Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mitch Albom, tuesdays with Morrie

Mitch Albom, tuesdays with Morrie. A dear friend gave me this book as a gift. To be honest, I thought I wouldn't like it ("I don't usually go for the uplifting") but I did enjoy reading it. Maybe I didn't connect with the author's tone or his answers, but I did connect to the questions he was asking. These questions matter. How do you live a good life? How do you value other people and love them? What is important and what is distraction? What are the values of our culture and are they right? How do you live a good life within a culture that is dysfunctional? How do you tolerate fear, pain, and loss? How do you confront your own death, and worse, the death of those you love? I enjoy people who ask these questions and honestly try to answer them. It's not a matter of religion or no religion to me - I can deeply empathize with most people if they are thoughtful. The intolerable sin is apathy, a careless approach to life. Don't be unthoughtful or formulaic - have a reason for what you do and who you are. Not asking questions is worse than having the wrong answers or no answers. Morrie's insights reminded me of the Forster epigraph "only connect". So the answers in this book were simple - love each other, listen, touch, learn. Pretty basic humanism, hard to argue with (water's mighty wet stuff, chief!). I didn't love the author - he didn't delve deeply enough, it seemed to me, but I loved the subject of the book. A great teacher is important and should be cherished - don't let your teachers fade from your mind.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Malory, The Morte Darthur

Malory, The Morte Darthur. Oh the battles! And the courtliness and cruelty! And the High Language.... If I only had occasion to say something like: "Madam, I pray you that ye be not displeased with me for I will take the adventure that God will send me" or "Arise, for shame, and perform this battle with me to the utterance!"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Victor Villaseñor, Rain of Gold

Victor Villaseñor, Rain of Gold. I guess this came before the book Thirteen Senses, which I read a few years ago but didn't realize was a sequel. A funny, juicy, and joyful family history. The grandmothers are priceless characters, even though occasionally over the top (although for a lady that shares raunchy anecdotes with her personal friend the virgin Mary every morning, over-the-top is understatement). It successfully pulls off interweaving separate narratives that eventually join without being irritating or distracting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner. I devoured this in an afternoon, although it was at times excruciating and heavy with visceral emotion. It's the story of a boy named Amir who betrayed his dearest friend, told in vivid and beautiful language against the backdrop of a disintegrating home: a story about the hope of redemption.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Anton Chekhov, My Life

Anton Chekhov, My Life. A short novel or a long story, perfectly told, that reminded me how much I really love Chekhov. Misail, Masha, Kleopatra, Blogovo - all the people are perfect, recognizable, and vivid. Misail is the son of an architect and is a failure. He absconds from his expected role and becomes a laborer, a roof painter. He is not truly a reformer or revolutionary. He finds a love and loses her. He doesn't change anything. The ending is right. (By the way, this was the Constance Garnett translation, the voice I grew up hearing Russian literature in. I think her words are perfect for Chekhov.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Salman Rushdie, Shame

Salman Rushdie, Shame. Not as rich, florid, substantial or comedic as The Satanic Verses and disappointing by comparison. Still a good story, complicated, baroque, dramatic, mournful, recognizable. I enjoyed the mood of the sprawling, decaying architecture and the sprawling, decaying relationship between the families that tangled through the plot.

Monday, May 05, 2008

P.D. James, The Murder Room

P.D. James, The Murder Room. I don't know why it is, but I never can remember if I've read these before until I'm fifty or so pages in, and then it's too late to stop. P.D. James is a pleasure to read, but her stories don't grab me. Neither does Adam Dalgliesh, that cool cucumber. Odd, because he's so much a cousin of Peter Wimsey, who does (and Richard Jury, who sometimes does). There's something about all of her characters I don't connect with, except in the most minor ways. But rereading her is like rewatching one of those movies you always forget if you finished - fun and restful- and you can even let yourself be a little surprised at the end.

Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift

Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift. Charlie Citrine is a ridiculous puffed up writer (he's writing a perpetually unfinished treatise on boredom, but he made his big bucks on Broadway) who carries around a suffocating love for the dead. He owes and is owed debts to and from his boyhood hero, the washed-up poet Humboldt, who was the Guthrie to his Dylan. He spends every day worrying about his wife, his lawsuits, his girlfriend, his clothes, his racquetball game, his evaporating money, his car - but he longs to be a philosopher king. He keeps getting entangled in impossible messes with Chicago underworld types and he just can't seem to hold on to himself. Charlie is another Bellow hero filled with lofty yearnings and petty obsessions. I don't know why I love these ridiculous and idiotic men that Bellow writes about - they are nearly entirely worthless human beings.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Jane Smiley, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

Jane Smiley, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton. This book reminded me of one of those young-adult pioneer stories with a girl in a prairie dress looking over the horizon on the cover. It's a familiar story form - a young woman marries, travels west, stakes a claim, and hardships and adventure ensue. The familiarity is absolutely intentional - there is even a scene where Lidie chops her hair and dresses as a man in order to travel freely. But this story has an adult level of emotional and political development. The historical/political detail about Kansas Territory and the abolitionist movement and conflicts were the most interesting parts of the book. I was actually pretty shocked that this book turned out to be like this - Jane Smiley is one of those odd authors whose books are entirely different from each other. She seems to pick up any form and tell a story comfortably. If it weren't for her style of humor I wouldn't recognize them.
All right, time to catch up on posting, I suppose. It's not that I haven't been reading, it's that I've been furtive about it. Technically, I've had no time, so that other than cartoons from back issues of the New Yorker and horrid journal articles my reading has consisted of allowances of novels when I am nearly asleep. But now I am a relatively free woman for six weeks or so, so I'll catch up on the backlog!