Month: January 2013

2013 Book #4: Madame Bovary

Oh, Madame Bovary, I dislike you. I dislike you in so many ways. You are not a good person, and you don’t even try to be. You take advantage of everyone around you and think of no one but yourself. Not even your child. Or your husband, who is wildly in love with you and entirely devoted, no matter what you do. (Of course, he doesn’t find out about your…um…indiscretions until it’s too late. But we won’t ruin things for people who haven’t read the book, will we? No, not entirely, anyway. Or maybe we will.

Okay, so Madame Bovary is a very famous novel, and I probably should have read it by now. Or at least I should have been assigned it at some point in college. Neither of these things happened, and here’s all I know about the novel (I’m probably not spoiling it because you probably already know the gist, too): Emma Bovary has an affair. Oh, you say, that’s not all that interesting. Well, I reply, maybe it was in France in the 1850s? Evidently, this stuff went on with women a lot and was generally a problem. Flaubert is considered an expert realist, and he was exposing societal issues. Yeah, whatever.

Emma Bovary is incredibly selfish, and I don’t like her. Which is probably why I didn’t like most of this novel: I couldn’t identify with any of the characters. I liked one part of it because I could identify with her situation. She has an affair with a guy named Rodolphe who just wants to…use her. It seemed to me that she deserved it, but I’ve been in a relationship like that (though I wasn’t cheating on anyone!), and it was terrible. Horrible. Still, her fault for cheating on her husband. He’s also selfish with money. Right after she and Charles are married (still at the beginning of the book), they to to a party the Viscount is holding, and it’s spectacular, ball and all. She’s really impressed and feels entitled to live like he does, so she starts buying things, and once she goes through her husband’s money, she starts taking out loans there’s no way she can pay back. Years later, everything goes to hell.

And that’s Madame Bovary. I didn’t hate all of it – just some of it. I struggled with putting it down permanently several times, but I was determined to finish it, and I did. Hopefully my next book won’t annoy me so much.

2013 Book #3: Orlando

I thought I hated Orlando. I took a Gay and Lesbian Lit class in college, and the professor assigned it. I think I got through about a third of it and quit because I thought it was crap. I think the problem was that I didn't think I'd like Virginia Woolf and didn't want to give her a chance. But, then again, my literary tastes were weird: the same professor assigned The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, and I loved it. No one likes that novel. I didn't know what I was missing in Orlando (or Virginia Woolf, for that matter).

Here's the gist: Orlando is a young English aristocrat who has a very adventurous life. He doesn't really age (like other random characters in the novel), and he lives through several centuries. At some point, he finds himself an ambassador a long way from home. He wakes up one morning, and discovers that he's turned into a woman. Then she goes back to England and spends the rest of her life as a woman.

As much as I thought I hated this novel when I was in college, I loved it now. I loved every minute of reading it. It was hours and hours of joy. I'm pretty sure that Orlando is my new favorite Virginia Woolf novel. The others that I've read (I've read quite a few) aren't much like this one – for that matter, there aren't many novels like this one. The message, here, is that though there are differences between the sexes, Orlando remained essentially the same person, whether male or female. Which goes along with “A Room of One's Own,” and the like. I'm still not sure why I was so convinced that I'd hate it. I almost want to read it again right now.

2013 Book #2: Le Grand Meaulnes

grandmeaulnesAwww, man! I’m 2 for 2 in greatness! I loved Le Grand Meaulnes. I don’t remember exactly where I came across it, but I think it might have been in the introduction to John Fowles’s The Magus. He listed Le Grand Meaulnes as an influence. What’s funny is that so far, I’ve tl;dr-ed The Magus because it’s so long (though I don’t think I can hold it off for much longer), but I’d heard of Le Grand Meaulnes somewhere else, too, and the Goodreads blurb sounded intriguing, so I figured I’d look it up.

And boy was I impressed. I enjoyed every minute of this one.

It’s basically a French coming-of-age novel set in the 1890s and very early 20th century. The narrator, Francois, meets Meaulnes, at school. Both are roughly seventeen. One day, Meaulnes runs off and gets lost in the countryside, where he finds this grand estate and crashes a wedding party. The whole thing seems magical, sprinkled with fairy dust. While he’s there, he meets the most beautiful woman he could imagine. The party ends abruptly, and he’s forced to leave without seeing her again. He returns to school but becomes obsessed with finding her. He tells Francois his story, and both boys work to discover clues about the estate’s location (the English translation I read is titled The Lost Estate) and what happened to the girl.

Oh, it was so good, and it’s clear how it influenced several novels I’ve read, probably including Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Alain-Fournier’s story is amazing, and I was lucky enough to stumble upon a good translation. That makes all the difference. Le Grand Meaulnes really makes me want to dig in to The Magus to see the influence.

2013 Book #1: The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

I’m not sure how I ran across The One Hundred Year Old Man, but I’m glad I did. I was struggling through Moby Dick and Wizard and Glass (neither of which I finished, though Wizard and Glass has a fighting chance), and I needed a nice, light read. This novel fit the bill perfectly. I’d never heard of Jonas Jonasson (I don’t even know if he’s written many other novels), and I read somewhere a comparison of this novel with Forrest Gump, which, it seems, everyone likes. And I think it’s an accurate comparison.

The One Hundred Year Old Man is about, well, a one hundred-year-old man who climbs out of a window and disappears. He meets some new friends, is responsible for a few deaths, and hides out on a farm with a gangster and an elephant, among other things. And that’s only after his hundredth birthday. The novel also interweaves his life story before his hundredth birthday, when he got drunk with Harry Truman, had dinner with Stalin, and saved the future wife of Mao Tse-tung. And he crossed the Himalayas. By the time this novel starts, he has certainly had a full life. We follow him on his past adventures and his future adventures – and there are plenty. I promise I haven’t spoiled the whole novel. It’s fast-paced and super-fun.

I enjoyed every minute of The Hundred Year Old Man. It was exactly what I needed after not being able to get through those two others. I was in a rut, and Jonasson got me out of it. I’ll certainly have to investigate whether he has written other novels and how I can get my hands on them, as I loved this novel. I might even have to read it again.

A side note: This is the first novel I read on my new, shiny Kindle Paperwhite and the first book I’ve successfully checked out and read from my liberry’s Overdrive system. I should probably write a review of the former since I now own the Paperwhite and the Nook with Glowlight, but all I’ll say is that the Kindle is by far the better product, and if you’re going to choose one of them, choose the Kindle. Also: Downloading an Overdrive book onto a Kindle? So easy. That is all.

2012 Book #31 (and 32-ish): To Have and Have Not (and Mao II)

haveandhavenotBut we’re reasonably well into 2013, you (who check my Goodreads account religiously) say! And you finished To Have and Have Not weeks ago! And what’s this new mention of Mao II? How does it have anything to do with anything? What’s the deal?!?

Well, I’ve been busy. Or maybe I haven’t been busy, but I’ve been otherwise occupied. I certainly have lots of things with which to be occupied, so we’ll call that my excuse. But, anyway, here we are in a fresh new year, and I’m still wrapping up the old one, with two books I barely remember. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but now do you see why I combined them?

First up is To Have and Have Not (don’t worry: I’m not going to talk much about either of these). As you probably know, I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and I’m slowly discovering his many (many!) books that aren’t normally assigned in college classrooms. To Have and Have Not is classic Hemingway: it’s a Manly Novel that talks about Manly Things. (Which is what this novels has in common with Mao II: all of DeLillo’s novels that I’ve read are Manly Novels. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that I seem to be in the mood for parenthetical asides today.)

It’s about Harry Morgan, a Manly Man with a fishing boat in Cuba. Or at least that’s where he starts. After a fishing trip goes south, he’s forced into shuttling black market alcohol from Key West and other unsavory activities because he has to support his family. And Things Happen. I will provide one warning: there is a bit of a sex scene that involves a “stump” where an arm used to be, and it’s GROSS. Yes. All-caps gross. Or maybe it’s just me.

I’ve only met one Hemingway novel I don’t like: The Old Man and the Sea, which, funnily enough, is the one most people have read and liked. (I have the same problem with Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, though upon a second reading, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I used to.) What’s funny is that this novel starts with one of those long marlin-fishing scenes, but it ended eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And that’s about all I have to say about To Have and Have Not. I really liked it.

On to Mao II, which I’ve read before and posted about before. I read it sometime last year, just before I got sick, because I was working on my thesis, and the last chapter is about that novel. Then, of course, I got sick and didn’t write the chapter, and now, it’s been so long that I’ll probably have to read it again when I finally do. Ugh. That said, it’s not a bad novel, but it’s your typical DeLillo (which is what my thesis is about), and I’m certainly not going to rehash it here. The end.

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