In recent years, I’ve made the effort to branch out into new reading territories. I had since developed strong interests in books on or about world history, mythology, and environmentalism. While my interests are wide-ranging, I am foremost an advocate of the literary classic - more often than not, the ones with the fat spines.
...And here is some more inspiration.
“Nobody reads Joyce anymore,” James Agee wrote in his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, commenting on the watered-down artistic tastes of the masses. That was in 1941. And still today, nobody reads Joyce. I firmly believe that Joyce is to literary fiction as Shakespeare is to theatre. If the episodes of Ulysses had been published separately as novellas, Joyce would be just as well-known and read as Shakespeare is today. Joyce once said that he wrote about simple topics using difficult techniques. Ulysses is just that. Joyce’s favorite topics of familial, religious, and national self-exile are examined here through a progression of numerous writing styles and techniques. The start of the novel carries on the narrative style of Joyce’s earlier works before blending in other techniques, such as interior monologue, epic drama, and the parodying of writing styles before him. Interested in a course on the history of English language? Forego the course fee and just read Ulysses.
By the time James Joyce decided what his follow-up work to Ulysses would be (“I think I will write a history of the world”), he declared that he was done with the English language and set about developing the style that would infamously make up Finnegans Wake. In this novel, his topics of family, religion, and country become his characters, and through the blending, metamorphosing, and punning of language, he was able to portray multiple aspects of each topic into every page, paragraph, and word. Fore me, the Wake rebellusioneyesd the wayvey sea languish. Itsy finnished product of seehear ramblitzion, returnmination, brailleance, and oddacity. In a single workd, Joyce stoughed everadam theme I punder a bout. Heavydense that any thinking be righten. Iambic turnally inkpressed.
Gravity’s Rainbow contains all the features of the postmodern literary movement: encyclopedic information, divergent plotlines, time and space fiascos, high- and low-art marriage, and tongue-in-cheek self-reference. But what sets Thomas Pynchon’s novel (and Pynchon himself) apart from other postmodern efforts are content and execution that match equally his oftentimes eccentric style. Pynchon deals with opposing ideas: science and art, intellect and humor, time and space. He exploit’s the resulting tensions to illustrate perhaps his most important opposing idea: the opposition between chaos and order. These are not mere juxtapositions. They are harsh, disagreeable, and sometimes violent conflicts. Gravity’s Rainbow is a mosaic of opposing governments, militant factions, war-torn cultures and ideologies, all trying desperately to control the chaos of the war in their own conflicting ways, unaware of the fact that they are all exacerbating the entropy. Oh, and did I mention that this book is really funny?
“I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it,” Alice B. Toklas writes in her autobiography. Or was it Gertrude Stein who wrote it? Or was it Toklas telling Stein to write it? The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is a memoir both conventional and unconventional, depending on the reader’s point of view regarding the book’s point of view. It is mostly believed to be Toklas’s own voice, words, and thoughts, perhaps organized and structured by Stein. Still, I can’t help but entertain the possibility that Stein had a bit of fun writing about herself from her companion’s perspective. Any way you choose to read it, it is a book about extraordinary subjects (legendary artists and writers) during extraordinary times (the rise of modern art and modernist literature during WWI) in an extraordinary city (Paris, France). It is also a wonderful starting point of Stein’s work for anyone unfamiliar with her, and it will give you almost all the information you need about her life, regardless of whose point of view it is coming from.
*** February 2010 Book Club Pick ***
"In the British Library catalog," Bill Bryson tells us, "enter 'Shakespeare' as author and you get 13,858 options, and as subject you get 16,092 more. The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., contains about seven thousand works on Shakespeare. . .and, as this slim volume attests, the number keeps growing." A good number of them are most likely biographies. What makes Bryson's biography different is that it is one written more on what we don't know than what we do. Originally published in 2007, Bryson's Shakespeare was re-released last November in an updated, illustrated version. Bryson explores in a rather simple way the complicated paradox of how Shakespeare can be the most well-known literary figure in history, yet we hardly know a thing about him. Birth date? Speculated. Childhood upbringing? Largely unknown. We aren't even sure he actually looks the way we've always thought him to look like. It certainly makes us wonder: what on earth are those thousands of books on Shakespeare actually about? Well, at least we know what Bryson's book is about. It is written with Bryson's trademark effortless wit, which proves wonderfully perfect when debunking some of the myths concerning Shakespeare. He even covers those pesky anti-Stratfordians (those who believe Shakespeare's work was written by someone other than Shakespeare). In response to the belief that Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays, Bryson writes, "[Marlowe] was the right age (just two months older than Shakespeare), had the requisite talent, and would certainly have had ample leisure after 1593, assuming he wasn't too dead to work." We may indeed know but a few facts on Shakespeare, but Bryson's Shakespeare helps illustrate how and why this mystery figure remains arguably the greatest mind in literature.
*** February 2010 Newsletter Pick ***
Gorgeous. Elegant. Dressed in a fashionable pastiche jacket. Scott Brizel's photographic collection of Audrey Hepburn can be described the way its subject has always been described. I've always felt that Audrey Hepburn continues to be one of the most iconic figures in popular culture, seeing her face on t-shirts, on the walls of clubs and bars, and even in subway terminals. Brizel's book supports my claim with photos from pictorials, magazine covers, film posters and film stills from countries all over the world, including Italy, Japan, France, Russia, Israel, and Uruguay.
*** January 2010 Newsletter Pick ***
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano's most recent book is all-encompassing, perfect for the reader with numerous curiosities. It covers 5,000 years of narrative condensed into 600 short vignettes over 365 pages. Mirrors is an intricate web, a thematic thread. If we were to approach its layout in some sort of spatial manner, each individual vignette could connect to any other vignette. But the connections don't stop with theme - they continue with subjects. Universality across eras and cultures seems to be what Galeano finds intriguing, evidenced by his stringing together of creation myths from different cultures, examples of misogyny and racism throughout time, and historical figures like Caesar, the Marquis de Sade, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler. In his ambitious attempt to relate the concepts of almost everything, Galeano has written the stories of almost everyone, and the result is one highly fascinating and unclassifiable book.