Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who is this Don Juan guy, anyway?

I don’t think I got enough out of After the Death of Don Juan by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Perhaps it’s that I don’t really appreciate Spanish culture fully – I’ve never been to Spain and don’t speak a word of the language. (Well, I think hamburger is something like hambergesa – but that’s really about all I know.) The descriptions of the country in the book were beautiful, though.

I know from reading the introduction that the book is supposed to be a parable relating to the Spanish Civil War, which was going on at the time that Warner was writing. I also don’t know anything about the Spanish Civil War.

So, obviously the nuances of the book were lost on me (even more than usual). And maybe if I did understand the Spanish Civil War or more fully grasped the culture, it would make more sense. I was following everything that went on, but then toward the end it got really confusing. Don Ottavio went back to kill Don Juan, but wound up banding together with him to fight the peasants? And why did they tie up Don Saturno? I just felt like the whole thing got very muddled at the end. Also, the back of the book and the introduction both hint at the fact that Dona Ana might be pregnant as a reason why she is so relentlessly pursuing Don Juan. I didn’t pick up on that in the text at all.

In fact, some of this stuff was SO lost on me that I needed Mike to explain to me the idea behind Don Juan. I couldn’t really figure out whether the legend of Don Juan came from this book or whether Warner used the legend as a jumping off point for the story. It probably would have helped if I knew the Don Juan legend before starting to read this book.

So, interesting book, definitely see why it’s good literature, but not my favorite.

Embarrassing confession: Mike had to explain to me when I was about halfway through that all the characters were not actually named Don.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An elegant series of short stories, plus a giant frog.

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami can best be described as elegant. It is a series of short stories involving characters whose lives were somehow impacted by the earthquake in Kobe, Japan. It is not a book about survivors in the traditional sense – the characters were not pulled-from-the-rubble survivors, but individuals whose lives were touched in a more roundabout way. So the earthquake is kind of the common theme among the stories and the stories portray the characters’ different way of dealing with it.

Some of the short stories were depressing (as you can probably imagine) and one is really bizarre and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. (A giant frog comes to visit a guy to ask him to help fight a giant worm.) But I really liked the last story and it seemed like Murakami wanted to end the series on a hopeful, inspiring note. The last story is all about love.

This was a pretty cool book. I had not realized that the 1001 Books included some sets of short stories.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rich people are interesting to read about!

I just finished The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Here’s an admission about how superficial I am about books. Before I started this project, I lumped all the 1800s books into the “boring” category and figured I’d just get through them for the sake of having read them.

Well, I’m really, really glad I read this one. It was SO GOOD!!! (I envision Marissa nodding her head and saying, duh.) I’m sure I’m missing some really important themes and everything, but this was a fantastic story and fun to read. It takes place among the very very wealthy in New York City. Which, (here comes the superficial part) was kind of a breath of fresh air. No one in the book is hungry. There are no dead babies. No one is pooping outside anyone’s window. The characters don’t even really work. Their time is spent going to dinner parties and the opera and Newport. They wear beautiful clothes, ride in nice carriages and basically lead a fantastic, fun life.

Now that all sounds wonderful but I think part of the idea behind the book is that even in that environment there is still conflict and things are not as great as they seem. But I was still left with the impression that the characters were lucky to have the luxury to feel the ambivalence that they do. One’s troubles are just different when you have unlimited funds.

I really enjoyed reading this – it was one of those books that I wish were longer because I just wanted to keep reading!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Books 21-30

That photo is a TRUE PHOTO of Emily's entry hall full of boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked from their move prior to Christmas.

Ok, not really. But Emily's copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is still packed in a box somewhere, so she requested that I post a list of books twenty-one through thirty. So here we go!

21. Albert Angelo by B.S. Johnson (1964)
22. The Albigenses by Charles Robert Maturin (1824)
23. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996) Emily, I own this one and will send it down if you want. It's so good!
24. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
25. All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani (1948, revised 1972)
26. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)
27. All Souls Day by Cees Nooteboom (1998)
28. Amateurs by Donald Barthelme (1976)
29. The Ambassadors by Henry James (1903)
30. Amelia by Henry Fielding (1751)

There you are, ma soeur. :)


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sorry, I appear to have been an absentee.

HA! Did you see what I did there? I finally finished The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth. Like Emily said, "Incognito adventures!" I really liked this book. I was pleasantly surprised because I found it slow at first, but it all tied up nicely. And I'm pleased that they went back to Ireland. Lady Clonbrony was trying way to hard to fit in and Lord Clonbrony was letting everyone walk all over him. It's hard to believe that Colombre, so upstanding and heroic, is their child. But he followed his heart, saved the day, and got the girl. Definitely refreshing after Eponine and her shenanigans in Bataille's book.

Absalom, Absalom! is up next for me when I can wedge it in between reading for school.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Familiar tales.

I thought I would like Aesop’s Fables more than I actually did. Mike pointed out (as I was complaining about it) that the fables are really very well assimilated into culture by now. So, they feel formulaic. But they can’t really BE formulaic since they were the first ones on the block!

I learned from reading the Preface (which the Kindle put at the end of the book, oddly) that Aesop didn’t necessarily write all of the fables but probably collected them as they were part of popular culture during his time as well.

We’ve all heard or read a lot of these. The grasshopper that spends the summer sleeping and making fun of the ants and then has nothing to eat during the winter. The tortoise beating the hare at a footrace. But I liked The Boy and the Nettles. The boy grasps the nettles really gingerly and gets hurt. His mother explains that he has to grab the nettles really hard and then they’ll get crushed and not hurt him. (Whatever you do, do with all your might.)

I’m at a weird stopping place in the book list. I am waiting for the library to open so I can pick up a few more books that are next on the list. I have an ILL request for After the Death of Don Juan by Sylvia Townsend Warner. And, After the Quake by Haruki Murakami will be placed on hold for me. It will probably be a few days before the library opens because we're all still cleaning up from Snowmageddon. And Snoverkill is currently rapidly falling outside my window. In the meantime, I’ll download The Age of Innocence onto the Kindle. It’s free!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Elementary, my dear Watson.

I kind of had an idea of what Sherlock Holmes was before I started to read this book. Though I may have been under the impression that he was a real person. (Since he is character in a novel, I’m guessing he wasn’t.) This was a fast, fun, super enjoyable read. Each chapter stands on its own with its own little mystery. Perfect for reading in small chunks and perfect for the Kindle.

I liked how the author portrayed Sherlock’s processes of “deduction” to figure out each mystery. (There’s a lot of tapping of the fingers together and saying “Hum.”) Sherlock is a fully formed character at the start of the book so you don’t get to see how he got that way. It would have been cool to see him as a young man developing his processes and learning about how to solve mysteries.

This is one of those books that I’m SO glad I read and I wouldn’t necessarily have picked it up on my own.

Next up: Aesop's Fables on the Kindle, during what the media are calling a "paralyzing" snowstorm.