As I Lay Dying
Of the four books by Faulkner that I have read, this was my least favorite, although it is still better than most of the other books I have read in a long time. There are numerous reasons why I like Faulkner, one of most important of which is the way that most of his stories unfold from the perspectives of the characters and through this, we see how the objective reality which occurs around the characters is secondary to the perspectives of those experiencing it. If you took the entire dialog out of As I Lay Dying, it would be about 10 pages long. I think this is really more of a realistic way of telling a story than the typical method of telling the events with stronger focus on dialog and details of events. Also great about Faulkner is how he has such a great way of distilling the culture of the South, with all of its social structures and ethics. One element which is in most of his writing which is missing in this book is his page-long, intricate sentences which are so difficult to read but are also so rewarding.
Tales of Ordinary Madness
Ah Bukowski. I love reading this guy. But not too often. Maybe once a year or so. Reading any of his books is a catharsis from everything else. This book of short stories is not much different than the other ones of his that I have read, the stories are hit and miss (more often “miss” here than for instance Hot Water Music or Women), he is so brutally (and I do mean brutally) honest about himself and the world around him. A complete selfish, lazy, and often mean drunk with moments of beauty within a world that he usually can’t stand. He is not for the faint-of-heart, but if you can stomach the darker side of him, it is well worth the read.
- Toni Morrison: Jazz
The storyline takes a back seat to the raw power of her lyricism. I couldn’t help but think that Kerouac would have loved to have written many of the beautiful passages in this book, but he never could touch them. Partly because he seemed to more often be an outside observer of love, even when it was happening to him, and where Morrison knows so much more about love and its pain and is able to weave so many facets of that experience into the lives of her characters. Enough of my thoughts, here are some excerpts:
“…you were the reason Adam ate the apple and its core. That when he left Eden, he left a rich man. Not only did he have Eve, but he had the taste of the first apple in the world in his mouth for the rest of his life. The very first to know what it was like. To bite it, bite it down. Hear the crunch and let the red peeling break his heart”.-----“I started out believing that life was made just so the world would have some way to think about itself, but that it had gone awry with humans because flesh, pinioned by misery, hangs on to it with pleasure.”-----“It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond way, way down underneath tissue."
Russell Banks: Cloudsplitter : A Novel
A fulfilling read, although drawnout in parts. But the slowness of the book is somewhat of a draw, as this drawn-out-ness really paints a good picture of the slowness of solitary farm life. The book is told from the perspective of Owen Brown, son of the famous abolitionist John Brown. It was great to read a book that talked a bit about my once hometown of Lawrence, KS. There is a thesis that runs through this that American history may have been dramatically different without John Brown, as the Kansas wars may have never happened without him and then it (Kansas) would have gone to the south as a slave state, and then the North would have ceded from the union, which the south would not have minded, as they were the cash cow of the US. Then there would have been no civil war and therefore no solidification of the union. I don't know if it's that simplistic, but it is worth thinking about nonetheless. Also, the depiction of John Brown's personality as a extremely pious and headstrong man is done very well. It's really strange to think that Freestate Brewery in Lawrence named an ale after him, as he was a teatottler.
Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A satisfyingly informative read. Believe it or not, over a hundred pages consisting of 5 chapters covering the comparative history of food consumption and production around the world is a page turner. Who woulda thunk it? The rest of the book ain’t too shabby either. It is a very basic and informative thesis on why certain cultures won out against others in world history, and the answers are surprisingly simple. One shocker is the argument that germs are one of the main reasons for cultural expansion. Although the book gets a little redundant or over-explainy at times, it is a very interesting and informative book.
Tom Robbins: Skinny Legs and All
A very entertaining book. Robbins is a genius. A genius in the way that Robbin Williams is. He sees the world in the same way someone eternally hopped up on coke and ‘shrooms would. His writing constantly bends reality wherever he wants it to, and you can’t help but just gape at with what ease he does it. And he celebrates life-all of life, even it’s heartbreaks. Although this is a very entertaining, funny, raucous, and impious work, it does have substance to it. Robbins usually weaves religion into him books and he certainly does here. His religious ideas are not as revolutionary or enlightening as the other aspects of his work, but it’s nice that it’s there. A very enjoyable and light read.
Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies
Not a bad book, but not worth winning a Pulitzer either. A bit over sentimental and self-aware that it is being sentimental, a terrible trait for any book. Most of the short stories in this collection look at human relationships and describe the imperfections in these relationships, usually due to the weakness of those within them in appreciating them in a traditional way. In my opinion, with the exception of the story from which the title of the book comes from, the stories fail in their attempt to portray the depth of human emotion and romanticism and rather portray them as a pretty picture.
Nikos Kazantzakes: Report to Greco
Kazantzakis is one of my favorite authors, Zorba the Greek is an amazing novel and I've been hooked ever since. Report to Greco is his autobiography, and shows the how the passion of the author has driven him thoughout his life. This book is infinitly quoteable, but here are a few:
"God is being built. I too have applied my tiny red pebble, a drop of blood, to give Him solidity lest He perish-so that He might give me solidity lest I perish".
"every religion which promises to fulfill human desires is simply a refuge for the timid, and unworthy of a true man."
“Do you know me, old lady?”
She glanced at me with amazement. “No, my boy. Do I have to know you to give you something? You’re a human being, aren’t you? So am I. Isn’t that enough?”
"If a woman calls you to sleep with her and you do not go, you are damned. God does not forgive this. You’ll be placed with Judas at the very bottom of hell."
William Faulkner: Light in August (Vintage International)
In my opinion, this book isn’t as good as Absalom, Absalom! or as artistic as that book or The Sound and the Fury, but it is still solid Faulkner and a good story to boot. Faulkner has the ability to make the reader taste the dust coming off of wagon wheels and somehow to understand the social structures of the south and Light in August is a strong example of his talent. If you want to wade into Faulkner, this is one book that you can do that with.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote
This was a surprisingly good book. I expected it to be really dry but it was really entertaining. Apparently Voltaire read it over and over again, and you can really see the similarity in humor between the two. It is really long and at times becomes a bit of a serial, but still, it is a classic for a reason. Sancho the trusty albeit sarcastic squire is one of the best characters in literature and is reason enough to read this tome. I suggest the modern translation, it makes a big difference.
Robert A. Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land
This book and it’s author (my his soul rest in peace) can bite my ass. I grok that it sucks. The first half is promising, showing a person having to acclimate to a completely alien (literally) world. Then the second half drops off into a pathetic attempt to titillate. Lame. Lame. Lame. I stopped reading it with only 75 pages to go just out of spite.
William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage International)
I can’t remember having read a better book. Faulkner is astounding. Absalom, Absalom! has a quality to it which I can best describe as “photographic literary psychological cubism”. It’s also the hardest book I’ve ever read that I still felt that I could comprehend. The first two sentences are, together, a page long. I hate in-depth descriptions of houses and things (e.g. Hawthorne), but Faulkner’s in depth look at the psychology and history of small town civil-war and post civil-war Northern Mississippi is wonderful. The story also adds depth to The Sound and the Fury, which deals with the Compson family, and gives a better understanding of Quinton Compson's outlook on life, the south, and himself. Read it!