Book 14: Mickelsson’s Ghosts – John Gardner

Gardner, John - Mickelsson's GhostsThis book is definitely a reader’s book, or maybe a writer’s book? I’m never really sure what the difference is, but either way it’s a tome that really pushes you to focus on what you’re reading as there are quite a few heavy philosophical arguments and references within the novel, and it pushes you to question what is and isn’t real with the protagonist acknowledging that he’s had previous stints in a mental institution and the varying ‘ghosts’ to which the title refers.

I bought this book in 2011 at the Boston Book Festival and it’s just sat on my shelf since. I’m glad I read it, but at the same time I’m not sure why I bought it at the time as I’m terrified of ghost stories, but you’ll have to read on to find out how this one affected me. Since it’s been on my shelf for almost two years it counts for my Mount TBR ‘extra’ challenge. It took nearly two weeks to read and that’s from the denseness of the book. seriously, scroll down and read the first line—it’s a PARAGRAPH—or any of the quotes for that matter!

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Book 4: The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Wilde, Oscar - The PIcture of Dorian Gray WARNING and APOLOGY: this post starts with a rather long tangent about literature, art and people. (Sorry! Probably should be two posts, but I’m lazy.) If you don’t really want to read it (but you should there are a few great quotes) skip to after the third block quote. And to get it out-of-the-way, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the January read for my books into movies book group at the local library and conveniently appears on my Mount TBR (extended) list and my Classics Club list!

Now for my tangent, I’ve noticed as I read a wider variety of literature that the authors I’m drawn to have a lot to say about books, reading and writing. I have a lot of respect for authors who are able to reflect on writing, books, and literature within their own books and stories. In his forward to The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes the below quote.

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” (4)

And I can’t help but appreciate how incredibly insightful and powerful this is. Imagine if all the people threatened by books, who’ve burned books, who attempt to ban books, and those who just refuse to read certain books actually understood this. I love this quote so much it’s my new email signature and I’ve added it to the great book quotes on my sidebar (only the third)!

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Book 62: Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote

After putting this book off for more than a month so that it would fit within The Literary Others reading event and after it sat on my shelf since I purchased it from the 2011 Boston Book Festival I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not really sure if it was worth the build up to keep putting it off, but it was an interesting read. In addition to being a part of The Literary Others Event it also counts towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge (23/25)!

This is only the second Capote work I’ve read and it was very different compared to In Cold Blood, which I read before I started this blog. Other Voices, Other Rooms is Capote’s first published novel and is semi-autobiographical. You can definitely see the personal influence from the effeminate young boy to the faded rich southern decadence you catch glimpses of throughout.

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Book 53: Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago counts for three challenges, and actually wraps up one of my 2012 Challenges! It counts for the Back to the Classics Challenge (6 of 9), The Classics Club (12 of 100), and is my final book for the Tea and Books (8 of 8) challenge! I will do a wrap up post for the Tea and Books challenge early next week. For the Back to the Classics Challenge, this book was the novel from a place I realistically wouldn’t visit. After reading Doctor Zhivago and Anna Karenina I can say my aversion to visiting Russia is less, but I still would list it as not likely to travel to.

One thing I’ve learned that is vitally important when reading a classic novel is that you have to read the introduction.  Sure it might tack on 20-30 extra pages, but they are there for a reason and they reveal so much information that is incredibly useful when reading a book, not to mention they give you a head’s up of what to look for as you read. For example, in the introduction to Doctor Zhivago, the following quote points out how the novel is written.

“Pasternak’s vision is defined by real presence, by an intensity  of physical sensation rendered in the abundance of natural description or translated into the voices of his many characters.” (loc. 146)

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Book 34: Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

So sometimes it sucks to be well read, or at least appear so.  A friend visited last weekend and she mentioned the ending, thinking I was re-reading it, which marred the ending for me.  I had no idea how the story ended and although I would’ve had a good idea leading up to the moment she mentioned, I spent more time wondering when ‘it’ would happen rather than enjoying the story for the last 300+ pages.

Anna Karenina counts for the Mount TBR, Tea and Books, Back to the Classics and The Classics Club – and more importantly it puts me over the 50% mark on ALL 2012 challenges. (Right on goal for the year!)

Overall I’m really glad I read this.  If not for the challenges I joined this year I doubt I ever would have gotten around to reading it.  Not only did it make me have a new desire to learn more about Russia and it’s people, but it made me want to actually visit Russia. (At least theoretically, I’m still leaving Doctor Zhivago on my Back to the Classics as a place I realistically won’t visit.) What was probably most surprising about the novel was that they were just normal everyday people like in all the other classics I’ve read – and that Russia isn’t all snow and ice!  Russia has farming and society and all the things I never thought it had. I enjoyed Tolstoy’s various characterizations of Russian high society – some desperately wanting to be European, and some desperately wanting to stay independent/non-European, especially when they travel in Europe.

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