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Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Lancealot, Aug 13, 2006.
Started Balzacs novella "Z. Marcas", right now.
Lots of books and journal articles to prepare for my research proposal. I'm enjoying it for the most part, though thinking I need to lose myself in a good fiction book here soon...
Rough week at work and I just can't face the stack of research papers I wanted to get read. I've been playing all day, read a bunch of shorts from Howard/Kornbluth/Ashton. Not exactly "inspiring literature", but it gets my mind off things.
Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie would be a good bet to take your mind off biz.
The Maltese Falcon.
I enjoyed it even more than I did North River. That one, as you and/or Lizzie said, would have made a good Warners film with Jimmy Cagney and Loretta Young. But to me it suffered from the lack of * big * conflict. That would have been okay if it had been all about the characters in the neighborhood, his errant daughter and cute grandchild, and the love story . . . but here we are with our middle-aged doctor getting involved with gangsters, which implies violence, and we expect something of a bigger climax. Or at least I did. Hamill skates right up to the edge of it, but then makes things easier for his protagonists, instead of more difficult. The real suspense comes from the love story.
None of that in Snow in August: We get conflict right from Chapter One, and conflict that mounts and becomes more painful and essential for the young hero to resolve as we turn the pages. Frankie and his gang aren't misunderstood juveniles, "Dead End Kids" who just need love and direction. They are future (if probably minor-league) gangsters. Putting a 13-year-old boy, however smart, up against them is really building the conflict.
Then the book swerves to become a fantasy novel, and that's fine, since Hamill has his rabbi and the boy discuss the Golem legend/tradition at (fascinating) length. If the novel * hadn't * lifted off into fantasy territory and done something important with the material after that setup, well, we'd have felt cheated. Very nice stuff.
It's been many years since I read "Snow in August," but I remember enjoying it a lot, but not loving the fantasy swerve (but, as you note, Hamill hung the gun on the wall early and often enough for it to be justified). "North River" hit a perfect vibe for me atmospherically. I agree it isn't the greatest plot, but it was so successful at time traveling me back to pre-war NYC that I didn't care.
Balzac short-story "Madame Firmiani".
My first time.
I gotta say, I think it's because the ideas of this book are so engrained in modern society, that I am finding this a rather lackluster read. I would read a book about the Ministries and the philosophies of New Speak all day long, but Winston is an annoying protagonist.
Bit of a roundabout story: So, I read "A Gentleman in Moscow" (one of my all time favorite books) and noted that the protagonist, Count Rostov, occasionally mentioned reading a favorite book by the Renaissance French nobleman Michel de Montaigne. Well, a couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon "How to Live: A Life of Montaigne" by Sarah Bakewell. I bought it because I'd been tripping over references to Montaigne all over the place and yet I knew nothing about the man. It is an enjoyable read in a rather meandering, unfocused way. In short: Montaigne was the "inventor" (or first writer) of that literary form we now call the essay. He is also billed as the first modern person because he is so inquiring and un-dogmatic and humanist. That said, much of the book is about how people have interpreted him over the centuries. Interesting but not exactly exciting. So, the book served its purpose: I now know about Montaigne. But it is probably not for everyone. A bit of trivia that stuck: The wine producing chateau that Montaigne owned/operated (Château de Montaigne) is near Bergerac and --more than 5 centuries later-- is still in business and still producing wine!
R is a great character, GIM inspiring. A college prof of mine was a former Hungarian Army officer whom had been cashiered and thrown inside prison
after the Soviet invasion and his fabulous tale mirrors that of the Count. ( I wanted to do my paper on Hitler's infamous Mein Kampf, he advised me
not to as it was junk, but I insisted,-much to my regret.) ...Bakewell's Existentialist Cafe is a fine read though a bit here-and-there.
I admit to favoring Camus over Sartre. Montaigne is soothing to quote Flaubert; Pascal's bifurcate is more difficult to accept conceptually,
attribute to personality rather than philosophical origin.
"A Gentleman in Moscow" is my favorite read of the past two or so years. Count Rostov is a wonderful character who shows how to stay true to a personal philosophy for life through an incredibly challenging situation.
Plus Nina as a child - what a fabulously drawn kid (and Towels doesn't slam it in your face, but you can see how, by adulthood, all that was wonderful in her was broken on the wheel of communism). Plus, everything - characters, philosophy, atmosphere, history and vibe are all engaging and complex.
It is a dreary sort of book, but only because it's about a dreary world. You're right about how elements of it are common parlance now. As I've read elsewhere on the 'Net, "1984 was supposed to be a warning and cautionary tale, not a how-to handbook!"
Re-reading for the first time since then Seventies Philip Jose Farmer's SF classic Riverworld, specifically the first two novels in his series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat. It opens with Sir Richard Francis Burton (the 19th century British explorer, not Liz Taylor's husband) dying. He's resurrected on an Earthlike world in which most of the approximately thirty billion adult humans in world history have also been reincarnated, all at the physical age of 25, all with their memories and personalities intact. So far he's met John de Greystock, Alice Hargreaves (as a child the model for Alice in Wonderland), and Hermann Goring. As I recall Riverboat stars the resurrected Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens. Fascinating stuff.
I've also swept through his memoir A Drinking Life and his first novel, a short piece based on his trip home from the Navy at Christmas in 1952, The Gift. His writing is irresistible.
I've read both as well and agree, he's draws you in.
on order: Why This World?, Benjamin Moser
Biography of Clarice Lispector
"Son of the Gods" 1929 by Rex Beach
I bought the novel after seeing its movie portrayal on TCM - a solid early talkie (my comments on the movie here: http://www.thefedoralounge.com/thre...ovie-you-watched.20830/page-1201#post-2303206).
The book's theme - racism, in general, and, specifically, how a wealthy Chinese American was all but ostracized by polite "white society" - was thoughtfully done, showed how many of the issues we grapple with today were grappled with back then, how not new both the backward and enlightened views of today are and how much progress has been made (with more to go).
The plot follows the challenges that a young, not-very-Chinese-looking Sam - the scion of a Chinese owner of a string of American department stores - faces as he tries to find friends and girlfriends at an East Coast Ivy college and, later, in NYC and European society. His wealth, proper upbringing and manners provides a doorway in, but as we see, time and again, only so far. His unique mix of Chinese philosophy, taught to him by his impressive philosopher father, and Western culture and values, learned growing up in America, place him at the nexus of racism at every one of life's turns.
Away from all that heavy stuff, the book is just a good solid page turner. While not "literature" in the sense of bringing forth universal philosophical questions about the human condition in a way that transcends its period (heck, I don't really know why something is "literature" and something is just a good book, but that's a back-of-the-envelope attempt), the story is well crafted, the characters - for the most part - are three-dimensional people you care about - like, love or hate, but understand - and you simply want to see what happens next. It's a good yarn with a bunch of fun, if sometimes a bit improbable, twists.
And while it was a successful book in its day for all those reasons, today it also provides a view into the period - 1920s' prevailing thoughts / memes / customs / unwritten rules / biases. As always, these views tend to be humbling as they show that, as noted, very little of what we think is so smart and daring today is really new. Also, it should tamp down some of our own smugness as it reminds us that today's enlightened ideas won't seem so perfect in the future. Finally, for Fedora Lounge members, it's just great time-travel to a period we enjoy - the cars, clothes, architecture, social rules, political issues, norms, etc., all provide a fantastic window into late '20s America.
I've already bought online another Rex Beach book (not-first editions are available for under $10 from used book sellers).
Happenstance dawn Starbucks arrival or quick catch at the Exchange once the Rock Island docks LaSalle Street Station,
the New York Times is my paper of record. The Arts & Books section, cuisine, all of it I just love. Political partisanship aside,
the Times' coverage of the Mueller investigation amounts to sophomoric screed. And more's the pity for that.
The Kill Society by Richard Kadrey.