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steven03tx's 2011 reading log

Club Read 2011

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1StevenTX
Edited: Jul 13, 2011, 7:56am Top

Reading summary for 2011

Top 5 books
Germinal by Emile Zola
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas

Most unique book
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch by Ladislav Klima

Least favorite book
The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

Authors’ nationalities/ethnicities read

The Americas
American
Argentinian
Peruvian

Europe
Czech
English
French
German
Italian
Norwegian
Polish
Romanian
Russian
Scottish
Spanish

Africa
Egyptian
Libyan
South African
Sudanese

Asia and Oceania
Chinese
Iranian
Japanese

2StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:08pm Top

1. Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard
Finished 4 Jan 2011



First published 1984
Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Included in The Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950
A "Must Read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under War & Travel
"Most Recommended" in the Salon.com Reader's Guide
A "Read On" in Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for China

The story is familiar to many who haven't read the book thanks to the popular movie some years ago. Briefly it is an autobiographical novel about the author's experience as a boy living in Shanghai when the Japanese occupied it in 1941. Separated from his parents, he had to survive in an internment camp under increasingly harsh conditions until the end of the war in 1945.

The theme of the novel is how quickly this youth not only adapted to life in a concentration camp, but came to prefer it to an uncertain future. He identified himself with his role in the camp, and freedom had no appeal to him. This is remarkably similar to the depiction of life in a German labor camp by Imre Kertesz in his autobiographical novel Fatelessness. my review

Other books by J. G. Ballard I have read:
Crash
The Drowned World
The Atrocity Exhibition

3StevenTX
Edited: Mar 12, 2011, 11:51pm Top

2. Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz
Finished 10 Jan 2011



First published in Polish 1965
Translation by Eric Mosbacher from French and German translations published 1967
Listed in The Western Canon

This novel is a first-person narrative by a character named Witold who is obviously mentally unbalanced. He makes obsessive, repetitive and paranoid observations of petty details while becoming increasingly infatuated with his landlord's daughter.

Stylistically Cosmos reminds me very much of the nouveau roman works of such authors as Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, though it may not belong technically in that movement. I took this novel to be a dark satire on metaphysical systems in general, but others may have a more serious interpretation. my review

4StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:06pm Top

3. The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa
Finished 11 Jan 2011



First published in Spanish 1962 as La ciudad y los perros
Faber and Faber edition does not identify the translator
The author is a Nobel Laureate
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Modern Fiction
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition

I'm trying to read one Vargas Llosa book per month in honor of his Nobel Prize. Last month I read his collection of stories The Cubs and Other Stories. Previous to that, the only book of his I had read was Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

This was MVL's first novel. It is based on his own experiences as a cadet in a Peruvian military academy and was very controversial because of the brutality, wanton behavior and corruption he depicted.

The narrative shifts from third to first person throughout the novel, and the first person speaker is not always the same person. Moreover, the author deliberately disguises the identity of the speaker in some cases. I didn't care a lot for this aspect of the novel, as it detracts from the story that's being told. my review

5StevenTX
Edited: Mar 12, 2011, 11:52pm Top

4. Pornografia by Witold Gombrowicz
Finished 12 Jan 2011



First published in Polish 1960
Translation by Alastair Hamilton from a French translation published 1966
Listed in The Western Canon
A "Read On" in Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Poland

Despite the title, there is nothing in the least pornographic or erotic about this novel except in the very broadest sense--a sense which the author more or less defines in the novel.

During World War II in occupied Poland two intellectuals leave Warsaw to spend some time at the country estate of a friend. There they become acquainted with a teenage boy and girl whom they try to bring together for their--the old voyeurs'--entertainment. They find, however, that by living vicariously through these young people, they have given Youth a confident authority over Old Age. This is the notion which the author defines as "pornographic," and it is something to think about in our increasingly youth-obsessed culture. my review

6StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:05pm Top

5. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Finished 13 Jan 2011



First published 1960
#1 in the Rabbit Angstrom Quartet
Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books under Cult Classics
Listed in Book-of-the-Month-Club's "Well-Stocked Bookcase"
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Listed in The Novel 100 in the Second 100
Included in The Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950
Included in The New Lifetime Reading Plan under Going Further
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Family & Self
"Most Influential" in The Reading List: Contemporary Fiction
A "Next Choice" in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100"
Included in Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under General United States

Rabbit, Run must've been a sensation in 1960. It pulls back the covers on the American Dream to show hopelessness and despair, and does so with graphic descriptions of sex, alcoholism and prostitution.

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom lives with his wife and son in a small town in Pennsylvania. Having been the star of his high school basketball team, Rabbit thought life would always be as he wanted it. Now he finds himself with a crappy job, a whining alcoholic wife, and no future. He runs away, or tries to...

Other books by John Updike I have read:
The Witches of Eastwick

7janepriceestrada
Jan 14, 2011, 6:29pm Top

Welcome to the group! Some interesting reading so far.

8baswood
Jan 14, 2011, 8:28pm Top

Hi Steven
I think the rabbit novels are great. They get better and better as you move through the original trilogy. Rabbit is Rich is just a brilliant novel. There is a fourth novel Rabbit at Rest which is a fitting end to the series. For me each book has a distinctive style which fits with the age of the Rabbit Angstrom character. The final book is very poignant with thoughts of what might have been.

I get the feeling that John Updike is not so well thought of as he once was, perhaps he is considered a little too male chauvinist these days.

9StevenTX
Jan 14, 2011, 11:01pm Top

In addition to Rabbit, Run, I've read The Witches of Eastwick by Updike. I certainly intend to read the rest of the Rabbit novels and more by him.

The combination of traditional Christian values and explicit sex in his writing is likely to put off a lot of people these days, and could certainly be considered chauvinistic. I haven't read enough by him to know if he is as misogynistic as Philip Roth, who still seems to enjoy a good reputation. Personally, I enjoy good writing no matter what beliefs or values may be motivating the author.

10StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:39am Top

6. The Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet
Finished 16 Jan 2011



First published in French 1923 as Le Diable Au Corps
Translation by A. M. Sheridan Smith first published 1968
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
A "Must Read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
A "Next Choice" in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels
A "Read On" in Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under Paris (although it isn't set in Paris!)

A passionate love between a teenage boy and a married woman in WWI France, described in a startlingly dispassionate and analytical tone. It is full of insight into the ways the brash youngster dominates and manipulates his older partner. my review

11StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:04pm Top

7. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Finished 20 Jan 2011



First published in Russian 1868
Translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Listed in The Western Canon
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Listed in The Novel 100 in the Second 100
A "Must Read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Nation
A "Next Choice" in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels
Included in 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
Included in A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books

Dostoevsky imagines what if a man were to come among us who was perfectly innocent and good, like Christ, only of mortal origin. I found this novel most notable for its insightful portraits of interesting and realistic characters. my review

Other books by Fyodor Dostoevsky I have read:
Crime and Punishment (twice)
The Brothers Karamazov
The Gambler
Notes from the Underground (in college)

12theaelizabet
Jan 21, 2011, 12:34pm Top

Nice review, Steven. I've just finished Brothers Karamazov, my first Dostoevsky. I plan on reading Crime and Punishment later this year.

13StevenTX
Jan 21, 2011, 12:47pm Top

Thanks. I would strongly encourage you to read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Crime and Punishment (I see you read their translation of the Brother Karamazov). I read C&P first in an unidentified translation in a bargain edition, and didn't care much for it. Then I read P&V's translation, and what a huge difference! The intensity was such that at times I was literally up on the edge of the seat with my heart pounding. Dostoevsky didn't compose this novel in the traditional sense, but dictated it in an obviously feverish state to a secretary (whom he later married). This intensity comes through clearly and powerfully in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Crime and Punishment. This is true to a lesser extent in their translation of The Idiot simply because the circumstances of his writing it were different.

14janepriceestrada
Jan 23, 2011, 11:33am Top

11 - Nice review. Like theaelizabet, I just finished up Brothers Karamazov and want to get to Crime and Punishment later this year. I also like that you include the lists section under each review. I'm fascinated by them.

15StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:38am Top

8. Solo by Rana Dasgupta
Finished 23 Jan 2011



First published in the U.K. 2009
Winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book
My copy was an advance reading copy for the U.S. edition through Early Reviewers

This is a remarkable novel that manages to be, at the same time, a gritty work of historical fiction and a bold and fanciful piece of experimental writing. To call a book "experimental" often implies that it is obscure, confusing and abstract, but Solo is none of these. This is my favorite book of the year to date. my review

16StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:38am Top

9. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Finished 24 Jan 2011



First published in Norwegian 1890 as Sult
First English translation 1899
This translation by Sverre Lyngstad 1996
The author is a Nobel Laureate
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books under Cult Classics
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Modern Fiction
Listed in The Western Canon
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Ranked 46th in The Novel 100
A "Must Read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Self & Family
A "Next Choice" in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels
Included in A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books

Not the social commentary you would expect from the title, but a grim psychological study--written from the author's own experiences--of a man who all but starves himself into delirium and insanity through pride and stubbornness. my review

17baswood
Jan 24, 2011, 6:48pm Top

Enjoyed your reviews #15 and #16
A friend at work gave me Hunger, knut Hamsun for my birthday one year. She said it was a book that was really important for her. I have never read it and when ever I see it mentioned I feel very guilty and tell myself I will read that book. I will read it this year.

18StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:38am Top

10. Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb
Finished 25 Jan 2011



First published in French 1999 as Stupeur et tremblement
Translation by Adriana Hunter 2001
Included on 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
A "Read On" in Bloomsbury Guide to World Fiction under Japan

A satirical and unflattering look at life in a Japanese corporation through the eyes of a young Belgian employee. There are many parallel's between her experience in a modern Japanese company and J. G. Ballard's experiences in a Japanese internment camp in World War II in Empire of the Sun (see Msg. 2 above). my review

19kidzdoc
Jan 30, 2011, 10:59am Top

I've completely missed your thread, but I've starred it now! I'll read Empire of the Sun, Hunger and probably The Idiot later this year. I enjoyed The Time of the Hero and Solo, and I'll read Dasgupta's debut novel Tokyo Cancelled soon. Fear and Trembling sounds interesting, and her debut novel Hygiène de l'assassin (Hygiene and the Assassin) was listed as a finalist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction, so I may read that soon.

20StevenTX
Jan 31, 2011, 9:59am Top

Kidzdoc, I found and starred your thread as well. Our 11 in 11 plans are somewhat similar, being based largely on lists and awards. I intend to read more by Mario Vargas Llosa this year--at a minimum The War of the End of the World and The Bad Girl. Also two by Jose Saramago: The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and The History of the Siege of Lisbon.

21StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:37am Top

11. The Maimed by Hermann Ungar
Finished 31 Jan 2011



First published in German 1923
Translation by Kevin Blahut 2002

A dark, surreal and twisted psychological drama about characters who are maimed both physically and mentally. my review

22StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:37am Top

12. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Finished 2 Feb 2011



First published 1936
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Included in the Book-of-the-Month Club's "Well-Stocked Bookcase"
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Ranked 100th in The Novel 100 by Daniel S. Burt
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Love
One of the New York Public Library's "Books of the Century"
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100"

This is an outstanding and entertaining work of historical fiction as well as an insightful study of a woman's evolving character under the stress of tragic events. However, I found the author's reactionary observations on race and social class to be both simplistic and distasteful. my review

23dchaikin
Feb 3, 2011, 1:44pm Top

I'm just now catching your thread for the first. Wonderful stuff here, both your selection of books and your reviews. Your review of Hunger will stick with me. I look forward to follow along (assuming I can keep up...these are 12 rather heavy books you read in ~33 days!)

24StevenTX
Feb 3, 2011, 1:58pm Top

I was just hoping no one would notice how skinny some of them were :)

25StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:02pm Top

13. Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
Finished 5 Feb 2011



First published 1843 as Illusions Perdues
Translation by Kathleen Raine published 1951
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Featured in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels

Two idealistic and ambitious young men are fated to learn a bitter lesson in the harsh realities of life in the 1820s. Balzac's observations on love, greed and ambition are accompanied by his exposé of the practices of journalism and the publishing industry of his time.

All of the novels in Balzac's Comédie humaine are interrelated, but A Harlot High and Low is almost a direct sequel to Lost Illusions, so I will be reading it soon.

(Incidentally, I find it annoying that publishers put so little thought into the artwork used for the covers of their publications. The painting used on the cover of the Modern Library edition I read, and which you see pictured here, is of a scene at least 70 years later than the setting of the novel. As fashion goes--and fashion plays a big part in the story--this is equivalent to illustrating a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel with people in mini-skirts and bell-bottom jeans.) my review

Other books by Honoré de Balzac I have read:
Old Goriot

26baswood
Feb 6, 2011, 1:54pm Top

#25
Good review Steven. I have not read any Balzac, perhaps I should as I live in France. Your review has spurred me on to read the Comedie humaine. I think I will read it in translation though, as it would take me a long time to read in french

27StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:01pm Top

14. A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
Finished 7 Feb 2011



First published 1961
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Included in The New Lifetime Reading Plan under Going Further

A delightful somewhat satirical, somewhat psychological look at a man's topsy-turvy love life in 1960s London. my review

Other books by Iris Murdoch I have read:
Under the Net

28StevenTX
Edited: Mar 17, 2011, 9:36am Top

15. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Finished 11 Feb 2011



First published 1984
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books under Cult Classics
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
A "Must Read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Science Fiction and Fantasy

Brutal violence, black humor, and perhaps a political message in this story of a disturbed Scottish youth. my review

29arubabookwoman
Feb 14, 2011, 10:41pm Top

I'm really enjoying your reviews and book choices. BTW, your library is the one that LT lists first as similar to mine.

30StevenTX
Feb 17, 2011, 1:34am Top

#29> I've been following your readings as well, and have put some books on my wishlist after reading your description. We also seem to be equally far into the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

31StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 9:00pm Top

16. The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
Finished 14 Feb 2011



First published 1978
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books under Cult Classics
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Included in The Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950
A Must Read in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
"Recommended" in The Salon.com Reader's Guide

Four siblings explore their sexuality without adult direction or interference after the death of their parents. my review

Other books by Ian McEwan I have read:
Atonement
The Comfort of Strangers
Saturday

32StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 8:59pm Top

17. Dusklands by J. M. Coetzee
Finished 24 Feb 2011



First published 1974
The author is a Nobel Laureate
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions

Two separate narratives use mythological ideas to link the American war in Vietnam and the Dutch oppression of South Africa's native populations. my review

Other books by J. M. Coetzee I have read:
Disgrace
Waiting for the Barbarians
The Master of Petersburg

33baswood
Feb 24, 2011, 7:36pm Top

I enjoyed your reviews of The cement Garden and Dusklands. I read The Cement Garden ages ago and remember being impressed by it. Dusklands sounds like a definite must read for me

34kidzdoc
Feb 25, 2011, 9:44am Top

Nice reviews of The Cement Garden, which I also "enjoyed" (doesn't seem like the right word), and Dusklands, which I may re-read later this year.

35dchaikin
Feb 25, 2011, 10:05am Top

Steven - I've added Dusklands to my wishlist based on your review.

36StevenTX
Feb 25, 2011, 11:08am Top

Thanks to all of you for the feedback! At times I start thinking these reviews and postings aren't worth the effort, and I almost didn't bother to write the review on Dusklands, but when I saw there was only one other posted review for the book I changed my mind. It's very encouraging to know that others find them useful.

37bragan
Feb 25, 2011, 11:12am Top

I also added The Cement Garden to my wishlist thanks to your review, so, yes, they do have an effect!

38StevenTX
Feb 26, 2011, 10:16am Top

18. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
Finished 25 Feb 2011



First published 2006
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
A "Read On" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for North Africa

A nine-year-old boy narrates this story focusing on family relationships under a police state in Gaddafi's Libya. my review

39baswood
Feb 26, 2011, 10:41am Top

Good review of In the Country of Men and you answered the question I had when I first started reading your review as to how relevant it was to current events.

I have just read room which as you probably know is written from a 5 year olds perspective and that for me made the novel only partially successful, because there is so much that cannot be revealed in a 5year olds narrative. I lent room to a friend who immediately e mailed me back to say that she thought the book was exploitative. her comment was Grrrrr.... Sorry for rambling on about another book on your thread

40dchaikin
Feb 26, 2011, 11:51am Top

#38 - I read this a few years ago. I think I appreciated it at the time, but didn't exactly enjoy reading it because it was slow. Anyway, I still think about it. Enjoyed and got something new out of your review.

41StevenTX
Feb 26, 2011, 3:41pm Top

#39 - Room is on my wishlist simply based on the recognition it has received, but I'll wait until I can grab it cheap at the used book store. It sounds like a good book for a reading group.

42StevenTX
Mar 1, 2011, 1:44pm Top

19. The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch by Ladislav Klima
Finished 1 Mar 2011



First published posthumously 1928
Translation by Carleton Bulkin published 2000

A German nobleman records his own descent into madness as he is beset by hallucinatory visitations by his estranged wife Helga, a violent and uninhibited woman attempting to transform herself into a Nietzschean Übermensch. my review

43dchaikin
Mar 1, 2011, 2:26pm Top

#42 - sounds very strange.

44StevenTX
Edited: Mar 1, 2011, 3:27pm Top

The author was no less unconventional than his work. Here are some excerpts from "My Autobiography," an essay by Ladislav Klima:

"As a child I hated everyone, every caress made me want to vomit; this idiosyncrasy was especially developed toward all men. It was based on an inborn contempt."

"That herd-like idiocy called school robbed me of at least 30% of my mental powers."

"...I got into the habit of smoking. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't be alive today."

At age 32 upon renouncing even the pretense of practical employment: "I found and took possession of my Deoessence. Anyone who thinks it possible in this state to devote even five minutes to practical hogwash has no idea what higher spiritual life is."

"I would lie {naked} in the snow many hours numb and in convulsions.... I descended, mainly physically, as low as I ever had till then. Alcohol saved me, rum and undiluted spirits. To this day I've remained faithful to my rescuers."

"Cooking is just a waste of time, deprives food of certain 'vitaminious' components.... For some time I've eaten only: raw flour,... raw meat, raw eggs, milk, lemon, and raw vegetables."

"it may be observed here that mankind is made up, on the whole, of total milksops"

"I am no misanthrope--quite the opposite, I'm fond of people in a special way--as I like lice."

"I didn't have time for {sex}. Otherwise, I've consistently given any woman I've met a little pat {on the ass} without ever getting slapped by a one of them or by any husband who happened to notice. I don't even do this because it's pleasant, but because I consider it a matter of good manners and etiquette."

(I had to use curly brackets inside the quotes because square brackets turn into inappropriate touchstones.)

45dchaikin
Mar 1, 2011, 5:09pm Top

ok, that's even more strange, and fascinating. Thanks for posting those excerpts. Was the book enjoyable to read?

46baswood
Mar 1, 2011, 7:36pm Top

#44
Was the guy for real! I note that his autobiography was probably published in the 1920's. I love the idea of giving any women he met a little pat on the ass. I'm not sure he would get away with that today.

47StevenTX
Mar 1, 2011, 8:43pm Top



Yes, The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch was fun to read--not as gripping as a true horror story or as thoughtful as a "novel of ideas," but something of a blend of the two. The satirical parts were rather silly and juvenile, I thought, so I was glad to get past the Prince's adventures with Kaiser Willy. I can't say too much more about it without giving away the plot.

Friedrich Nietzsche had a considerable influence on many writers, and this novel convinced me I need to read some of his writings, so I've put The Portable Nietzsche on my wishlist.

Regarding Klima himself, I think in some ways that in times past, when the social code was much stricter than it is now, people were paradoxically more tolerant of eccentrics. Of course what he tells us about his past is what he wants us to think, not necessarily what was true. The "Autobiography" was written February 1924. He claimed in it to have scarcely been sick a day in his life, but four years later he died from tuberculosis at age 49.

48StevenTX
Mar 1, 2011, 8:58pm Top

20. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Finished 1 Mar 2011



First published 1918
Listed in The Western Canon
Ranked 59th in The Novel 100
Included in The New Lifetime Reading Plan under "Going Further"
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under "Love" (I would have put it under "Nation")
Included in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels under "Place"
A "Read On" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under "Midwest/Great Lakes"

A beautiful and wistful rendition of a man's memories of life in Nebraska during the waning days of the frontier and of the vibrant and vulnerable young immigrant woman, Ántonia, who was his friend. (no review since there are so many good ones already)

Other books by Willa Cather I have read:
Death Comes for the Archbishop

49StevenTX
Edited: Mar 6, 2011, 11:45pm Top

21. The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Finished 3 Mar 2011



First published 1981 in Spanish as La Guerra del fin del mundo
Translation by Helen R. Lane 1984
Author is a Nobel Laureate
Listed in The Western Canon
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 edition
Designated "Most Influential" in The Reading List: Contemporary Fiction
A "Read On" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction

A magnificent and thoughtful historical epic depicting the revolt and suppression of a utopian religious movement in Brazil in the 1890s. my review

Other books by Mario Vargas Llosa I have read:
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
The Time of the Hero
The Cubs and Other Stories

50deebee1
Mar 4, 2011, 3:58am Top

If you're interested in reading an account of the actual events on which Vargas Llosa based his story, you might want to check out Euclides da Cunha's Rebellion in the Backlands.

51baswood
Mar 4, 2011, 4:46am Top

Enjoyed your review of The war of the end of the world, Mario Vargas Llosa and a great cover picture as well. Deebee's recommendation also looks interesting. Another couple of books on the "To Buy" list

52StevenTX
Mar 6, 2011, 11:44pm Top

22. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Finished 6 Mar 2011



First published in 1940
Listed in The Western Canon
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100 Novels"
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Self & Family
A "Read On" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under Mexico

Moral and spiritual dilemmas are explored in this novel about an outlawed priest on the run in Mexico in the 1930s. my review

Other books by Graham Greene I have read:
Brighton Rock
The Heart of the Matter

53dchaikin
Mar 7, 2011, 8:46am Top

Steven - more great reviews. I would like to read something by MVL list year. I'll keep The War of the End of the World as it sounds fascinating.

54kidzdoc
Mar 7, 2011, 6:03pm Top

This thread is becoming a menace to my already out of control wish list. I think I'll just add everything you've read and liked that I don't already own to the pile, starting with The Power and the Glory, after your enticing review. I'll look for this and The Comedians in the near future.

55baswood
Mar 7, 2011, 8:13pm Top

Good review of The power and the glory. What a superb writer Greene was. I have rediscovered him again recently after reading Monsignor quixote. I am currently reading The comedians an old tattered penguin paperback from 1967 which is falling apart as I read and then a bit later in the month I have got The confidential agent to read. I am wondering if I can read all his novels this year.

56StevenTX
Mar 7, 2011, 9:02pm Top

#54-55: Of the works by Graham Greene that I have read, I actually liked The Heart of the Matter somewhat more than The Power and the Glory. Both are stories about Catholic men making life-changing moral decisions. The Heart of the Matter is about a man struggling to decide the right choice between the conflicting claims of duty, church, love and conscience. The Power and the Glory has a more interesting setting, but I found the protagonist's situation less intriguing. You can't go wrong with either one, however.

I have several other of Greene's books at hand, but I don't know which one I might read next or when.

57janepriceestrada
Mar 12, 2011, 10:28am Top

48 - Catching up, but glad you enjoyed My Antonia. I read it last year and it's one of my favorites.

49 - Great reivew. I added it to the wishlist.

58StevenTX
Edited: Mar 12, 2011, 11:50pm Top

23. Tlooth by Harry Mathews
Finished 13 Mar 2011



First published in 1966
Included in Larry McCaffery's "20th Century's Greatest Hits"

On returning from the dentist weighted down with bad news, I set aside other reading to pick up what I had the impression--from who knows where--was a satire of dentistry. That was a mostly incorrect assumption, and what I found instead was a bold, wacky, nonsensical novel that was all about the assumptions we make based on incomplete information and our own expectations. my review

Other books by Harry Mathews I have read:
Singular Pleasures

59baswood
Mar 13, 2011, 1:53pm Top

I had not heard of Tlooth before your review. Might check it out.

60anthonywillard
Mar 14, 2011, 7:32pm Top

Graham Greene has a way of plumbing the depths of both evil and good in unexpected places. In The Power and the Glory the Catholic Church is not 100% exploitative nor is the Mexican government completely pure and beneficent. Both are composed of individual Mexican people. The evil and the good are found in the hearts and actions of individuals, of every individual, and their working out is mysterious, unpredictable. Is it divine grace, or is it blind determinism, or even a kind of survival of the fittest? Greene explores these questions as deeply as the great 19th century Russians, and leaves the answer (or the lingering question) to the reader.

61anthonywillard
Edited: Mar 14, 2011, 7:42pm Top

BTW, in The Lawless Roads, Greene recounts his travels in Tabasco and Chiapas that gave him the background and some of the characters for The Power and the Glory. It is a fascinating backstory, and Greene's travel writing is as good as his fiction. He sometimes combined the two, as in the comic Travels With My Aunt.

62StevenTX
Mar 14, 2011, 8:47pm Top

60 & 61> Thank you for the insight. I have a number of other works by Greene waiting on the shelf, including some of his travel writings.

Incidentally, I visited both Tabasco and Chiapas about 15 years ago. Their relative economic conditions were the reverse of those at the time of Greene's writing. Tabasco was enjoying relative prosperity from offshore oil, while Chiapas was the site of an ongoing revolt, albeit a mostly non-violent one, by the Zapatistas.

63StevenTX
Mar 14, 2011, 9:03pm Top

24. Rabbit Redux by John Updike
Finished 14 Mar 2011



First published 1971
#2 in the Rabbit Angstrom Quartet
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Included in The Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950
Included in The New Lifetime Reading Plan under Going Further
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Family & Self
"Recommended" in The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
Included in Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under General United States

The saga of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom continues after a ten-year hiatus. Entering middle age, Rabbit is content to let his personal life rock along while he worries about what's happening to his country: anti-war protests, race riots, drugs, hippies. But all of these worries are about to come literally into his living room when the shaky foundations of his marriage start to collapse.

Gritty and graphic like Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux is less about Rabbit's inner spiritual life and more about his family and social relationships and how they reflect the turmoils of the larger world.

Other books by John Updike I have read:
The Witches of Eastwick
Rabbit, Run

64anthonywillard
Mar 14, 2011, 10:17pm Top

Well you've inspired me to catch up the Greenes I haven't read yet.

65StevenTX
Mar 17, 2011, 9:35am Top

25. Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson
Finished 16 Mar 2011



First published 1988
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Included in "St Mark's Additional 100 Best English Language Novels of the Twentieth Century"

A remarkable work of experimental fiction that both explores and demonstrates key ideas and traditions in philosophy and the arts while being, at the same time, easy and fun to read. my review

Other books by David Markson I have read:
This Is Not a Novel
Vanishing Point

66anthonywillard
Mar 17, 2011, 11:46am Top

Tempting. I like reading things about Wittgenstein, or referring to Wittgenstein. I do not like reading Wittgenstein.

67StevenTX
Edited: Apr 18, 2011, 12:38am Top

26. The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber
Finished 19 Mar 2011



First published 1950
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions

A dark and surreal fairy tale I probably wouldn't have read except to cross it off the "1001 Books" list. I'll pass it on to my granddaughter. my review

68StevenTX
Edited: Apr 18, 2011, 12:05am Top

27. Thongs by Alexander Trocchi
Finished 20 Mar 2011



First published 1955
Rowan Somerville ranks this #7 for "Good Sex in Fiction" in the Guardian Top 10s (Lolita is #1, in case you're wondering)

I found this when looking for another work of Trocchi's (Young Adam) considered a "cult classic." It has the feeling of a work that was started with good intentions, but hastily finished off by an author in need of cash. my review

69StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 12:14am Top

28. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
Finished 22 Mar 2011



First published 1969
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Included in 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 by Anthony Burgess
A "Must Read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Love
One of Larry McCaffrey's "10th Century's Greatest Hits"
Included in the Rough Guide to Classic Novels under Love, Romance and Sex
"Most Recommended" in the Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100" Novels
A "Read-On" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for South-West England

A superb metafictional study of the Victorian mind, and a captivating rendition of a Victorian love story as well. my review

Other books by John Fowles I have read:
The Magus

70StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 12:28am Top

29-35. The Chronicles of Narnia (7 volumes) by C. S. Lewis
Finished 27-31 Mar 2011



First published 1950-1956
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is...
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books under Young Cult
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Children's
Included in The New York Public Library's Books of the Century
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100" Novels
The entire Narnia series is...
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Science Fiction & Fantasy

After reading The Thirteen Clocks I realized it was time for me to read the rest of the juvenile literature I had accumulated so I could pass those books down to my granddaughter as well. I knew this was considered "Christian fantasy," but the Biblical allegory dominated the story more than I expected. my review

71StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 12:36am Top

36. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
Finished 31 Mar 2011



First published 1952
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Children's
Included in The New York Public Library's Books of the Century
One of Robert McCrum's "100 Greatest Novels of All Time" from The Observer
One of Dick Meyer's "100 Greatest English-language Novels Written After 1900" from NPR

Another book to pass on to my granddaughter, and this one is every bit as good as its reputation. my review

72StevenTX
Edited: Apr 18, 2011, 1:13am Top

37. The Story of the Stone (Dream of Red Mansions) by Cao Xueqin
Volume 1: The Golden Days

Finished 5 Apr 2011



First published in Chinese mid-18th century
English translation by David Hawkes 1973
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition
Ranked #50 in The Novel 100
Included in Clifton Fadiman's New Lifetime Reading Plan
Included in Philip Ward's A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books

This is the first of 5 volumes. Though each volume has its own title, it is really one continuous story, so I won't do a full review until the end. The novel depicts, in an often playful and light-hearted manner, life in an aristocratic household during the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century. The principal character is Jia Bao-yu, a privileged, good-natured but irresponsible youth of 13. Oh, to be Bao-yu! Waited upon by swarms of lovely teenage maids who satisfy his every need, fawned over by his female elders, and fought over by his two beautiful cousins. Life should be so good! We'll see, however, what happens to him in the next volume.

73StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 1:25am Top

38. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
Finished 10 Apr 2011



First published in Arabic in 1966
English translation by Denys Johnson-Davies 1969, corrected 1976
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition
Listed in the Guardian's "100 Meaningful Books"
One of the New York Public Library's Books of the Century
A "Key Work" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for East Africa

A beautifully written (and translated) but pessimistic story showing that the ties that bind us to our cultural roots are stronger than we think, and that attempting to transcend them can lead to tragedy. Though this is perhaps the most important work of Sudanese fiction, it doesn't really bear on the internal divisions of today's Sudan, but rather addresses the interaction of Sudanese and English. my review

74Rise
Apr 18, 2011, 7:29am Top

> 72 (The Story of the Stone)

I have the just the 1st volume on my shelf too. Is the story not self-contained? I wonder why it's divided into 5 parts. There's an alternative translation called Dream of the Red Chamber that was 4 parts, I think, and also an omnibus.

75baswood
Apr 18, 2011, 10:07am Top

Excellent review of French Lieutenant's woman. I have added Seasons of Migration to the North to my to buy list.

76StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 10:12am Top

#74: According to the translator's introduction, Cao Xueqin died in 1763 leaving 80 chapters in manuscript of what was to have been a 120-chapter novel. His family circulated copies of the novel, and eventually several versions appear in publication, some with the additional 40 chapters provided by another author. The authenticity of these versions is still a matter of much dispute, as the original manuscript has never been conclusively identified.

The Penguin edition is mostly based on a 120-chapter version published in 1792 by Gao E, with the final 40 chapters having been provided by an anonymous author who is now believed to have been a member of Cao's family. The four-volume editions are probably just the 80 original chapters. There are also some one-volume abridged editions.

The framing narrative in Chapter 1 of the novel itself suggests five possible titles for the work, including "The Story of the Stone" and "Dream of the Red Chamber." The latter title is also translated as "A Dream of Red Mansions." There is no "definitive" title just as there is no definitive version.

The division of the novel into volumes is apparently a decision of the publisher. Each chapter of the work ends with some sort of cliffhanger, and the final chapter of Volume 1 is no exception, ending: "As Dai-yu continued weeping there alone, the courtyard door suddenly opened with a loud creak and someone came out." The novel is structured much like a Dickens novel with each chapter being both self-contained and anticipating the next as though it were meant to be published in installments. I find reading a chapter every couple of days to be a satisfactory pace. I am now well into the second volume.

77StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 10:18am Top

39. Eromenos by Melanie McDonald
Finished 12 Apr 2011




Published 2011, an Early Reviewer selection

An historical novel telling the story of Antinous, the lover and companion of the Roman emperor Hadrian. my review

78StevenTX
Edited: Apr 18, 2011, 10:34am Top

40. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Finished 15 Apr 2011



First published in Japanese 1987
English translation by Jay Rubin published 2000
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Love
A "Read on" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Tokyo
Listed in the English PEN's "Bigger Read"
A "Next choice" in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels

A beautiful and poignant love triangle set in Tokyo in 1969. my review

Other books by Haruki Murakami I have read:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
After the Quake
Kafka on the Shore

79StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 10:42am Top

41. The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
Finished 17 Apr 2011



First published in Persian 1937
English translation by D. P. Costello published 1957
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Modern Fiction
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition
A "Read on" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Iran
Included in A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books

A dark, drug-fueled multi-layered nightmare of sexual frustration, decay and death. my review

80StevenTX
Apr 18, 2011, 10:24pm Top

42. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
Finished 18 Apr 2011



Published 1800
Listed in The Western Canon
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Nation
Included in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels under Families

A gentle satire of Irish ways and speech in the form of a family saga narrated by an old servant. my review

81Rise
Apr 19, 2011, 9:04am Top

> 76: Thanks for the background. I would prefer to read the unabridged edition myself, notwithstanding the question of authorship.

82dchaikin
Apr 19, 2011, 1:16pm Top

Whoa...um, catching up. Great stuff here, that is a fantastic review of Fowles.

83Cait86
Apr 22, 2011, 11:26am Top

Well, now I need a copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman! If you are interested in more by Fowles, The Collector is brilliant, particularly if you are familiar with Shakespeare's The Tempest.

84StevenTX
Apr 25, 2011, 10:55am Top

43. Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
Finished 24 Apr 2011



Published 1993
English translation by Edith Grossman 1996
Author is a 2010 Nobel laureate in literature
A "Key Title" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Peru

A suspenseful novel where darkness and violence are contrasted with devotion and love. Also a great depiction of the complex human landscape of modern Peru. my review

Other books by Mario Vargas Llosa I have read:
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
The Time of the Hero
The Cubs and Other Stories
The War of the End of the World

85StevenTX
Apr 25, 2011, 10:58am Top

> 83: Thanks. I have The Collector and also A Maggot by Fowles and look forward to reading them both.

86dchaikin
Apr 25, 2011, 12:54pm Top

- 84 - Nice review, steven.

87StevenTX
Apr 25, 2011, 10:53pm Top

44. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Finished 25 Apr 2011



Published 2001
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books as a "Cult Classic"
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under "Modern Fiction"
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Nation
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100 Novels"
Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Award
Shortlisted for the National Book Critic's Circle Award for Fiction
Shortlisted for the PEN Faulkner Award
Shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

This is a great novel looking broadly at American life and narrowly at family relationships. Though sprinkled with humor throughout, its depiction of the anguish of aging hit so close to home that it was difficult at times to read. my review

88katiekrug
Apr 25, 2011, 11:07pm Top

Hi Steven - I recently discovered your thread and just wanted to say I am enjoying your excellent insights into some great books.

89dchaikin
Apr 25, 2011, 11:07pm Top

hmm.... I have never thought to read Franzen before.

90StevenTX
Apr 28, 2011, 11:01am Top

45. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
Finished 27 Apr 2011



First published 1975
Translated from Arabic 1983 by Sherif Hetata
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition
A "Key Work" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Egypt

A Cairo prostitute's life story reflects the deplorable status of Women in Egypt and elsewhere. A beautifully written but uncompromising exhortation. my review

91StevenTX
Apr 28, 2011, 5:51pm Top

46. The Third Man by Graham Greene
Finished 28 Apr 2011



First published in novel form 1950
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 edition
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Crime
A "Read-on" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Austria

As a film script that grew into a novel, this thriller isn't as deep or complex as the other novels of Greene I have read, but it is an entertaining story with some serious and satirical elements. my review

Other works by Graham Greene I have read:
Brighton Rock
The Power and the Glory
The Heart of the Matter

92rebeccanyc
Apr 29, 2011, 9:38am Top

Well, I've finally discovered your thread, and what a lot of fascinating reading you've been doing. I too am a Mario Vargas Llosa fan, so I'm glad to see someone else enjoying his work. Some of the eastern European novels you've read sound especially intriguing. I look forward to keeping up with your thread now that I've found it.

93StevenTX
May 2, 2011, 7:18pm Top

47. On the Heights of Despair by Emil Cioran
Finished 2 May 2011



First published 1934
Translated from the Romanian by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston 1992
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition

I don't have a strong background in philosophy and would not have read this book except that it was included in the "1001 Books." (Oddly so, as the list supposedly consists of novels.) But I found it a highly readable, colorful and interesting, if gloomy, set of very short essays. For what it reveals about the author's near-hysterical state of mind, it is perhaps better read as psychology than philosophy. my review

94StevenTX
Edited: May 3, 2011, 11:57pm Top

48. The Immoralist by André Gide
Finished 2 May 2011



First published 1902
Translation from the French by Richard Howard 1970
Author is a Nobel Laureate in Literature 1947
Listed in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 and 2010 editions
Included in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
Included in the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Family and Self

A near-death experience gives a young man a fresh and uninhibited outlook on life, including the acceptance of his homosexuality. my review

This is at least the third novel that I have read in recent weeks, without having planned it so, that reflects the philosophy of Nietzsche. (The others being The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch (see post #42) and On the Heights of Despair (above). I guess it's about time I read some of Nietzsche's own writings. Any suggestions on where to start?

(edited to fix Touchstones)

95dchaikin
May 4, 2011, 2:08pm Top

Steven - enjoying your reivews - so many important books I haven't even heard of. I wonder why The Third Man was on the 1001 list, sounds like a book to read only if you've already read a number of others from GG.

Good luck with Nietzsche.

96StevenTX
May 4, 2011, 3:55pm Top

#95> I wouldn't have put The Third Man on my 1001 list either. It was a good story, but not by any means one of Greene's "major" works. There are a lot of books on that list I wouldn't have picked. I think these surprises and inconsistencies, however, are what gives the list the appeal it has. Another list of well-known classics wouldn't attract much attention.

The two things I don't like about the 1001 list are (1) inclusion of books that are virtually unobtainable or have never been translated into English, and (2) too many books by the same author--Graham Greene being one example with eight books.

97baswood
May 4, 2011, 7:02pm Top

#96 Are you intending to get through all the books on 1001 list. A monumental task. It seems to provide plenty of variety in your reading and I suppose you are rarely disappointed. Enjoying your reviews.

98StevenTX
May 4, 2011, 11:22pm Top

#97 There have to date been three editions of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book, and there are actually, by my count, 1294 different books on the "1001 Books" list. It's unlikely anyone will ever read all 1294, since the editors have perversely included works available only in Dutch, Spanish, Korean and Ethiopic. But reading 1001 out of the 1294 is entirely doable, and that is my informal goal. So far I have read 420 of them.

I know that the list has no particular validity, but it is a handy tool for diversifying my reading, so I'll keep using it as long as I enjoy the results. I would guess that about half the books I read are from the list. Some of the other references and lists that I use in selecting my reading are cited in my log entries above.

99StevenTX
May 6, 2011, 1:04pm Top

49. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E. T. A. Hoffmann
Finished 6 May 2011



First published 1820 (unfinished)
Translated from the German by Anthea Bell 1999
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition

This is a delightful and inventive novel combining the literary inventiveness of Tristam Shandy with the social commentary of The Marriage of Figaro. It is a dual narrative, being the memoirs of the Tomcat Murr accidentally intermingled by the printer with fragments of a "biography" of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler. The author parodies the aristocracy, academia, and the stuffiness of authority in general. Both narrative lines are saturated with direct and indirect references to the works of Shakespeare, Rabelais, Rousseau, and many other authors less well-known today. If you like Sterne and Diderot, then Tomcat Murr will probably appeal to you.

100StevenTX
May 8, 2011, 10:17pm Top

50. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Finished 8 May 2011



Published 2005
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award
One of Time Magazine's "All Time 100" Novels
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 edition

A group of children are being raised and educated in the confinement of an English boarding school, unaware of their origins or their special destiny. What's so remarkable about this story is not the dystopian horror it reveals, but the placid, understated tone in which it is told. The novel reminded me of stories of the holocaust, simultaneously displaying our species's inhumanity and its heroic adaptability.

101StevenTX
May 10, 2011, 5:37pm Top

51. The Marquise of O-- and Other Stories by Heinrich von Kleist
Finished 10 May 2011



First published 1810-11
Translation from German by David Luke and Nigel Reeves 1978
Listed in The Western Canon
The story "Michael Kohlhaas" is included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition

The most remarkable thing about this collection of eight stories is the wide range of settings: 17th century Chile, contemporary Haiti, 15th century Germany, and more, all convincingly described. The plots are less original--lots of unlikely coincidences, mistaken identities, and tragic irony--but the storytelling helps make up for the triteness. my review

102StevenTX
May 12, 2011, 11:28am Top

52. Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet
(no touchstone yet)
Finished 11 May 2011



Early Reviewer selection
Published May 2011

Netsuke is about a psychoanalyst with a compulsion for extramarital sexual liaisons, especially with his clients. The principal theme is how he obsessively compartmentalizes his life, his surroundings, and his own personality. This is linked to the themes in Japanese art: his wife is a Japanese-American artist, and the title of the novel refers to Japanese miniature sculptures. Yet just as he builds walls of secrecy around his affairs, the unnamed subject imperils his own security with deliberately risky behavior.

There are strong similarities between Netsuke and American Psycho, only there is none of the latter's social commentary and graphic violence. Netsuke is strictly a psychological study of a disturbed psychoanalyst. It is a short but very thoughtful book that says something about the way we organize our lives in general, not just where sexual transgressions are involved. my review

Other books by Rikki Ducornet I have read:
Stain
Entering Fire
The Fountains of Neptune
The Jade Cabinet

103dchaikin
May 12, 2011, 1:00pm Top

I like that we get two reveiws of these books, the regular one and the concise one here in this thread. I haven't heard of Ducornet before, but she?/he? sounds like an author to check out.

104StevenTX
Edited: May 12, 2011, 1:57pm Top

#103> I didn't really start out to write a second, smaller review, but I'm still struggling with how best to handle reviews and the various group postings for the same book. I definitely need to work on being less formal in what I write here, but it's surprisingly hard to break the habits of 30 years of business writing.



I think I first heard of Rikki Ducornet when her Elements Tetralogy (the four titles listed above) were included in a list I saw on the web titled "Larry McCaffrey's 20th Century's Greatest Hits." She has also been shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her writings often involve magical realism and, as is the case with Netsuke, dark eroticism. There are frequent allusions to other works of literature and to the visual arts (she is also a painter). I was thrilled to see her name come up on the Early Reviewer list last month.

105dchaikin
May 12, 2011, 3:02pm Top

Steven - for what it's worth, I really like your reviews as they are. When I compare your first and later reviews I do sense an evolving style, perhaps less formal.

106StevenTX
May 12, 2011, 3:40pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

107stretch
May 12, 2011, 4:37pm Top

De-lurking for a moment to second Daniel's opinion. Your reviews here are excellent and cut to the heart of the matter, which is very much apperciated at least from me.

108baswood
May 12, 2011, 6:13pm Top

Good review of Netsuke and thanks for the information about the author. She seems to be a favourite of yours. I will definitely check her out.

109StevenTX
May 18, 2011, 10:12pm Top

53. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
Finished 17 May 2011



Published 2000
Translation from the Spanish by Edith Grossman published 2001
Author is a Nobel laureate
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
A "Read-On" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Haiti/Dominican Republic

This novel depicts the assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, its causes and aftermath, in such detail that I think the book could best be termed a "fictionalized micro-history." It is a tense and explicit story of political terror, but also a statement on the pervasive effects of any form of tyranny. my review

This is the fifth book I've read by Vargas Llosa in the last six months, and the sixth overall. I plan to continue reading his works through the rest of the year.

110StevenTX
May 18, 2011, 10:21pm Top

54. Collected Stories of Ivan Bunin
Finished 17 May 2011



The stories in this collection were originally published 1900-1944
Translation from the Russian by Graham Hettlinger 2002-2007
Author is a Nobel laureate
Listed in The Western Canon

This collection spans a career in which Bunin's style and subject matter evolved from the traditional to the very modern, and from the hopeful to the bleak. Very interesting reading. my review

111lilisin
May 18, 2011, 10:36pm Top

I'm disappointed that I've just now found this thread as you seem to have very similar reading tastes as mine. (to mine?) It's too much to catch up and comment on your older entries so I hope to be able to comment on those coming up.

112janepriceestrada
May 19, 2011, 4:12pm Top

109 - Nice review. I've added it to the wishlist. I'm thinking of doing a Latin American crop of reading this/next year.

113StevenTX
May 20, 2011, 12:50pm Top

55. L'Abbe C by Georges Bataille
Finished 19 May 2011



Published 1950
Translated from the French by Philip A. Facey 1983
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions

A prostitute sets out to seduce and corrupt her lover's twin brother, who is a priest. This idea is the vehicle for Bataille's ideas on the relationship between ecstasy, death, and God. my review

I was disappointed in L'Abbe C. It had neither the bold eroticism of Story of the Eye nor the fullness of plot, character and message in Blue of Noon.

114StevenTX
May 20, 2011, 12:57pm Top

56. Silk by Alessandro Baricco
Finished 19 May 2011



First published 1996
Translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman 1997
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
A "Read-On" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Japan

Barely a novella in length, this is nonetheless a beautiful and memorable story of forbidden love, the lure of the exotic and the power of the imagination. my review

115dchaikin
May 21, 2011, 4:30pm Top

Steven - catching-up again. I'm enjoying following your trip the Vargas Llosa books, and well all your reviews really. Hadn't heard of Bunin. I've read some reviews of Silk, but yours really makes me want to read it.

116lilisin
May 22, 2011, 4:24am Top

Silk is an amazing little book isn't it? I loved it when I first read it and couldn't help reading the final letter to my boyfriend of the time.

117StevenTX
Edited: Jun 30, 2011, 10:42am Top

57. Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
Finished 22 May 2011



First published 1981
Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
Winner of the National Book Critic's Circle Award
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
Included in The Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950
Included in The New Lifetime Reading Plan's "Going Further"
Included in The Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Family & Self
Listed as "most influential" by The Reading List: Contemporary Fiction
Listed as "most recommended" by The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors
A "key work" in the Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under General United States

Each of the novels so far in the one-book-a-decade Rabbit series has a different theme reflecting the phases in the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. In Rabbit, Run, set in 1959, he is a young man looking for his identity. A decade later, in Rabbit Redux he grapples with the social issues of the day: race relations, the Vietnam war, and the counterculture movement.

In 1979 in Rabbit Is Rich, Harry is concerned at first with material things--job, house, car, investments. But a series of family crises broadens his scope to his other "possessions": His child, his wife, and the other people he had let drop out of his life along the way.

The Rabbit series is remarkable because John Updike wrote each volume in real time, just as the background events he describes were still happening. The author no more knows than his characters how the Iranian hostage situation will play out, whether the U.S. will boycott the 1980 Olympics, or whether the economy will withstand paying $1.13 per gallon for gasoline. There's an immediacy and authenticity to these novels (written in present tense, by the way) that the voice of an all-knowing author can't convey.

Rabbit Is Rich garnered more recognition than any other volume in the series, sweeping the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award. But I would strongly advise against trying to read it out of sequence. There are countless references to people and issues from the earlier volumes, but no recap of events. Besides, I wouldn't say than any of the three volumes I've read so far is better than the others--the awards were probably given in recognition of the cumulative achievement.

Other books by John Updike I have read:
The Witches of Eastwick
Rabbit, Run
Rabbit Redux

118StevenTX
May 24, 2011, 11:50am Top

This has nothing to do with my 2011 reading, but I don't know of a better place to ask this question.

The books I've entered into LibraryThing are those I currently own, as well as anything I've read since 1999 when I began focusing on literary fiction. Most of the books I read prior to that date have long since been sold off or given away. They were mostly history and science fiction. I have hardcopy lists of them going back to 1978, and can remember many that I read before then.

Is there any value, do you think, to my adding those books to my LT database in the "read but unowned" category other than just creating a backup for my manual list? I know I can use collection properties to control whether they are considered in calculating recommendations. Is anyone likely to care that I read Watership Down in 1979 or Seven Pillars of Wisdom some time in the 1960s? What do the rest of you use as criteria for books you read sometime in the past but no longer own?

119rebeccanyc
May 24, 2011, 11:54am Top

I'm afraid I still own most of the books I've read in the past, so I can't really answer your question. Over the years, I have given some away, but they were mostly books that were "of the moment" and that I knew I'd never read again and didn't care about.

120baswood
May 24, 2011, 5:25pm Top

I think you can use librarything anyway you want and so if you want to make a list of all the books that you have read in the past then fine. I thought about doing that myself but then thought of all the listing I would have to do. I decided therefore to enter only those books that I have read within the last year or so; plus some books that I know so well that I could rate or recommend.

Horses for courses I think.

121stretch
May 24, 2011, 6:01pm Top

My Library only reflects the books I kept on my bookcase when I started college and have added to since then. I've only added the ones from the past that i could remeber fairly one or had some lasting impact and could rate. Even though I don't have the books I think it adds some value to reflect on past reading and see where it has lead to when I take the time to read through the collections, since I don't have a detailed list of reading before 2006 or so.

122StevenTX
Edited: Jun 30, 2011, 10:59am Top

58. His Dark Materials (trilogy) by Philip Pullman
Finished reading 24 May 2011



The Golden Compass published 1995, UK title "Northern Lights"
The Subtle Knife published 1997
The Amber Spyglass published 2000
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Children's Fiction (The Golden Compass)
Included in The Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Fantasy & Science Fiction
Shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award (The Amber Spyglass)

The three novels of His Dark Materials are one continuous story set in a universe of parallel worlds, one of which is the earth we know and in our own time. A pair of youngsters, Lyra and Will, coming from different words, each face a battle for survival against forces they don't understand. Later they come together in a quest that will decide the fate of the universe and all the myriad worlds it contains.

The force against which Lyra and Will are struggling is religion--not just the church, but the actual entity representing itself as the deity. His Dark Materials has been called the "anti-Narnia," and an atheist novel. If you read it literally, I think you would have to call it pantheistic. Instead of discrediting outright any notions of the supernatural, it re-imagines traditional concepts such as God, angels, and ghosts. But whether you take it literally or allegorically, the message is the same: Organized religion is an oppressive control structure, and rather than striving for some idea it teaches of an afterlife, we should work to make our mortal lives as long, peaceful, productive and loving as we can.

The worlds the author has concocted are varied and intriguing. Lyra's world is a close variant of our own, but where technologies and social developments have proceeded at different paces. Lyra's world has an England and, in it, an Oxford University, but it also has witches and a race of sentient bears. In another world, evolution has taken a radically different direction and produced intelligent wheeled quadrupeds who live in a symbiotic relationship with giant trees.

Compared with The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials is at a more advanced reading level, and it gets markedly more advanced as it goes. The first volume is relatively simple, with a single protagonist , Lyra, and one narrative thread. The second volume introduces parallel narrative threads, multiple worlds, and the second protagonist. The third and longest novel has many parallel event streams, chapter epigraphs, dream sequences, and many new abstract ideas. I'm not a particularly good judge of what children are able to read these days, but I would guess that only high-school age readers could fully appreciate the entire trilogy. In fact my only criticism of the series from an adult perspective is that in the final volume Pullman has too many balls in the air at one time, and drags out the development of the story with plot offshoots that are less necessary than they are confusing. Still, I found this to be an entertaining and moving reading experience.

123Jargoneer
May 25, 2011, 5:27am Top

I'm with Rebecca (#121) but there are a some books that I catalogue through 'Read But Not Owned' (i.e., library books) - it's really just a reminder to myself, to compensate for my increasing forgetfulness.

>122 StevenTX: - I have mixed feelings about Pullman's trilogy. I thought Northern Lights was an excellent first part but it deteriorated in subsequent books. It felt to me that Pullman used the later volumes to voice his own opinions, which seemed superimposed, rather than arising from, the story.

124baswood
May 25, 2011, 8:24am Top

#117 Rock on Rabbit

125StevenTX
Edited: Jun 30, 2011, 11:02am Top

59. In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa
Finished 25 May 2011



This author is a Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature

Quite a change from the other novels of Vargas Llosa I've been reading. The developing sexual relationship between a 40-year-old woman and her adolescent stepson is related as a series of dreams in which the dreamer projects himself or herself into the scene of a famous painting. "Art as voyeurism" might be a way of describing one of the themes of this novel. my review

Other books by Mario Vargas Llosa I have read:
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
The Cubs and Other Stories
The Time of the Hero
The War of the End of the World
Death in the Andes
The Feast of the Goat

126StevenTX
Edited: Jun 30, 2011, 11:08am Top

60. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Finished 28 May 2011



First published 1940 as La invencion de Morel
Translation from the Spanish by Ruth L. C. Simms 1964
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under Science Fiction
Listed as a "Read-on" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Argentina (oddly so, since this reference supposedly reflects the setting of the work, not the nationality of its author, and this novel never even mentions Argentina)

As is so often the case, I've read two seemingly dissimilar books in succession only to find that they have much in common. The Invention of Morel is a work which might be termed either science fiction or allegorical fantasy. As with In Praise of the Stepmother, it concerns a situation commingling reality and the visual arts, but I can't say more than that without giving away the story. my review

127StevenTX
Edited: Jun 8, 2011, 11:59pm Top

61. Germinal by Emile Zola



It's a shame that I waited so long to read this magnificent book. I knew to expect a story exposing the exploitation of the working class by the rich. I did not expect such a gripping and moving story of love, conflict and survival. It tells of life in the coal mines in northern France, and of conditions that led to a bitter labor dispute, a prolonged strike, and tragic violence. The first hundred pages or so relates a single day in the life of a typical mining family, and the revelations are absolutely stunning. Germinal is far and away the best book I've read this year. my review

(edited to add link to review)

128lilisin
Edited: Jun 1, 2011, 3:35am Top

I haven't heard of that Llosa. You describe the book but you don't mention whether you liked it.

Eta:Just reread your post where you say it is magnificent. Glad to know I can still read.

129baswood
Jun 1, 2011, 3:27am Top

Steven, Its a long time since I read Germinal But I remember it as a wonderful read that packs an emotional wallop. Zola does similar things with peasant farmers in La Terre, Zola (The Earth)

130rebeccanyc
Jun 1, 2011, 7:14am Top

That's a Vargas Llosa I haven't read yet (I thought I owned it, but LT tells me I don't), and I have The Invention of Morel but haven't read that yet either. Amazingly enough, I don't think I've ever read Zola!

131StevenTX
Jun 1, 2011, 9:38am Top

#128> The "magnificent" applied to Germinal, but I assume you were asking about In Praise of the Stepmother, right? Yes, I did enjoy it. It is quite original and thought provoking, and its lightheartedness is a nice break from his serious and tragic political works. Of course, one has to be restrained when one says exactly how much one enjoys a book labelled as "erotica." :) In general, though, I'm finding it increasingly difficult for some reason to write about what I've read, and almost abandoned this thread, but I was so moved by Germinal that I had to share my enthusiasm even if I can't express it very well.

#130> I've found it easy, for some reason, to confuse the titles In Praise of the Stepmother and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, so maybe that's what happened to you as well. There is a sequel to In Praise of the Stepmother titled The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto. I'm hoping to read that book this year as well, but my next MVL will be The Bad Girl, which is the June selection for my non-LT reading group.

#129 & 130> Last year at some point I jokingly told someone that the author he was referring to (Gertrude Stein, I believe) was on my "Zola list"--an imaginary listing of famous authors I had never read. Number 2 on that list was Andre Gide. Both are now off the list.

I suppose I put off reading Zola because I had in mind that his novels were just dreary, melodramatic and sentimental depictions of poverty and injustice. But Germinal, no less than having an important social message, has an edge-of-the-seat intensity and a breadth of observation that I wasn't expecting. It surprised me also with its sexual candor.

I saw an opera a few years ago based on Therese Raquin, so I'll probably make that the next Zola I read.

132rebeccanyc
Jun 1, 2011, 11:04am Top

Thanks for letting me know that The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is a sequel to In Praise of the Stepmother because I do have Rigoberto and I might have read it first without realizing it was a sequel.

133janepriceestrada
Jun 7, 2011, 10:28pm Top

127 - You've had a lot of good reading this year so I'm putting this on the wishlist. :)

134StevenTX
Jun 9, 2011, 8:07am Top

62. The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa
Pub. 2006, translation by Edith Grossman 2007.



The Bad Girl is a study of a lifetime relationship between two flawed and somewhat self-destructive personalities. Ricardo, the narrator and "good boy" of the story, is hopelessly in love with Lily, the "bad girl," no matter how much grief she causes him. And Lily is so obsessed with hiding the truth of her past as to deny herself a future. The story begins in Peru but takes place chiefly in Paris. Not one of MVL's more important novels, but still worth reading. my review

135rebeccanyc
Jun 9, 2011, 10:01am Top

Thanks -- that's on my MVL "to read" pile, and now I know to save it for a lighter moment.

136StevenTX
Jun 9, 2011, 10:50am Top

I had this nagging thought that I'd met the two characters from The Bad Girl not long ago, and I just realized where: in The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch by Ladislav Klima (see msg 42 above). In both cases the "bad girl" is a femme fatale with a lust for power but a secret erotic desire to be dominated and abused. The "good boy" is a man without ambitions or strong passions except for his one overpowering love for the woman who exploits and all but destroys him. A more classic but less similar literary example of such a relationship is Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. I'm sure there are many others.

137StevenTX
Jun 13, 2011, 5:33pm Top

63. The Ages of Lulu by Almudena Grandes



I'll admit that the cover picture had a lot to do with my buying this book, but it was somewhat disappointing. It is the story of a woman's sexual awakening set in parallel with Spain's emergence from Franco's dictatorship. Both the political and psychological aspects of the story were interesting, but not developed very fully. my review

138StevenTX
Jun 13, 2011, 5:45pm Top

64. Fruits of the Earth by Andre Gide
"Les nourritures terrestres" (Fruits of the Earth) pub. 1897
"Les nouvelles nourritures" (Later Fruits of the Earth) pub. 1935
Anonymous translation first published 1949



This philosophical work in two parts, written almost forty years apart, is a mixture of prose, poetry, travelogue, dialogue and memoir. The philosophy is simple: abandon the inhibitions and restrictions imposed by religion and custom, don't suffer in this life for the sake of an afterlife that may not exist, and get as much pleasure and experience as you can while helping others do the same. my review

Gide's novel The Immoralist has much the same narrative and content only in a fictionalized form. See msg. 94 above.

139baswood
Jun 13, 2011, 7:21pm Top

Steven, the book image you have shown for Fruits of the Earth looks like an old penguin edition? How refreshing to read an author whose philosophy does not change as he gets older.

140StevenTX
Jun 13, 2011, 9:04pm Top

Yes, it's a 1972 U.K. edition, priced 35p, that says "For copyright reasons this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A." I bought it a few months ago at my local used book store.

I agree that it was a pleasant surprise that after 38 years Gide does not in the least recant what he had written at age 28. He just elaborates on the religious and political ramifications of it.

My favorite quote among many, expressing feelings that I often have, is the following:

"Regret for the 'temporis acti' is the vainest occupation of the old man. I tell myself so, and yet I give way to it.... It is regret for the 'non acti' that torments me--for all that I might have done, that I ought to have done, in my youth, and was prevented by your code of morals--a code in which I no longer believe, though I believed it right to submit to it at a time when it was most irksome to me, so that I gave my pride the satisfaction I refused my flesh....

"What you called, what I too called 'temptations'--those are what I regret; and if today I repent, it is not for having yielded to some of them, but for having resisted so many others...

"I repent of having cast a gloom over my youth, of having preferred the imaginary to the real, of having turned aside from life."

141StevenTX
Jun 18, 2011, 10:12am Top

65. The Story of the Stone, Vol. 2: The Crab Flower Club by Cao Xueqin
(Also known as A Dream of Red Mansions)



The second volume of this 18th century Chinese classic depicts the pampered and idyllic life of the young members of the Jia family. By the end of the first volume, a huge walled garden, complete with lakes, a waterfall, a monastery a theater and various pavilions, had been constructed for the sole purpose of entertaining for a single day the daughter who had become an imperial concubine. In this volume, Bao-Yu and his cousins have been allowed to move into the various pavilions and set up their individual households.

Oh, to be Bao-Yu! Fifteen years old, with his own house and no duties or responsibilities whatsoever. He is waited upon day and night by a swarm of beautiful teenage maids who satisfy his every whim and desire. His equally beautiful teenage cousins and their swarms of maids compete for his attention, while his doting grandmother showers him with gifts of food, wines, luxurious clothing, and entertainments by the garden's all-girl theatrical troupe. When he chooses to experience the masculine side of life, Bao-Yu also has a stable of horses and squad of pages his own age who accompany him whenever he leaves the garden. The only personages to darken his existence are Bao-Yu's stern father and envious male cousin, but they make only brief appearances in the early chapters, leaving Bao-Yu awash in solicitous femininity the rest of the time.

Of course, after 500+ pages of this, one does begin to yearn for something to happen.

Nonetheless, this is an absorbing picture of the daily and increasingly decadent life of the Qing Dynasty aristocracy, with particular emphasis on its poetry. Curiously, other than two cases where the author uses the term "Manchu salute," there is no hint of the fact that the Jia family would have to have been Manchu, while their servants would have been Han Chinese.

142baswood
Jun 18, 2011, 6:14pm Top

Only three more in the series to go. perhaps something will happen in the remaining books.

Mind you if I was Bao-Yu I am not sure I would want anything else to happen.

143StevenTX
Jun 18, 2011, 9:01pm Top

66. The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams
Published 1974, winner of the National Book Award




Few winners of the National Book Award for Fiction are less well-known than Thomas Williams, but after reading The Hair of Harold Roux, I don't know why that should be the case. This autobiographical "novel within a novel" is both entertaining and thoughtful. Both the outer story of 1970s academia and the inner novel of 1940s student life reflect on love, friendship, fidelity and truth. The theme tying together the various nested stories is the way we mold and reinterpret our experiences and emotions into the stories we tell. my review

144baswood
Jun 19, 2011, 1:32pm Top

Well I have never heard of The Hair of Harold Roux. It sounds good.

145StevenTX
Jun 20, 2011, 9:40am Top

67. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe



The historical importance of this novel is well-known, and for about the first half of the book I was pleasantly surprised at its literary qualities as well. There were a mix of well-crafted characters showing many perspectives of the slavery issue. There was a surprising amount of humor as well, though much of it was derived from racial stereotyping.

Gradually, however, the novel becomes more of a sermon extolling Christian piety than a work of social reform. Stowe's depiction of slave owners as atheists ignores the realities of her day as well as the historical relationship between Christianity and slavery. The author weakens her own case for emancipation by showing us through the character of Uncle Tom that slavery is endurable through faith. She ends the novel with a pitch for the colonization of Africa by freed slaves, arguing indirectly that the white and black races should not be expected to live together.

146StevenTX
Jun 25, 2011, 10:20am Top

68. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville



This was quite a change of pace from Uncle Tom. As well-done as the plot and characters were in this novel, they pale in comparison to the setting. Miéville's city of New Crobuzon is both exotic and realistic, with its bizarre population of intelligent species (mostly based on mythological models) and its very believable squalor and decay.

Years ago I was an avid reader of science fiction, but have read very little since about 1985. If this novel (published in 2000) is typical of other recent work, it would appear that the traditional distinctions between science fiction and fantasy have blurred. Not surprisingly, it was an award winner in both categories.

147baswood
Jun 25, 2011, 12:28pm Top

Perdido Street Station restored my faith in science fiction as well. The scar is just as good.

148StevenTX
Jun 25, 2011, 5:48pm Top

Barry, what other recent science fiction would you recommend?

Other authors I haven't yet read but intend to: Gene Wolfe, Neal Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis.

149StevenTX
Jun 25, 2011, 6:01pm Top

69. Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette



Cheri is about a young man ("Cheri" is male--his real name is Frederic), the son of a Paris courtesan, whose mother has turned him over to her friend Lea for refinement. Lea is also a courtesan and 30 years older than Cheri, but the two have fallen in love. Now Cheri's mother has found a young bride for him.

In The Last of Cheri it is six years later and Cheri has returned from the trenches of World War I. He tries to settle in to married life, but finds that the world has changed too much for him.

What I found especially interesting about these two novels is the way the author uses two women, including their appearance, as symbols of two eras. Lea is symbolic of the luxurious, pampered past, while Cheri's bride is an active and assertive "new woman" of the 1920s. my review

150baswood
Jun 25, 2011, 7:01pm Top

The Cheri novels are high up in my TBR pile. I know I am going to enjoy them because Colette is such a good sensitive writer. Enjoyed your review.

151baswood
Jun 25, 2011, 8:15pm Top

#148 I am not that widely read in contemporary science fiction. Looking at your proposed list I have read some of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. I say some of because i got stuck halfway through the second book Green Mars. Robinson takes his world building very seriously at the expense of character development etc and I just got bored reading about all those different kinds of rocks. It is one of the few books I have given up on. many people on LT really love him. I will give him another chance one day as he writes well enough.

Connie Willis - I read her Doomsday book earlier this year and found it unconvincing in parts. It is supposed to be one of her best and I was impressed by her depiction of the 14th century (its a time travel novel) but I thought her ideas on the near future were laughable and she is not that great a writer.

Well that's two negatives. on a more positive note I can recommend Jeff Vandermeer: I enjoyed his Shriek and he wrtites inventively, crossing over into fantasy.

I like Christopher Priest. Very English, I enjoyed his The Extremes, Christopher Priest which takes virtual reality as its main subject.

For hard science fiction I would go for Alistair Reynolds. Redemption Ark which is the third book in a trilogy and is very good.

Dan Simmons - Hyperion or Illium are well written but avoid Carrion Comfort which is awful.

Finally there is of course David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas

I hope to read more SF this year if I can fit them in.

152labfs39
Jun 25, 2011, 9:23pm Top

I'm so glad you found me, because now I know to follow your thread. You are doing some amazing reading-I hope you do continue to write, as I find your reviews and discussions quite interesting. Here are some of my thoughts as I read your thread:

It's serendipitous that we both read Empire of the Sun recently. I haven't read the Rabbit books, but I read The Centaur by Updike last year and found it very unusual, in a good way. I have two copies of Crime and Punishment but neither is translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky (one is good old Constance Garnett and the Franklin edition is by a translator unknown to me, Jessie Coulson). I love Germinal and have read Nana, but I really should explore more of his works. Regarding science fiction, I thought Stephenson's Cryptonomicon a fast and fun read, although not sci fi, and Anathem much more challenging. I agree with Barry that Connie Willis's view of the future is not particularly realistic, I love that it allows her to explore the past from a modern perspective. For that reason, I like Doomsday Book very much, and To Say Nothing of the Dog; or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last is a very funny book which I also enjoy rereading. Have you read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell? I would highly recommend that one.

Phew, I'll try to stay caught up from now on!

153StevenTX
Jun 26, 2011, 2:11pm Top

Welcome, Lisa. I hope you find some of my comments useful. It's reassuring to realize that there are others out there who enjoy both literary fiction and science fiction.

No, I haven't read The Sparrow, though it's been on my shopping list for some time. I just promoted it to my Amazon wish list--one of those birthday's with a zero in it is coming up!

154StevenTX
Jun 26, 2011, 2:41pm Top

70. The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski



I have mixed feelings about this novel. Whether it is autobiographical (as the author originally implied) or not (as he later admitted), it seems to be stretching the limits of credibility in search of shock effect--almost to the point of self-satire. Yet the effect is undeniable.

The Painted Bird is the memoir of an unnamed boy in an unnamed country during World War II. (There's no reason not to assume that the "unnamed country" is the author's native Poland.) The boy's parents, fearful of reprisals by the Germans for the father's anti-Nazi politics, have sent the boy into the countryside to live with a peasant woman. She dies, however, and the boy is left to wander from village to village in search of a place to live. However, because of his "Jewish/Gypsy" appearance, the peasants are hostile towards him, both from their own prejudices and out of fear of being accused by the Germans of harboring a Jew.

The boy's experiences are one long chronicle of abuse, prejudice, and suffering. The peasants live dark, depraved lives dominated by superstitious fear, and show scarcely more humanity towards each other than they do to the strange boy. There are graphic scenes of murder, torture, rape, incest and bestiality. Nothing that the Germans or Russians can do, it seems, will compare with the brutish behavior of ordinary men and women.

There are several scenes in the novel where a character strikes out blindly in rage, taking revenge on the innocent and guilty alike. That seems to be what Kosinski is doing with this novel, lashing out against humanity in general.

155Jargoneer
Jun 26, 2011, 5:04pm Top

>70 StevenTX: - if I remember correctly the book was based on other people's experience in the war - they recognised themselves and subsequently complained about their portrayal. Kosinski was accused of cashing in on the Holocaust.
If that wasn't bad enough it was later alleged that he didn't even write the novel - that his novels were actually written by 'editors'.

156StevenTX
Jun 26, 2011, 7:40pm Top

Kosinski defends himself from some of the many accusations against him in the forward to the 1976 "second edition." He claims the complaints originated from political and religious bias, etc. He doesn't, that I recall, address the accusation that his novel was ghostwritten, but he does point out that he had previously published scholarly works of non-fiction in English, perhaps to allay the suspicion that his English wasn't good enough to write the novel.

That Kosinski had to write his own defense doesn't seem to speak well for his credibility. Well, it's a novel worth reading, but I certainly wouldn't form any historical opinions based on it.

157StevenTX
Jun 26, 2011, 8:04pm Top

71. Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation by Marie Darrieussecq
French title Truismes, translated by Linda Coverdale



An attractive young French woman, desperate for a job, takes a position for "almost minimum wage" at a perfume shop that doubles as a massage parlor offering "extended services." She is trusting, extremely naive, easily duped, and willing to let men do anything they want with her. She becomes quite popular with her clients, but strange changes start to take place in her body. She puts on weight, her skin becomes pinker, and she is nauseated at the very thought of eating ham.

One-third into the novel, the author's joke appeared to be played out. The narrator was turning into a pig to illustrate how society views women as meat. What else was there to say? But Pig Tales, it turns out, is much more far reaching in its social and political satire, and the story got surprisingly better and better. It's not just a feminist version of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, but has a touch of Animal Farm as well. The savage but wacky political satire may be best appreciated by French readers, but the porcine narrator's views on human nature are universal.

158StevenTX
Jun 27, 2011, 11:58pm Top

72. Manon Lescaut by Antoine Francois Prevost
Published 1731 as L'histoire du chevalier des Grieux et Manon Lescaut
Translated by Andrew Brown



I read this short novel to compare it with The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa (see msg #134 above). There are indeed quite a few similarities. A young man of the upper classes falls hopelessly in love with a lower class girl, taking extraordinary risks and bankrupting himself for her sake, only to have her leave him periodically for richer men. When things don't work out, she talks her way back into his good graces each time.

In the introduction, Germain Greer calls Manon "emotionally inert, a giggling empty-headed minx." Despite the fact that she is the driving force behind the novel, the author doesn't delve very deeply into her character. The Bad Girl offers a much more balanced study of the two lead characters.

The message that comes through to modern readers of Manon Lescaut is class snobbery. The Chevalier's obsession for Manon is a noble sentiment, and his peers are all too ready to excuse him for any crime, even murder, because he is obviously a gentleman of advanced sensibilities. Poor Manon, on the other hand, gets thrown in a dungeon for the crime of absconding with her own person from the arms of a foolish patron.

The Hesperus Press edition pictured here, showing two women embracing, beats out my copy of Lost Illusions for the title of "most inappropriate and irrelevant cover illustration" so far this year (not that it isn't eye-catching, of course).

159labfs39
Jun 29, 2011, 11:27am Top

Wow, Steven, you've been adding a lot of books to your library this week. I've enjoyed seeing some of the titles flash by. Looks like you may be a Civil War buff?

As regards #153, I would say that The Sparrow is literary science fiction. For one thing, the main character is a Jesuit priest, and there is a fair amount of religious philosophical pondering going on. For another, the author has a PhD in biological anthropology, which gives her a unique way of writing about the clash of cultures. For her, I think the "space alien" route was supplanted by the what happens when you meet beings who are completely different from you, how do you find common ground, and what is the impact of cultural misunderstandings. The Sparrow has a sequel, Children of God, which although I do not like as much as The Sparrow, does follow the impact of misunderstandings to its end.

Josh Tanenbaum describes Anathem beautifully in his LT review:

Anathem is unquestionably Stephenson's masterpiece. This is not a claim I make lightly, given his body of work. Anathem is a perfect synthesis of all that makes Stephenson unique. It is deeply historical and philosophical, but the history and philosophy are filtered through the lens of Arbre; an alternate Earth that allows Stephenson to pursue discursive tangents ranging from geometric proofs to causally divergent quantum realities. Anathem simultaneously indulges in classical science fiction tropes and expansive philosophical dialogues. It invokes a fictive history that feels as richly unknowable as our own history in its vastness, but it does not feel belabored or historiographical. For all of this, Anathem is more than just a thought experiment. It is a damn entertaining read with compelling, emotionally complex characters, and plenty of forward motion in the plot (although there is a lengthy period of mental calibration required, in which Significant Events are occurring while most first time readers are still finding their footing). Stephenson has always been laugh-out-loud funny to me, and moments in Anathem retain his quirky, clever, almost smart-alecky, sense of humor.

Finally, I wanted to add a trilogy to my suggestion list, although you may have already read it. The author is Orson Scott Card, who is very prolific, but this trilogy is his best by far, in my opinion (at least from the one's I've read). The titles are Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide. You can find descriptions of them everywhere, so I'll just say that I found them very thought-provoking, especially Speaker for the Dead.

I have not read any sci fi in a while, it's not a genre I visit very often, but I do like the well-written, philosophical ones. Are there any you would suggest to me? I might dip back in again for with a good recommendation.

160katiekrug
Jun 29, 2011, 12:12pm Top

Ugh, I had to read Manon Lescaut my senior year of high school for my AP French Lit class. I was not a fan.

161StevenTX
Jun 29, 2011, 12:32pm Top

Thanks, Lisa. I will definitely keep The Sparrow on my shopping list. I already have a copy of Anathem that I ran across for $1 at the local used book store, not knowing that it would come so highly recommended. I'll probably want to read one of Stephenson's earlier, shorter works first, such as Snow Crash.

I read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead years ago, and they were among the best SF novels I've read.

Regarding the new books I've been adding, these are all in the "Read but unowned" collection, and are books I read before 2000. I've had mixed feelings about putting these in my LT database, since they don't reflect my current interests or collection, but I do like to keep a log of everything I've read, and this serves as a backup in case something happens to my local records. I also might be able to help other LTers through my tags and ratings. I've just begun, and have at least 1000 more books to add.

Yes, I was a Civil War buff at one time. I even took graduate courses, did archival research, published some articles and gave some speeches. But my interest in the subject just seemed to evaporate about 1999 and was replaced by my current passion for literary fiction. These things do go in cycles, like my interest in science fiction which ebbed in the 1980s and is now returning.

162baswood
Jun 29, 2011, 5:19pm Top

Wow Steven 1000 more books to add!

163StevenTX
Edited: Jul 1, 2011, 12:30am Top

Since so many other Club Readers are doing this...

I was surprised at the results. I think the subject matter of the art influenced me more than the style in some cases, so I wouldn't be surprised if the results were different with another set of paintings. The psychological profile doesn't fit me particularly well.

Your result for What Your Taste in Art Says About You Test...

Simple, Progressive, and Sensual

19 Ukiyo-e, 4 Islamic, 12 Impressionist, -19 Cubist, -27 Abstract and 8 Renaissance!

Ukiyo-e (浮世絵, Ukiyo-e), "pictures of the floating world", is a genre of Japaneseand paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries. it mostly featured landscapes, historic tales, theatre, and pleasure. Ukiyo is a rather impetuous urban culture that has bloomed in popularity. Although the Japanese were more strict and had many prohibitions it did not affect the rising merchant class and therefore became a floating art form that did not bind itself to the normal ideals of society.


People that chose Ukiyo-e art tend to be more simplistic yet elegant. They don't care much about new style but are comfortable in creating their own. They like the idea of living for the moment and enjoy giving and receiving pleasure. They may be more agreeable than other people and do not like to argue. They do not mind following traditions but are not afraid to move forward to experience other ideas in life. They tend to enjoy nature and the outdoors. They do not mind being more adventurous in their sexual experiences. They enjoy being popular and like being noticed. They have their own unique style of dress and of presenting themselves. They may also tend to be more business oriented or at the very least interested in money making adventures. They might make good entrepreneurs. They are progressive and adaptable.

Take What Your Taste in Art Says About You Test at HelloQuizzy

164GCPLreader
Jul 1, 2011, 7:35am Top

Steven, the painting certainly brings to mind what was perhaps the most influential book of my youth-The Joy of Sex (blushing)! Don't admit to the quiz profile not really matching your personality--> agreeable, adventurous, progressive... makes you seem rather provocative. :oP

good review of Play it as it Lays-- you liked it more than I did, but I do remember loving the descriptions of driving along the interstate for hours on end.

165StevenTX
Jul 1, 2011, 9:29am Top

Well, Jenny, the "simple and progressive" part is probably accurate, and I definitely don't like to argue. As to my being "adventurous" and "sensual" -- unfortunately that's true only vicariously through the written word. Where the profile is really wrong about me is the "like being noticed" and "business oriented" part.

I remember The Joy of Sex too. In retrospect the early 70s was a great time to be young, but I was too busy trying to make a living to enjoy them.

166StevenTX
Jul 1, 2011, 9:56am Top

73. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
Finished 30 June 2011



First published 1970
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition
Included in The Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" under Nation
Listed as "most influential in The Reading List: Contemporary Fiction
One of St. Mark's Bookstore's "Additional 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century"
One of Time Magazine's "All-Time 100 Novels"
A "Read-on" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction under American South West

Play It As It Lays is a very short and to-the-point novel depicting a Hollywood actress in the 1960s and her descent into depression. The pervasive nihilism doesn't make for cheerful reading, but what makes the novel noteworthy--and keeps it from being mordant--is the way it is written. The style is cinematic, with quick scene changes and visual metaphors. The emptiness of the characters' lives is reflected in images such as endless freeways and barren desert landscapes. my review

167rebeccanyc
Jul 1, 2011, 10:54am Top

165 In retrospect the early 70s was a great time to be young

I've always believed that (I was in college then).

168baswood
Jul 1, 2011, 4:50pm Top

The 60's were better

169GCPLreader
Jul 2, 2011, 12:15pm Top

hey Steven, I'm enjoying seeing all the Civil War books you're adding. Do you have a favorite CW novel you could recommend?

170StevenTX
Jul 2, 2011, 12:37pm Top

Hi Jenny. I haven't read a lot of fiction about the Civil War, but one book that I highly recommend is The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Michael's son Jeff Shaara has written at least a couple of novels that expand on his father's work as prequel and sequel, but I haven't read them.

The classic novel of the Civil War is, of course, The Red Badge of Courage. It is more of a close-up look at the general experience of war.

171labfs39
Jul 2, 2011, 12:42pm Top

I see you added Black Holes and Warped Spacetime to your collection. I loved that book as a kid. It challenged my thinking in ways I was not getting at school.

172StevenTX
Jul 5, 2011, 4:50pm Top

74. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
Finished 5 July 2011



Published 1952
Included in 500 Essential Cult Books under Thrilling Tales
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 edition
A "must read" in Cult Fiction: A Reader's Guide
One of St. Mark's Bookstore's "Additional 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century"

This novel is a first-person account by a psychopathic killer named Lou Ford. He is a young deputy sheriff in the West Texas oil town of Central City (a fictional version, I would presume, of Midland). The local culture plays an important role in the novel, as Ford's assumed "good ol' boy" persona, as well as his status as a law enforcement officer, helps divert suspicion away from him for the crimes he commits.

Lou Ford, as a character, is an educated man playing dumb. He plays dumb as a narrator as well, occasionally slipping into more sophisticated language, then laughing at himself for doing it: "When life attains a crisis, man's focus narrows. Nice lines, huh? I could talk that way all the time if I wanted to." (italics in original).

The author, Jim Thompson, also comments indirectly through Lou Ford's voice, on his own writing style: "In lots of books I read, the writer seems to go haywire just as he reaches a high point. He'll start leaving out leaving out punctuation and running his words together and babble about stars flashing and sinking into a deep and dreamless sea. And you can't figure out whether the hero's laying his girl or a cornerstone. I guess that kind of crap is supposed to be pretty deep stuff--a lot of the book reviewers eat it up, I notice. But the way I see it is, the writer is just too goddam lazy to do his job. And I'm not lazy, whatever else I am. I'll tell you everything."

Thompson does tell everything--at least within (barely) the publishing standards of 1952. This is a violent and pitiless novel, that is both a study of a mental disorder and of the culture in which it arose. Ironically, at the very end the writer does seem to "go haywire just as he reaches a high point," switching from first to second person, breaking off sentences and leaving the reader to guess what's going on. The conclusion is the weakest point of an otherwise memorable novel.

173edwinbcn
Jul 5, 2011, 8:57pm Top

Interesting that you picked up a novel of the 1950s, logical in view of the messages above, and also following our comments elsewhere. I would say, there is still a lot of material from the 50s which is barely read or dealt with in universities, but will be read increasingly.

174katiekrug
Jul 6, 2011, 8:22am Top

#172 - I have a copy of The Killer Inside Me waiting patiently on the TBR shelves. It sound very good.

175StevenTX
Jul 6, 2011, 10:06am Top

#173 > I read The Killer Inside Me for the Club Read 2011 Hometown/ancestry challenge (http://www.librarything.com/topic/119631) and also because I'm in a group that's reading the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

I'm decades removed from any contact with academia, so I don't know what they're reading in universities these days (I wish I did, though). I would have thought there was plenty of readable material from the 1950s--certainly Lolita. I see from your thread that you don't care for the Beat writers, so I won't mention them.

Thompson's seems to be a case of a genre writer being elevated posthumously to literary status.

176StevenTX
Jul 6, 2011, 10:43am Top

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. For the last couple of weeks I've been adding to LT those books I read prior to 2000 and no longer own. Unfortunately, as some of the comments above have shown, this is giving the false impression that I am just now acquiring or reading them. After adding over 500 books, I was still less than a fourth of the way along, so I've decided to drop that project. Sorry for the confusion.

177GCPLreader
Jul 6, 2011, 12:25pm Top

ahhh, Steven, don't quit now! :o)

178StevenTX
Jul 6, 2011, 10:44pm Top

75. The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Finished 6 July 2011

First published 1905
The copy I read was a free electronic edition from Project Gutenberg (thus no cover photo).

The first story in this collection, "The Adventure of the Empty House," brings Holmes back to life after his supposed death at Reichenbach Falls in "The Adventure of the Final Problem." The remaining twelve stories are drawn by Dr. Watson from his files and take place at different times.

The Sherlock Holmes stories make a great diversion. It's refreshing that Holmes isn't always preventing a war or solving a heinous murder. In one story his challenge is to catch a student who was trying to cheat on an exam. Nor are all of his cases 100% triumphant. It's the dash of humility and humanity that makes each story a bit unpredictable.

Other books I have read by Arthur Conan Doyle:
The Lost World
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Hound of the Baskervilles

179StevenTX
Jul 8, 2011, 9:29am Top

77. A Sportsman's Notebook by Ivan Turgenev
Finished 7 July 2011



Most content written and first published 1846-51
Final version published 1874
Translated from the Russian by Charles and Natasha Hepburn (undated)
Included in The Western Canon
Included in The Rough Guide to Classic Novels under "Place"

Turgenev, like other 19th century Russian writers, was deeply interested in the idea of what it meant to be Russian. This collection of linked short stories uses the idea of a hunter roaming the Russian countryside to bring us into contact with a cross section of the rural population, from the highest gentry to the lowest serf. The stories are all character sketches and reminiscences, so there is little action action or suspense, but the narrator's tender, bittersweet and humanitarian voice is very moving.

Other books I have read by Ivan Turgenev:
Fathers and Sons
First Love and Other Stories
On the Eve
A Nest of Gentlefolk

180GCPLreader
Jul 8, 2011, 9:56am Top

I like the description of this one. I brought Fathers and Sons home yesterday, and if I love it I'll try A Sportsman's Notebook. :o)

181labfs39
Jul 8, 2011, 10:50am Top

I think I read A Sportsman's Notebook in grad school with a slightly different title. Fathers and Sons used to be one of my top 10 books of all times , but I haven't reread it in a long time. I wonderful if it would still impress me as much. I'm almost afraid to try it, in case I find it lacking.

182StevenTX
Jul 8, 2011, 12:44pm Top

I read Fathers and Sons about 10 years ago when I was just getting into literary fiction, and didn't appreciate it as much as I probably would today with a much stronger background in Russian culture and literature.

I know what you mean about being hesitant to re-read something lest it not live up to your original impression. I don't re-read as much as I should. I was less taken with The Lord of the Rings on the second reading, and Lolita didn't impress me as much the second time either. On the other hand, both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace were even better the second time.

183dchaikin
Jul 9, 2011, 8:18pm Top

I was about 50 posts behind here but just now finally caught up. First, I'm really glad you have kept reviewing your books here. This is great stuff - exceptinally great books and very intelligent (and valuable to me) reviews. I always enjoy stopping by here. Second, about adding your books you read once before...whether you add them or not should be only about what you want ot have in your library and what you want to use the library for. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about the impression it might make on anyone else. I have mine (significantly less) because LT is my only catalogue and I want all my relevant books in one place. Third, I'm in awe at the amount of books you have read, very impressive. And, one last thing, if you're from Midland and looking for local authors, check out Larry Thomas, the 2008 Texas Poet Lauriate (full disclosure, he is also a friend of mine).

184StevenTX
Jul 12, 2011, 12:40pm Top

Thanks for your comments, Dan. It can sometimes be intimidating that there are so many more accomplished and erudite reviewers here on LT, but I guess I'll keep plugging away.

I had already backed off on my retroactive entries and deleted what I had done so far. Oh well. Maybe I'll reverse course again some day and re-enter them. Sticking with a decision has never been my strong point.

Actually I'm from Dallas, not Midland. I guess you picked Midland up from my comments on the Jim Thompson book in the Reading Globally group. I did live for a year in Odessa, but that was back in the 70s when I was getting transferred every few months. I'll keep an eye out for Larry Thomas. (I didn't even know Texas had a poet laureate.)

185StevenTX
Jul 12, 2011, 1:47pm Top

78. The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche
Finished 8 July 2011



First published 1872
Translated from the German by Walter Kaufmann
Included in The Western Canon

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I thought I should read something by Nietzsche, seeing that he seemed to be a major influence on many of the authors I had been reading. The Birth of Tragedy is neither Nietzsche's most famous nor his most typical work, but it was the first book he published, and fairly short, so that's where I decided to begin.

Nietzsche begins by characterizing Greek tragedy as a synthesis of two opposing mythic forces, the Apollonian (rational, individual, Olympian, and intellectual) and the Dionysian (instinctive, collective, earthy and passionate). The Dionysian aspect, represented by the chorus, is actually the key element in tragic drama. More generally, Dionysian elements prevail in music, while the literary and visual arts are essentially Apollonian.

In Plato's The Republic, Socrates famously denounces tragedy. Nietzsche sees this as the beginning of centuries of dominance of Socratic thinking over Tragic. But music has kept the Tragic spark alive, and we are privileged to see it reawaken to its fullest glory in the person of Richard Wagner. Nietzsche expresses his hope that the German people will follow Wagner's lead, fulfilling their destiny to become the first Tragic civilization since the Greeks of antiquity.

Exactly how Nietzsche thought a "Tragic" German nation would behave is a question that I hope he answers in later works. He was certainly swimming against the current if he thought his countrymen would reject scientific thinking at the very time when they were leading the world in most fields of science. There are numerous holes, generalizations and inconsistencies in his arguments, leading Nietzsche to partially repudiate The Birth of Tragedy in later life (as he did his friendship with Wagner). And undoubtedly my understanding of it is imperfect, but I was still able to begin to see the connection between Nietzsche and the works I've read of Robert Musil, Andre Gide, and Ladislav Klima.

186dchaikin
Jul 12, 2011, 2:45pm Top

Steven - I think I'll let you read the Nietzsche books, and I'll just read your reviews. :) Intersting stuff there, didn't realize the hated Wagner ( hated if your Jewish like me - he was notoriously antisemitic) was so involved with Nietzsche.

I adore Larry Thomas's work, and highly recommend it...and you have no business being intimidated by anyone here...

187zenomax
Jul 12, 2011, 3:55pm Top

Steven although I'm well aware of Musil, Gide & Nietzsche, I'm less clear about Klima. How does he link in with Nietzsche?

188StevenTX
Jul 12, 2011, 4:34pm Top

79. A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
Finished 10 July 2011



First published 1722
Included in The Western Canon

This is a work of fiction only in that the narrator is an imaginary observer. In other respects it is a work of history, carefully distinguishing between documented facts and hearsay.

The story begins in December 1664, when the bubonic plague first reach England from Holland. The plague was dormant through the winter and spring, but reached the outskirts of London in June 1665. Those of the population who had the means to do so began to flee, but our narrator remained. Within a month the disease was raging throughout London, and by the end of the year, according to Defoe's estimates, would kill 100,000 out of a population of 500,000.

The focus of the journal is on how people reacted to this catastrophe. There are horrific stories of suffering, sacrifice, and heroism on the one hand, cowardice, irresponsibility, and greed on the other. On the balance, though, Defoe's account honors the pragmatism, courage and humanity of those who faced the plague.

Defoe is especially effusive in his praise of the Lord Mayor and other civil authorities who stayed at their posts when many of the doctors and clergy had fled, and enacted stern but necessary and effective quarantine measures to contain the disease. It is indeed striking how correct some of the measures were that the government authorities took, even though the experts of the day were entirely wrong in their assumptions about the nature of disease.

The account of the Great Plague is both broad and comprehensive. Every time a question came to my mind, Defoe answered it. How were people induced to become nurses and gravediggers? How did people in quarantined houses get fed? How did fresh food even get into the city? What were the short and long term impacts on the economy, trade, and foreign relations? What were the lessons learned? Defoe addresses all of these.

There is a modern resource that helped me both understand the plague and appreciate Defoe's reporting of it. Yale University has an excellent series of free online courses. These are video recordings of actual undergraduate lecture. One of them happens to be Epidemics and Western Society Since 1600 by Professor Frank Snowden. Lectures 3-5 deal with the bubonic plague, with Defoe's book as the class reading assignment.

Other books I have read by Daniel Defoe:
Robinson Crusoe
Moll Flanders

189StevenTX
Jul 12, 2011, 4:51pm Top

#197 > Note that I was referring to Ladislav Klima, not the more well-known Ivan Klima.

Klima was highly influenced by Nietzsche both in his personal life and writings, such as The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch, "adopting Nietzsche as his paragon" in the editor's words. Here is a link to my review of that novel. The book also has an autobiographical sketch from which I posted some quotes above in messages 42 through 47.

190labfs39
Jul 13, 2011, 1:10am Top

Thank you for the review of Journal of the Plague Year. It has been sitting on my shelf for ages. I pulled it out tonight and put it in the pile beside my reading spot. It will be an interesting follow up to The Ghost Map, about the cholera epidemic of 1854 in London.

191baswood
Jul 13, 2011, 5:16am Top

Steven, Excellent review of A journal of the Plague year. I hope to get to it soon. I also want to read some Nietzsche, but following your review I won't start with The birth of tragedy

192zenomax
Jul 13, 2011, 7:25am Top

Klima looks excellent! Nihilism is so seductive - and it runs like a coal seam through time and cultures..

193StevenTX
Edited: Jul 13, 2011, 6:39pm Top

80. The Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas
Finished 12 July 2011



First published 2001
Translation from the Spanish by Anne McLean 2003
Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
Included in 501 Must-Read Books under "Modern Fiction"
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2010 edition
A "read-on" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Spain

A journalist's curiosity about an event near the end of the Spanish Civil War leads him to research the life of Rafael Sanchez Mazas, one of the founders of Spain's fascist Falange party and a minister under Franco. But his research leads him in unexpected directions to a new understanding about the nature of heroism and the forces that move history.

The author's unorthodox approach of writing from inside the novel and embedding one book in another is a little confusing at first, but once it gains momentum it is captivating. I've put this in my "top 5" books of the year. my review

194charbutton
Jul 14, 2011, 8:32am Top

>157 StevenTX:, I read White by Marie Darrieussecq earlier this year. It's set in Antartica and explores the lives of and relationships between the only woman at a science base and one of her male colleagues. I didn't enjoy it, but am interested to see from your review of Pig Tales that Darrieusecq has written what seem to be wildly different books...although I'd be interested to compare the portrayals of the women in both.

As others have already said, I've been really enjoying your reviews and have added books to my wishlist by authors I didn't know or would never have thought of reading - thanks!

195StevenTX
Jul 14, 2011, 9:34am Top

#194 - Thanks for visiting, Charlotte. I have a copy of White as well, but haven't read it yet. I was just looking at Marie Darriussecq's other works, and and it appears that they all focus on gender issues and are very short, but vary widely in setting and tone.

196arubabookwoman
Jul 16, 2011, 9:02pm Top

Just a note to say I'm still lurking and enjoying your reviews. A couple of comments:

The information/background re The Painted Bird was very interesting. I read it in 1966 when I was a teenager, and it really affected me. I think I'll read it again.

I also read The Killer Inside Me recently. I liked it enough to want to read more by him.

You're really cutting a path through those 1001 books!

197StevenTX
Jul 17, 2011, 12:06am Top

81. Eurpides: Ten Plays translated by Paul Roche
Finished 16 July 2011



Translations by Paul Roche first published 1998

This collection contains Euripides' best-known plays in a form that attempts to be faithful to the meter of the original Greek, yet in thoroughly modern and informal English. Of the three classical Greek tragedians whose work survives, Euripides was the earthiest and most irreverent. His characters are the most transparent, the most ambivalent, and the least heroic. He seems to aim at a broader audience, so it is no doubt appropriate to use approachable and relevant language. A couple of times I thought the translator went a bit too far trying to be modern and snappy. I found the term "gang bang" a bit jarring, even from the mouth of a satyr. But, in general, I enjoyed the translation. The retention of the ever-shifting Greek metrical forms was a reminder that this was another dimension of meaning -- analogous, I would imagine, to the background music in a modern movie -- that is lost to us. The translators introduction and footnotes were quite useful, and mercifully brief, letting you get straight to the play. Of the ten plays I liked Alcestis, Medea, and Iphigenia at Aulis the best.

198StevenTX
Jul 19, 2011, 10:50pm Top

82. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Finished 19 July 2011



A collection first published in 1962 of stories and essays in English translation drawn from various previous publications
Included in The Western Canon
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions
A "must read" in the Cult Fiction Reader's Guide
Included in The New Lifetime Reading Plan
Included in A Lifetime's Reading: The World's 500 Greatest Books
A "key work" in Good Reading Guide to World Fiction for Argentina

The stories and essays in this collection all reflect, to some degree, the notion of a labyrinth. Mostly they are philosophical parables, puzzles, paradoxes, and enigmas without a conventional plot or characters. Very intriguing and fascinating stuff.

199Rise
Jul 19, 2011, 10:59pm Top

Borges is a favorite. I have this particular cover partially read.

200StevenTX
Jul 19, 2011, 11:10pm Top

83. The Path to the Spiders' Nests by Italo Calvino
Finished 19 July 2011



First published 1947
Translated from the Italian by Archibald Colquhoun 1956
Unexpurgated edition with new introduction by the author 1964
Revisions translated by Martin McLaughlin 1998
Included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die 2006 & 2010 editions

The setting is Italy during World War II after the Allied invasion at Salerno and the fall of Mussolini. In German-occupied Italy there are still Italian fascists fighting for the Axis, as well as partisans, under communist leadership, fighting for the Allies.

The story is told from the point of view of Pin, a streetwise urchin who pimps for his older sister until a series of events throws him in with a ragtag band of partisans. Through Pin's eyes we see that the men on either side, far from being idealists or patriots, fight for private reasons, hidden passions, or simply because there is nothing else for them to do.

This is Calvino's first novel, written in a style he calls "Neo-realism," and quite different from his later experimental fiction. As a story of the brutality of war seen through the eyes of a child it is reminiscent of two other books I've read this year: Empire of the Sun and The Painted Bird.

Other books I have read by Italo Calvino:
Cosmicomics
t zero
If on a winter's night a traveler
Invisible Cities

201StevenTX
Edited: Jul 19, 2011, 11:17pm Top

Time to start a new thread!

Group: Club Read 2011

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