Saturday, December 26, 2009

Let's Make a List, Part II

While I try to kill time--Interesting saying, by the way. My theory is that we invented it out of shear irony. I say, while I try to kill time, I decided I'd finish what I started it. I don't really check this thing that often and I hardly consider it a worthwhile endeavor, but once one makes a part one, it is customary to make at least a part two, unless of course your name is Mel Brooks.
So, here is the second part of my list of books I've read this year. I left off with Joey Comeau's darkly funny epistolary Overqualified, which was fifteen on the list. As common sense and your elementary education has taught you, we shall begin again at sixteen.

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. This book changed the way people view Hell. Rather than picturing it as a lake of fire or a bottomless pit, lacking all light, as the Bible describes it, most people picture the nine levels, filled with a variety of punishments. The poem is filled with quite a few vivid areas and memorable moments, but I think my favorite part of the poem is The Wood of the Suicides. The imagery really stayed with me. As a side note, I played the demo for Dante's Inferno, and all I'll say is, I love God of War. Well, that and it's obviously a loose translation.
17. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. Dickens wrote 14 finished novels, one unfinished novel, four Christmas novellas, two travel logs, two collections of literary sketches, and a child's history book. This book kind of gets lost in the shuffle--and what a shuffle it is! Martin isn't as likable as Nicholas Nickleby, even after he lets go of his selfishness. Mark Tapley, though wonderful, isn't nearly as wonderful as Thomas Traddles. The truly brilliant characters in this one are the villains. Jonas Chuzzlewit is perhaps the most sinister Dickensian villain, while Seth Pecksniff--well, there's never been a better portrayal of hypocrisy. To be honest, Chuzzlewit is ripe with Dickensian wit, charm, and characters more akin to Greek heroes and gods than men, however, there a better examples of his brilliance.
18. Life's Little Ironies by Thomas Hardy. This is a collection of eight short stories, some being the best Hardy has written, in my opinion. As the name would indicate, the stories are ironic tales, to at least, some extent. Some of them are heartbreaking, some haunting, but all are entertaining. My favorites were "An Imaginative Woman" and "To Please His Wife."
19. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. I bought this at a resale shop because I had already read the first twenty pages while waiting for my mother. I didn’t like Salinger before I read this and now I like him, if not less, at least the same. There were strokes of—not quite—genius, but they were few and far between. He is filled with juvenile pretensions, and what's more, he knows it. He fills his characters with it, and we're supposed to care about them despite of it. I've never read Catcher in the Rye (because I'm not in junior high), but I've heard it's the same, with more cursing.
20. Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. Remember the Jones kick I was on at the beginning of the year that was mentioned in the first list? It almost came back. I was all set to go out and buy House of Many Ways, which is the last in the Howl series, but I restrained myself. Jones style is flawed at times. She falls short of her predecessors, but she soars above most of her contemporaries, so I forgive her of it. Castle wasn't as good as Howl, and the reoccurring characters seemed different somehow. Still, it was an enjoyable fantasy novel.
21. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith. Goldsmith, with this one--his only--novel, influenced most of the authors to immediately follow him. Jane Austin clearly took cues from the book. I can see it in all of her works. The Brontë's were sure to have read the novel. Dickens takes scenes strait out of it--Pickwick in debtor's prison is oddly similar to Primrose's time in jail. There is usually a good reason why a piece of art is so influential, though for the life of me, I cannot put my finger to it on this one. I have definitely taken something from it since I read it though.
22. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott. I once read that unless you read Scott as a boy, you'll never enjoy him as an adult. I'm not sure if I can be testament to the fallacy of that statement, though the first thing I read by Scott was Ivanhoe, last year. I think the truth of the statement is that to enjoy Scott one must be child-like, which, in my romantic attitude, I am. Kenilworth tells the story of the death of Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Historicity aside, the novel is filled with perhaps the most vivid depictions of some historical figures, such as Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh, which have been the precedent for how they're treated in future works. Even Leicester is viewed in a sympathetic light. It is a historical tragedy, as most people who read it at the time it was published knew how Amy Robsart died, yet Scott draws it out, keeping hopes up, only to be dashed. I new Robsart had to die, but I still held out hope for Tressilian, her blighted lover. As with most Scott novels, he weaved historical fact with legend and pure fancy. Just remember, he's writing a novel, not a history book.
23. Bartleby, The Scrivener by Herman Melville*. Aside from a failed attempt to read Moby Dick when I was much younger, this was my introduction of Herman Melville. I read it in a literature class some years ago, and I had every intention of skimming the first and last bit, but Bartleby would have none of that. Bartleby is at once heartrending and fascinating: the story of a broken man who simply wants to be left alone. His famous phrase "I would prefer not to" at first seemed Dickensian in his aloofness, but as his character was fleshed out--to the small amount it was--I realized the heavy load he worked under, which led to him preferring to do nothing.
24. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It might sound odd, but once I learned Stevenson was Scottish and not American, I had a stronger pull towards his work and person. His life is truly a fascinating tale, but for now I'll focus on this story. Written over a period of some six days while suffering from illness, as he commonly was. It's alleged that he had the assistance of cocaine to maintain alertness. Sadly, the story of the author is far more interesting than the story itself. Perhaps if I hadn't known the story already, it would have been more intriguing. Damn it's popularity! It is a quick read, but a fairly unexciting one. It's not a bad story or poorly written, just unexciting. I hate to criticize a piece of art based on my expectations, but there you are.
25. Bleak House by Charles Dickens. This is considered Dickens' masterpiece. While I prefer David Copperfield, I can see why persons would consider it such. It is perhaps his most flawless work. He seems, by this point in his works, to have become more focused. He not only begins centered on one goal, it remains that way. Early Dickens novels ramble, using the plot as an excuse to write adventures for his characters; but in this work, his aim is shifted. He uses his characters and adventures for the plot this time. The only later novels I've read other than this are Hard Times, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities. One can see the same focus in those works as well. This one is still full of brilliant characters, though the most memorable seem to be the bad versions of other Dickensian characters. Harold Skimpole seems like the rascal version of Wilkins Micawber, while Mr. Guppy seems the less noble form of Mr. Toots. (I was a little perturbed at Dickens for his portrayal of Guppy after Esther's illness.) Still, they're equally as charming.
26. Silas Marner by George Eliot*. I know this book is stereotypically read in high school, but not in my school. I read it two years ago and while it only took a few days to read, it stuck with me for a long time. It's one of my favorite books. Marner is a blighted man who leaves behind everything he knows and moves to a small country village. There, as an outsider, he's considered slightly off. He becomes a miser, hoarding gold as his only solace. After he is robbed, the town gives his sympathy and a bit more acceptance. Then, on a New Year's Eve night, a little girl is found sleeping in front of his fire. Her mother died upon the road, and Marner adopts her. That's not the end, but it's a good introduction. It brings up questions of religion, fatherhood, morality, and providence. To be honest, I think high schoolers would miss most of the deeper parts of the work.
27. The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd. I thought I could find anything fascinating if it were about John Dee: the famed occultist, mathematician, navigator, astrologer, alchemist, and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. I was wrong. There's a lot that's good about this book. Those things pale in comparison to the flaws it carries. Told in duel narration--one narrator being Dee himself--it is the story of a man who inherits a house from his father and finds himself connected to it's history. The first two or three chapters are quite good, but it begins to grow wearisome. I cannot help but think Ackroyd began to hate it himself, as the ending feels rushed, as if he just wanted to get it over with. I've heard this is not a good example of Ackroyd's works, but I'd rather not take that chance--not now.
28. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. This was my introduction to Verne. Of course, I know the basic story of many of his other works, but I've only ever read this. (Interesting factoid: there's no balloon in this novel.) To be honest, the novel feels like a travelogue. Granted, it's a quick one, and quite an eccentric basis for one, but that was my impression. I was rather intrigued throughout, nonetheless. Passepartout, the real protagonist, was lovable enough, and Fogg was noble enough; but I feel like, in better hands, it could've been an epic romp across the globe rather than a quick run through.
29. Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë. Anne is easily my favorite of the Brontë sisters. Granted, all I've read by her is this delightful novel about the troubles of a governess, but I am greatly excited about reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. While Charlotte is fine (I've only read Villette), I prefer Anne's attitude. Also, she seems to be the only one in her family who doesn't think a mean, old man is a perfect candidate for a love interest.
30. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Road has been praised as one of the most important books in recent history. I don't know if it's that important, but if there is any piece of literature released recently that I view worth being added to the canon of classical pieces, it would have to be this book. Post-apocalyptica is usually religious or preachy in some way, but this speaks nothing of how the end happened or why, only that it did and of the few who try to make their way through the remains of the world.

So that's the list. Of course, asterisks indicate that I've read it before, just like in the last list. Of course, I left out Dickens' Christmas novellas that I read every December and the numerous Sherlock Holmes stories I read randomly throughout the year. I plan on reading Jane Eyre in January, and then The Eyre Affair, but that's for a different time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's Christmas So We'll Stop

It's not actually Christmas, it being the 18th, but it is the Christmas season. I made a Christmas playlist for my Zune today. Forty-four songs which equals out to three hours and seven minutes. Most of my playlists get up in the hundreds to low thousands, so this is a quick one. I just put it on shuffle though, as I'm never so bored that I can listen to three hours of music back to back. I'll not list off all the songs, but some notables are:

Frightened Rabbit - "It's Christmas So We'll Stop"
Capital Lights - "His Favorite Christmas Story"
The Reign of Kindo - "O Holy Night"
mewithoutYou - "A Stick, a Carrot, and String"
House of Heroes - "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
Something Corporate - "Forget December"
Pedro the Lion - "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
The Pogues - "Fairytale of New York"
Abandon Kansas - "O Come, All Ye Faithful"
Bright Eyes - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
Dustin Kensue - "Fairytale of New York" (I really like this song)
The Lawrence Arms - "Faintly Falling Ashes"
Frank Turner - "The Journey of the Magi"
Relient K - "I Celebrate the Day"
Diffuser - "Tell Her This"
The Decemberists - "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)"
Spoken - "Mary Did You Know"
blink-182 - "I Won't Be Home For Christmas"
Dashboard Confessional - "The Only Gift that I Need"
The Honorary Title - "The City on Christmas"

So there's a list if someone stumbles upon this looking for Christmas music. You can find all of them on Amazon.

Am I the only one not feeling much of the Christmas spirit this year? I've been trying to spark it with Christmas books by Dickens, egg nog, Christmas music, and what-have-you's; but to no avail. I refuse to blame the economy, for that would mean that the spirit is wrapped up in the money. And besides that, I've been shopping and it is just as inconvenient to find anything as it is every year. I refer of course to regular, humdrum shopping. There's plenty of traffic and gift-buying, but very little merrymaking and holy observance.
Interest thing to note: there's very little gift-giving in the old Christmas tales. It's actually quite a new observance for the holiday. Only about a hundred years old. Before, children got trinkets, sweets, and fruit, while one might exchange actual gifts with one's lover. An employer would gift a Christmas bonus to his workers perhaps--that's what Boxing Day is for. Father Christmas wasn't even a gift-bringer in the old traditions. Saint Nicholas left coins in children's shoes, while Sinterklaas (along with his black manservant Zwarte Piet) would leave candy or small presents in the shoes (in exchange for some food for his horse, it would seem). All of these older traditions tied in heavily with Christianity. Sinterklaas dresses like a bishop.
I'm not pleased to be another voice decrying the commercialization of Christmas, as I'm sure my voice will only be lost in the sound of louder voices. Read the essay "What Christmas Means to Me" by C.S. Lewis for a more eloquent and intelligent response to it from a man who lived through the transition.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's make a list, part I

So this is my first post. I had the idea to do this for a little while, but wanted to wait till December to do it. I got the idea from A Softer World's Emily Horne, which she apparently does every year. What idea do I refer? To make a list of all the books I've read this year. Of course, I left out short stories--unless I read a complete collection of them--and poetry--see first exception. So I'll get right to it, whether anyone cares or not. I'll say a bit about each book in case someone either wants to know my thoughts or doesn't know what the book is.

(An asterisk next to the title means I've read it before.)

Here goes:

1. The Archivist by Martha Cooley. I read this mostly because my fiancé recommended it to me. It was her copy I read. It wasn’t exactly the greatest novel I’ve read, but the duel narration was interesting. Although, I felt the characters and their problems a little contrived.
2--5. Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Conrad's Fate, and The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones.
I was on a huge Diana Wynne Jones kick at the beginning of the year. Her stories never leave me disappointed, though her prose does irk me sometimes as juvenile, but since these are written for “young adults” I feel I can hardly complain about that. I do love the mythos involved throughout though and the obvious influence from the Narnia series. Jones sat through some lectures by C.S. Lewis, and the influence is clear.
6. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.
I barely even remembered reading this. There was hardly a plot, yet it leaves a strange sense of import with me, which is a slight deception. The book was not important, just entertaining. I feel like if it had been more elaborate, it would've been better.
7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.*
I read this for the first time in January of 2007 and I remember quite enjoying it, but now that I know everything I know about Dickensian style, there is so much to be taken from the work. It stands as one of his best novels, and his most melancholy piece. I prefer the "happy ending" to his original, which I know is an unpopular stance with most critics today, but would it honestly be Dickens without a happy ending?
8. Dubliners by James Joyce.
How shall I explain my relationship towards Joyce? I think part of any writer loves the notion of Joyce, but when I read these stories, I grow frustrated. Many of them seemed pointless, while some were brimming with insight into not only the Irish mindset, but human nature as a whole. "The Dead" most definitely stands as the best work among these stories, though it mostly makes me wish the rest stood up to it's brilliance.
9. Very Good, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse.
These stories are absurd, which I find to be the highest draw point. Jeeves is the hero of the stories, but it is for Bertie we read them. And what a narrator he is! Bertie Wooster is wonderfully full of himself, and yet humble enough to rely almost entirely upon his valet. Only a large man can so openly contradict himself. The dialogue alone is worth the read. I was talking like a 1920’s Brit for a week afterwords.
10. The Dancing Mania and The Black Death by
Justus Friedrich Karl Hecker. Hecker is the father of medical history. He was a doctor from the 18th century and documented many diseases from the middle ages. He wrote another book about the English Sweat, which I would love to find, but it remains elusive. The Dancing Mania is perhaps the most fascinating phenomenon from the middle ages. Men and women would just dance. Documentation is clear that it was dancing, and furthermore, that they were not dancing of their own will. Some danced until they died. I encourage everyone to look it up. As for the Black Death, I've always been interested in it, and Hecker's description of it reminds me of a post-apocalyptic world.
11. Don Quixote vol. II by Miguel de Cervantes. (Translated by Walter Starkie) I read the first part of this magnificent work about a year before I read the second part. Both are a wonderful romp and while I've had arguments over this, I still say it: Don Quixote is the most influential novel of all time. Sometimes the influence is only through proxy, but it is there. Dickens' Pickwick Papers was merely a Victorian "re-imaging" and Fielding's Joseph Andrews takes ques from the work. Even authors such as Gustave Flaubert cite it as an influence. With enough analyzing, one can find The Knight of the Rueful Figure in almost every piece of literature--and even films--created since it was first published.
12. The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton. Written as a response to H. G. Wells' book The Outline of History, this powerful theological work goes through the history of religion--from early mythology to modern Christianity--to examine whether Christ is merely a amalgamation of old gods or the son of the Living God. Not only that, Chesterton shows, with his usual wit and charm, the usefulness of myths and fairytales to Christianity. Those Christians who deny the realm of faerie are denying their heritage, as Chesterton shows. It gets a bit dull towards the end, but when he's discussing myths--especially the Greek--he is wonderful.
13. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Not exactly the ideal novel to follow a brilliant theological apologetic, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. What the book is exactly is a series of humorous essays about just about everything--from the difficulties of volunteer work, moving in New York City, Oregon Trail, and finding an unclaimed piece of feces in the middle of your bathroom. I don't feel I would've missed anything from not reading it, but I'm glad I read it regardless and would be eager to read anything else Crosley puts out.
14. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. Like every other Hardy novel I've read, this was mostly about being careful who your marry. In a similar fashion of Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy works the plot out so one person is devastated and another is free to achieve happiness. To be honest, I preferred The Woodlanders, but this is more a transition novel--from his earlier style into his later one. People call Hardy immoral or degenerate, but I've always found him to be one of more moral novelists of his generation. He constantly preaches consistency in love--even outside the bounds of marriage, as is the case with many of his heroes. Not only that, despite some of the more scandalous accusations towards him, he takes marriage very seriously. Again, his message is quite often, be careful who you marry--it's for life.
15. Overqualified by Joey Comeau. Speaking of A Softer World, the writer for that comic also wrote a book. How can I explain this novel. It's epistolary, which--for your who don't know--means it is told entirely in letters, a style not used quite often these days. I think the last truly monumental novel to use the style was Pamela in 1740, though Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther was rather influential and it was published in 1774. Still, I think you're getting the point--not a common style for a novel. But don't let me deceive you, this is nothing like Pamela or Young Werther. Mr. Comeau sent cover letters to different companies applying for a job. These cover letters contain lines such as 'You will notice a period of unemployment on my resume, as I faced several harassment suits and three charges of racism from Irish midgets I allegedly referred to as "my North Pole leprechauns."' Yeah. Joey Comeau is sick, and I love it. If your interest is peaked but you cannot afford his book, check out his free comic at A Softer World. There's a free short story there too about eating cats.

Well, that's it for now. I have fifteen more to add. I'll not add the books I'm reading for December to the list, though I will say that I am reading The Chimes, which I will follow with The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man, and A Christmas Carol--all by Charles Dickens. I read his Christmas novels in December, which is why I see no point to add them.