I’m on a tear! Actually, too much of one. Anyway.
The Third Reich is the second Bolaño novel I’ve read. This one was easier to read than The Savage Detectives, but it wasn’t as rewarding. Though it’s still an excellent novel.
It’s about a German named Udo who goes to Spain on vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg. He plays war games and writes articles about them. He’s planning on presenting a paper in Paris a few months later, so he brings The Third Reich with him on vacation and sets it up on a large table in his hotel room. His paper doesn’t get written. He’d stayed at the hotel with his parents about ten years ago, when he was fifteen. He had a crush on the owner, and he starts a relationship, of sorts, with her. He begins a game with a mysterious man who owns paddleboats for public rental, and it becomes serious because, as it turns out, El Quemado, as they call him, was involved in World War II and was horribly scarred, both physically and mentally. It’s a complex plot.
And it’s totally worth reading. It’s not as much of challenge as The Savage Detectives was, and I found myself in a hurry to finish it. It felt a little like Kafka‘s Amerika, which I hated with a special kind of hate reserved for the likes of Things Fall Apart and I can’t think of what else. Anyway. I just wanted Udo to smarten up and get the hell out of there before he got himself killed. He didn’t leave when I wanted him to (or when everyone in the book wanted him to), but he didn’t die, either. There was a weird kind of anti-climax at the end.
I’m certainly not saying that The Third Reich isn’t a really good book or that I didn’t like it – because I did. It was just an uncomfortable world to be in, and I wanted out. Which was probably what Bolaño was going for. Once I started this one, I broke down and bought a used copy of 2666 from Amazon, but I haven’t received it yet. I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle that one, anyway. I put The Savage Detectives up there with Rushdie on the difficulty scale - Bolaño in general, really. While I was happy to escape The Third Reich, it left me thinking. At first, I didn’t know whether I liked it or not, and I spent some time trying to figure out what actually happened to Udo, how he’d changed. I think I have it figured out, but the process hurt my head a little bit, which is a good thing.
So. Bolaño is good. The Third Reich is good. I can’t wait to read his other stuff, though I don’t think I can handle another one for a while.
I did it. I read fifty books this year. After 2010′s embarrassing performance, I’m rather proud of myself, especially since that fifty includes some really long ones like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and 1Q84 and some really hard ones like The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children.
I enjoyed the vast majority of them, and I enjoyed the experience of spending most of the year ahead of my quota, then playing catch-up at the very end. I wasn’t sure I would make it: I finished #46, Midnight’s Children, only a couple of days before Christmas, leaving a week to read four novels. Luckily, I found some good short ones. I’m looking forward to some longer ones this year, but I think I’ll try to stay away from the long and difficult. Rushdie does have some shorter novels.
Here’s my list from 2011, formatted like my 2010 list. Bold means I really liked it, and italics means I really disliked it. If it’s neither of those, it was good enough. I’ll use strikethrough for the few books I tried to read and gave up on.
This list is much more impressive than last year’s. In 2012 I’m attempting another fifty and trying to put a more formal spin on things since I’ll be cross-posting to the liberry’s webpage (yay!).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t yet announced my favorite book of the year. Last year, it was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, with Murakami‘s Dance Dance Dance as a close second. If you would have asked me then, I would have predicted that 1Q84 would top my list this year, but I didn’t like it half as well as I thought I would, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. And, if you’ve been following my blog recently, you might expect Midnight’s Children, but no! It’s a close second to…
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Yep. The best book I read this year was the very first one. I think it’s My Very Favorite Book Ever. I’m not going to rehash my review here. The closest rival is, as I said, Midnight’s Children, but that’s because they’re so similar. I hope I find a book half as good as either of those in 2012.
So, that’s it. Out with the old, and in with the new, as they say. I have another fifty books ahead of me, and fifty-two weeks to read them. Wish me luck.
I’m not quite sure what to say about Midnight’s Children except that it’s fantastic. Really. If you haven’t read it, head over to your local library and pick it up right now. Disregard your Christmas planning, ignore the hurt faces of your family, and hole yourself up for a week, book in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. You won’t regret it. Children are resilient: a few years of therapy, and they’ll learn that some things are more important than having parents at Christmas.
I’m kidding, of course. Kind of.
At this point, I’m trying to figure out why I haven’t read this before. I’ve ranted several times about colleges not assigning long books anymore, so I won’t rehash that here. But everyone should read this novel. It’s about everything: history, family, love, good, evil, etc, etc. Just like One Hundred Years of Solitude, which, I’m sure, is why I liked it so very, very much.
That’s not to say it’s easy reading: Rushdie isn’t easy. I had a helluva time with Satanic Verses, but that one was worth it, too. Midnight’s Children, though, is my favorite of Rushdie‘s so far. I picked up a couple of his other novels when I was in Houston, and I’ll read them soon. After the Christmas Crunch is over. But I’ll talk about that later.
Midnight’s Children is about the children born at midnight on India’s first day of independence from the British and how they, specifically Saleem Sinai, fit into and affect that history. It’s an autobiography from Saleem’s point of view, beginning before he was born with an account of his grandfather’s life, and then his parents’, and then his own.
I had a hard time reading it at the beginning: as I’ve said, Rushdie isn’t easy, and his syntax takes a bit of getting used to. But you read and you read, and then you can’t stop reading. A year or two ago, a friend of mine was reading it, and he excitedly told me that it’s a challenge until you hit a certain page (which I will not divulge as he refused to remind me), and then BAM. You’re in it for the ride, and you can’t give up on it because you know it’ll be worth it in the end.
The closest analog that I’ve read is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which gives you a sense of a sweeping history, like all things are encapsulated somewhere in the novel. There’s also the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. Rushdie creates a whole world around you, and you can’t help but be a part of it, swept up in the chaos of Indian independence and what follows. And the end! The end! But I won’t go there.
Seriously. If you’ve never tried Rushdie and you hadn’t planned to because of what you’d heard about his books (So many rumors! He’s not at all what I expected!) or the man himself. I remember hearing about what happened after he published The Satanic Verses when I was too little to understand what was going on, and now I can see how both of these novels are incredibly controversial – but that’s all the more reason to read them. He knew there’d be a scandal (seems like a petty word to use in that case), and he did it anyway. The result is incredibly moving – and, quite often, funny. I had no idea until I puffed up my chest and said, “Hey. Today, I’m gonna tackle Rushdie.” I haven’t looked back.
Well, I finished it. I guess all it took was my public realization that I might not finish it to get me reading again. Note that I wrote that post yesterday and still had about halfway to go. I’ve done a good bit of reading over the past couple days.
The Satanic Verses is a long, hard read. Very long, very hard. My main problem with it is the plot is overly convoluted: I’m not quite sure about what exactly happened, and while I’d like to read it again to put it together, I know I won’t. I won’t be running back to Rushdie anytime soon, either. It’s not really what I expected, kind of like One Hundred Years of Solitude wasn’t. And the two novels have more in common: they’re both examples of magical realism, though Marquez‘s novel is much more convincing. And, in general, better.
If you want a thorough rundown of the plot of The Satanic Verses, I’ll direct you to Wikipedia because I couldn’t do it without writing much more than the short blog post I’ve planned. Rushdie’s novel consists of two-and-a-half storylines involving Bollywood actors Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, a plane crash, one turning into a goat, and one developing paranoid schizophrenia and possibly being, at some point, the Archangel Gabriel. And that’s only one of the plotlines. It ends up really confusing.
It’s not that it’s a bad novel: it’s just not as good as some people say it is. I have a feeling that a lot of people with strong opinions about it haven’t read it. I can totally see why Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill Rushdie: The Satanic Verses is fabulously blasphemous.
In Rushdie’s defense, the language is nice – even beautiful in some places. Here’s my favorite part:
The landscape of his poetry was still the desert, the shifting dunes with the plumes of white sand blowing from their peaks. Soft mountains, uncompleted journeys, the impermanence of tents. How did one map a country that blew into a new form every day?
And that’s about all I have to say about it. I didn’t really like it, though I didn’t hate it either. I might reread it someday and get more out of it: I have a feeling that if I did read it again, I’d like it more. Maybe an abridged version would suit me better, though.
So it’s been over a week, and I still haven’t finished The Satanic Verses. I’m having a really hard time getting through it, and I’ve seriously considered making it the base of my Fail Pile for this year. The funny thing is that I really like it – it reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, my new Favorite Novel. I just can’t really get into it. I’ve decided that I’m going to power through it, though, and I’m giving myself a whole week to finish it because I’m so far ahead in my 50. I’m halfway through it now, so if I read about 37 pages a day for the next 7, I’ll be done. I think I can handle that.
What have I been doing, you ask? Well, I’ve been studying for the GRE, which helps immensely with my Thesis Monster procrastination. I’ve been working on the verbal and math sections a few hours a day for the past few days. I’ll talk more about what I’m doing with it later, but it involves moving out of Shreveport and not getting a PhD, both of which make me very happy.
I’ll be doing some pretty hardcore studying. Though I don’t think I need a particularly good GRE score this time around, I don’t want to embarrass myself, either. I’ve somehow forgotten all but the simplest math, and I’m horrible at analogies, so I have to work on those. I’ve accumulated a stack of GRE books, and I’m slowly working through them. I’ll probably take the test in late February.
Within a week, then, a post about The Satanic Verses should appear on this blog. If I can’t finish by next Saturday, into the Fail Pile it goes.