Posts Tagged ‘Classic literature’
Before I know it, it’s going to be the middle of the month… and then the end of the month… so before I forget, I’d better remind you that the November issue of BookPage is out AND, after having taken a few months off, I actually have a review in it!
As you have likely gathered from the title of this post, I read David Guterson’s newest novel, Ed King, which is actually a modern day retelling of the classic Greek play, Oedipus The King. The original source material is quite a yarn, so you can imagine just how fun and zany this book was! Although knowledge of the original play is by no means necessary, familiarity with Sophocles’ version will certainly add to one’s enjoyment. It was really fun to see how Guterson chose to modernize certain elements, and one of my favorite bits was how he re-envisioned the Greek chorus. But regardless, however you read this one, whether it be with fresh eyes or through the lens of what came before, this is a book that hooks you right from the start and is full of juicy scandals.
Although this isn’t Guterson’s first novel, it was actually the first book of his that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. It was the perfect blend of smart and playful, and even though it was certainly quirky, I never felt like Guterson was trying too hard to be clever at the expense of the story. If I were reviewing it solely here on the blog, I would give it a 4 out of 5.
For more of my thoughts on Ed King, you can check out my review here.
I don’t have very many reading rules, but one rule that I have set for myself and that I have managed to observe for the past 3 – 4 years (read: ever since I made it up), is that I only ever read one Jane Austen book a year. Austen is one of my favorite authors, so it would be really easy for me to just read and review her over and over again, but that might get tiring for you guys, so instead, as a means of maintaining balance, I instead limit myself to one book by her each year. Admittedly, this rule also partially stems from my deep-seated fear of running out of Jane Austen novels, and is my attempt to ration them. The thought of living in a world where I have no new Jane Austen to discover chills me to the marrow of my bones. I do realize that since Jane Austen only published six full-length novels that this reading plan would only preserve me from my greatest fear for six years, BUT you’ll note that my rule says nothing about reading a new Jane Austen novel each year, so if I wanted to read P&P for the next decade, that’s totally kosher.
As it is, since establishing my One Austen Per Annum rule, I have actually only revisited works of hers that I’ve already read. I still have Mansfield Park and Persuasion on the TBR pile, and even though I always claim that this will be the year that I finally try one of them, it never seems to work out that way. When Nicola over at Vintage Reads pointed out earlier this year that this was the 200th anniversary of Sense & Sensibility, that pretty much sealed the deal regarding which Austen I’d be cozying up to in 2011!
My desire to do so was heightened after popping the Oscar award-winning film featuring Emma Thompson into the DVD player a few months back. In retrospect I think that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to follow up the film with the original source material, simply because Emma Thompson’s adaptation is just SO good, and I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the two and I have to say, Austen’s version didn’t always come out on top. [Also, everything from here on out presupposes that you have more than a passing familiarity with the plot of S&S. Spoilers and in depth discussion ahoy!]
With the completion of Agnes Grey I can now say that I have read a novel apiece by each of the Bronte sisters. Hurrah! I didn’t really know what to expect going into an Anne Bronte novel, though this Hark! A Vagrant Cartoon that I was directed to by Jenny of Shelf Love during my read through of Jane Eyre last year caused me to suspect she might be my favorite sister of the three. I mean, I like neither assholes nor alcoholic dickbags for my male heroes in fiction… What can I say? I’ve never been one of those girls who goes for the brooding, badboy. It’s just never been my shtick.
Turns out, it’s not Anne Bronte’s thing either. If there’s such a thing as a proper romance (or a romance of manners), then that’s exactly what Agnes Grey is. In many ways it was like Jane Eyre, but it was far less epic and not at all gothic. Essentially, if you were one of those people who when reading Sense and Sensibility just wanted more of Elinor and Edward and swooned at their polite and reserved interactions that masked their deeper passions, then Agnes Grey is the novel for you.
Back in my pre-book blogging life (it’s hard for me to remember such a time did exist), I read A Room With a View by E.M. Forster. It was one of those books that I understood on a critical level, one where I completely understood what the author was trying to convey to his readers, and yet it was a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t get out of my mind all those times I’d tried to watch the movie as an undergraduate, inevitably hungover and therefore doomed to fall asleep every time it was on. I had always thought the movie was rather dull (clearly), and I didn’t find the book all that different, if I’m honest. It had its moments, for sure, but ultimately I thought it was fairly unremarkable.
Still, I had heard that Howards End was Forster’s masterpiece and decided that I would read it, even if A Room With a View didn’t blow the wind up my skirt (as my mother would say). It seems to be the book that most people love best of his, and critically speaking, I believe it’s received the greatest accolades.
Last year Tony read The Master and Margarita and loved it so much that he promptly told me that I needed to read it too. Only, when I first picked it up, my brain was fried for sundry reasons and I simply could not keep up with the book’s manic and frenetic pace (not to mention all the long Russian names), and I made it about 80 pages in before I threw my hands up in exhausted defeat. It was a book I was sure I would like if only I was in the right mindframe, preferably one that wasn’t constantly sleep-addled. I put it aside, but with the promise that I would try it anew in the future.
And so I did, and it went much better. Though I must say, that I still found it wildly chaotic and I pretty much was only able to recall about 5 names (out of 15?) throughout the course of the book, so I can’t say all of my previous problems were surmounted, but at least this time I was able to deal with them. But for all the better, did I love this book?
The Sea, The Sea was my first book by Iris Murdoch, and I’m not ashamed to say that I approached it with my tail between my legs. I was intimidated. Having never read anything by Murdoch before, I was certain I was in for a challenging and demanding read; I worried I wouldn’t be up to the task, that Murdoch’s writing would be too avant garde or erudite for my mere mortal brain. I summoned my courage and decided to tackle it, but I was scared it would conquer me.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that The Sea, The Sea, while dense and demanding was actually pretty painless to read! I don’t think anyone could call Murdoch an easy read, but my fears that she would be inaccessible and opaque were pretty ill-founded. In fact, the thing I struggled with most while reading this novel was myself. I had to keep reminding myself not to psych myself out and to keep reading, repeating to myself “You can do this! There’s nothing to fear here!” It’s crazy how much our preconceptions can sway us and influence our reading experiences. I was never fully able to relax while reading The Sea, The Sea, but I did make it all the way through, and ultimately found it a rich and rewarding reading experience.
Guilty confession time: this was my very first Maugham! And not only that, I walked in pretty blind. Not just in terms of what the book was about (though it’s true I didn’t read the back cover blurb and instead just dove right in), but also in terms of Maugham himself. For some reason I thought he was a less contemporary author, one who had deeper roots in the Victorian tradition. Imagine my surprise then when the book starts off in the roaring ‘20s! I don’t know what all this confusion on my part was about, but I guess maybe in my mind, having never read either of them, I was conflating Maugham with de Maupassant? Really, your guess is as good as mine.
For the past week or so, I’ve been dipping in and out of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (I feel the need to clarify, as if some of you are thinking I would be reading some other Great Expectations by some other author…). In that time, I’ve made it through about 100 pages, so, not really great progress on my part. I admit, my life has been busy and I have perhaps not been making reading a priority, but I’m sure that I’ve been letting my reading slide because I haven’t been having fun with this book and don’t particularly look forward to reading it.
I have perhaps not outlined my tortuous past with this book, and that is likely because my past is not all that tortuous with it. Just that I’ve tried to read the damn thing at least three or four times and I find myself incapable of doing so. I don’t know why I thought this time would be different, but I was confident I would make it through this time so I could finally say, “Ha, Charles Dickens! This time I have defeated you!” and then I could FINALLY move on with my life. But no, once again, Dickens has beat me down. I knew it was over when I could not longer bring myself to pick up the book, so little did I care about our fair and gentle narrator, Pip Pirrip. Actually, it was worse than that because it was more than simply being complacent or apathetic – no I was beginning to actually hate the book, and was actually preferring lying on the bed staring at the ceiling to reading. Clearly this situation was not ideal.
So I’m abandoning ship, giving up the ghost, and letting Pip live his maudlin, tragic life in the pages of fiction, all without me present. I feebly dream that some day I may pick this book up and everything will click and I will suddenly get caught up in this epic bildungsroman. But then, maybe I won’t, and I think I have to make my peace with that. Because for now, Dickens and I just can’t dance together. It’s hard to pinpoint precisely, I suppose, why one book captures us and another one doesn’t, but here are two reasons why I don’t much care for Great Expectations:
How’s that for turnaround time? After taking about two weeks to read through the first two-thirds of the book, I positively raced through the last portion of this novel. And what can I say: I LOVED it. This may not have been the most important book I’ve read this year, nor perhaps even the most impressive, but it was fun to read from beginning to end and it ultimately captured my heart quite deftly. I cannot say for certain that I did indeed read this book when I was younger, but I am definitely glad that I read it again now as in an odd way it reminded me of how I used to read when I was younger – purely for pleasure and purely to be swept away by a magnificent story. I feel Jane Eyre definitely delivered on both those counts, as it was for me a whirlwind of emotion and a novel that really engrossed me. The writing was lovely and evocative, the characters strong and luminescent, and as the temperature slowly begins to drop outside, I can hardly think of a better book to curl up with!
This past week I’ve been slowly working my way through the second volume of Jane Eyre. Please don’t take my glacial progress as evidence that this second of three installments was difficult or the prototypical “middle child” of the book. I’ve really been enjoying it A LOT, but there’s no denying I’ve been reading it slowly. However, I can attribute this to two things:
1) I was away at a conference for three days this week, which considerably cut into my reading time. I got to read on planes, but other than that, I was inundated with science and group dinners the rest of the time, so Jane did languish a bit as a result
2) This is simply a book that I’ve been having fun reading and just haven’t felt the need to rush through. I’m enjoying the time I spend with the book, and as easy as it is to flip the pages, I feel I’m not doing so mindlessly but am instead really reveling in the time spent. I feel like I am reading for the sake of reading, rather than for the sake of finishing the book. Some people might not feel there is a distinction there, but for me there is! And hey, we’re slowly embracing the “Slow Food” movement, so why not the “Slow Read” movement?