Book 339: Emma – Jane Austen

Austen, Jane - EmmaFor book two of our Jane Austen Book Club, my friends and I decided to conquer Emma (Amazon Affiliate link). It has always been my least favorite of the six and reading Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education both confirmed that and helped me get around this problem. His talking about Emma and it’s belief in the importance of every day trivialities, as well as Margaret Drabble’s excellent introduction led me to think about the book differently.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still boring as anything in most points, but Austen wrote it this way. According tot Drabble, Austen wrote this novel in such excruciating detail in direct response to the detractors of her previously published novel Mansfield Park, which I love. Drabble says, “This is domestic realism almost with a vengeance.” (xix) AND it is! The hyper focus on every detail, the incredibly limited scope of setting, characters and even conversation topics is overwhelmingly mundane. It is an assault on the senses, and as a fellow JABC member said “i’m diagnosing myself with ’emma-induced narcolepsy.'” (Thanks Dalton!)

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Book 337: Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley

Huxley, Aldous - Crome YellowMy friend Nick gave this to me to read ages ago and I’ve finally gotten around to it. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but the further I read the more I enjoyed the story (Amazon Affiliate link). Coming in at under 200 pages, I was pleasantly surprised at how much Huxley fit into the novel without overwhelming the sense of lackadaisical whimsy of the people.

I am incredibly glad I read the foreword though, because I don’t think I would’ve understood this was a satirical novel of the British upper-class. I probably would’ve happily read it and thought, “wow these people are petty and ridiculous,” and then thought nothing more of it. It reminded me a lot of the various upper-class dioramas I’ve read from Jane Austen to Cécil David-Weill’s The Suitors, which is what Huxley was going for in his social criticism.

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Book 333: The Bitterweed Path – Thomas Hal Phillips

Phillips, Thomas Hal - The Bitterweed PathThis response is a bit scattered. It’s as close to stream-of-consciousness as I will ever get so enjoy it.

I jumped this book up my list because someone was getting antsy. For some reason, he didn’t think I wanted to read anything he suggested, or that I didn’t like his last recommendation, Last Summer, so I’ve made a deal with him that I’ll read a book at least every other month from him (talk about dictating!). Thankfully I’ve really enjoyed both books he’s recommended so far. His next recommendation is Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour and these recommendations don’t even include the ones of his that I WANT to read!

I was a little torn on John Howard’s introduction as it felt a bit misleading, but it did provide an excellent history of Phillips life and the setting of the novel. Howard wrote about his own experience as an LGBT academic and activist, and the self-serving nature of getting this book re-published for its early LGBT themes. He mentioned Phillips lack of acknowledgement about his own sexuality, which was interesting, and noted that none of his other books did as well as The Bitterweed Path and didn’t contain LGBT themes.

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Book 259: Zazen – Vanessa Veselka

Veselka, Vanessa - ZazenAfter seeing this on Heather’s blog Between the Covers (direct link to her review) and seeing her recommend it to many other people over the intervening years and knowing we have similar book tastes I knew I needed to read this novel.

This was a fascinating take on (post) identity politics in a (potentially) war-torn country. It was incredibly difficult to decide how much was seriousness, criticism, sarcasm or some other commentary. I had a brief conversation with Heather about the book because I was so confused as I started reading it that I thought it might be a translation. In the end I felt Veselka did a great job but I’m still not quite sure what form of commentary she was using. The combination of the identity politics versus the environmental (both natural and manmade) issues made for a really interesting read. Veselka’s writing and story telling reminded me of a less controlled and less refined Margaret Atwood, so of course I was going to enjoy it.

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Book 255: The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles

Fowles, John - The French Lieutenant's WomanSo I finally got around to reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I won this book as part of Robert’s blogoversary give away almost two years ago back in August of 2012. And all I have to say is shame on me for waiting this long to read it. Not only am I ashamed because it was such a wonderful book, but I am ashamed because it inspired one of my favorite posts of 101 Books of all time: 101 Books Guide to Carrying an Embarrassing Book in Public.

I’d love to say that Fowles’ mentioning of Jane Austen didn’t sway me, but of course it did a little, but overall that was minuscule compared to the mastery Fowles showed in this novel and he mentioned Austen and her works MULTIPLE times! But it wasn’t this that made the book so great, it was the omniscient unidentified narrator and the breaking of the fourth wall (I guess it’s called that in reading as well).

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Book 248: War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy, Leo - War and PeaceAnd with this book I completed ALL of my reading challenges this year! I will do a wrap up post (year, challenge and month) on either the 31st or 1st, but for the record this was the 11th book of the Back to the Classics Challenge, the 6th book (but 8th counted – two were double) for the Tea and Books Reading Challenge and the 25th Mount TBR book!

But what is MOST shocking is how much I enjoyed this novel. There were portions I hated that I think were decisions of the translator and there were definitely parts that were beyond boring (the war parts, obviously), but overall I actually am glad I read this book and the investment of just over three weeks was definitely worth it. I’m not going to lie and say that I was excited about this novel and I won’t even say that it was easy, but I was a bit confused after reading this in the forward:

“The first readers of War and Peace were certainly surprised, but often also bewildered and even dismayed by the book. They found it hard to identify the main characters, to discover anything like a plot, to see any connection between episodes, to understand the sudden leaps from fiction to history, from narration to philosophizing. There seemed to be no focus, no artistic unity to the work, no real beginning, and no resolution. It was as if the sheer mass of detail overwhelmed any design Tolstoy might have tried to impose on it.” (loc. 140)

I didn’t think that the novel was that confusing. I can definitely see where the characters names are confusing! The introduction discusses the multitude of ways a character’s name can be modified and that did cause me to stop a few times but if I kept reading the context clues almost immediately told me who Tolstoy referred to.

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Book 236: No Name – Wilkie Collins

Collins, Wilkie - No NameUnlike Dickens, I could read Wilkie Collins ALL DAY. There are those of you out there that will find this shocking, but it’s the truth. This is the first novel I’ve read by Collins and I am VERY glad I added it to my Classics Club list! In addition it counted as a bonus book for my Tea & Books reading challenge coming in at just over 750 pages (according to Goodreads).

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you are aware, and often horrified, of my intense dislike of Dickens’ works (or at least the few I read). It’s not even that I don’t like his stories, characters or style, it’s that I don’t like the lengths of his ‘novels.’ As Dickens works were serialized I think he dragged out too many things and didn’t make them as action packed or as concise as they could’ve been. Whereas Dickens really could have used an editor, Collins took advantage of the serialization (IN DICKENS’ MAGAZINE!) and created an amazing work of fiction.

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