and ratings with Erica, and even join abook club
- Total pages read: 12,446
- Average pages read per day: 70
- Male/Female authors read: 21/18
- Average year published: 1992
Things I need to read more of:
- Foreign authors
- Other forms of literature - non-fiction, poetry, plays, essays, short stories
- Literature before 1950
5 Favorites so far:
1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
2. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
3. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
5. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Week #25: The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
Elaine Dundy’s protagonist Sally Jay Gorce is “hellbent on living” as she travels through Paris in the 1950s. Sally Jay’s ebullience and lust for adventure traverse every page, and I fell in love with her right away. Philadelphia isn’t exactly Paris, but I enjoy the vibrancy of city life and want to live in a city as long as I can stand it. Although Dundy’s novel was first published in 1958, the characters and the story ring true and timeless. Sally Jay is simultaneously clever and naive, wise and youthful. I constantly wrote down quotes from the young narrator, and I’d love to share some with you here.
“The vehemence of my moral indignation surprised me. Was I beginning to have standards and principles, and, oh dear, scruples? What were they, and what would I do with them, and how much were they going to get in my way?”
“It’s amazing how right you can be about a person you don’t know; it’s only the people you do know who confuse you.”
“[T]he question actors most often get asked is how they can bear saying the same things over and over again night after night, but God knows the answer to that is, don’t we all anyway; might as well get paid for it.”
“Oh, Teddy, darling, thank you, thank you, for restoring my cynicism. I was too young to lose it. ”
“No matter what you do you’ve got to try to do it well. Otherwise, it’s unbearable.”
Please read this book. I’m sure you’ll love it.
I hate dreams. Dreams are the Sea Monkeys of consciousness: in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust. The wisdom of dreams is a fortune on paper that you can’t cash out, an oasis of shimmering water that turns, when you wake up, to a mouthful of sand. I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by. I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash. I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off.
Pretty much the only thing I hate more than my own dreams are yours.” —Michael Chabon, Why I Hate Dreams, New York Review of Books Blog
Week #21: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
Someone told me recently that you either love or hate Vonnegut.
I love him.
Vonnegut is famous for a graduation speech he never gave in 1997 at MIT, where the main point was to “wear sunscreen”. But he did give a graduation speech at Rice University the next year, and he reprised this speech at the Free Library of Philadelphia on September 10, 1998. I recently downloaded and listened to this podcast from the Free Library website.
In this actual speech, Vonnegut calls the graduating students “Adams and Eves” who have just eaten the apple of knowledge and are now being kicked out of Eden. He then calls himself the Methuselah who has come to impart some wisdom. I love this sense of humor; in spite of his biting sarcasm and critiques of modern society Vonnegut always showcases his humanist sense of optimism.
Bluebeard, or The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, follows narrator Karabekian’s journey as an Abstract Expressionist. As with the Bluebeard fairy tale, Karabekian has had a number of wives. He did not kill them like Bluebeard, but he admits that he didn’t take care of them either. Vonnegut’s novel debates the value of art, artists, and greed. This wasn’t my favorite of his novels, but I would still recommend it.
So it goes.
In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” —Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Week #23: HHhH by Laurent Binet (Translated by Sam Taylor)
I was so impressed by Laurent Binet’s debut novel, HHhH. In a unique blend of historical narrative and semi-fictional narration, Binet tells the story of SS Captain Reinhard Heydrich’s assassination. The title in German stands for “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich,” which translates as Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich. Heydrich was one of Hitler’s top dogs, ranking second only to Himmler. The unnamed narrator mirrors Binet’s interest and study of the Czechoslovak heroes who committed this act. I learned most of my World War II history in my high school German classes and admittedly my history background is scanty at best. I had never heard the story of parachutists Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, the brave soldiers who risked their lives to kill the “Butcher of Prague”. Binet’s novel has me fascinated with the Czechoslovak resistance movement and the relationships within the SS and Nazi regime.
As he relays the story, the narrator struggles with how best to present his research. Each time he describes a conversation, he backtracks and scolds himself for inventing dialogue. But Binet’s insertions of inner monologue are what make this book so much more captivating than straight history. I’ve enjoyed a number of these novels that blur the line between fiction and history, among them Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and of course Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
Week #18: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A wealthy man with many enemies is gruesomely murdered. His three sons are suspected, and one son is arrested. A lengthy trial ensues, but the son’s alibi doesn’t hold up because of a complicated love triangle.
But guess what? The butler did it.
Pretty typical thematic tropes, right? So what makes The Brothers Karamazov such a great work of classic literature? Probably the impassioned moral and philosophical arguments laid out in the novel about free will, existentialism, morality, and reason. Each of the three Karamazov brothers engenders a different philosophy. Dmitri, like his father, is a sensualist who loves women, wine, and spending his money. Ivan plays the rationalist and is the only son with a strong education. Alyosha, much like Prince Myshkin from The Idiot, is a Christ-like figure who has devoted his life to God.
I read (er… listened to) most of this novel on audiotape. I downloaded it from http://librivox.org/, and probably couldn’t have gotten through it any other way. I listened to many chapters repeatedly before I felt I had grasped the themes and even the basic plot lines. I started to read the book many times before I enlisted the help of an audio recording, but I just couldn’t manage the Russian names, frequent footnotes, and the hefty weight of the 1100 page tome. Even with the listening aid, it still took me almost three months to get through the entire story.
Although I’d definitely recommend The Brothers Karamazov, I’d even more strongly recommend audiobooks.