I’m a bit of a slow reader to begin with. When I read I take my time and try to engage every page and every word. I don’t skim and will reread sections when I feel like I didn’t understand them. This led to trouble while reading Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Damn this book took me a long time to finish. First it is fairly lengthy at 500 plus pages. And then there is Rushdie’s writing style. His method of writing doesn’t lend to casual reading. He uses a combination of Indian and English termed “Babu English” that takes a fair amount concentration. Not mention his atypical use of grammar and often distended and laborious sentences. This book is complex. Make no mistake about it. It is a sturdy tangle of thick, and often, obscure words.
Despite its density, the novel was pretty good. It was well written, it was original, interesting and unpredictable and I enjoyed reading it. The setting and characters were exciting well developed and interesting. The multilayered novel consists mostly of the life story Saleem Sinai. A boy born during the first hour of India’s independence, along with 1,001 other children of India, all of whom were blessed with magical abilities. The trial and tribulations of Saleem closely follow with the actual history of India, from Nehru's India toward Indira's India, as well as that of Pakistan and Bangladesh (some of the novel takes place pre-partition). The politcal reality of the book would be much more rewarding if you have a interest in, or knowledge of, Middle Eastern history and religion.
Rushdie’s story telling ability is definitely notable and his telling tales-within-tales is very enjoyable but also very much like Garc?a M?rquez, whom in my opinion is more a pleasurable and worthwhile read. The magical realism allows for a surreal and distorted sense of the novel’s people and places. Much of the novel is larger than life and many of the events seem more important than they really are or should be. Adding to Rushdie’s literary complexity are many twists and turns regarding the relationships between the characters. In addition, there are name changes, sub-plots, nick-names, false-starts, tons of symbolism (much of it I didn’t even pick up on) u-turns, and plot twists.
I paid the price of patience with this novel but felt I wasn’t truly rewarded and that’s always a bit of a bummer. The novel just didn’t do it for me. It is by no means a life-changing novel or even near my top 10 best books I’ve ever read. And although a second read would undoubtedly open this story up, that probably won’t be happening for me.
After many, many years, I have finally made a return trip to the Kingdom of Wisdom and The Lands Beyond. I first read Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth sometime during elementary school. That was at least twenty years ago. I remembered it being one of my favorite novels as a child. . I have to admit that my travels back with Milo and friends were just as exciting and fun as they were the first time. Not many books that I have read deserve five stars. The Phantom Tollbooth is an exception. Its ability to entertain, delight and amuse anyone from the young age of 9 to the ripe age of 90 gives it a star. Its clever use of word play, cliches and puns deserves a star. The fact that it is a children’s book that has been in print for over forty years warrants it a star. The wonderful illustrations by Jules Feiffer are worthy of a star. And they great sense of nostalgia it instilled in me from the very first chapter solidifies its five star status in my library. The Phantom Tollbooth is generally referred to as a children’s book however, its ability to grow with its reader sets it apart from others in its genre. As ones linguistic skills and reading comprehension increase so do the complexities and meanings of the ideas in the novel. As a reader becomes more mature, the allegory and symbolism become more visible, and the novel takes on a higher meaning.
The story begins by introducing the protagonist, Milo, who suffers from a terrible bout of boredom with life. Milo “didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always.” To Milo almost everything seemed a waste of time. Milo thought, “there’s nothing for me to do, nowhere for me to go, and hardly anything worth seeing.” That is until one day a tollbooth mysteriously shows up in his apartment. Milo, who had nothing better to do, decided to set assemble the booth and drive his electric car through. Milo soon found himself in the mysterious Kingdom of Knowledge and thus his adventures began. While in the Kingdom of Knowledge Milo learns that in order for the Kingdom not to perish, the princesses Rhyme and Reason must be rescued from there imprisonment in the Castle in the Air. During his adventures, Milo befriends Tock the “watch”dog, and an egotistical insect called Humbug who accompany him on the mission to rescue the princesses and save the day. Along the way, Milo and friends meet all kinds of crazy characters, learn numerous lessons and discover what it takes to live an accomplished, happier and more exciting life.
What makes this story unique is the Juster’s use of wordplay, figures of speech, context, and puns. For example, Milo drives his car into the Doldrums where everything runs extremely slow. Here Milo meets the Lethargarians and nobody ever gets anything done. In another instance Milo and company find they suddenly leapt to an island called Conclusions after making hasty assumptions. Once they jumped to Conclusions the only way back was swimming through the Sea of Knowledge. The entire book is filled with this kind of fun wordplay. Much of the book takes normal, everyday concepts and cliches and simply makes them literal. Juster has done this cleverly enough that it is easy excuse the recurrent use of the technique. Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, (another one of my Childhood favorites) writes "The Phantom Tollbooth leaps, soars, and abounds in right notes all over the place, as any proper masterpiece must".
"Well," said the old lady, just as a rat scurried across her foot. "I am the king's great-aunt. For years and years, I was in charge of choosing which words were to be used for all occasions, which ones to say and which ones not to say, which ones to write and which ones not to write. As you can well imagine, with all the thousands to choose from, it was a most important and responsible job. I was given the title of 'Official Which,' which made me very proud and happy.
"At first I did my best to make sure that only the most improper and fitting words were used. Everything was said clearly and simply and no words were wasted. I had signs posted all over the palace and market place which said:
Brevity is the soul of wit.
"But power corrupts, and soon I grew miserly and chose fewer and fewer words, trying to keep as many as possible for myself. I had new signs posted which said:
An ill-chosen word is the fool's messenger.
"Soon sales began to fall off in the market. The people were afraid to buy as many words as before, and hard times came to the kingdom. But still I grew more and more miserly. Soon there were so few words chosen that hardly anything could be said, and even casual conversation became difficult. Again I had new signs posted, which said:
Speak fitly or be silent wisely.
"And finally I had even these replaced by ones which read simply:
Silence is golden.
"All talk stopped. No words were sold, the market place closed down, and the people grew poor and disconsolate. When the king saw what had happened, he became furious and had me cast into this dungeon where you see me now, an older and wiser woman.
"That was all many years ago," she continued; "but they never appointed a new Which, and that explains why today people use as many words as they can and think themselves very wise for doing so. For always remember that while it is wrong to use too few, it is often far worse to use too many."
I found this book at the most recent book sale held at my local library. I’m glad I picked it up. Monica will most likely be the only work I read by Saunders Lewis (not to be confused with author Lewis Saunders) because it is the only novel by him that is published, easily accessible and translated. Lewis is an author who is little known in the United States but is considered “the” most important figures of the twentieth century where Welsh literature is concerned. Saunders Lewis is known more for his writing of plays and poetry than his novel writing. However, Lewis is probably best know for is politics. He was a founder of the Welsh Nationalist Party ensuring independent recognition for Wales. In 1937 he was imprisoned together with D. J. Williams and Lewis Valentine for his action in setting fire to an RAF bombing school at Penyberth. His greatest accomplishments came in his fight to retain the Welsh language. In his famous speech entitled 'Tynged yr Iaith' (The Fate of the Language) he went over the history of language oppression and lamented that the Welsh must do all they can to defend their language and in effect their sovereignty.
Anyway, I digress, onto the novel. Monica, was Lewis’ first novel and created quite a stir in Wales when it was first published in 1930 because of its dealings with prostitution, infidelity, and venereal disease. In addition it is considered one the the first Welsh psychological novels. The story follows the passion, love, insecurity of the main character, Monica. After leading a sheltered youth with little positive sexual experience, Monica wins over the love of her sister’s beau through means of manipulation and physical passion. But after her marriage, Monica finds herself pregnant and extremely unhappy and insecure with her relationship to her husband Bob. She begins to resent the “romantic” love her marriage has developed into. She soon chooses to punish her husband by renouncing her bond to him, by neglecting her health and her own general well being by staying in bed all day and refusing to eat, wash, or allow contact from anyone, even if it results in the death of her unborn child. This sparks off a chain of emotions and actions among the characters that eventually catches up with Monica.
What causes all this is the unnatural way in which we middle-class people live. Our idea of marriage is to take a young man and woman away from their families and isolate them, each inexperienced couple on their own, leaving them to work out their own marital salvation as best they can. And heaven help the young couple who get themselves talked about. Each household has to keep the lid down tight on its own boiling cauldron, so that sometimes we have no alternative but to explode. I often think that the working-class life of the slums, with half-a-dozen families sharing the same house and being involved in one another’s troubles all higgledy-piggledy, is a more normal and human way of living than what goes on in our rows of well-kept purgatories, each with a garden of flowers at the front.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stehpen Chbosky ***
I have just gotten back from vacation were I finished reading Stephen Chbosky’s first novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. This book is not a breathtaking work of fictional literature, but it is an easy, short, simple read and a was great book to breeze through during my leisurely days on the beech. I purchased this novel knowing little about it. I bought it simply because the cover art, title, and the précis on the back of the book intrigued me. As a publication of MTV Books, (a division of Viacom Inc., I know, this almost scared me away too) it is not surprising that this book has great appeal among the young adult/teen demographic. In fact, this book is wildlypopular among many young readers and adults alike. The book has made its way into high school required reading lists and consequently in conservative book banning and censorship groups. This novel is not without its clichés and criticisms, yet I would still definitely recommend this book, particularly to a younger audience.
Chbosky presents the reader with an endearing story that is sad yet somehow hopeful. Written in an epistolary narrative, the novel is set during 1991 in Pittsburgh, the same year I was a senior in high school. This setting presented me with great sense of nostalgia, especially the various references to the pop culture of the time such as Nirvana, Fantasy Island, and Saturday Night Live. The protagonist Charlie (an alias) is in his mid-teens, sincere, earnest, hypersensitive, a bit of a loner, introspective, exceptionally intelligent, lachrymose, and emotionally troubled. Although emotionally involved, Charlie is both socially and personally passive to the life that surrounds him. Charlie observes and analyzes life but rarely participates. Charlie is a wallflower. It is these characteristics and the situations he finds himself in that somehow make Charlie a universal character that is easy to relate too. Charlie soon meets new friends Patrick (a gay senior who provides reciprocal support for Charlie) and Samantha (Charlie’s first crush) who introduce him to their circle of friends. The beginning of the book seemed a bit like an After School Special and the novel took some warming up to, but as the story progressed, Charlie’s character developed and my interest piqued. Charlie ends up dealing with nearly every conceivable issue a modern teenager can encounter – including but not limited to mortality, suicide, guilt, social awkwardness, crushes, drugs, alcohol, sex, molestation, dating, masturbation, homosexuality, pregnancy, abortion, severe depression, unrequited love, rape, family issues, self discovery, domestic/sexual/emotional abuse, true friendship, heartache, and bullying.
For the most part Chbosky does a great job of accurately portraying the life of a shy, troubled teen. But the chances of somebody coming across all of these issues during their first year of high school is improbable and unrealistic and in that way the novel seems slightly contrived and very melodramatic. However, the way in which Charlie resolves or handles these issues is quite realistic. Chbosky made the characters breath with simple descriptions of tone and habit, references to the nervous gestures that betray and most ultimately define us. As a whole, this novel is somewhat grievous, sections leave you sitting with a weird sense of combined disgust and wonder. The ending is not particularly encouraging. The hero doesn’t save the world in this story - just a boy going on with life after a concerning crisis. It's not like any of the issues or situations in the book are foreign to us. The sense of wonder and disgust stems from the fact many of Charlie’s issues are unbelievably typical, commonplace or regular in an appalling way. But this is also how the novel creates its appeal. It draws from our ability to relate to Chbosky’s character. It's not pointless to portray miserable situations, it can exorcise trauma, and offer shared understanding. Ultimately, this is the reason for the popularity of this novel as well as the reason for my personal enjoyment.
I guess what I'm saying is that this all feels very familiar. But it's not mine to be familiar about. I just know that another kid has felt this. This one time when it's peaceful outside, and you're seeing things move, and you don't want to, and everyone is asleep. And all the books you're read have been read by other people. And all the songs you've loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that's pretty to you is pretty to other people. And you know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing "unity." It's like when you are excited about a girl and you see a couple holding hands, and you feel so happy for them. And other times you see the same couple, and they make you so mad. And all you want is to always feel happy for them because you know that if you do, then it means that you're happy, too.
In the novel The Feast of Love one of the many characters, Harry Ginsberg, tells us that according to the beliefs of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, "…everyone intuits what love is, and yet it cannot be spoken of directly. Or distinctly. It falls into the category of the unknown, where plain speech is inadequate to the obscurity of the subject." However, in The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter does an excellent job of describing what love is, and means, to different people in plain (but eloquent) prose. The novel starts with Charles Baxter, himself (a fairly tired literary device), stumbling upon a neighbor, Bradley W. Smith and his dog Bradley (I actually know somebody who named her pets after herself so this was not such a unique concept to me) during a sleepless night in Ann Arbor. Bradley suggests Charles should write about love after listening to stories given by real people -- Bradley’s friends, coworkers, neighbors, and wives. Bradley also suggests titling the book after one of his paintings, The Feast of Love. From here we are told stories in a “Rashomon” style narrative, in which each of the major characters in the novel take turns telling their story of love, commenting on and correcting each others different versions of the same stories. Much of the book consists of direct dialogue (either to other characters or to the reader) with differences in intonation, diction and style, making each character's voice unique and identifiable. Charles Baxter’s incredible ability to slip into several skins, making each character distinctive and diverse, allows for this narrative style to work very well.
The novel consists of each character recounting love’s triumphs, failures, deceptions, delicacy, destruction, unpredictability, and enormity. However, the novel isn’t strictly a discussion of love, The Feast of Love is also about the cast-off moments in our daily lives, death, sex, the sad loneliness of our modern mall-culture, parenting, youth, philosophy, religion and intimate moments. It is because of Charles Baxter’s excellent style and prose combine with varied subject matter that this novel can not only be read, but appreciated by nearly everyone -- those in love, those with broken hearts, and those in longing. Charles Baxter composes a brilliant novel here. His prose is radiant and flowing, a splendid weaving of voices and ideas, each individual and undeniable. The plot, although unconventional, really starts to show about halfway through the book when the characters individual stories begin intetwineing and bouncing off each other in an absorbing manner.
This novel is not for the fan of literary realism. Most of the novel is quite dream like, magical, a sort of incantation or fabulist reverie. However, at the same time, much of this novel seems to stay grounded and within the realms of reality, maybe because pieces of the book are actually (at least partially) factual. Part of the reason that this novel may have sections that seem real, notwithstanding Charles Baxter’s realistic writing style and ear for dialogue, is because much of it is. Not only is one of the characters the actual author but many of the details involved in the set and setting are bona fide. The novel takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan and many of the places and streets are real. Chloé’s and Oscars favoriute band, The School of Velocity, is real and actually pretty good (I’m a sucker for bands with female singers though).
This is a learned novel with references to philosophy (Spinoza, Plato, Wittgenstein) and literature (Samuel Beckett, Proust). I have been told that having read Shakespeare’sA Midsummer Night’s Dream (Baxter barrows much of his structure for this novel from this Shakespearean play) and Plato’s Symposium, could greatly enhance the enjoyment received from reading of this novel. I haven’t read any of those particular plays/novels, so, it may or it may not make for an interesting comparison. If you have, let me know what you think.
Thanks for the recommendation, you know who you are.
And I thought: Well I dunno, who cares, maybe she’s right, why argue. We got home, and we sat down on the sofa together, and she look so beautiful in the blue sweatshirt and the blue jeans she was wearing, no socks, just her sneakers, these rags, these gorgeous rags that she had made beautiful by wearing them, and the cap she had on, her gray eyes, the delicate way she moved, and in a sudden heedless rush I said, “Kathryn, I love you,” and she nodded, she acknowledged it, she didn’t say she loved me but I didn’t care and didn’t even notice that she hadn’t said anything in return until about four weeks later when she moved out. But on that day, she leaned into me. We held on to each other. Clutching. We must have stayed together in one posture just holding each other, there on the sofa, for maybe an hour. When you're in love you don't have to do a damn thing. You can just be. You can just stay quiet in the world. You don't have to move an inch.
Girls Guide To Hunting And Fishing by Melissa Banks ***
There has recently begun an increased interest or popularity among the “Cosmo reading” public for novels in this genre. After having read Bridget Jones's Diary and others, I consider myself fairly well read (for a white, twenty-something, male) in these recently fashionable novels describing the “young single female experience”. So far this one is the best that I have read and easily avoids the “Bridget factor”. Although Bridget Jones's Diary was very entertaining, Melissa Banks first novel is a far superior literary work and I look forward to reading more from her.
The novel is a collection of short stories with continuity preserved through a central character named Jane (a name which in my eyes was an attempt to make the character seem average and all-American) and her struggles with relationships, family, career, self understanding, mortality and love. The novel touches on many large issues and spans a great portion of Jane’s life, fourteen years old in the first vignette and thirty-something by the end. Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing is a quick and light read but cannot be dismissed as simple fodder. Its wittiness and entertainment value warrants a recommendation. Its subtlety, terseness, and sophistication make it a finer literary work than most in its genre. Melissa Banks has a great knack for writing concisely without losing any of the necessary poignancy. Banks writes with incredible wit and reality that creates a humorous yet grounded feel. The novel is not simply a roll on the floor outrageous date situation comedy. Her writing style is “…beautiful and funny and sad and true.” Bank’s characters are given both wisdom and naivete, making them seem truly human. However, the characters are severely underdeveloped and lack any real explored depth throughout the novel. Some of the novel seems disjointed due in part to its “episodic short story” type format and in part to the general jumpiness of the novel itself. The jumpiness is the result of an entire chapter in which the narrative is written in second person narrative, another chapter with seemingly unrelated characters¹, and large gaps in chronology. But this jumpiness didn’t seem to bother me and I thought the book flowed well despite it. The last chapter appealed to me especially due to the complete mockery made of TheRules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, represented by Bonnie and Faith in the book. Proving the complete inadequacy and ridiculousness of the “self-help” book, Jane only succeeds when she stops manipulating and fully becomes only herself.
My mother told me about all the neighbors, going up one side of the street and then down the other. After she went upstairs to bed, what stayed with me wasn’t the good news – weddings or babies or scholarships – but the Caliphanos’ granddaughter living without her mother, Mr. Zipkin losing his job, and Mrs. Hennessy getting robbed. I sat out there on the porch, with a cigarette and another glass of wine, listening to the crickets and the occasional car. It occurred to me that the quiet in the suburbs had nothing to do with peace.
¹It seems many have been discouraged with how seemingly unrelated and discontinuous “The Best Possible Light” chapter is with the rest of the book. However, the careful reader will notice that both Nina and Ben Solomon are introduced as Jane’s grandmother’s downstairs neighbors at the beginnig of the previous “My Old Man” chapter, giving the novel more continuity than appears upon quick review. font>
This novel can be considered Ayn Rands magnum opus concerning her philosophy of Objectivism. At nearly 1200 pages, this is the largest book I have read to date. The book has had a major impact on many of its readers and after being published in 1957 continues to influence a worldwide audience. I have never been stopped so many times by strangers asking if I liked the book, telling me how much they enjoyed it, some have even told me how the book has effected their outlook, ideas, and choices made during their life. I have met new people and even developed relationships due to discussions and debates revolving around Atlas Shrugged. However, the book itself is not nearly as good as the conversations I’ve had concerning what Ayn Rand was trying to say. The novel is a stimulating look at capitalism, individuality, ethics, and morality. Nevertheless, unlike many other people I have discussed this novel with, I would not consider Atlas Shrugged one of the most important books I’ve read, or even one of the better ones. However, the book was thought provoking and a good read. I would recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with Ayn Rand or objectivism. I wouldn't, however, reccomend for light reading or entertainment.
I don’t feel like debating the merits of objectivism in this short review. I will say that being a very individualistic person to begin with, the ideas of objectivism should be very appealing, and they are when looked at broadly in the context of Atlas Shrugged (and much of Ayn Rands other writings). However, when brought into reality, I don’t believe her ideas work. Leave a message in the comments section or e-mail me if you wish to discuss this further.
The concepts related in this book are pertinent, but not sustainable in reality. The novel gets awfully preachy on the subject of objetivism and Ayn Rand’s philosophy is hammered at you continually beginning with the first chapter. I found this tiresome. I got the point. But maybe having read Fountainhead first, made the freshness of objectivism wear out quicker on me than on others. Ayn Rand, who espouses the merits of basing all decisions on reality (A is A) and practicality, uses little of either to try to prove the intrinsic worth, and value of objectivism. In a famous review of Atlas Shrugged written by Whittaker Chambers for the National Review he called it a "ferro-concrete fairy tale". Chambers noticed that despite "the impromptu and surprisingly gymnastic matings of the heroine and three of the heroes," no children ever seem to result. "The strenuously sterile world of Atlas Shrugged," he wrote, "is scarcely a place for children." Whittaker point to a perfect example of the issues I have with how Ayn Rand represents physical and “loving” relationships in the novel. A problem I had with Fountainhead as well. The characters in the novel are either beautiful, hyper-intelligent, rich gods or spineless, sniveling, evil. Flaws in Hank Reardon's character are probably what make him the most believable character. At the end of the novel, these "gods" transform themselves from rich industrialists to a highly trained para-military SWAT team. Throwing reality and practicality out the window also allowed the author to incorporate a 100 page diatribe advocating her “only way to save the world” philosophy in case you didn’t get it within the first 1000 pages.
They kept their secret from the knowledge of others, not as a shameful guilt, but as a thing that was immaculately theirs, beyond anyone’s right of debate or appraisal. She knew the general doctrine on sex, held by people in one form or another, the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of man’s lower nature, to be condoned regretfully. She experienced an emotion of chastity that made her shrink, not from the desires of her body, but from any contact with the minds who held this doctrine.