Sunday, January 26, 2014

A literary realist, a philosopher, and a crime novelist (walk into a bar?)
Or, 2014: So Far

now reading: The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times by Francis Russell

Yes, yes, we're back. 2014 is going to be a year full of reading projects. No, this blog was not updated at any point in the latter half of 2013, a fact I most regret. But let's not dwell on the spilt milk, am I right? Let's pour ourselves a fresh glass - soy, if you please - and get cracking on all the books that are fit to read for 2014, which stretches so nicely ahead of us.

2014 reads so far

The trio with which I've opened the year are three oh-so-very different books.

The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James
I've gone on a bit of a Henry James tear of late, not for any real reason other than that I had a collection of his novellas sitting around. I believe I got this packed-to-the-gills edition while I was at USC, but I also believe that I blew off some of my Henry James reading back in the American Lit major day, because I don't recall a thing.  Or is he just that unmemorable? The latter may be all too true. After mildly enjoying a few of the novellas/short stories (espcially "The Aspern Papers") (but that really is a short story, wouldn't you say? I think only Beast and The Turn of the Screw seem long enough to be novellas) I read this Beast last and thought it the most overrated of all. I've been hearing all my life about the homosexual subtext of this thought-provoking masterpiece and I've gotta say, I just didn't see it (neither the homosexuality, nor the provoked thoughts, nor the masterpiece). What on Earth happened between Archer (was that his name? I've already forgotten) and May Bartram?  Oh wait, Marcher. I knew Archer didn't sound right. Well anyway, what was that all about? These two might have the weirdest unconsummated relationship in all of literature, or maybe the weirdest of any relationship. Apparently Mr. James was trying to grapple with/tell us about fate and loneliness. So he has this guy who's convinced something big is going to happen to him and blah blah blah, but how does he get HER to join in with him waiting for this stupid fate? Why can't she wait for her own fate? This book blows me away by how unrealistic it is. Who lives like this? Literary realism, my foot. Anyway, it's over quickly enough, at least.

The Philosophy of Aristotle
Meanwhile, my philosophers project still hasn't really got off the ground, so I've decided to reframe it. I was going to read one philosopher per month each month of 2013, but instead all I did was read a bit about Thales online, then read The Dialogues of Plato (for Socrates) and Republic (for Plato) and then, wouldja look at that, 2013 was over. SO: we'll just say that doing the ancient Greeks was priming the pump, and now that I've done those guys AND Aristotle -- whom, surprise, surprise, I relate to the most (minus the misogyny) -- I will jump into a year of reading 12 philosophers, one per month, as soon as I'm ready to commence that project, which I think will be later this summer. (Because: so many other reading projects to get caught up with in the meantime.) I have to say that reading some of ol' Aristotle's Metaphysics and Logic can be tedious, but Poetics cheered me right up. And really, the guy was a genius. Except for the whole slavery and sexism, ugh, WHY?

212 by Alafair Burke
Aaaaand, a mystery. Mostly because I didn't read my yearly Alafair Burke in 2013 (I didn't set out to make it a yearly tradition, but the last three years living abroad in three different places, I've acquired three of her books on my Kindle for PC (because I have YET to see her paperbacks on sale in any bookstores in Asia; what gives?) and happened to electronically read one in each ESL-teaching-abroad apartment...and though I didn't get to one in China in 2013, everybody knows that even though it was January 2014 it wasn't the new Chinese year yet, so I was still safe. 212 is the third in her Ellie Hatcher series, the spunky Manhattan detective, and there's actually a fourth already out that I will get around to in some future summer. 212 came out a few years ago, I think while I was living in Chicago. As always, reading her books makes me miss living in New York City. This one was all right: interesting banter, really interesting characters (who make terrible choices) (yes, I am judging what some gals choose to do with their lives), and lots of different things going on.  However  SPOILER ALERT!!!   *spoiler spoiler go on to the next paragraph if you don't want a spoiler*  I think that what's-his-name the former cop should have been given more to do --perhaps more banter!--because he was kind of lurking in the background but he was so pivotal, helpful, and involved with different characters in different ways that it made it kind of obvious that he was the bad guy. However to my however, that didn't actually ruin the reading or anything because you still don't quite know how it all fit together. STILL SPOILERING HERE !!!! I also wasn't sure how I felt about the #ambiguousI'mnotambiguous climactic shooting. It was definitely "kind of shady, morality-wise," as Skinny Pete (or was it Badger?) would say. And finally, throughout the novel there are some paragraphs that pop up in which somebody talks too long, uninterrupted.  I often think about this myself, when writing dialogue.  You don't actually write dialogue exactly as people talk, obviously, but you can't cross the line into the place where it's JUST an explanation/rant/showing off of wisdom and no longer resembles real conversation flow. (Are you listening, William Styron in Set This House on Fire?) It might sound like I'm criticizing the book, but I actually just compared Alafair Burke to the great and mighty Styron, so there's that.

Is it interesting that I warned you away from the above paragraph if you don't want spoilers but feel under no obligation to do so, on this blog at least, for Henry James?  Hmmmm.

And now, you ask? Why, I'm reading a prez bio of course.  Stay tuned; in my next post we'll check in with the status of my bio-of-every-prez-to-see-where-we-went-wrong(a project obviously conceived and named during the Dubya "administration").

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