Faulkner, William. Novels 1926 – 1929: The Sound and the Fury. The Library of America, 2006.
Reason read: December is Southern Fiction month. Luckily, this is the last Faulkner I have to read.
I wish I could say I adored The Sound and the Fury. I feel like I have an obligation to at least like Faulkner’s writing style because it is so close to another author I actually love, James Joyce. Faulkner appears to be heavily influenced by the Irish author.
Even though Sound got easier and easier to read as I went along, I couldn’t like the characters. Getting into the minds of the three Compson brothers didn’t help. Benjamin, Quentin, and Jason’s narratives all blur together and become one complicated and tangled stream of consciousness. I learned early on that the trick to Faulkner is to remember chronology is of little importance, the duplicity of names can be confusing, and for The Sound and the Fury, you must be comfortable with themes of mental illness, incest, and suicide. Virginity is a commodity in southern fiction. The moral of the story is every tree has a few secret nuts.
Lines I found myself liking: “She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below the Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose Geography met the requirements (minimum)” (p 947), and “Honeysuckle is the saddest odor of all, I think” (p 1007). Not a line, but I liked the random illustrated eye.
As an aside, I would like to see the Sound and the Fury movie. I think I might understand the plot a little better if I did.
Author fact: Faulkner skipped the second grade and his surname used to be spelled without the ‘u.’
Book trivia: the appendix includes 46 years of Compson history, some helpful and some not so much.
Nancy said: Pearl called all of Faulkner’s novels “enduring.” Just how they endure, I don’t know.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).
Amis, Kingsley. Lucky Jim. New York: Penguin Classics, 1993.
Reason read: December is traditionally the month for final exams in secondary schools. Read in honor of those poor students slogging through their tests.
James Dixon is in a plum position to earn a decent spot as a lecturer in his college’s History Department. The only problem is he is falling in love with his boss’s son’s girlfriend.
You can’t help but laugh out loud during certain scenes in Lucky Jim. Amis has a way of painting the picture so clear you are in the room with the characters, whether you want to or not. The snobbery and pretentious nature of ambition on academia permeates the plot. The description of Dixon’s hangover, filled with images of excrement and death’s decay, had me smirking with remembrance. Been there, done that. I am not a smoker, but Dixon trying to ration his cigarettes gave me a chuckle as well, especially when he’s on the cigarette he should be enjoying a whole day into the future. Sadly, my accolades end there. I found almost everything else about Lucky Jim to be a bore.
Lines I liked, “The sight of her seemed an irresistible attack on his own habits, standards, and ambitions: something designed to put him in his place for good” (p 39) and “As soon as Dixon recognized the mental envelope containing this question he thrust it away from him unopened…” (p 60).
Author fact: rumor has it Amis was not a nice person. I’ve never met him so I can’t comment. He did win the Somerset Maugham Award for Lucky Jim. So there’s that.
Book trivia: One of my favorite illustrators, Edward Gorey, created a cover for an edition of Lucky Jim.
Playlist: Mozart, Richard Strauss, and “Onward Christian Soldiers,”
Nancy said: Pearl called Lucky Jim a classic.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Academia: the Joke” (p 3).
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Reason read: Mark Twain was born in the month of November. Read in his honor
There is so much to unpack in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. When one thinks of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, science fiction doesn’t readily come to mind. Sarcastic? Humorous? Yes. But certainly not science fiction in my book. The plot is simple. Nineteenth century mechanic Hank Morgan gets a conk on the head that sends him back to the 6th century. At first he thinks it is all a joke (“Get back to your circus,” he tells a knight in full armor riding an armored horse). Once convinced he has truly traveled back in time he realizes he can use his knowledge of the “future,” like an upcoming solar eclipse and the invention of electricity, to his advantage.
Woven throughout the plot is Twain’s celebration of democracy while at the same time condemning humankind through observations about social and human inequalities. He attacks British nobility and rails against poverty and slavery.
How it all ends? The divine right of the King is the be settled in another book. Good news for Twain fans. That kind of ending is like your favorite musician hinting that they are working on a new album. Stay tuned. There is more to come.
Author fact: As an aside, Mr. Twain had a killer mustache. Everyone knows that but I’ve never really looked at it before. Another confession: I have not been to his house in Hartford, Connecticut.
Book trivia: In my edition of A Connecticut Yankee there is a great deal of extra fanfare before you get to the actual story. There is an editor’s note, a foreword, and an introduction. If that wasn’t enough, there is an afterward as well. But the cooler thing to mention is that my copy is a facsimile of the original publication. Illustrations and texts are unaltered.
Nancy said: Pearl included A Connecticut Yankee as an example of the writings of Mark Twain.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans” (p 144). Technically, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur‘s Court is not a biography of Mark Twain so it shouldn’t be included in this chapter.
Anonymous. Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.
Reason read: Another Halloween story.
Everyone raves about Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and I have to wonder, is it just the translation or could the accompanying gorgeous illustrations and photography have something to do with it? Everyone knows the story of Beowulf the mighty warrior from an English lit class. As a poem, it is the courageous story of a man who learns of a King’s annual nightmare. A monster named Grendel destroys fifteen knights a year without fail and has been doing so for the past twelve years. Beowulf, upon hearing this sad tale, takes it upon himself to vanquish Grendel only to face Grendel’s vengeful mother. Yeah, he kills her, too. Then there’s the fire-breathing dragon (think Bilbo Baggins) who tragically wins over Beowulf. In truth, I had forgotten the graphic violence of men being mauled by the monster Grendel. The clash is pretty dramatic. It would make a great movie. Wait. Knowing my knowledge of movies…it probably is.
As an aside, I have to wonder if this was ever made into a movie? Think about it. The battles full of violence…the claw of Grendel’s as a trophy. What a great prop for the big screen!
Lines I liked, “But it was mostly beer doing the talking” (p 37),”He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it” (p 65). Even though hasped and hirpling are not used in everyday vocabulary, you can envision the monster in sever pain.
Author fact: No one has ever been given credit for writing Beowulf although hundred of people have translated it.
Book trivia: Heaney’s translation won the Whitbread Award.
Nancy said: Pearl said Heaney’s translation of Beowulf beautiful.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186).
Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974.
Reason read: Pirsig’s birth month is in the month of September.
When you are traveling across the country on a motorcycle, you have more than enough time to analyze the world around you in ways you wouldn’t if you chose to passively ride in a car or fly by plane. Pirsig takes his love of motorcycle maintenance and equates it to examining the way we live. If you excuse the didactic moments that seem holier than thou, he even shares opinions on how to live that life a little better. These philosophical monologues are referred to as Chautauquas. Under the guise of a summer trip across America with an unknown protagonist (common knowledge it is Pirsig himself), his son, Chris, and two companions, Pirsig delves into the life of Phaedrus (his past self), meditation, and philosophy. He uses his friend, John, to illustrate the difference between the mindful exploration and ignorant bliss. While the unnamed narrator (Pirsig) constantly tunes his machine, John prefers to not know anything about how his engine runs. This equates to the two men seeing the world differently. The author learns to care deeply for anything that involves his life while John prefers to let a mechanic do all the maintenance in life. The narrator is anxious to teach John his ways and patiently waits for his motorcycle to break down so he can be the hero and enlighten him. For me, the book gets interesting when John and his wife go they separate way. The narrator and his son are left to travel the rest of the journey alone. The reasoning of temperate reason versus dark passion is fascinating.
Quotes I liked, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive” (p 187), “The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know” (p 256), “The dog has a certain relationship to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten” (p 412), and “I’m hanging onto my temper now” (p 497).
Author fact: Pirsig also wrote Lila: an Inquiry into Morals. I am not reading it for the Challenge even though it is the sequel to Zen. Zen is the only book I am reading.
Another author fact: Pirsig wrote instruction manuals for a living, but went home every night to work on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This reminded me of Joan Didion and how she would work at Vogue during the day but come home at night to work on her own novels.
Book trivia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a work of fictionalized autobiography.
Nancy said: Pearl called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a classic; highly readable and indispensable.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beckoning Road” (p 19).
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.
Reason read: Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor.
David Copperfield is a classic: character driven and autobiographical in nature. Dickens illustrates the varying sides of human nature; how we all have faults. His portrayal of young David as a naïve child is brilliant. I could picture the boy being unreasonably afraid of a large bird because he acted just as I had when confronted with a gigantic angry fowl; or when Copperfield was bored at church and nearly falling asleep, slipping off his pew; or when he didn’t realize the adults were openly discussing him. His innocence is at the heart of his personality. As David matures and enters adulthood he learns relationships often fail and the motive of some people are not always pure at heart. Malicious people are everywhere. In the end (and I do mean the very end) Copperfield finds true happiness.
As an aside, I heard that the audio book read by Richard Armitage is very good. I didn’t listen to it.
Author fact: I read somewhere that Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, England. What the what? That sounds like a very interesting place.
Book trivia: David Copperfield is the eighth novel of Dickens and it is his favorite story. Maybe because it is a thinly veiled autobiography?
Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line of David Copperfield was a classic that had slipped her mind.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.
Reason read: Austen published her first work in the month of October. Read in honor of that accomplishment.
My copy of Mansfield Park contained a biography of Austen, a timeline of what was happening during Austen’s short life, and an introduction.
I have to admit, Mansfield Park is not my favorite Austen novel. All the characters seem sniveling and persnickety. Fanny Price is a victim, first of poverty; then a victim of her family’s snobbery as they take her in and abuse her for the sake of morality. Her cousin, Edmund, is the only decent chap. One could argue that Austen was only commenting on the life she keenly observed.
Author fact: Austen died way too young.
Book trivia: Mansfield Park was first published in three volumes and was her third novel.
Nancy said: Pearl said “much lighter in view and tone” when referring to the house Austen wrote Mansfield Park, but nothing specific about the novel.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “An Anglophile’s Literary Pilgrimage” (p 20).
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Illustrated by Joseph Ciardiello. New York: Reader’s Digest, 1989.
Reason read: August is the month to be by the sea.
Who doesn’t know the story of Captain Ahab and his obsessive hunt for the albino whale he calls Moby Dick?
What makes Moby Dick such an iconic story is Ishmael and his keen observations, not just of monomaniacal Captain Ahab, but of the entire crew of the Peaquod and the everlasting mythology surrounding whales. While his voice changes throughout the narrative, he remains the iconic character driving the story. There is a rage in Ahab that is mirrored in Ishmael. There is also a lack of faith in Ishmael that is mirrored in Ahab. While there is an adventure plot, Moby Dick also has a mix of religion (sermon of Jonah and the Whale); the study of the color white as it relates to mountains, architecture, and of course, inhabitants of the ocean, whales and sharks; a lecture of the different types of whales, including the narwhal. Additionally, Moby Dick offers didactic lectures on a variety of subjects: art, food, religion, slavery. [As an aside, although it is a realistic exchange between the cook, Fleece, and sailor Stubb, it made me uncomfortable.]
Quotes to quote, “It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin (p 38), “Yes, as anyone knows, meditation and water are wedding forever” (p 24), and “All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven may have mercy on us all…for we are somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (p 89).
Author fact: it is sad to think that Herman Melville did not find success as a writer until after death.
Book trivia: The illustrations by Joseph Ciardiello are pretty cool.
Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line to Moby Dick slipped her mind and that is why it wasn’t included in her first book, Book Lust.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140). As an aside, the title is hyphenated as Moby-Dick in the index while my copies (print and audio) are not. As another aside, I have to argue with the inclusion of Moby Dick in this chapter. If another lesser book started off “Call me Harold” would it have been included? Probably not. What makes “Call me Ishmael” is not the opening line itself, but the epic story that follows. Those three words are only the gateway to an unforgettable and insane adventure.
Forster, E.M. Passage to India. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Janovich, 1924.
Reason read: Forster was born and died in January, the first and seventh, respectively.
Much has been written about Passage to India. Hundreds of writers had offered up their opinion on the classic. I won’t bore you with the plot except to say India is at odds with British rule in every sense. It clouds judgement beyond reason, as most prejudices do. Indian-born Aziz is curious about the English and offers to take two British women to see the infamous caves of Marabar. My comment is Aziz acts oddly enough for me to question what exactly did happen in those isolated and mysterious caves?…which is exactly what Mr. Forster wanted me to do.
Every relationship in Passage to India suffers from the affects of rumor, doubt, ulterior motive, class, and racism. Friends become enemies and back again as stories and perceptions change and change again.
Quotes to quote, “One tip can buy too much as well as too little; indeed the coin that buys the exact truth has not yet been minted” (p 10), “Any man can travel light until he has a wife and children” (p 106), and “The racist problem can take subtle forms” (p 141).
Author fact: E. M. stands for Edward Morgan. Everyone knows that. But, did you know E.M. spent six months in India?
Book trivia: Passage to India was made into a movie starring Alec Guinness in 1984. It won two Oscars. Passage to India was also adapted to the stage twice and to television for the BBC.
Nancy said: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade” (p 176).
January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
- Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
- Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!
- Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
- Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.
- Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
- The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.
- I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.
Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.
Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!
Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.
To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.
Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?
As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.
Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.
Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.
Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.
Trollope, Anthony. Framley Parsonage. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Reason read: to continue the series started in April in honor of Trollope’s birth month.
As usual Trollope’s fourth novel in the Barsetshire Chronicle is laden with characters. One of the first people readers meet is Mark Robarts, a vicar with ambitions to further his career. The gist of the story is that Robarts loans Nathaniel Sowerby money even though Robarts realizes Sowerby is an unsavory character, always gambling and up to no good. Of course there is some good old fashioned courting of the ladies going on that complicates the story.
Trollope explores human emotions such as humiliation (Robarts not being able to afford to give a loan but does it anyway), romance (between Mark’s sister, Lucy, and Lord Lufton), greed (inappropriate relationships because of lower class status) and affection (bailing a friend out of a sticky situation). The subplot of Lucy and Lord Lufton is my favorite. Lady Lufton doesn’t think Lucy is good enough for her son (what mother does?).
Author fact: Trollope wanted to be a political figure at one point in his life.
Book trivia: At the end of Framley Parsonage Doctor Thorne gets married. Remember him?
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Framley Parsonage but she did say that Trollope is one of her favorite writers.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barsetshire and Beyond” (p 15).
December did not suck entirely. I was able to run 97 miles out of the 97 promised. The in-law holiday party was a lot of fun and I got to most of the books on my list:
- Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming (DNF)
- Rainbow’s End by Lauren St. John
- Paul Revere and the World He Lived in by Esther Forbes
- On the Ocean by Pytheas (translated by Christina Horst Roseman)
- Geometry of Love by Margaret Visser
- Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre .
- River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard (AB)
- Tu by Patricia Grace – I read this in four days because it was due back at a library that didn’t allow renewals.
- Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright. I listened to this on audio on my lunch breaks. It was a good way to escape for a little while each day. Confessional: I didn’t finish the whole thing but since it is a continuation of the series it doesn’t matter.
- Yoga for Athletes by Ryanne Cunningham – this was an October book that took me a little time to review because I was too busy using it to run!
- Disaster Falls: a family story by Stephane Gerson
September was a cool month. On the 10th I ran a half marathon (2:10:16), was able to get to Monhegan (and introduce the island to some new people), and get to a lot of reading:
- Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill
- Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng
- Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
- Consul’s Wife by W.T. Tyler
- Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry (AB)
- Life and Death of Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser
- Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
- Best Game Ever by Mark Bowden
- The Trial by Franz Kafka
- Which Side Are You On? by Elaine Harger (ER)
- Which Side Are You On? by George Ella Lyon (for fun)
AB = Audio book
ER = Early review