also have no souls.
Thanks a bunch, Aristotle. That didn't cause centuries of problems, not at all!
1) "No Exit" - this is the famous "hell is other people" play. Hell also apparently includes hideous antique furniture and no toothbrushes. A really, really darkly funny play.
2) "The Flies" - a re-telling of the Electra story. Not funny at all, but some interesting thoughts about freedom.
3) "Dirty Hands" - this may have been my favorite of the collection. It's about a young intellectual in the 40s who is part of a Communist party. He begs for a real job to do, but once he's in position isn't quite sure he can do it.
4) "The Respectful Prostitute" - racism in the American South in the 40s somehow looks even worse through the eyes of Sartre than it does through our homegrown writers, who already make it look pretty damn hideous.
The Professor and Vilette: I'm lumping these books together because they are practically the same story, only one is told from a male point of view, and the other from a female point of view. Also, one has a happy ending and one does not. Both are about impoverished Brits who teach in Brussels. The Professor was Charlotte's first novel and it shows; Vilette is one of her later ones and didn't really hold up in a re-reading. I thought I had liked it better the first time around. In both books, Charlotte's really strong anti-Catholic bias is prevalent, and a little bit annoying to a modern reader.
For my Austen category:
Persuasion. I really really really love this book. I'm half in love with Captain Wentworth myself.
And with that, my challenge is complete!