Friday, December 10, 2010

Another List

Well, since December has reared it's cold, white-bearded head, I suppose it's time again to make the list of books I've read this year.  Sadly, just like last year, it's at thirty.  But at least it's not less than last year.  And just like last year, I'm not including Dickens' five Christmas books that I read every year in December.  I'm currently reading a small collection of essays by William Hazlitt, but I doubt I'll get it finished before January, so it's not included.
I've devided the list into two lists of fifteen (just like last year), and, of course, and asterisk next to the name means I've read it before.  Prepare to judge me harshly.

1.  The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
     I first read The Princess and the Goblin in 2006.   It was the second novel I read by MacDonald and the first one I enjoyed all the way through.  I checked all the book stores in town for the sequel, but not finding it, I let it slip from my mind.  I wish I hadn't, because the two should really be read back to back.  They compliment each other in the sense that Goblin is the feminine story while Curdie is the masculine.  Of course, the two are ripe with Christian metaphors, though like most of MacDonald's works, they are never preachy.  It is definitely a classic I'll read to my kids one day.  (My future children, not my future baby goats.)
2.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
     I had intended to start the year off with this novel.  This was to be my year of reading novels everyone should read.  I made a dent in that list, at least, and I started with this book.  I've already said how I rank the Brontes in an early post, but I'll say again: Anne is my favorite.  That's not to say Charlotte is a bad writer, but having read two of her novels, I find them somewhat trite.  Jane Eyre specifically, I found to be predictable--I knew little to nothing of the story--and often boring.
3.  In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
     Le Fanu is a little know Irish author from the Victorian movement who was stuck in the Gothic period.  This is in no way a bad thing.  In a Glass Darkly is a collection of short occult mysteries, taken from the papers of one Dr. Martin Hesselius, an expert in metaphysics and the occult.  He appears very little throughout though, which is due to him being merely a pretense to publish these all together.  They were most of them, if not all, published separately beforehand.  While the five stories were all interesting and entertaining, the best was certainly the novella length vampiric tale Carmilla, the story of a lesbian vampire's obsession with an English girl living in Western Europe. Not your typical Victorian romance.
4.  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
     This is a powerhouse of a story.  Like many novels written in the Victorian era, it spans a large time frame and includes a large cast of characters.  Despite that, it is highly memorable and entertaining.  It's easy to see why it was so influential.  What's not easy to see is why Becky is so beloved.  She was the least likable character in it, but feminists see her as a strong woman.  I've never thought being amoral makes you strong.  But again, I think most people miss the point in the same way Blake missed the point about Milton's Satan.
5.  Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
     For those who don't know Jonathan Swift's famous story, it is the tale of a traveler who apparently has the worst luck when he finds open water, and finds himself four times stranded on islands with strange inhabitants who just so happen to lampoon and attack the flaws and foibles of the day.  Of course, this is why Swift is considered by many to be England's greatest satirist.  I would go so far as to estimate that this fictional travelogue is one of--if not the most influential book of the last three hundred years.  It's effected not only literature and film, but also the English language.  Not to the extent of Shakespeare, but certainly you've never met someone who didn't know the word "yahoo."
6.  The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
     Like many people who read a lot of classic literature, this was recommended to me because I'd like the subject matter and the references.  Sadly, it takes more than a mention of Martin Chuzzlewit to get me to like a book.  Do I doubt Fforde really enjoys classic literature?  No.  But this book is trying way to hard to not only make that point abundantly clear, which, by the way, it does not do; but it is also trying way to hard to be eccentric.  Oh, it's kinda cute that Thursday Next has a Dodo named Pickwick, but that doesn't fix the weak points in his plot or dialogue.  I'll probably still read the second one in the series though, since I own it.
7.  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens*
     David Copperfield is my favorite novel.  It's not Dickens' best work.  No, that title would go to Bleak House most likely.  But David Copperfield has sentimental value.  It also helps that some of Dickens' best characters are displayed in this novel.  The wonderfully positive Thomas Traddles, the clearly bipolar and perpetually impoverished Wilkins Micawber, the simple yet lovable Dora Spenlow, the conniving and dastardly Uriah Heep, and the stiff but gentle Betsy Trotwood--and the cast goes on.  Dickens displays his knack for making eccentric characters better in David Copperfield than in any other work.  And it's this knack for the eccentric that I've always loved about Dickens, ever since I first read A Christmas Carol.
8.  The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
     The thing about Beagle is, he looks like a fantasy author.  More than that, he looks like a fantasy reader.  In some ways, this is a good thing.  One can tell from reading The Last Unicorn that Beagle knows his fantasy, especially high fantasy.  The problem is though, The Last Unicorn is high fantasy in a low fantasy body.  (For those who don't know the difference, click on the links.)  Granted, I think I was looking for something a little bit more William Morris, and what I got was more Diana Wynne Jones.  I like both authors, but I felt this book could've been something so much more than it was.  As it is, I found it somewhat forgettable and boring in many places.
9.  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
     I like Vonnegut, but I think I like him in smaller doses than a whole novel.  I've read many of his short stories and never been let down.  Slaughterhouse-Five was, sadly, not as good as I'd expected it to be.  It wasn't science fiction, for one.  That's a mislabel.  I think we all know Billy Pilgrim didn't go into space.  He suffered quite a bit as a prisoner of war, and eventually, he snapped.  That wasn't my issue.  I just got nothing out of the book.  Most of the Vonnegut stories I've read I highly enjoyed and they stuck in my mind long afterwords.  This, once I got to the last page, was out of my head immediately.  Maybe I'll read Cat's Cradle next time.
10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
      By the time an American reaches the age of twenty-five, if he hasn't read The Great Gatsby, most people assume there's something wrong with him.  It might surprise some, but my school never required me to read it.  I'm not too fond of American literature in general, so I put it off.  I'm glad I did.  I'd already read Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age by the time I got to this, which added to what I got out of it.  I will say though, I felt it was a bit over-lauded.  It was good, but there were many British writers from the same period attacking the same social ills and doing it better.  I look forward to reading more by Fitzgerald though. 
11. It’s Too Late to Say I’m Sorry by Joey Comeau
      I've already expressed my enjoyment of the works of this crazy bastard once before, so it should come as no surprise that I read this collection of short stories in a few hours.  Comeau lends himself to easy reading though.  He's never too deep, but never too shallow.  He tows the line.  I read his darkly hilarious epistolary novel Overqualified last year and I've been reading his webcomic A Softer World even longer, so I knew what to expect from this collection: horror, romance, and a little bit of philosophical musings.  Throw in a little bit (or a lot) of perverted humor and you've got Joey Comeau.
12. The Mill On the Floss by George Eliot
      This is probably not what one would expect someone to read after Joey Comeau, but somehow it happened that way.  I was in the mood for some Victorian idyllic stylings, something like Thomas Hardy.  And who's more like Thomas Hardy than George Eliot?  (I suppose I could've just read Thomas Hardy, but here we are.)  Let me just say, I enjoyed this novel, but it was so slow.  It was like walking up a steep hill the entire time, and then, out of no where, falling into a crevice.  It just ended, and I did not see that ending coming.  After thinking about it, it makes sense, but at the time I was highly confused why she'd end it like that, so suddenly.  I know many people studying Victorian literature usually read Middlemarch, but I'd highly recommend this instead.  It is a biting, but also sympathetic, attack on many aspects of Victorian country life.
13. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
      I remember that while reading this, I enjoyed it, but I remember very little from it.  I mean, I understand what it was actually about, what the intellectuals say it's about.  Maybe if I were someone who never thought of death and the afterlife it would've struck home more.  It's a very well done novella, but I can list on one hand all the novellas that have changed my life.  There's nothing wrong with it, and I'm glad I read it.  I'd even recommend it to anyone interested in the subject, the author, or Russian literature.  I suppose though, there's rarely a reason to not remind one's self of life's temporariness and the need to live right.
14. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen*
      I first read this in 2007 because a girl I liked told me to read Austen.  I'm glad I did because Austen is a necessity.  I read it at a ridiculous singles conference my church went to. I don't think they meant for me to spend the conference in a stairwell reading alone, but there you have it.  I feel like that's where Cathrine Morland would've been.  Northanger Abbey  is Austen's Don Quixote.  In fact, the earlier novel The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox was used as a model for Norrthanger Abbey.   But anyway, Miss Morland is perhaps my favorite Austen heroine.  She is, I believe, the most eccentric, which to a certain extent means the most sincere.  Naivety is a good sign of sincerity.  And rather than feel sorry for her when she makes her outrageous mistakes, I feel nothing but comradely.
15. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
      While this is barely more a short story, I've added it here because it's classified as a novella.  If you ask the average reader, they'll tell you Death in Venice  is paled by Lolita, but in my opinion, this is the superior work.  His use of the Apollonian life struggling against the Dionysian life, resulting in the end with a failure and Aschenbach falling victim to Dionysus, seems to me far more interesting than the concept tackled in Lolita.  In fact, I'd say, without Nabokov's unique use of prose, Lolita would be nothing special.  Of course, I only see this now after reading Lolita and comparing the two.  But I'll get to my views on Lolita in the next and final list.


  1. Great list! And oh dear god do I hate Jane Eyre - it's BORING. It's the very embodiment of boring.

    I've alway wanted to read Death in Venice, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Mill on the Floss, so your post is a good encouragement!

    I'm not a huge fan of Vanity Fair, exactly because of Becky - I can't like her! At all! As for the feminists... pft. For them, a strong woman is one who goes around doing whatever the hell she feels like. I find Becky far from likeable or strong.
    I LOVE Northanger Abbey (well, I love Austen in general), though I find Catherine a tad... naive. I had to laugh out loud when the guy admited he'd fallen for her because she was SO obviously amazed by him! I love Gulliver's Travels, and David Copperfield is totally one of the best novels ever. Can't wait to see the rest of your list!

  2. Btw: "It is definitely a classic I'll read to my kids one day. (My future children, not my future baby goats.)" had me laughing out loud here! =P

  3. I like Vanity Fair despite of Becky. There are several better character in it. And Cathrine is naive, but I kinda like that about her. I don't know that I'd find her romantically interesting (it's hard to say about a fictional character), but I could certainly see being friends with a person as wide-eyed and sincere as that.
    The rest of the list will be up shortly. Gonna be a busy next two days.