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.

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