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Martin's Attempt at the 1,001

1001 Books to read before you die

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1MartinBodek
Edited: Nov 26, 2014, 8:49am Top

I, too, would like to be numbered amongst this hallowed group who are taking this endeavor upon themselves. We are quite select, and it is an honor to be in your company. Though I have read some of the books on the list, I will start from scratch, with the 2006 version, from the first book listed. When I encounter a book I've already read, I will either re-read it and enjoy it with fresh eyes, or add it to the tally and enjoy a brief fast-forward through the list. With each separate entry, I will state how I got my hands on the book, how long it took me to read it, a brief review, a rating, and my projected finishing date. I approximate this will take me 25-30 years, because 1) I'm a slow reader, 2) There are other books to be read. 3) I'm a patient man.

Here we go.

2MartinBodek
Edited: Nov 26, 2014, 9:11am Top

Book #1: Aesop's Fables
Days to read: 4
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "1 down, 1,000 to go. Huh? What? What am I talking about? Well, you know those popular "1,001 x1 to x2 Before You Die" books? I'm tackling the x1=books/x2=read version, because hey, that's the hardest. Aesop's Fables was #1 in the first edition of the book, so that's where I've started. It's a smart choice, as the reading was light, and easy to motor through, pausing only when appreciating a choice one with an excellent moral lesson. The fact that the animals represent specific traits and aspects of humanity was not lost on me. My kids enjoyed some of the tales too, as did the strangers during my commute, staring at a man reading fairy tales."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: November 2024.

3MartinBodek
Edited: Nov 26, 2014, 9:17am Top

Book #2: Metamorphoses
Days to read: 15
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "#2 on the 1,001 Books to Read list. 999 to go. The takeaway was that I'm now properly prepared for the Jeopardy! category of Roman Gods, should I ever get on the show, and should that come up. Absent that, I was in a fog most of the time, barely able to follow the narrative, which read much like Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews, in that it took fragmented, eclectic tales and fashioned them into a linear story. The violence was a bit disturbing at times, Blood Meridian style, and I did enjoy learning a bit more about these myths I knew vaguely, but honestly, I was just happy to be done so I could move on to the next book."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: February 2042.

4M1nks
Nov 26, 2014, 9:26am Top

A new victim! Welcome :-)

That is a very unusual way of going about the list and I wish you the best of luck. I'd never have the focus to move through it chronologically but it would be a great way to get a feel for literature changing over the years.

5MartinBodek
Nov 26, 2014, 10:19am Top

Hi! Thanks for the welcome!

It is unusual on purpose, as I'm trying to stand out a bit, just like everybody else. :-)

Thanks for the luck. I find that my chronological method makes the project more interesting - by being more challenging - for me.

6paruline
Nov 26, 2014, 6:33pm Top

Welcome to the club! I'm already enjoying your reviews :)

7ELiz_M
Nov 26, 2014, 9:32pm Top

~waves hello from Brooklyn~

I can't wait until you get to Tale of the Bamboo Cutter! It's an expensive book to buy, but NYPL has a copy of the beautiful edition translated/updated by Yasunari Kawabata.

8MartinBodek
Edited: Nov 27, 2014, 1:55pm Top

Hi Paruline! Thank you very much! On both counts!

9MartinBodek
Nov 27, 2014, 2:03pm Top

Hi Eliz_M! I'm born and raised in Brooklyn, moved to NJ so I could afford twice the house at half the price in comparison with the friends I left back home.

It's going to be a while before I get to Bamboo Cutter. It's not in the 2006 version, so give meeeeee..30 years. :-)

Though NYPL's copy does look pretty.

10MartinBodek
Dec 1, 2014, 4:11pm Top

Book #3: Chaereas and Callirhoe
Days to read: 13
Source: New York Public Library Online Database
Review: "3 down, 998 to go. I actually found this one interesting, and readable. More than the telling of the story, it's circumstance was also an experience for me. This is, allegedly, the first novel ever written, and it's quite a ride to see where and how it all began, and to hold in my hands the first scrabblings and attempts to communicate in this forum. It's quite a thing to see how dialogue was formerly written. The translation is a beholding unto itself as well. I read the version where "f"s still took the place of "s"es, and struggled a bit to read that, but no matter. As for the story, it was intriguing, and had good tension, and fun fawning, and a translator that did not mind jumping in and finding fault with some narrative inconsistencies. I certainly feel enriched by the reading, and that's a very good thing."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: July 2042.

11MartinBodek
Dec 9, 2014, 9:14am Top

Book #4: An Ethiopian Romance
Days to read: 9
Source: Elfinspell.com
Review: "4 down, 997 to go. This was not a very satisfactory experience at all, and as as a matter of fact, gets a full star only because if I leave the star off, one might think I forgot to apply a rating. I had no idea what was happening at any point, save for a few paragraphs that may have been coherent. The book went back and forth in time, without advising the reader exactly when this was happening. I was so lost and confused that I checked reviews to figure out what was generally happening at certain points in the narrative, because I sure couldn't tell just by reading the darn thing! There wasn't even clever wordplay as a redeeming value. I hope this is the nadir of the 1,001 book reading project. It better be. I certainly won't be able to withstand too many more experiences like this, which is an insult to the word "experience.""
Rating: *
Projected Finish: March 2040.

12MartinBodek
Dec 18, 2014, 11:29am Top

Book #5: The Golden Ass
Days to read: 10
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "This one was interesting. I enjoyed the playful language and the premise of the pickle in which the protagonist found himself. I presume the carnality would be considered shocking for the time, but it's inclusion added to the intrigue. This could certainly stand to be updated to a modern version in books and/or film. I suppose Pinocchio is a version of it."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: February 2040.

13MartinBodek
Jan 13, 2015, 2:44pm Top

Book #6: The Thousand and One Nights
Days to read: 27
Source: Archive.org
Review: "This was by far, hands down, without question, and no doubt the worst reading experience ever in my life. So awful, indeed, that I'm convinced it can never be surpassed. The only reason I suffered myself through the 1,836 pages (!!!) across the three volumes is because, combined, it is #6 on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list. I committed myself, so I had to do it. Otherwise, I would never have dreamed (nightmared?) to put myself through such torture. There was nothing interesting here, nothing captivating, nothing that grabbed my interest, and it was filled to spilling with ultra-violence, all of it gratuitous, purposeless, and immorally nasty. Every page was filled with beheadings, behandings, belimbings, bedigitings, and belifings, sometimes completely out of the blue. Without warning, you could get passages like this: "I gazed longingly into her eyes and beheld our beauty - before I stomped a foot in her ass and lopped off her head." What? What just happened? How did we get from there to here? What on earth is all this irredeemable, nonsensical garbage? When researching the book, I came across a thread where an avid reader revealed that he had read all eight known English translations of the entire Nights. WHAT? How is that even possible? Why would a man do that? This stuff is AWFUL tripe, the worst kind that could be committed to paper, and entirely useless and valueless.

Volume 2 was even worse than 1. At least with 1, I had an expectation that I might encounter something interesting or enlightening, only to be disappointed. With this volume, the reading experience began and ended with disappointment, with a whole lot of disappointment in between. I wish I could be more linquistically descriptive about this awful experience, but my theasaurus is used up for words standing in for garbage, immorality, uselessness, and vacuousness. You know what this was? The Biblical Tohu v'vohu, chaos and emptiness. Much, much emptiness.

Volume 3 was awfuler (I told you my thesaurus broke), than volume 2. I held out for one hope amidst the despair: maybe the story of Sinbad the Sailor would be interesting. Boy, was I wrong, and everything else was far worse. First of all, Sinbad is just as morally bankrupt as anyone else in the book. He beats women to death? What is that? Also, he's an idiot. After shipwreck #5, man, just give up. This ain't your line of work. As for the ending, I cared not a whit for it. Scheherazade is saved. Yay, big deal. Where's the mercy for the hundreds of others murdered in the book? As if we're supposed to have a great feeling that she survives. It was like an action movie where millions die in a nuclear holocaust, but yay! The action hero and his lover survive! Whoop-de-do."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: October 2048.

14paruline
Jan 13, 2015, 5:41pm Top

But, please, tell us how you really feel! ;-)

15Yells
Jan 14, 2015, 1:00pm Top

This is why I hang out here. No one else understands the 'but I had to finish, it's on the list!' notion. Hopefully the next one is fantastic and makes up for it (I am at work so don't have my spreadsheet handy). :)

16MartinBodek
Edited: Jan 14, 2015, 2:46pm Top

Ha! :-)

(in response to paruline)

17MartinBodek
Jan 14, 2015, 2:49pm Top

Bucketyell, I have this innate endurance ability. I'm also an ultramarathoner, which, coupled with my ability to slog through endless literary blather, means I can do things that bore me for a longer time than 99 percentiles of humanity. Gargantua & Pantagruel, next on the list, looks promising.

18M1nks
Jan 17, 2015, 2:34am Top

Yeah, don't hold it all in, it's bad for your health...

19annamorphic
Jan 17, 2015, 11:23am Top

Okay, the 1001 Nights joins the list of the 300-odd books I do not have to read in order to accomplish 1000 from the combined lists, my personal goal.
I admire you reading them in chronological order. A lot of the really hard ones are near the beginning, as you are discovering, although I liked Metamorphoses more than you did.

20JonnySaunders
Jan 18, 2015, 5:55am Top

Oh flip, I'd challenged myself to read the thousand and one nights as my big read this year...

The fact you are following that with a bit of Rabelais is both horrifying and awe-inspiring.

21puckers
Jan 18, 2015, 1:24pm Top

I'm about half way through the 1001 Nights (Penguin classics - 2700 pages) and yes there is inevitable repetition of story lines/themes but so far I haven't reacted as negatively as you - will see how the rest goes. Certainly I am preferring it over Gargantua and Pantagruel, so good luck with that one!

Your chronological approach to the list is certainly admirable but I agree with annamorphic that there are a disproportionate number of tedious books in the early novels. Good luck and hang in there.

22MartinBodek
Jan 30, 2015, 12:11pm Top

M1nks, I most certainly will not.

annamorphic, thank you for the accolade. The hard ones definitely seem to be here at the start, which has me on pace to finish in 2165. Hopefully, as I progress, the books will get shorter and/or easier to to read.

JonnySaunders, why horrifying and awe-inspiring? I'm in middle of Rabelais and loving it! I think the translation is lively and fun, and is probably why I'm enjoying.

puckers, 1001 nights is awful, and I'm grateful to have it in the rear-view mirror. As with Gargantua, I'm loving it. Why the discomfiture? Thanks for luck-wish. I'm hanging in.

23MartinBodek
Feb 18, 2015, 4:50pm Top

Book #7: Gargantua and Pantagruel
Days to read: 37
Source: Touro College Library
Review: "This collection of books began with the highest of the high, then proceeded immediately to tank miserably until it reached the lowest of the low. I read the version translated by Samuel Putnam, and in his hands, the word "lively" in the title was very well suited. The first book of Gargantua was a revelation, rich with linguistic acrobatics, profound in silliness, and filled to hilarity with hyperbole. I enjoyed every moment.

Then Pantagruel was born, and I wished he never was. I prefer the father, and the apple fell far from the tree. The first book on his life contained nothing I can remember. The second book contained hundreds of pages of a meandering conversation about whether or not his friend should marry. The third book had 20 or so pages on a missing hatchet? What a waste of my time."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: June 2056.

24paruline
Feb 18, 2015, 6:59pm Top

Well, at least, you're getting all the long, boring ones out of the way!

25MartinBodek
Feb 19, 2015, 10:52am Top

Yes! I hope to start coasting pretty soon! There'll be some speedbumps, but we'll get there!

26MartinBodek
Mar 3, 2015, 11:04am Top

Book #8: Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit
Days to read: 9
Source: Touro College Library
Review: "This book was neither witty, nor euphuestic (allegedly, it is from here that the word "euphemism" is derived), nor an anatomy of anything, save for extreme unreadability in the first part, a rehashed attempt to expound on Ecclesiastes in the second part, and boring missives in the third. It has renown for being the first English novel, but it is not a novel at all. It's a hodgepodge of excruciating words, it's inconsistent in its narrative, and way too long even at 152 pages. It does not belong on the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die. The honor should be given to whatever English novel is next that was better than this one; an easy bar to clear."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: July 2056.

27Yells
Mar 3, 2015, 11:27am Top

Oh dear... can't wait to get to that one.. oy!

28MartinBodek
Mar 3, 2015, 11:38am Top

Take your time. :-)

29annamorphic
Mar 3, 2015, 8:47pm Top

#26, Oh come now, it DID have a plot. Sort of. Well, not really. I'm sure it was a big hit in Elizabethan England!

30M1nks
Mar 6, 2015, 1:42pm Top

Wow, that is pretty scathing. I'm just going to file that one away, no rush :-)

31MartinBodek
Mar 18, 2015, 3:21pm Top

Book #9: The Unfortunate Traveller
Days to read: 17
Source: oxford-shakespeare.com
Review: "This book was thankfully quite short - and is the shortest, so far, on the 1,001 Books to Read list. I had no idea what was going on. The language was way, way too highbrow for me to grasp anything. There was an adventure, or something. I felt the word choices were a smokescreen for an empty story."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: June 2056.

32amerynth
Mar 19, 2015, 4:47pm Top

LOL... you were more generous than I was with The Unfortunate Traveller.... I only gave it one star. I had no idea what the heck was going on in that book much of the time. :)

33puckers
Mar 19, 2015, 4:59pm Top

I'm reading The Unfortunate Traveller at the moment. Like you I'm only vaguely aware of what is going on, but there is something in the language I find appealing.

34MartinBodek
Mar 20, 2015, 1:56pm Top

Amerynth, good! I'm happy I'm not the only one. I really didn't understand what was happening.

Puckers, that something in the language was deception. Multisyllabic words do not a quality novel make. Stuff needs to happen. Nothing happened. If it did happen, I don't know how that happened.

35MartinBodek
May 20, 2015, 12:25pm Top

Book #10: Don Quixote
Days to read: 64
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This is book #10 on the list of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and it is the first of any good quality of any kind, let alone required reading before death. Not only is it the first worthy book, but it is of superior construction.

If the 1,001 list is to be trusted as showcasing the actual evolution of fiction, then it seems the first nine were truly scrabbling around, trying to figure out how the medium should work, when Cervantes came along and showed them how it's done.

The novel is unique and distinct in many ways, and it seems that certain methods of its storytelling are so venerated that they haven't even been copied at all. Particularly, the chapter introductions, the half spoken proverbs, the singular madness of our protagonist, and the enjoyable acerbic repartee of his squire. The pair's DNA is present in all squabbling, bickering, honoring tandems of literature and cinema.

The book could be seen as a fully-fleshed Monty Python episode, and no doubt, it has inspired much of the troupe's great material.

The narration also stands alone, and the device with which the author stages the recording of events, and the clever acknowledgement of the "false" second book of quixote is excellent.

I understand the hype now, which is well deserved.

I was so invested in the material - having taken two full months to read the block of cinder - that I found myself saddened by the passing of our hero (spoiler alert? 400 years later?), but gladdened by the return of his sanity, as a form of penitence perhaps, which was as fitting an epitaph as the author could have imagined."
Rating: *****
Projected Finish: June 2069.

36Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
May 20, 2015, 6:28pm Top

"If the 1,001 list is to be trusted as showcasing the actual evolution of fiction, then it seems the first nine were truly scrabbling around, trying to figure out how the medium should work, when Cervantes came along and showed them how it's done."

It would be a shame if you were turned off 2,000+ years of pre-Cervantes literature as a result of the selection in the 1,001 list.

It may be that early fiction really isn't your thing, but in my view there are better choices than those appearing in the Great Big Book: Homer, Laxdaela and Njal's saga, Thomas Mallory, Nibelungenleid - to name a few.

Anyway, you've certainly picked a challenging and rigorous way of tackling the list. Good luck with it.

37MartinBodek
May 21, 2015, 1:42pm Top

Hi Cliff, for the record, I do not assume the 1,001 list *is* to be trusted as the source for the evolution of fiction. I certainly intend to read more fiction across the millenia that do not appear on the list. I suspect I might even enjoy some of it.

Thank you for the well-wishes. It is challenging and rigorous indeed, but so far, so good.

38Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
May 22, 2015, 1:29pm Top

Hi Martin.

On the Monty Python/Cervantes connection you mentioned, I remember watching a documentary-style film years ago which I believe was called 'The Man from La Mancha' (?) It was about Terry Gilliam's determined but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make a film of...Don Quixote.

So the Python connection is definitely there one way or another,.

39MartinBodek
May 26, 2015, 4:13pm Top

40MartinBodek
May 27, 2015, 3:46pm Top

Book #11: The Pilgrim's Progress
Days to read: 8
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This book wasn't bad or awful, per se, it was simply painfully dull and boring with absolutely no vested interest in what occurs with the characters. Which brings us to the characters! Look, I get that this is a biblically-woven highly religious allegory of personal salvation, that much is clear, but does the reader have to be blunted over the head with it? The lead player is named Christian? Really? Couldn't call him Bob? And his wife is Christina? You're joking, right? Pamela would've been better. The biggest surprise - and there are none - is that his children aren't named Christine, Christopher, and Jiminy Christmas. Also, did Bunyan HAVE to name everyone else exactly what they are in metaphor? I found that aggravating, and the slog-through was mighty difficult, and the sudden bursts of rhyme were ridiculous and often non-rhyming, but I'm all the richer for having read it, right? Wrong. Guess I'm going to hell."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: December 2067.

41M1nks
May 27, 2015, 5:42pm Top

I'm about halfway through this and I can't bring myself to finish it. It is probably the most boring thing I have ever attempted to read.

42hdcanis
May 28, 2015, 2:25am Top

Ah, I enjoyed it but I seem to be in the minority. I am rather fond of this sort of narration which has been stylized into high abstraction and allegories are very self-consciously so (currently reading a book of modern theatre plays that does that too and enjoying it, plays where characters have been reduced to "she", "he", "man", "sister" etc. Christian and Christina are only a variation of naming your characters "he" and "she")

43MartinBodek
May 28, 2015, 10:55am Top

M1nks, I find that boring books are easier to work through, because I can enter a trance, turn my brain off, and not bother to concentrate on the material. It's books I enjoy that require my concentration.

hdcanis, it doesn't seem that you're in minority, which is shocking to me, because the book is that boring. Case in point: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/23/100-best-novels-pilgrims-progress

44annamorphic
May 28, 2015, 1:24pm Top

I have Pilgrim's Progress on audio so if I'm on MartinBodek's side of the opinion spectrum, I too can kind of tune it out and concentrate on the road. It's still in my TBR pile, probably for sometime next year...

45amerynth
May 28, 2015, 11:11pm Top

I couldn't get through it either. I read the first half, but when I realized the second half was basically a retelling of the first, I just quit.

46MartinBodek
May 29, 2015, 1:45pm Top

annamorphic, leave it on your TBL pile, as it's not worth R-ing. :-)

amerynth, if you quit, how will you get through the 1,001 properly?

47amerynth
May 29, 2015, 2:33pm Top

Ah, my "properly" allows for quitting if I get halfway through and can't stand the torture of a book anymore.

48Nickelini
Jun 2, 2015, 12:27pm Top

>40 MartinBodek: Projected Finish: December 2067.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

I spent about an hour and a half studying Pilgrim's Progress at university, and that was enough for me. Extremely painful. That one is on the "Books from the 1001 Books List That I Will Never Read" list.

49MartinBodek
Jun 4, 2015, 11:22am Top

Book #12: The Princess of Cleves
Days to read: 7
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "There is nothing of value here for the reader, nothing interesting, nothing compelling. There is no reason to turn to the next page. As a matter of fact, it violates every rule of good storytelling, the most noted of which is: make the reader care. I didn't care. There is nothing even at stake. Nobody's life is on the line, just their reputation, in lives that are apparently cut short all over the place because of broken hearts. Everyone in this story is pining for everybody else who isn't their spouse. Nobody is satisfied with their lot. All the passions are based on superficiality as well. It is the shallowest book I've ever read. It wants to be a Shakespearean tragedy. It's not even close. It's not in the same galaxy. It's garbage."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: January 2063.

50Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Jun 7, 2015, 1:14pm Top

>49 MartinBodek:

But apart from that, did you like it?

51MartinBodek
Jun 8, 2015, 9:51am Top

Ha! :-)

52Yells
Jun 8, 2015, 11:55am Top

It sounds so bad that I am now intrigued.

53MartinBodek
Jun 8, 2015, 1:53pm Top

...to read more about it? Or to read *it*? Go for the former; avoid the latter.

54MartinBodek
Jun 11, 2015, 11:51am Top

Book #13: Oroonoko
Days to read: 7
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This book was an extremely difficult read; prose in its most jawbreaking style. Thanks goodness it was short, because what should have been a single afternoon's read was instead stretched out over eight uch-I-can't-stand-this-let-me-read-something-else days. Had it been a regular-size novel, I'd still be reading it until kingdom come. I found the ending repugnant, horrific, and morally disgusting, and I'm glad I could move on quickly to the post-1700 books on the "1,001 books to read" list."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: November 2061.

55paruline
Edited: Jun 11, 2015, 12:16pm Top

Cheer up, Moll Flanders and A Modest Proposal are coming up!

56MartinBodek
Jun 11, 2015, 2:54pm Top

Woohoo!

57M1nks
Jun 12, 2015, 9:29am Top

Religious books aren't ones which lend themselves well to truthful reviews. Or, rather, a book like Pilgrim's Progress means a great deal to a great many religious people who have been raised on it. So they'll love it and rate it accordingly.

I don't have that connect with it and was listening it to the way I listen/read any book, as a literary text. I finally got through it but it was nigh on torturous. I don't know if I'm supposed to read the one he wrote later with Christians wife but I absolutely cannot bear the thought of it so I'm not going to.

58MartinBodek
Jun 12, 2015, 1:47pm Top

I happen to be a religious people, and I'm actually surprised to find that these religious texts are not connecting with me. Bad literature is bad literature, even if the general topic or genre is near to the reader's heart.

59M1nks
Edited: Jun 12, 2015, 2:03pm Top

But did you grow up with Pilgrim's Progress? I've just had a group read with this work and everyone who loved it had had it read to them as a child and continued to do so as an adult. To them it wasn't 'just a book', it was a guide to life, a divine gift and they could see no fault with it.

Personally I thought it was violent, boring and unimaginative. The trifecta of terrible reads. But, unlike with other works candid discussion of it as a work of literature was greatly limited due to those in the group who obviously found any rejection of the work as a direct attack on their faith. It got very awkward and rather preachy. I think I'll avoid any highly charged books as group reads for the future.

60hdcanis
Jun 12, 2015, 4:23pm Top

Well, I read it first time only as an adult and still enjoyed it so it's not just that. But admittedly I enjoy works that cheerfully discard naturalism in favour of blatant allegory, so it reads like an old mystery play. (And having a bit of a hard edge in it works for its favour, I have no patience with sentimental self-help fluff like Little Prince...)

61MartinBodek
Jun 17, 2015, 1:54pm Top

Book #14: A Tale of a Tub
Days to read: 7
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "I need a guide for the satirically perplexed. In the introduction to this guide, I need it explained to me why satire needs to be couched in metaphor. Along with this explanation, I need some sort of legend that shows me what each allegory means - and every time the allegory is mentioned, it needs to be footnoted again, because I can't keep track of it all in my head. The digressions and preachings were jarring and confusing as well. I had no idea what was going on, or what the author was trying to say, but it was short, so it's over. "
Rating: **
Projected Finish: July 2059.

62MartinBodek
Jul 7, 2015, 1:39pm Top

Book #15: Robinson Crusoe
Days to read: 21
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "My first experience with Robinson Crusoe was a "Book & Recording" edition I enjoyed as a youngster (this one!: http://www.amazon.com/Robinson-Crusoe-Recording-Record-included/dp/B001H80OD2). Like many books adapted for the appetites of the younger set, the unexpurgated versions offer enjoyable surprises. In this instance: an excellent story, a non-fiction feel, identification and empathy with the adventurous survivor type, an interesting coda, and a well-told overall tale. If this is the first such work of fiction ever recorded, then this is an achievement in and of itself. As a fan of shows like "Man vs. Wild" and "Naked & Afraid," the book had resonance with me. The episode with the wolves at the end definitely called to mind the hallmark scene of Stephen King's "Wolves of the Calla." I wonder if Mr. King used that as inspiration. Defoe's version had almost as much good tension. On the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list, at 15 books in, this is my second favorite behind Don Quixote."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: April 2059.

63MartinBodek
Jul 10, 2015, 10:05am Top

Book #16: Love in Excess
Days to read: 4
Source: Touro College Library ILL (Brooklyn College Library)
Review: "How is this any different from Princess of Cleves? It's just as dull, boring, uninteresting, uncompelling, and dreadful. The only difference is that a few elements were ratcheted up several degrees, such as the note-passing, bodice-ripping, and general, deplorable, ghastly, objectionable whoredom. It's too overt a conceit that women who are frank about their sexuality and desires conveniently drop dead, while those who are chaste get to skate. No fair that D'elmont gets to live happily ever after while leaving ruined lives in his wake. How good looking IS this guy anyway, that so many surrendered themselves to him to the ultimate fault? Ladies, there are other gentlemen available on earth, go find one. Jeez, nobody deserves to have so much vaginal pining offered up to him. The book is garbage."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: November 2057.

64MartinBodek
Aug 3, 2015, 3:05pm Top

Book #17: Moll Flanders
Days to read: 19
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "or, as it might otherwise be called: "The Accidental Whore & Grifter, Who Lives Happily Ever After," which, if asked to give a ten-word review, would be perfectly fitting. All that would need to be added would be to say that the whore part was interesting, the grifter part wasn't, and the happily ever after part was consistent with how Defoe seems to write: tie things up nicely with a bow, as he did with Crusoe. It should also be mentioned that all of it was readable, because Defore is a deft writing hand."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: October 2058.

65Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Aug 8, 2015, 7:02am Top

>63 MartinBodek: "Jeez, nobody deserves to have so much vaginal pining offered up to him".

Quoted just so I can see that sentence again. I might try to work it into conversation this week. :)

The early section of the 1001 doesn't seem to be an easy ride for you. I admire your perseverance.

I thought Moll Flanders was great. And I agree with your assessment of Gargantua and Pantagruel a few books back. For me, it's been one of the least enjoyable on the 1001 list so far.

66MartinBodek
Aug 10, 2015, 3:14pm Top

Cliff, let me know how that conversation goes. :-)

The early section is filled with barely-there attempts at the novel crafting of noveling. Why does it seem mostly filled with male writers creating women who narrate themselves as whores? Has the 1,001 zeroed in on these, or is this the way it was generally?

Flanders was very, very good indeed, but it wasn't Quixote, a nearly untoppable chunk of brilliance.

For me the least enjoyable is a tie with anything I have referred to as garbage.

67MartinBodek
Aug 20, 2015, 9:17am Top

Book #18: Roxana
Days to read: 9
Source: Touro College Library ILL (Stamford University Library)
Review: "The 18th century "1,001 books..." march through whoredom continues with another whore whoring her way around the Whorenited Kingdom. Who finds this claptrap, pun intended, entertaining? Certainly I don't. Defoe is still a deft storytelling hand, but I'm done with the whores who are also part-time accountants tallying every penny that their whoredom earns them. The only thing that sets this one apart is that as she descends further and further into her self-made happily-ever-during-but-collapse-at-the-end life is that throughout, she is constantly contemplative of her actions. Big deal. She's still a decrepit moral morass, and Mr. Boxall, I can't read any more like this. How is this a contribution to literature?"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: February 2058.

68aliciamay
Aug 20, 2015, 6:33pm Top

You have a bit of a reprieve in regards to whoring (10 books until Fanny Hill), but I can't say there is much of literary value on your horizon, imo. Hopefully this won't cause you to throw in the towel on the 1001s entirely. What's your policy on abandoning a book?

69hdcanis
Aug 21, 2015, 2:10am Top

This made me wonder...about modern media technology it is often said that when a new technology is taken up by porn industry, it has really arrived. Wonder if you are witnessing a similar thing regarding novel in 18th century, all the whoring was a sign that novel as a form really is a form of media worth notice.

70MartinBodek
Aug 27, 2015, 2:20pm Top

aliciamay: 9 straight books of non-whoring? Be still my heart! :-)

As for my policy, I'll never abandon a book. This is a project I take seriously, but in general, for books off-list, I'll give a horrid book 25 pages or so before tossing it. If I can't even make it that for, it's clearly garbage. If I make it further, I'm committed.

hdcanis: certainly a very interesting hypothesis.

71puckers
Aug 27, 2015, 3:37pm Top

>70 MartinBodek: however, you do have to wade through the interminable Clarissa in six books time where our heroine is the antitheses of whoredom but the villain and his allies are firmly in that camp.

72MartinBodek
Sep 1, 2015, 4:55pm Top

Non-whoring for only six straight books? Okay, I'll have to take it. I do admit though, that Clarissa scares me. I'll probably spend more time reading that book than in any of the 1,001, unless there's another that might actually have more words. Infinite Jest, perhaps? That certainly frightens me too, but that one will be a while.

73Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Edited: Sep 2, 2015, 11:14am Top

I would imagine that Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time and the mighty Proust probably surpass even Clarissa's word-count.

Currently reading Roxana, by the way, following your powerful recommendation ;)

74M1nks
Edited: Sep 2, 2015, 1:27pm Top

Clarissa might be long but is it difficult? I've not read it. I have an idea that it would be a pretty easy read ie simple language and concepts, but that's just going on the blurb I've read.

F.Y.I I have read Infinite Jest and it is most assuredly not an easy read.

So far as Dance to the Music of Time goes, I'm breezing through it. By far the most difficult part of it is keeping all of the multitude of different characters straight when I'm only reading one book a month. That's a challenge!

75puckers
Sep 2, 2015, 2:15pm Top

>74 M1nks: Not difficult just repetitive to the point of tedious. I reckon you could remove 75% without the loss of a single plot point.

76MartinBodek
Sep 2, 2015, 2:38pm Top

Cliff, ooh yeah, I gather my powerful recommendations have flocked many a reader to the books I've decried. I'm happy to provide that service.

M1nks, I like your confidence and derring-read.

77MartinBodek
Sep 2, 2015, 2:46pm Top

Book #19: Gulliver's Travels
Days to read: 21
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "For those of you who be all, like, "What? You never read Gulliver's Travels?", the answer is yes, and that's exactly why I've embarked on reading the 1,001 Books I Need to Read Before I die. It will help me catch up on much of what was not mandatory on my poor educational track. Besides, I get to experience so much with fresh eyes, that I actually feel I prefer it, in a way. I found the book thoroughly interesting, and it appealed to my peripatetic nature and my natural curiosity for differences and similarities between cultures. As for what exactly Swift was satirizing, I have no idea. I don't know the politics of his time and region. The book was good enough without pondering all that."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: August 2058.

78MartinBodek
Sep 2, 2015, 3:02pm Top

Book #20: A Modest Proposal
Days to read: 1
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "His proposal is WHAT? This is satire? Satire of what? I don't get it. Is the whole thing a setup for the final sentence? If so, still not funny. Whatevs, moving on to the next book in the 1,001 Books..."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: August 2055.

79Yells
Sep 2, 2015, 6:26pm Top

>74 M1nks: - I suffered through Pamela and am not looking forward to Clarissa. I agree with Puckers. He could have used a good editor.

80Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Edited: Sep 3, 2015, 8:46am Top

>77 MartinBodek:

As for what exactly Swift was satirizing, I have no idea. I don't know the politics of his time and region.


Ah, that describes so much of my own reading.

>78 MartinBodek:

Satire of what?


However, I think I know this one. Not read it, but I believe it's a satire on how the British government treated the problem of the harsh conditions suffered by the Irish peasants (even before the potato famine). And more generally, a satire on how poverty is dismissed so unfeelingly by the wealthy.

81MartinBodek
Edited: Sep 3, 2015, 9:42am Top

Thanks for that, Cliff. I re-read it and I think I now understand it better, but still: weird.

82M1nks
Edited: Sep 3, 2015, 10:34am Top

Yes that is what it was satirizing. I thought you were joking saying 'satire of what'?. I thought you meant that either such a subject was unsuitable for satire or that he did such a poor job of it that it didn't deserve the name.

It was probably his most controversial piece of writing and the pointed viciousness has sometimes been missed. I have also heard that some people of his day thought he was serious in his 'proposal' and if that's not a sad indictment of the way the Irish were treated I don't know what would be.

I read both of these together when I was quite young and loved them both. Like you I wasn't on top of the politics (I think I was 13 at the time so that would have been a big ask) but I knew Swift was a very angry man. The book also had a blurb giving some background into the reason for his work so I wasn't totally left to figure it out for myself. I vaguely recall the parallels drawn between the egg eaters and the political parties of the time. As well as showing how the passing of time made Swift more bitter and the stories of his 'travels' darker and more contemptuous of humankind.

83M1nks
Sep 3, 2015, 10:42am Top

I got curious and looked it up on good 'ol Wiki:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Modest_Proposal

84Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Sep 3, 2015, 11:49am Top

>76 MartinBodek: Just finished Roxana. I liked it a bit more than you. Check out my review if interested.

85streamsong
Sep 3, 2015, 12:50pm Top

Ah, I have not read A Modest Proposal but since it's on Project Gutenberg, I will do so now. Very interesting discussion - thank you all.

86MartinBodek
Sep 3, 2015, 1:41pm Top

M1nks, thank you for your elucidation. This is good preparation for the upcoming Swift - and satire - entries. I need to know what is being skewered in order to appreciate the skewering.

87Nickelini
Sep 3, 2015, 1:49pm Top

For the better known books on the 1001 list, there is generally a lot of helpful information on the internet. One site that I find that is often both useful and entertaining is Shmoop.com. I especially like their "Why Should I Care?" sections under each title.

Here's the link to their take on A Modest Proposal: http://www.shmoop.com/a-modest-proposal/

88MartinBodek
Sep 3, 2015, 3:14pm Top

Nickelini, that is an excellent find. Thank you very much! I've already had a peek at the synopsis of Joseph Andrews, which is currently plaguing me with boredom, but at least I now grasp the context. shmoop.com is not a go-to for me.

89Nickelini
Sep 3, 2015, 3:55pm Top

>88 MartinBodek: I'm always happy to lead people to Shmoop ;-)

90MartinBodek
Sep 17, 2015, 12:10pm Top

Book #21: Joseph Andrews
Days to read: 9
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "I've read Cervantes. I've reviewed Lyly. I've perused Nashe. Defoe was an admiree of mine. Andrews, you're no Cervantes, Lyly, Nashe, Defoe - or Swift."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: October 2055.

91MartinBodek
Sep 25, 2015, 9:05am Top

Book #22: Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus
Days to read: 11
Source: University of Oxford Text Archive
Review: "Not terribly unreadable, and not altogether boring and trying, and quite Rabelaisian, and quite a surprise enjoyment on the 1,001 Books to Read list. I suppose it's to be expected, considering satire to be an acquired taste, but in the hands of many masters, it's actually not untriumphant a piece of literature."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: October 2055.

92MartinBodek
Oct 12, 2015, 1:12pm Top

Book #23: Jacques the Fatalist
Days to read: 19
Source: ptchanculto.binhoster.com
Review: "I understand what the author was trying to do, really I do. I understand why he didn't consider it fiction. I understand a lot of the philosophy. I also understand that the narrative is built intentionally to be one that is constantly disrupted. I might even understand why the author considered the method unique. What I don't understand, is why he - or all readers hence - would consider this jarring way of telling things to be entertaining."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: September 2055.

93MartinBodek
Edited: Oct 30, 2015, 8:56am Top

Book #24: Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded
Days to read: 21
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "Or: Stockholm Syndrome, The Novel. Or, better yet, a concise 8-word review: "Be mine, my darling. No? You're mine, bitch." That about covers it perfectly. More than any other book in the "1,001 Books To Read..." collection, this didn't just have me bored to tears at times, or exhausted from the ennui of it all, but this novel actually made me ANGRY! The first half of the book is this son of a bitch mind-rapist and jailer who pursues this poor girl until she finally succumbs. Dude! Move on! Other fish to fry! Then the second half of the novel contains some of the most dreadfully eye-rollng passages in the history of literature: paragraphs about squabbling over a wedding date (ugh!), pages of her getting introduced to people (honestly, this is the worst ever! The worst!!!), and nonsensical and non-stop GRATITUDE from this woman towards her captor, who is the mightiest, evilest asshole ever in all of bookdom. She's HAPPY to live by his 50-plus rules (while he galavants about, doing what he wants), and she's DELIGHTED to care for his bastard child??? What is this? It isn't a satire, is it? It certainly isn't any kind of entertainment for the reader! It's awful! Awful! And how is her virtue rewarded exactly? By being made a prisoner to the rest of her life? And being forced to love it? What the hell??? I'm inCENSED at the plight of the protagonist, and I'm a man!"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: March 2055.

94puckers
Oct 30, 2015, 9:13am Top

Are you tackling Clarissa next? If so be prepared for an extended variation on this theme without the "happy" ending.

95MartinBodek
Oct 30, 2015, 9:38am Top

I am - oh, man.

96annamorphic
Nov 3, 2015, 2:21pm Top

Perhaps time for a quick detour to read Shamela, Fielding's famous parody of Richardson's book which evidently struck some as insane in its own day too.

97Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Nov 4, 2015, 5:35pm Top

>93 MartinBodek:

I am a bit unclear whether or not you enjoyed it.

98Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Nov 4, 2015, 5:36pm Top

Just kidding. Another cracking review - excellent entertainment.

99MartinBodek
Nov 5, 2015, 4:59pm Top

Annamorphic: Was thinking the same thing! I think I'll at least have a peek. I'm sure it serves as some form of catharsis.

Cliff-Rhu-Rhubard: Ha! Glad you're enjoying, because I certainly am...not.

100Deern
Nov 6, 2015, 1:45am Top

It might not help you with the book, but show you that others suffered as well... we did a yearlong GR in 2012 with some people of this group and some of the "75 books" group, trying to read the letters by date. It's quite spoiler-free (or they are clearly marked, it was before the spoiler tags).
I never got to reading the original shorter version of course and still haven't touched Pamela.
Here's the link: http://www.librarything.com/topic/130187

I'd also like to say that I enjoy your reviews tremendously!!!

101MartinBodek
Nov 11, 2015, 4:49pm Top

Deern: it's nice to know others are suffering along with me as well with something so insufferable. I'm absorbing Clarissa now via audiobook, because there is no other tolerable way to do this. I'd rather claw my eyes out than read this tripe, but I don't want to rip my ears off, generally, so listening is the appropriate way.

And I appreciate that you like my reviews. I call 'em as I see 'em.

102MartinBodek
Edited: Dec 22, 2015, 1:35pm Top

Book #25: Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady
Days to read: 53
Source: Touro College Library ILL (Bard College Library)
Review: "Our long national nightmare is over. After two months of sheer torture, I'm finally free, and it is good to know that I can never have a worse reading experience as long as I live. It isn't possible. Why do I say that? Because this is the longest novel in the English language (by words: 969,000), and even if something sucks as hard, I won't have to deal with it for so long. And besides, the long novels I know are on my horizon due to my 1,001 Book Reading Project are more likely than not to be of higher quality, because, seriously, how can it get worse than this?

It was so awful, I had to resort to audibooks to absorb it all, so my daily treadmill runs, which I enjoy immensely, fatigued me to death as the narrator droned on.

How dreadful was the audibook material? I swear, on multiple occasions, the reader yawned. I'm not kidding. That's how bad it was.

Clearly, what Richardson was trying to do was to take his original piece-of-crap epistolary novel, Pamela, and amp it up with more complexity and intrigue. Problem is: he filled it up with a family of assholes and pyschosexual torture. Who finds this entertaining? Certainly not me. The introduction of the book actually claims this is Richardson's masterpiece. Ha! I'll be the judge of that! I declare that it is about as far from a masterpiece as any piece of literature can be. I call it a disasterpiece, and as such, it is the greatest disasterpiece of them all.

It was a complete waste of my time, but I'm committed to my project, and because of the depth of the misery of experiencing this trashpile, I feel it's all downhill from here. Wheeeee!"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: May 2059.

103M1nks
Dec 22, 2015, 12:25pm Top

I swear, on multiple occasions, the reader yawned.

HAH!

104hdcanis
Dec 22, 2015, 12:44pm Top

Hmm, tbh I do enjoy families of assholes and psychosexual torture in my fiction, so I guess I should give this a try.

105MartinBodek
Dec 22, 2015, 1:37pm Top

M1nks, I'm seriously not kidding. I think the reader yawned, and the producer must have been, like, "Meh, who gives a crap, nobody's gonna listen to this anyway. Yawn away. No coffee for you."

hdcanis, go ahead and enjoy. I can't. If I come across another such book on this list that contains these elements, I'm going to cry. Right now, I'm raging, but crying? That's when the experience HURTS.

106MartinBodek
Edited: Mar 11, 2016, 12:23pm Top

Book #26: The Adventures of Roderick Random
Days to read: 18
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Nothing happens in this book. I'm not saying that in a Seinfeldian kind of way, where nothing happens, but plenty happens in between. No, nothing happens, and I don't even mean that nothing of import or interest happens. No, nothing happens. There isn't a thing or an event that actually occurs. The book is a black hole of nothingness. It didn't just bore me, it zombied me. You know what's worse than doing nothing? Doing something and having it feel like you're doing nothing. Now that's torture. That's just not right. Anyone who has any kind of praise for this book, or heck, anyone who can remember a single scene in it, with any kind of detail, should have their head examined."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: June 2059.

107puckers
Jan 8, 2016, 3:57pm Top

Hi Martin - Happy New Year!!

108Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Jan 8, 2016, 5:35pm Top

>106 MartinBodek:

Anyone who has any kind of praise for this book, or heck, anyone who can remember a single scene in it, with any kind of detail, should have their head examined.


I read it, enjoyed it very much and remember large chunks of it. I may well need my head examined - thanks for the suggestion. Although I'm unsure if there's a causal link between my mental health and enjoyment of Smollett's work.

Please don't give up.

I love your consistent inability to connect to the mindset of an earlier age, ironic or otherwise.

I love the ladlings of vigorous US slang.

I love the whole eye-rolling-teenager-trapped-in-a-dull-lecture schtick.

Masterful stuff.

109MartinBodek
Jan 13, 2016, 3:42pm Top

puckers - Happy New Year to you! I'm guessing you mean it in a hey-there-amusing-curmudgeon kind of way. I don't think I'm a curmudgeon. I just think some of these books are overrated and I will refuse to hold them as sacred cows. What I think of 'em, I'll let everyone know. I suppose the more I suffer, the more entertaining it is for others; the less I suffer, the more entertaining it is for me.

Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb: I will not give up; I refuse to connect with mindsets. They are irrelevant. A well told book is a well told book, regardless of context. As is a badly-written book; I'm a US slangster. Hence the ladlings; I'm hardly a teenager, but certainly this my first experience with these forms of literature, hence I suppose the inevitable result is virginal eye-rolling.

110Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Edited: Jan 13, 2016, 6:01pm Top

>109 MartinBodek:

I refuse to connect with mindsets. They are irrelevant. A well told book is a well told book, regardless of context. As is a badly-written book


Ah, I think I'm being reeled in some more here, but OK, I'll bite.

How can 'badly written' or 'well-told' ever be 'regardless of context'? The idea that these constructs are absolute and immutable is pretty strange.

Your own notions of 'bad writing' obviously didn't parachute in from nowhere - inevitably, they're ideas that have been shaped by the age and the place in which you live. Likewise, the audiences of different periods had different ideas about good and bad writing, formed from their own experiences. In some periods, audiences expected to hear extensive lineages for the characters involved. In others, they expected to hear God's glorification, or at least of his involvement.

Ideas about style have changed hugely. Take The Mysteries of Udolpho (you'll love it!), Emily confronts almost every challenge by either (a) weeping (b) fainting or (c) weeping and fainting. She does this about every ten pages in a monumentally baggy novel that has more holes in the plot than a colandar.

Was this 'bad writing'? Not for 19th century audiences, who lapped it up and asked for more. Radcliffe was very successful - she connected with her particular audience, which is what all good writers do. She couldn't have anticipated an age which viewed constantly fainting heroine's with amusement and disdain, nor one that wanted action delivered in choppy sentences and short, manageable chunks. And had she been born in a different age, she would have shared their weltanschauung and written it differently.

If you say writing is simply good or bad, given that these ideas arise from your own set of cultural influences, what you're really saying is that the only standards that are important are those of the 21st century. Saying that you hate a book, or found it boring, or whatever, is quite different to accusing the author of not being able to write well. You could only legitimately make that criticism by stepping into the shoes of the intended audience, which you are determined not to attempt.

Anyway, I suspect my irony detector has malfunctioned and that you're chuckling away to yourself. All good stuff, either way.

111LolaWalser
Jan 13, 2016, 6:16pm Top

>110 Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb:

Radcliffe was commercially successful, but not critically acclaimed. Whether one loves or hates fainting heroines, she's not a great writer.

>109 MartinBodek:

You've panned quite a few books I love, but I sincerely enjoy your candid, no-prisoners-taken approach.

112puckers
Jan 13, 2016, 7:04pm Top

>109 MartinBodek: Exactly, I always enjoy the unfiltered honesty of your reviews. But I do hope you have a Happier Reading New Year in 2016. I enjoyed much of Peregrine Pickle so look forward to your reaction.

113Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Jan 14, 2016, 4:15pm Top

>111 LolaWalser:

Radcliffe was commercially successful, but not critically acclaimed.


I beg to differ. Here's what the British Library has to say, for example:

The ‘Shakspeare sic of Romance Writers; ‘the mighty magician of THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO’; ‘the first poetess of romantic fiction’; ‘a genius of no common stamp’; ‘the great enchantress of that generation’; ‘mother Radcliff sic’: Nathan Drake, T J Mathias, Walter Scott, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Thomas De Quincey and John Keats respectively, together with countless other essayists, reviewers and critics of the Romantic period in Britain, praised the writing of the Gothic romancer, poet and travel-writer Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764–1823) in the most superlative terms imaginable. /blockquote>

- British Library site

Whether one loves or hates fainting heroines, she's not a great writer.


Says who? Not her contemporaries, apparently. Are we so much wiser in taste and judgement than the literary luminaries of her day? Surely, it's more the case that in this particular time and place, we (or more accurately, 'many of us') value different qualities in writers. Point is that greatness is only ever a consensus judgement passed by a particular strata in a particular society. It's not passed down from Olympus.

I get a kick out of Martin's reviews, whether tongue-in-cheek or not. What puzzles me is his assertion that it's not necessary to make any attempt to connect to an earlier age when passing judgement on whether something is badly written (see >109 MartinBodek:). That seems to me very different to just enthusiastically declaring one's dislike.

As an aside, I was discussing something similar about context with Arukiyomi on here recently - I think he had it about right and I didn't.

114LolaWalser
Jan 14, 2016, 9:37pm Top

>113 Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb:

Of the names mentioned, I'd look twice only at whatever Keats had to say--he had an interesting mind. As for being a "Shakespeare of the Romance Writers", I suppose it's a compliment if one believes "Romance" can have any sort of "Shakespeare". I don't.

(But, I don't know why you went on about Radcliffe given that she's not the subject so far of any of Martin's reviews.)

Are we so much wiser in taste and judgement than the literary luminaries of her day?

If wisdom derives from experience, then yes, we are much wiser... if it's not utterly pointless to ask and answer such questions at all. Nothing is static, we have moved on in countless ways since any point in the past. It's ludicrous to imagine that we should (or could) abide by the standards of any past century. One could easily argue Martin is making these authors the ultimate compliment in treating them as if they wrote today, instead of mummified pieces of the past one must uncritically "enjoy".

But the main point I'd wish to make is that, contrary to your implication, he isn't merely issuing blanket negative judgements--there are books up there he liked and praised. That's why I find his negatives interesting: there's information in the difference.

Apologies for diverting your thread, Martin. I tried to be short but please let me know if you'd rather the posts were deleted.

115Jan_1
Jan 15, 2016, 2:05am Top

I like your reviews Martin, I like reviews where people share their gut reactions to books honestly, even when I have completely different opinion. its one of the things i enjoy so much about this group.

116Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Jan 15, 2016, 5:09am Top

>114 LolaWalser:

I 'went on about Radcliffe' simply because she is a prime example of a writer who is judged differently in this century than she was in the past. There are plenty of other writers who would serve. You may take issue with the specific writers cited in the opening sentence, but I think the general point holds - actually she was critically acclaimed..

I don't share your confidence that we are wiser than our forebears in matters of taste and literary judgement. If we were talking about Biology or Astronomy, some discipline built on objective knowledge, then of course. But we're not -we just value different things. If you're really insisting that our own standards are superior because we've learned from experience, then it would seem we haven't moved forward at all, as we have yet to conquer the absolutist tendencies shown in previous generations.

To my mind, it's ludicrous not to practise some sort of awareness of the standards of the past, at least when it comes to making pronouncements about what is 'well-told' or not.

I was quite careful to draw a distinction between (a) a personal reaction of boredom, outrage, or enjoyment and (b) making an assessment of greatness, whether the writing is good. whether the tale is well-told etc. I can't see the same distinction in your response. I'm by no means saying that we're obliged to enjoy the writings of the past, but we are obliged to consider context before announcing that a given writer is good or bad. Which is what MD asserts in >109 MartinBodek:.

I agree, though, that in one of the posts up there, I did seem to be implying that there were 'blanket negative judgements', and that isn't accurate.

117LolaWalser
Jan 15, 2016, 2:53pm Top

>116 Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb:

she is a prime example of a writer who is judged differently in this century than she was in the past.

Eh. I didn't think I'd need to bring it up (to be honest, I can still hardly believe anyone would bother defending Mrs. Radcliffe as a great writer--the proof to the contrary is in her puddings, plentifully), but let's remember this was someone Jane Austen famously spoofed. For reasons evident on any page of "The mysteries of Udolpho", "The Italian" etc.

As for her being "judged differently" in this century... that she may be read enjoyably (by some) or should receive historical credit, is not an issue. (Not to mention that consecrating rubbish of all sorts is a cottage industry of modern criticism, and no wonder--there are only so many "classics" to "rediscover".) But I can't say I've seen an excess of defences of her literaryquality--and I'm not surprised in the least.

But we're not -we just value different things.

No, our literary experiences are objectively vaster, because a book published in, say, 1780 has by now been read by many more generations, in many more contexts. The sheer passage of time, while annihilating the original framework, superposes many other, multiplying information. We can't read an 18th century book like an 18th century person, although fools and ignoramuses, of course, are of an innocence in any period.

I'm by no means saying that we're obliged to enjoy the writings of the past, but we are obliged to consider context before announcing that a given writer is good or bad.

Context matters in different ways for different purposes; what context is this? Going by what you said about Mrs. Radcliffe, it should matter that she was popular once upon a time and that someone said X--but never mind that other people said Y! It's not much of an argument, especially if we remember that classical "canon" building relies on the idea of eternal, unchanging literary quality. Is Mrs. Radcliffe as good as the best literature produced in her lifetime? Is she half as good as Sterne, Laclos, Blake, Coleridge, Kleist, Austen...?

Which is what MD asserts in >109 MartinBodek: MartinBodek:.

Actually, Martin didn't pronounce on "good" or "bad" writers; he claims "a badly-written book is a badly-written book".

118Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Jan 20, 2016, 2:44pm Top

Hello Lola. Weirdly, I thought of your post when I was vacuuming. This will be a bit of a scatter-gun response.

Out of the various points you made, I’m intrigued by your idea that our assessment of literary quality advances over time, because were able to build upon the knowledge of previous generations of readers. Literary judgement advances much like an empirical science, through a gradual accretion of knowledge. I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t agree with it.

I can see that each generation has its favoured means of literary analysis: Freudian, Marxist, Feminist and so on - but I'm not convinced that these really represent any forward progress.
With scientific revolutions/shifts in paradigm– say from Newtonian to Relativistic - we have a yardstick by which we can measure progress. Relativity predicts results and explains phenomena that Newtonian mechanics can’t. In literary judgements, though, it seems to me that each generation just invents new yardsticks. Furthermore, they are fond of declaring the yardsticks of the previous generations redundant, with some vehemence. So I'm not confident literary judgements make much use of accumulated experience.

And if analysis of art progresses through accumulated weight of experience, then presumably artists too, drawing on that same pool of experience, should do the same. I know you haven’t said this but to me it seems a corollary of accepting your view on artistic judgment advancing over time. However, the idea that art ‘advances’ seems a peculiar proposition – art surely just changes to reflect the preoccupations and interests of the day.

So, I don’t see a timeless golden standard of literature hovering somewhere beyond earth to which we can make appeal in our quest to establish what is great. I see a very human construct that forms and reforms according to the prevailing social winds.

To suggest that we’re sitting at the apogee of judgement in our particular culture strikes me as hubristic, if that’s a word. I thought we had stopped this business of assuming our culture was the most advanced some time ago. We’ve certainly stopped assuming we’re superior in matters of judgement to other contemporaneous cultures – so, few Westerners these days would assume our cultural standards are somehow better than those of Japanese people (for example). Yet your argument suggests this is quite valid to continue to do this temporally if not spatially.

On a similar note, the whole idea of a canon of timeless greats seems a bit dodgy to me. If I understand it correctly, the origins of a literary canon lay with Christian academics, who wanted a list of morally instructive books to benefit our immortal souls. So right from its inception, the idea of a canon not only proposes a kind of platonic world of ideal books, but associates this quite explicitly with religious faith. However, the canon has proven itself all too human, continually changing as writers fall in and out of favour. At a trivial level, look at the 1001 list, a commercial attempt to produce a canon. I think around a third of it has changed from the first edition to the latest. For me canon is nothing more than a fashion statement for the cognoscenti of a particular point in time.

Second point – and I’m not confident I can articulate this, so bear with me. I agree that we can't ever really read like a 18th century reader. However, I think as readers that if there’s no attempt to adjust perspective, then we miss out so much.

If I can draw a personal analogy with watching early films. Let’s say I watch Metropolis, or James Whale’s Frankenstein, or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. If I watch them with my entirely 21st century head on, I might be amused at the exaggerated stagey gestures, or the primitive special effects, or the dialogue. But I don’t want to watch those films in a spirit of post-modern irony. I don’t want to watch them for giggles. Nor do I want to appreciate them simply for stylistic innovations. I want more than that. But to get it, I have to get into a different frame of mind. I have to switch off certain 21st century sensibilities. Watching on my flat screen TV, I try to associate with audiences watching those films for the first time, the creepy, flickering majesty of it in smoky movie houses with a theatre orchestra playing – like a brand new type of opera. That’s the spirit in which I want to watch those films.

Likewise, reading is a fundamentally imaginative act. Without being willing to accept the premises advanced by the author, it’s a non-starter. If someone's first response to ‘Joe crossed the street’ is ‘no, he didn’t’ (I have a friend who can’t get past this point) then it’s wasted on him. But by extension, I’d say that buying into the author’s vision also means making the attempt to identify with her intended audience. For example, for me, the fascinating thing about early Gothic is how it shows that in the audience, enlightenment ideas were jostling for position with Christian or even medieval ones. That makes the period come alive, and the book too.

So when Martin employs his steadfastly 21st century perspective – say when he accuses lovers of Smollett (like me) of having mental health issues…I find it hilarious and strangely touching. It's so alien to me that it honestly makes me want to cuddle him (which may prove his point about my putative mental health). I suspect it’s just a pose for humour value, but I sooo want it not to be. And I both want him to start loving early fiction and to carry on hating it for my undiluted pleasure.

Anyway, I find I have written an essay in MD's thread, so I had best restrain myself and stay out of here in future. Thanks for your thought-provoking (if slightly scornful) input.

119LolaWalser
Jan 20, 2016, 3:33pm Top

Literary judgement advances much like an empirical science, through a gradual accretion of knowledge.

No, I did not mean this (nor said it, as far as I can see) at all. You've veered so far off from what I actually think that I don't know whether it's worthwhile trying to right this ship.

It's not a question of "progress" (linear at that!), cumulative something or other and other simplistic parallelisms to (simplistically) understood natural science.

There is no "final" judgement toward which to strive for; we are not "sitting on the apex" of anything. We are simply later and that much richer for more different points of view, because culture doesn't stand still. Subsequent analyses complicate, whether or not they "add" anything. We can't read Homer as if T.S. Eliot never existed. By the way, that any individual reader can ignore any aspect of criticism or literary theory goes without saying--even so, I would bet anyone existing in society would find it impossible to expunge every last trace of the changes to our condition since any given point in the past.

So when Martin employs his steadfastly 21st century perspective – say when he accuses lovers of Smollett (like me) of having mental health issues…I find it hilarious and strangely touching.

I'd be surprised if Martin were 100% serious about lovers of Smollett needing psychiatric help. As for employing steadfastly a perspective of his own time, do you think Smollett's contemporaries would have behaved differently? Seems to me Martin is, in a way, much closer to how most readers anywhere at any time approached books. But, again, the main thing is that even so he is finding things he likes and others he doesn't. What does that say about the value of his perspective and the qualities in the books he's reading?

This is not to say that I don't understand your protest to Martin at all--I do. (Frankly, I think you made a mistake by bringing Mrs. Radcliffe into this, when defending Smollett would have been on point.) But I believe that the problem isn't simply that Martin is wrong; it's that he doesn't respond to or appreciate certain other qualities present beside the characteristics he criticises.

Apologies again, Martin, for talking about you--no offence is meant and I hope none will be taken!

(if slightly scornful) input.

I'm sorry it comes across that way to you, I should probably take more time for pleasantries but I was trying to keep the word count down. I too have taken too much space here, so I suggest we move any further discussion elsewhere.

120MartinBodek
Feb 4, 2016, 10:46am Top

Oh my! I turn my back for just the duration of time needed to read the next book in the series, return to post my next review, and what do I find? A lively discussion centered around my book review perspective! I'm flattered, I'm honored, and I don't even know where to begin!

So, I'll review the thread and respond out any comments I feel are salient, and I'll address them as pithily, albeit as fully, as possible, because there's much reading to be done.

Cliff: I accept your rebuke with love. My reaction to a book mostly follows the esteemed Roger Ebert's approach to a critique of a movie: was he entertained?

I'll therefore avoid saying if a book is good or bad, but I won't hesitate to give my opinion of it as I see it. Rape and assholerly simply do not entertain me. I cannot stomach it. I will try to keep context in mind, however. This is a learning process. Please note that this is essentially my first dive into literature of this age, having been taught jack squat while raised on religious schooling.

Therefore, I big my critics to also understand *my* context: everything I learned was after college, and I have lots of catching up to do. I admit I'm not well-schooled on classic literature, but nevertheless, I don't offer free passes just because a work is held in high regard. I'm allowed to judge it separately.

Lola: I shall also remain candid and accept no prisoners.

Puckers: lucky me, I just finished Tom Jones, which I review next, which I liked (hint: people weren't just assholes, they were assholes with feeling - quite a departure from many of the books I've panned).

Open question to everyone: educate me: how available was literature to the masses in the 1700s and prior? What did "popular" mean? Could only the bourgeois afford boooks? Did only a certain class affix a lasting regard to the books of its age? Did the populace accept the great literature it was given as the best available? Did they demand better of any popular authors? Are there any famously panned books? Our age takes note of bombs, particularly in cinema. Did this exist in centuries prior in regards to literature?

Lola: I like this statement: "One could easily argue Martin is making these authors the ultimate compliment in treating them as if they wrote today, instead of mummified pieces of the past one must uncritically "enjoy"."

I also like this: "That's why I find his negatives interesting: there's information in the difference." Yes! It's common knowledge that, when purchasing products on Amazon, one should pay attention to the extreme ratings and opinions, rather than those in the middle. That's where the information lies. An average rating tells you nothing.

No apologies necessary for diversion! I'm flattered!

Jan_1: Thank you for your compliment.

Lola: you're correct in pointing out that I don't pronounce writers good or bad. I would not cast such aspersions. Example: Fielding. I have no opnion of the man, but his work? Joseph Andrews: bad. Tom Jones: good. :-)

Also, no need to apologize again. Keep the conversation going.

Now my problem is that I want you to notice this response in the group, but I also want to post my review of Tom Jones, which pleased me - but I promise, your commentary did not influence my critique. I'll let this post hang out a bit and try for a review later today.

Bottom line: I'll try to appreciate context more.

Thank you for your thoughts, everyone!

121MartinBodek
Edited: Mar 11, 2016, 12:22pm Top

Book #27: Tom Jones
Days to read: 27
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Now this one was interesting. Therein lay its problem. See, when I'm not enjoying a book I've committed myself to slog through to finish, I find it easy to glass over my eyes and function on autopilot till I get to the finish line.

However, if I'm enjoying a long book, I slow down, to savor and enjoy it, and in this case, because the book was so interesting, it just added on to the time it'll take me to finish my 1,001 Books Reading Project. This took me a month to get through. That's too long. I'd almost rather more of the books suck, which, thankfully in a weird way, they do.

Here's why I appreciated this book:

1) Characters weren't black or white, or, specifically, virtuous saints or chlamydia-wielding assholes. They were complex, varied, interesting, human.
2) It was well laid out, and constructed, and every book, chapter, scene, properly set and introduced. It was thus written in the style of an expert documentary.
3) Chapter headings were hilarious, and instructive. Fielding clearly cribbed it from Cervantes, but instead of butchering the idea in poor copy (as others did), he instead clearly and definitely made it his own.
4) Interesting things happened (as opposed to a book like Roderick Random, where nothing happened)!
5) The author thoroughly engaged the reader, as if holding his/her hand through the journey, welcoming him/her to the reading at the outset, and seeing him/her out in a friendly manner at the conclusion.
6) The philosophizing on the author's part was genuinely entertaining, and deliciously contemplative and educational. I enjoyed that most of all.
7) The ending was satisfying, and because of the book's careful construction, all loose ends were tied up nicely.

Okay fine, it was several hundred pages too long, and I don't see how young, fit people die of broken hearts (this isn't found in current literature. Did people believe this happened in days of yore? Didn't they really just die from bad teeth?), but this was good, real good, and I'm happy to be moving on. Ooh, Fanny Hill's next, and it's short. I hope it sucks. I need to stay on pace to complete this project within 40 years."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: June 2060.

122LolaWalser
Feb 4, 2016, 2:34pm Top

Thanks for the shoutouts, Martin, and I hope we haven't made you self-conscious. :)

As to your questions

how available was literature to the masses in the 1700s and prior? What did "popular" mean? Could only the bourgeois afford boooks? Did only a certain class affix a lasting regard to the books of its age? Did the populace accept the great literature it was given as the best available? Did they demand better of any popular authors? Are there any famously panned books? Our age takes note of bombs, particularly in cinema. Did this exist in centuries prior in regards to literature?

I too would like to hear the answers, perhaps we'll be lucky and some expert will turn up...

123puckers
Feb 4, 2016, 3:19pm Top

>121 MartinBodek: I too am intrigued by the way many of the older books on the list have psychological shocks affecting the health of otherwise vigorous young people. Clarissa (above) fades away with basically PTS even though she seemed as strong as an ox through her trials, and you are now entering the literary golden era of young ladies "falling senseless to the floor" due to a chance sighting or an overheard remark. I assume that this was the accepted literary device to demonstrate the sensitivity of young heroines during this time rather than a change in human physiology over the last two hundred years.

124annamorphic
Feb 8, 2016, 6:30pm Top

>120 MartinBodek: >122 LolaWalser: I can only answer this question for the beginning of your period, like before about 1625. At that time, few people were reading prose fiction. There were not many texts and they did not comprise a large chunk of the market, so Euphues and The Unfortunate Traveler were not widely read. In that period the best sellers seem to have been religious texts, almanacs, and news sheets/ballads -- at least according to a cursory look at The Elizabethan Top Ten! I don't know when real popularity started, but I'm betting that Richardson and Fielding were pretty popular. They just feel meant-to-be-read, in all the ways that Euphues does not!

125MartinBodek
Edited: Mar 11, 2016, 12:21pm Top

Book #28: Fanny Hill
Days to read: 14
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Porn! (im)pure, un-adult-erated (pun intended), salacious, audacious porn! Bawdy and tawdry! Ooh lawdy lawdry! No bone was left unturned!

How porny was it? Well, I put "salacious" through a thesaurus and got this: "concupiscent, goatish, horny, hot, hypersexual, itchy, lascivious, lecherous, lewd, libidinous, licentious, lubricious (or lubricous), oversexed, passionate, randy, lustful, satyric, wanton."

Yep, that about covers it, and I learned some interesting new words (but where's "smutty"?)!

But besides for being all of the above, it was also quite felicitous and delicitous. Okay, I'm pushing it with the rhyming.

Honestly, I enjoyed it. I'm a red-blooded male, what can I say? I have an obvious bias.

It also helps greatly that the linguistics were playful, the plot believable and simple, and there's a happy ending, with retirement before 20! Now isn't that the greatest fantasy of them all!

Some reviews I read (and footnotes!) said that the story is deeper than the mere apparent shallowness of it all, that there are philosophies alluded to and satires and winks to look for. Uh huh, yeah, right, it's porn. And that's okay, so enjoy.

I did."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: May 2062.

126annamorphic
Feb 25, 2016, 10:56am Top

>125 MartinBodek: I am reminded of Tom Lehrer:
"I thrill
To any book like Fanny Hill
And I suppose I always will
If it is swill
And really fil-
thy."

127MartinBodek
Feb 25, 2016, 11:54am Top

Ha! Fantastic!

128LolaWalser
Feb 25, 2016, 12:04pm Top

>125 MartinBodek:, >126 annamorphic:

Lol! Love Tom Lehrer.

129MartinBodek
Mar 11, 2016, 12:20pm Top

Book #29: The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
Days to read: 15
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "This book is described as "picaresque" which I now know to approach warily because I've learned what the word really translates to: From the Latin "Picar" which means "sucks," and from the Greek "esque" which means "big time."

How ironic that the protagonist's name also implies the quality of the book: From the Somali "Peregrine" which means, "Philandering world-wanderer," and the from Esperanto "Pickle," which means "Giant-ass practical joker with asshole friends."

I've been told I need to appreciate such books in context. Okay, fine, here's the context: the book is analogous to today in what would be it's modern day form: several seasons of "Jackass" between two covers.

I find no entertainment in cruelty and violence. Only Cormac McCarthy is allowed to write about that, because his prose is transcendent.

You must understand that my favorite forms of fictional entertainment, be it literature or cinema, is where everyone in the work is smart, and thinking.

Everyone here is the opposite. The book is a waste of valuable human time. My last nose-picking session was time better spent."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: August 2060.

130puckers
Mar 11, 2016, 1:57pm Top

Oh dear Martin. I quite enjoyed this one, except for the irrelevant and lengthy diversion in to "The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality". There again I used to find the "Carry On" movies a guilty pleasure also...

131MartinBodek
Mar 31, 2016, 10:50am Top

Book #30: Amelia
Days to read: 19
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "This book held so much promise: it had a different framework, layout, storytelling device, and set of characters who weren't the assholes I hate so much in 18th century literature, but rather opportunistic scheming asses with touches of nobility and purpose, some of whom "seduce" rather than "rape." Charming.

But it fell on its face. True, there were setpieces that were indeed intriguing and fascinating, but the exposition in between these scenes was dreadfully boring.

Most sorely missing was a quality editor with a hatchet, who could have hacked out hundreds and hundreds of pages, and just kept the forward-momentum pieces. It might have been a masterpiece.

Also standing in its favor was good engagement from the writer, and quality philosophizing on the complexities of man.

So it was a good book, almost pretty good, not quite very good, but could have been great.

Trim a little!"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: December 2061.

132LolaWalser
Apr 6, 2016, 2:48pm Top

Ha! One thing that must be said for the 18th century assholes is that they tend not to be religious hypocrites. I'm looking forward to your encounter with the Victorians! :)

133MartinBodek
Apr 20, 2016, 11:19am Top

Book #31: The Female Quixote
Days to read: 19
Source: Classicly.com
Review: "Now this one was interesting. I had zero expectations here whatsoever, and ended up pleasantly surprised.

What I thought would be a cheap knock-off of the original instead turned out to be a clever version of the original from the opposite side of the coin.

I also enjoyed how the writer was careful to convey the various forms with which the protagonist's specific madness could manifest itself, and particularly through the various prisms of the manifold relationships and personalities in the book.

Speaking of which, I also appreciated how the surrounding characters were staged, and their presence unfolded. This was done expertly, and peacemeal. I was able to track the characters and their personalities here, much more so than in other books, where they're introduced in a jumble and resemble each other too much.

Then the book stopped, before it become an exceedingly over-written, forgettable work. Nicely done.

One quibble: the ending saddened me, but I don't want to play spoiler explaining why."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: February 2061.

134M1nks
Edited: Apr 20, 2016, 11:48am Top

I was wondering when you'd do a write up of this one. I thought you'd probably like it.

P.S. If you want to comment on something but are afraid of giving something away to those who haven't read it just use spoiler tags.

135MartinBodek
Edited: Apr 20, 2016, 2:21pm Top

>I was wondering when you'd do a write up of this one.

No need to wonder. I'm going in exact order of the first 1,001 book. Everyone can know where I'm up to.

>I thought you'd probably like it.

I'm that predictable already?

>P.S. If you want to comment on something but are afraid of giving something away to those who haven't read it just use spoiler tags.

Oh? How do I do that?

136M1nks
Edited: Apr 20, 2016, 2:10pm Top

No I mean I knew that it was next on the list and wondered when the review would be up.

Spoiler tags you go put in the smaller than sign (above the ,) and type spoiler, then close it with a greater than sign (above the .). Then you type what you want to say and repeat the spoiler tag but this time you need to put a / in front of the word spoiler.

Sorry for the involved directions, I had to put it that way to make it viewable :-)

Like this

That's basic html code and works on Goodreads as well.

P.S. I don't know about predictable but as you liked both Tom Jones and Don Quixote I was pretty sure you'd like that one as well.

Oh and I didn't much like the ending either but I have no idea if it was for the same reason. My review is on my thread if you feel like checking. I didn't think it necessary to spoiler tag it though :-) Maybe I should?

137MartinBodek
Apr 26, 2016, 8:36am Top

Book #32: Candide
Days to read: 5
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Now why can't more 18th century books be written like this? It seems as if this Voltaire fella took everything that's good (adventure, philosophy, to blave), tossed out everything that's bad (epistolary, picaresque garbage), ingested a massive dose of LSD and amphetamines, and wrote a breezy, amusing, witty, sometimes-absurd albeit always-entertaining tale with a finger on the fast-forward button. I even understood what he was satirizing, which is a huge step forward for me. More like this, please!"
Rating: ****
Projected Finish: january 2061.

138Deern
Apr 26, 2016, 8:53am Top

I loved this one as well, one of the very few older classics that made me laugh (The Female Quixote and the original Quixote are in that small group, too).

139MartinBodek
Apr 26, 2016, 9:47am Top

Incidentally, the three to your funnybones's liking are also fully half of the quality books (the others being Gulliver's Travels, Moll Flanders, & Robinson Crusoe) of the first 32 on the 1,001 list, in my humble opinion - which is always fact, by the way.

140MartinBodek
Edited: May 5, 2016, 11:54am Top

Book #33: Rasselas
Days to read: 9
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Well that wasn't entirely unpleasant. It didn't rock my world, but at least it didn't offend me in the manner that much of this 18th-century literature (if I see one more "epistolary" or "picaresque" novel, I am going to scream) does from the 1,001 Books list. The prose was actually elegant, and it read much like an Ecclesiastical search for meaning. The conclusion was a bit wayward, however, but life doesn't always tie itself up in a pretty bow."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: May 2059.

141LolaWalser
May 5, 2016, 11:58am Top

Rasselas is the best, it's got style AND lesbians.

142MartinBodek
May 5, 2016, 12:06pm Top

Ha! Is simply responding with "LOL" a complete waste of valuable space on this thread, or might that still be acceptable?

143LolaWalser
May 5, 2016, 12:26pm Top

>142 MartinBodek:

Your thread, your rules! That said, as a guest I like to bring gifts:

ON THIS DAY MAY 5

1818 Political philosopher Karl Marx was born in Prussia.
1821 Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile on the island of St. Helena.
1891 Carnegie Hall (then named Music Hall) opened in New York City.
1892 Congress extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for 10 years.

etc.

144MartinBodek
May 26, 2016, 2:55pm Top

Book #34: Julie, or The New Heloise
Days to read: 21
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Usually it takes me about 20-25 pages into a book to know whether it's worthy to continue to the end, or put it down so I don't waste my time. On rare ocassions, it'll take 5-10. Rarer still is 2. The rarest? One flip of the pages.

That was the case here. I opened the monstrosity and found that it was an epistolary novel. Strike 1. Between two lovers. Strike 2. Who write 40-page letters to each because they don't have smartphones and they're bored with their lives.

That, ultimately, is what did this book in. I've complained about other books in the 1,001 Books to Read series in which nothing of intererest happens. Add another to the list.

There was only one thing left for me to do, knowing immediately how much I would hate this experience: practice every speed-reading technique that I know. This way I wouldn't care if I didn't retain everything. My brain doesn't have to get through the entire book, just my eyes, which are so glazed over, it'll take me weeks to recover.

Braindead from reading this, I think even if it wouldn't have been translated from the French, I might not have known any better. It's definitiely dullesville in that language too.

Epistolary novels don't work. They're stilted, numb, boring, and nobody should try it, ever.

Please, no more books like it on the 1,001 list. I can't take it anymore."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: December 2060.

145annamorphic
May 27, 2016, 10:04pm Top

>144 MartinBodek: Oh dear! I'm on Rousseau's Confessions now and, well, I don't think you are going to like it. But it might be better than the Nouvelle Heloise, which I think I read in an abridged version very long ago, before I knew better.

146MartinBodek
May 31, 2016, 10:48am Top

Confessions might prove to be horrid, but I doubt it can be as horrible as Heloise. This epistolary nonsense just doesn't work as fiction to begin with! It doesn't relate a story well. It's too stilted, unnatural, confined. Literature didn't get rid of the concept fast enough. They must have soon realized it doesn't work. Any examples of an epistolary novel in more recent history?

147Yells
Edited: May 31, 2016, 11:35am Top

I am curious to see how you feel when you read Dangerous Liaisons. I thought the epistolary method worked well with that novel but then again, I read it a loooong time ago so not sure I would feel about it today.

148MartinBodek
May 31, 2016, 1:35pm Top

Uh oh. That's not good news, but at least some promising-looking books are in between, so I'll revel in that enjoyment before falling into the abyss again. The great ones, so far, are too few and far between.

149puckers
May 31, 2016, 3:27pm Top

>147 Yells: >148 MartinBodek: I read Dangerous Liaisons recently and noted that it while it bore similarities to Clarissa in subject matter and execution, I found the characters more interesting and the correspondence less repetitive than the latter novel. I think that might be regarded as faint praise indeed.

150Simone2
May 31, 2016, 4:18pm Top

>148 MartinBodek: Sure you'll like Dangerous Liaisons. It will be a fun and easy read after all those horrible books you have worked yourself through.

151japaul22
May 31, 2016, 5:05pm Top

I really liked Dangerous Liaisons and Evelina, both of which are epistolary novels. Haven't read the ones you didn't like.

I feel like I've read some current-day epistolary historical fiction novels that I liked but off the top of my head I can't remember titles.

152Nickelini
May 31, 2016, 7:40pm Top

Interesting comments on the epistolary novel. I think it sometimes works. I liked Dangerous Liaisons a lot, but thought it was over long and I would have loved Madame de Tourvel to be a significantly smaller and quieter character.

Current day epistolary novels that I liked include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the Color Purple, 84 Charing Cross Road, and Where'd You Go, Bernadette. I liked We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I thought the letters were contrived, and I hated Perks of Being a Wallflower, although that might have been because it was a horrible book and not because it was written in letters.

Also, the whole Griffen and Sabine series is magical.

153M1nks
Jun 1, 2016, 1:25am Top

Interesting comments on the epistolary novel. I think it sometimes works.

I like epistolary novels, one of the few here I see.

154MartinBodek
Jun 2, 2016, 9:48am Top

So I gather from the above that epistolary novels are largely hit or miss, minus the hit. I'm hopeful for Dangerous Liaisons. I saw the movie as a youth and was impressed. When the movie is good, the book is good, right? Isn't that how it works? Especially vice-versa?

155MartinBodek
Jun 2, 2016, 10:50am Top

Book #35: Rameau's Nephew
Days to read: 7
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Well this one was interesting on the 1,001 Books to Read list. It wasn't epistolary, had nothing to do with pining lovers, nobody died of a broken heart, and it wasn't the size of a factory cornerstone.

Instead it was a philosophical conversation between two gentlemen, who really enjoy music and art, (though they don't discuss anything to a true conclusion), and who admire how women shake their moneymakers. What's not to like?

Oh sure, I have a soft spot for this because I wrote a very similarly-themed book (http://www.lulu.com/shop/martin-bodek/a-conversation-on-the-way/paperback/produc...). So sue me for liking this as much as I did."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: January 2059.

156MartinBodek
Jul 1, 2016, 2:51pm Top

Book #36: Emile, or On Education
Days to read: 28
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Quite an interesting and attention-getting format. Not so interesting: the myopic, elitist, arrogant, overall opinion of human perfection. The author seems to be raising a Bear Grylls, not an Albert Einstein, and he has quite the opinion about the inevitable inner nature of a man who is brought up according to his restrictive rules.

The chapter about the perfect female is hilariously retrograde, and calls to mind the most offensive Talmudic opinions of woman, and particularly calls to mind the many gender biases and offenses of Avigdor Miller. I could only laugh.

It took a month to read the book because the good nuggets required reflection, while the bad ones required me to take notes for a future stand-up routine.

This book is quite separate from reality."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: January 2060.

157LolaWalser
Jul 1, 2016, 10:07pm Top

Rousseau on women matches anything fundie Islam can throw up. Do you have his Confessions on the list? The juxtaposition really drives home what a despicable git he was. Note, though, that he wasn't nearly as candid as he pretended, so yet another layer needs to be provided by biographical sources.

158MartinBodek
Jul 8, 2016, 10:18am Top

Confessions is indeed on the list. I tackle that 10 books from now. Thanks for the warning!

159LolaWalser
Jul 8, 2016, 10:29am Top

They do hold the attention better than the treacly Julie...!

160MartinBodek
Jul 13, 2016, 9:34am Top

Book #37: The Castle of Otranto
Days to read: 12
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This one wasn't necessarily *good*, per se, but it was certainly readable, followable, had interesting plotting, contained defined characters, and - like Candide - got on with it instead of overexpounding or supraexplicating.

It was over when the story was done. Good.

I also appreciated the context of the book and enjoyed it with an eye keen to that regard. It's the first gothic book, and spawned a new genre. Cool!"
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: October 2059.

161M1nks
Jul 13, 2016, 4:32pm Top

I really disliked that one; I couldn't believe that Walpole was actually attempting to pretend that something so appalling was a serious story and was not, what is technically referred to as a 'total piss-take'.

Unfortunately, as it was indeed the first of its kind I realised that it was impossible to be satirising a genre that was yet to exist.

162MartinBodek
Jul 20, 2016, 9:18am Top

Book #38: The Vicar of Wakefield
Days to read: 7
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "I liked this book better when it was called The Book of Job.

And by "better" I mean to say that I did not like it at all.

Reasons:

1) It's boring.
2) The protagonist is cloyingly positive in the face of horrendous familial disasters. He's a (basket)case of denial, but will never admit it.
3) It's meh.
4) The story teleports its intentions early on. If absolutely everything is going to hell without exception, then clearly, everything will revert to paradise. It does. How dull.
5) It's uninteresting.
6) Everything wraps up too neatly, unrealistically.
7) it's jejune.
8) The narrator is not responsible for the bad things that happen to him, nor is he accountable for the good. He's a nobody, spineless, floating along on the breeze, easy-like. How can a character like this be compelling in any way? He's a dreadful literary figure. He learns nothing about himself. You learn nothing from him. This, ultimately, is why the book has no redemptive value.
9) It's stodgy. Ooh, I like that one. I'll close the thesaurus now."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: March 2059.

163MartinBodek
Jul 28, 2016, 8:26am Top

My fellow 1,001 Books to Read Before We're Dead readers, I turn to you today in crisis: I have endured much though this initial foray of Vishnu-awful books that strain the mind, but this offense against human intellect called Tristram Shandy is stretching the limits of what I can bear. Through the first 38 books I've read, I've managed to find the inner will to keep going despite that my brain was cross-eyed with pain, but this? This is a whole 'nother story. This needs help from the outside. It takes a village.

I turn to you for motivation and encouragement. Tell me I can do it. Tell me that despite these nonsense ramblings, I can still make it to the end. i ask for that, because I don't think I can ask you to promise me it will be better, it will improve from here. No, it won't. Since it won't, I just need you to tell me to keep going. Then I need you to promise me this is the nadir of the 1,001 experience. Surely, there's no worse experience than this.

Problem is, I've said exactly that with at least 6 books on this list so far.

164M1nks
Jul 28, 2016, 6:15pm Top

Honestly I don't think you should continue. Not as you've been going on. You don't like most of these books and I really see no point in you crucifying yourself over literature you can't stand.

Stop being a martyr and just acknowledge that these aren't for you and read something you'll enjoy.

165Nickelini
Edited: Jul 28, 2016, 7:59pm Top

Watch the movie -- A Cock and Bull Story. Even if you chuck the book, the movie is still zany fun.

Also: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/tristram/ AND
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/28/100-best-novels-tristram-shandy-sterne

Does it help you to say that in my university's English lit department, we typically covered 5-6 novels in a term. The class that did Tristram Shandy did only that one novel the whole term. I'm thinking it's just a little complex.

166Simone2
Jul 28, 2016, 11:21pm Top

Don't give up. It has been such fun reading your reviews (sorry :-) and you have almost passed the worst, I think. One more Sterne to go - and the horrible Humphry Clinker - but then your reward will be titles as The Sorrows of Young Werther and Dangerous Liaisons and life will get better...

167puckers
Jul 29, 2016, 12:31am Top

I did warn you (post 21 above)! I have no opinion on Tristram Shandy, but I didn't enjoy his A Sentimental Journey (next on the list), nor did I enjoy Goethe (but some do). After that things pick up: Fanny Burney writes nicely, de Sade will depend on your mood/tolerance, and then a bit of a mixed bag until you hit the generally widely enjoyed Austen, Scott etc... Hang in there - I'd miss reading your one star venting!

168Deern
Jul 30, 2016, 8:59am Top

While I loved many of the classics I read thanks to the list, absolutely didn't "get" TS and only got through it by moving my eyes over the text while meditating or something like that. I really tried, but my brain refused processing the text. The second Sterne was much shorter (200p?) and an easier read.

Dangerous Liaisons is really entertaining. Goethe prose was torturous for me ( and I'm German and should love him), but I was able to see the 3 novels as literary important and value them for that. And they have a plot. Werther is the easiest and shortest of the 3.

You've now made it through so many of those difficult early ones I'm scared of, please don't give up.
Although... has anyone here made it through the full length of the Sodom book? That's one I put aside and doubt I'll ever pick up again because the eye moving while meditation thing doesn't work there. You might have to plan an exception rule for that.

But things are definitely going to get better... at some point. I enjoyed almost all of the many 1800s I read so far.

169M1nks
Jul 30, 2016, 10:55am Top

Although... has anyone here made it through the full length of the Sodom book?

Not me... Although I know several who have. I'm avoiding it like an STD!

170Yells
Jul 30, 2016, 11:38am Top

I read it this year. It's basically a laundry list of all the horrible things that a man can do to others (men, women, children, whatever). It's gross and highly disturbing but to be honest, it's also rather boring. It's like he was constantly trying to out-do himself by thinking of something even more horrible and gross but in the end, you just roll your eyes because it's so stupid. The only part that really got me was the very end. You almost stop thinking of the slaves as human but the summary at the end brings it all back home.

I will say this for it. The man can write. Not sure any of that needs to be written down though...

171Jan_1
Aug 1, 2016, 4:22pm Top

I hope you don't stop reading, I enjoy your reviews a lot! Haven't read that particular book but theres a few I've really struggled few. I try and alternate between the difficult ones and ones I think I'll enjoy more, or books not on the list, I guess it depends on your motivation for taking on the list and what you'd like to get out of it.

172MartinBodek
Aug 2, 2016, 12:30pm Top

Thank you all, so much, for your words of encouragement, which is precisely what I needed.

I also needed to know it gets better, and you've assured me that it does. Again, I know it will - good heavens, it has too - but it's good to hear it from others who are enduring as well.

Speaking of which, little known fact about me: I'm an ultramarathoner. I specialize in endurance, specifically, the hard parts of a long undertaking, with the goal of the greater glory of finishing what one started. Like an ultra, I enjoy 92% of the adventure, and tolerate 8% of pain. Same goes with the reading.

I realize these books are the literature equivalent of cave-man drawings. Eventually man gets to space. I'm hoping this follows that arc.

173M1nks
Edited: Aug 3, 2016, 4:45am Top

I realize these books are the literature equivalent of cave-man drawings. Eventually man gets to space. I'm hoping this follows that arc.

I don't think that; I hope most of us don't.

To me these earlier reads aren't the literature equivalent of primitive cave man labourishly spelling out C... A.... T!!!! while we, from our lofty erudite perch of education smile in patronising tolerance. They are simply different; written in a different style, for a different audience.

Some modern readers will appreciate that particular style, some won't and most will probably be a mixed bag. And, as I said, if you don't like the style, forcing yourself to read book after book written that way seems like self flagellation whilst simultaneously asking for sympathy.

Sorry if that sounds a little harsh. It is the last I will say on the subject and I'm sure you will continue. I certainly find your reviews entertaining but I wouldn't like you feel remotely obligated to provide entertainment for myself by driving metaphorical nails into your eyes! But, as you are determined to do so I'll be able to have a good laugh with a clear conscience :-)

174Deern
Aug 3, 2016, 7:31am Top

I don't know if this was discussed at some point, but have you considered reading from both ends of the list towards the middle? Not that those contemporary books are all great, but certainly easier to read. And who knows which of those 2006 books will still be in print/ on offer on whatever device in 30 years? Many of them will feel very old and outdated then and annoy you as well. Also, after a really bad contemporary book, those very old classics can suddenly feel fresh again. I've been reading the Booker longlist for a couple of years now, and every year when I'm half through, I can't wait to jump into the classics again, the older the better.
And you'd have longer breaks between several books by the same author. I loved all Austens, but I wouldn't have liked to read all 5 or so listed ones in a row. Same for Dickens.

175MartinBodek
Aug 4, 2016, 2:06pm Top

Minks, I enjoy this endeavor. The fact that I'm *doing" it is what gives me joy. There are bumps along the road, but that's life itself. I'm not suffering, per se. If I was, I'd quit, and pursue something else. On one finer point I disagree on: you've said that these first several books on the list are to be understood through the lens of the age in which they were published. This entertained in the day, though it can't now. I differ. My opinion is that literature was trying to figure itself out. People tolerated the literature despite it's poor quality. Indeed, that's what they had. They didn't know better. You say, to appreciate these books, I would, as it were, need to transport myself to the past to appreciate the context. I say, no, the readers of yore need to transport themselves to the future to see how much better literature can be.

Deern, it's a good suggestion and has tons of merit, but it forces me to abandon the gimmick I've set up for myself: I'm going back to front, no exceptions, in perfect order. This helps me not procrastinate, or shelve long books for later. No, I must persevere, move forward no matter what. It's more propulsive this way, and keeps me on track.

176MartinBodek
Aug 5, 2016, 9:19am Top

Good news: I have learned that besides the personal reward for undertaking this daunting project, that there is another excellent reason to continue partaking: references to the material on the 1,001 list commonly show up on Jeopardy!, which is the spice of my daily life.

This past Monday, August 1, a category came up called "A Bit of Brit Lit." Two of the clues were as follows:

"$200: The title character in “The Pilgrim's Progress” is named this, but nobody calls him Chris"

"$800: 1741’s “Shamela” was a satire of Samuel Richardson’s moralistic novel about this title girl"

So now it makes it all just a little bit more worth it.

177MartinBodek
Aug 12, 2016, 10:49am Top

Book #39: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Days to read: 22
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "What in the hell was this lunatic yammering about for all those 650 pages? What is the deal with his obession with noses, penises, and hobby-horses, hobby-horses, hobby-horses? Why does anyone consider it amusing when a writer keeps telling you he's going to get somewhere, but never does? Why is it entertaining at all to have blank chapters? Why is that cute? Why is that interesting? Who finds this funny? Who finds anything funny here at all? Why does this book of endless, mindless prattle, blabber, and piffle tickle anyone at all? Who finds digression to be enjoyable in literature? You? Why? Why? Tell me!

I checked the ratings on Goodreads. This is what it showed:

5 stars: 33%, 4901
4 stars: 28%, 4064
3 stars: 22%, 3268
2 stars: 9%, 1414
1 star: 5%, 848

Meaning: 95% of these readers are flock-following, digression-loving, hobby-horse riding loonies who have swallowed the Kool-aid. There is nothing here but vacuous thundergunk. Pure, putrid unenertaining garbage. If I would have laughed once - just once - during the reading of this book, I would have given it a whole extra star, but it couldn't even do that. I give him one star for spelling Tristram's name right, and even then, it's a made-up name anyway, so I may have been hoodwinked as well."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: May 2059.

178Yells
Aug 12, 2016, 11:38am Top

Oh dear... sounds like you may have hit rock bottom so it can only get better, right?

179Deern
Edited: Aug 12, 2016, 12:04pm Top

I remember I laughed once, and happily, when the blank pages came.

Edit: oh, and congrats on getting through it! :)

180MartinBodek
Aug 12, 2016, 1:33pm Top

Yells: every time I hit rock bottom, I find a false bottom! I have to get out of the 1700s.

Deern: Know what I liked more than the blank pages? The Latin pages that I could gloss over. Those were a treasure, but not nearly plentiful enough. Thanks for the congrats. I deserve it.

181MartinBodek
Aug 17, 2016, 9:43am Top

Book #40: A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy
Days to read: 5
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "I get it. I totally get. Really, I do. I get the context, the era, the travel writing angle. I get it all.

Just because I get it, though, doesn't preclude this book from being a dullsville boredbomb snoozefest.

Here's the thing: I get (see? I get it all, seriously, everything, I dabble in travel writing myself) that this is loosely based on Sterne's life. If so, I have a few burning questions:

Did nothing interesting happen during Sterne's travels? Did he just forget to record them? Did he just remember the boring stuff? If so, for purposes of his fictional retelling, couldn't he make up something interesting? Would that betray the truth of how boring - or boringly told - his travels were?

At least it ends with the main character seemingly getting laid. Then again, he might not have - but it doesn't matter, he's clearly - at least to me - a voyeur and frotteur anyway."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: August 2058.

182MartinBodek
Sep 1, 2016, 10:25am Top

Book #41: The Man of Feeling
Days to read: 14
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "The mopiest, sadsackiest, depressingest, cloud-over-your-headiest novel I've ever read.

As such, I don't know why any human would consider this entertaining. A man travels around, listening to other people's problems before the book culminates with his own unrequited misery before he drops dead? Who is amused by this kind of thing? In any era or age?

Thankfully, it was over before I officially needed a Prozac prescription."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: June 2058.

183puckers
Sep 1, 2016, 3:25pm Top

>182 MartinBodek: I'm about half way through this and have found it most unmemorable so far. Despite reading your spoiler (he dies) its encouraging to know that at least something happens in the book!

184MartinBodek
Sep 2, 2016, 1:17pm Top

Please note that I have zero qualms about playing spoiler. How can I spoil something already spoiled?

185MartinBodek
Sep 14, 2016, 3:52pm Top

Book #42: The Expedition of Humphry Clinker
Days to read: 13
Source: New York Public Library Interlibrary Loan
Review: "Audiobooks were invented in the 1930s, which is a very significant factoid, because had I lived in the era before, and had the 1,001 Books to Read been published at that time, I honestly don't think I could ever have gotten through this book, which is the most coma-inducing I've ever read.

Why so? Because every form of reading the blasted thing just wouldn't work.

I started with a book, and my eyes turned to glass.

I then downloaded it to my phone, and my thumb couldn't take the torture of flipping to the next page every few minutes.

I then tried an online audibook, and my ears grew a waxy defense.

I then tried breaking it up into chunks, letter by letter, as I carried on with my day, during commutes, whilst on my treadmill.

Everything was painful. I couldn't absorb anything. Various body parts built up specific defenses against incorporating the book into my consciousness. It seems I've gotten vaccinated against epistolary novels.

At the end of this project, when I'm good and old, I will look back on this one as the one I probably didn't properly "read." My entire body conspired against it. I'll just have to move on for now.

This is all the experience of reading the book. How about the book itself? I don't have the energy. This is all I can muster:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZHwxIL9oYo"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: May 2058.

186Simone2
Sep 14, 2016, 4:38pm Top

>185 MartinBodek: You are so funny! I laugh out loud almost every time. I try to forget I'll have to read them as well one day.

187Deern
Sep 15, 2016, 1:16am Top

>186 Simone2: I try to forget I'll have to read them as well one day. Same here! As the title was totally unfamiliar, I was hoping it had been removed from the 2008 edition I'm following/ will be following again one day if work ever lets me. But no, there it is... :(

188MartinBodek
Sep 23, 2016, 9:56am Top

Hi Simone! I appreciate that I provide this service. I just think, hey, if I'm suffering, I might as well laugh about it.

189MartinBodek
Sep 23, 2016, 10:00am Top

Book #43: The Sorrows of Young Werther
Days to read: 8
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Now this one was interesting, and readable, and had something at stake, and was compelling, and had a fascinating, studyable psychology, and (spoiler alert! Though the arc makes this inevitable) the protagonist did not die OF a broken heart, he died beCAUSE of it, and the events take place in a quite possible reality, and it induces lament in the reader, for why should such a good man who enjoys the simple pleasures be made to suffer so greatly, though the simple pleasures might be masking a latent psychosis, which brings me back to the psychological aspect of this. Descents into madness are coin-flips. They can be written poorly, or, like this book, can be written very well. Finally, like Castle Otranto, Rameau's Nephew, and Candide - on the 1,001 list - only the salient points are told by the writer. When the story is over, the novel ends, before even having a prayer of boring exposition. "
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: November 2058.

190MartinBodek
Oct 7, 2016, 9:52am Top

Book #44: Evelina by Frances Burney
Days to read: 14
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "A kinder, gentler epistolary novel, but epistolary nonetheless, which means it's automatically a coma-inducing, endless bore. It was more readable than the other epistolary (pardon me, I'm gagging now, which is my new reaction to that word) sleeping pills on the 1,001 Books list, and is more filled with wonder than dread. Still, every tale she tells takes her eight times the amount of time any such thing should be told by anyone telling anyone a story. Nobody gets raped, which is also a very comforting respite in a genre filled with the stuff."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: November 2058.

191MartinBodek
Oct 21, 2016, 9:12am Top

Book #45: Reveries of the Solitary Walker
Days to read: 13
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "As I am a fan of "December Project" ruminations and "Mortality" contemplations, I found this to be quite enjoyable, readable, digestible, and thoughtful. It is a melancholy thing to know and notice the unedited and unfinished portions, due to his passing. Nevertheless, in this manner of recording, one can live forever."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: July 2057.

192MartinBodek
Nov 17, 2016, 9:33am Top

Book #46: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Days to read: 27
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "The book that saved an entire genre, and showed that genre how it's done.

I have grown to hate epistolary novels with a passion, one worse than the next, the format unreadable, and projects a false-feeling narrative.

Comes along this gem, and reverses all the sins of epistolary past. In so doing, it embarrasses the others that use the same device.

Everything mentioned here is what this book has that all epistolary novels don't:

1) It was interesting, intriguing, salacious, delicious, fascinating, well told, and projected the letters as well curated.
2) Things happened, were dreaded to happen, anticipated to happen. Things were going on!
3) Every letter felt meaningful to the plot and story.
4) Every voice was unique and distinct, expertly laid out by the author.
5) The end is a positively Shakespearean tragedy run amok.
6) Nobody dies of a broken heart. Oh no, they die and/or are ruined in more shocking and realistic ways.
7) It was excellent.

It's right up there with the best I've ever read. It stands out completely from all the riff-raff on the 1,001 list. Dare I say it, it earns a spot right next to Don Quixote in terms of sheer superiority in storytelling over the rest of the field.

And to think, my original interest in the movie as a kid was my desire to get a peek at Uma Thurman's boobies."
Rating: *****
Projected Finish: September 2057.

193LolaWalser
Nov 17, 2016, 3:57pm Top

yay! This almost makes up for the drubbing of my beloved Sterne. :)

194Simone2
Nov 18, 2016, 9:34am Top

>192 MartinBodek: I knew it! Your first 5 stars in the list, isnt't it?

195MartinBodek
Edited: Nov 18, 2016, 10:17am Top

LolaWalser: Oh my! How much more could I have loved the book to make you forgive me completely? :-)

196MartinBodek
Nov 18, 2016, 10:17am Top

Simone2: Actually, Don Quixote was the other. I waited way too long for the next.

197LolaWalser
Nov 18, 2016, 12:49pm Top

>195 MartinBodek:

Tattoos are nice... :)))

Naaaah, all is forgiven, I marvel at and enjoy the pain of the occasional burrrrrn coz I'm so secure in my loves. ;)

>196 MartinBodek:


198amerynth
Nov 18, 2016, 5:02pm Top

I was waiting for your review of this.... so glad you liked it so much!

199Deern
Nov 22, 2016, 12:23pm Top

7 times YES! to your points and an extra one for the sentence that follows. So glad you loved it! One of the very few early 1,001 that was fun to read.

200Simone2
Nov 22, 2016, 4:14pm Top

My next one on the list after Dangerous Liaisons was The Monk (#70). Also a great read, and just 12 books down the road for you.
I really think you've made it through the hardest part and I admire you for it.

201MartinBodek
Dec 5, 2016, 9:59am Top

Oh my! I give one glowing review and I get all this love! You won't all corrupt me, however. I'll continue calling 'em as I see 'em.

LolaWalser: Pshew! :-)

amerynth: I was beginning to despair. Two gems out 46 are actually good odds, methinks (and mehopes).

Deern: I'm glad you're glad. So few gems, though. It's really, at this point, Quixote and Liaisons above all else.

Simone2: Thank you, I hope so, but this Cecilia monster stands in the way. That better be good while I plow through this Confessions thing, which is actually readable.

202MartinBodek
Dec 14, 2016, 3:04pm Top

Book #47: Confessions by Rousseau
Days to read: 28
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "The book was readable enough, and interesting enough, and his vagabond life was certainly worth reading about, but it was clouded over by a frustrated expectation: Rousseau was a bright man, and therefore I was expecting life lessons, ruminations, pontifications, broad and expansive thoughts. Instead I got a guy not knowing what he wants to do with his life, while trying desperately to get laid by every woman he encounters. His libido just feels...unworthy of him. If I was to be presented with a choice of being the Wisest Man in History or History's Greatest Lothario, I'd choose the former. With great capacities in hand, it seems the author chose something in between, and didn't balance everything correctly. I suppose the lesson is: he's human."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: December 2059.

203MartinBodek
Jan 27, 2017, 10:50am Top

Book #48: Cecilia, by Fanny Burney
Days to read: 42
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "An eternal, interminable, unending, unceasing, mercilessly boring book filled with nothingness save for some colorless, drab, drudging words composing jejune, mind-numbing, stodgy sentences inside of tedious, tiresome, wearisome paragraphs in eyelid-drooping chapters in a vomitously spiritless book.

Seriously, the only fun I had was thesaurusizing the paragraph above.

Nothing remotely interesting happens to anyone. Nothing happens that is compelling. Nothing catches the eye or the attention. It's blank space. It's not the genius nothing of Seinfeld. It's the Nothing of the Neverending Story, literally. It sucks everything into its black hole, and the only escape is the end of the book, 1,056 pages later.

This took me 42 days to read, the longest in my project to read the 1,001 Books to Read Before I Die. I used every trick in the book to try to motor through it faster, but it was just impossible to sustain reading for any amount of time. It was purely a trial. I read a million other things and drew this one out just because I simply couldn't take it.

This has to be the nadir of these 1,001 books. It must. There isn't a way to make a book more uninteresting. It actually feels like the author might have tried to do just that! If so, success! - a success I want nothing to do with.

Bleh, just bleh."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: November 2078.

204MartinBodek
Feb 15, 2017, 12:31pm Top

Book #49: The 120 Days of Sodom
Days to read: 19
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This book should not be allowed to exist. Humanity should not suffer it to be extant in the world. This is about as low as literature can go, and if it was possible to go any lower, I say we'd be damned as a moral species.

Its lowness and repugnance is damning on us enough.

Why is it as damanble as I claim it to be? Because this isn't a flight of fancy of an escapist imagination. The Marquis de Sade clearly wishes this were a reality, and perhaps he'd prefer that this was his own reality. Therein lies the depravity of this disgusting work. The four rapist murderer hellions are clearly a combination of desires that lay in the author's breast.

I read reviews explaining that the text can't be simply explained away as the nadir of human imagination, that there are political and philosophical underpinning the Marquis is commenting on.

Nonsense, and I make the same argument to those who wish to have the Song of Songs explained in metaphor. What for, if the straightforward text suffices. I employ Occam's Razor to this reasoning, and my evidence is that the book notes don't compare what every heinous coprophagial act is an allegory for. It's simply one soulless human taking a dump into an another innocent human's mouth. That's all it is. That's all any of this is. It's all disgusting, and it just gets worse and worse and worse as it goes along.

Those who claim this is an important work of literature becuase it shows how low humans can stoop have been bought off, ingested the opium of the masses, and have become depraved.

It has no business in the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die, has no place in human libraries, and should be destroyed.

I am no prude, but have never been as offended by anything I've ever read, in all realms, as I have by this reprehensible thing.

My experience reading the book was as one descending into the pit. I managed to survive the preparations and introductions, but somewhere during the first day, as the first of the perverted orators of the then-day Penthouse Letters was speaking, that my stomach actually turned. I actually felt physically ill.

I then began skipping, and skimming, unable to withstand the imagery, and I became ill again on day three. I then looked perhaps to read only the literature parts of the saga, but there were none! It was just a piling-on of atrocities without any taking of breath!

The book has taken a measure of my soul. I am not the same now as I was before. I survived the ordeal, but am a measure darker because of it. The world is a measure darker because this is in it.

Would that it had never been discovered. The world would be less dark, more light, less depraved, more honorable.

Such is the power of this stinking pile of filth and foul.

The Marquis, and his tears of blood, should have kept weeping unto eternity."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: September 2060.

205LolaWalser
Feb 15, 2017, 2:17pm Top

The world is a measure darker because this is in it.

Wouldn't argue against that statement, but I think one might add it confuses cause and effect a bit.

But, glad to see you survived! On to golden pastures filled with puppies and bunnies! :)

206MartinBodek
Edited: Feb 22, 2017, 8:58am Top

Book #50: Vathek
Days to read: 6
Source: Paidbooks.com
Review: "The manner in which this book was created is known: Mr. Beckford locked himself in a tower for 3 days, and banged out this manuscript in one frenzied go.

What isn't generally known, however, but is clear to me, is that prior to his writing bender, he also, obviously, ingested, inhaled, and intook an asylumful of drugs before proceeding.

Through that prism, we now understand the results: An Ecclesiastical narrative gone horribly awry, in both the writer's brain and on the page. At no point during the reading did I have a real good idea what was going on. It was disjoined, and just plain bonkers. It was like being sideswiped by a fast-moving truck and having no idea what just hit you.

The author must have immediately detoxed, and not tried that again, because hey, we haven't heard from his since, have we?"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: February 2060.

207Lynsey2
Feb 26, 2017, 9:55am Top

>204 MartinBodek: Thank you for strengthening my resolve to never read this book! I hope you read something enjoyable in between all your 1001 books. :)

208MartinBodek
Mar 1, 2017, 4:32pm Top

>207 Lynsey2: You're welcome. This is one of the many services I provide. :-) And yes, I do read other books. The 1,001 project is 1/3rd of my reading. The rest is non-fiction, all of which I read only if I enjoy.

209MartinBodek
Mar 3, 2017, 12:02pm Top

Book #51: Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised
Days to read: 8
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "The Marquis de Sade is an abomination upon the earth. His work has no business on humanity's bookshelves, and he and his life, should be stricken from the record of history. He lowers humanity.

This claptrap of depravity is, firstly, just a vile extension of the contemptible noxious vomitousness that was The 120 Days of sodom, with just a few settings and personalities changed. As a matter of fact, an entire episode pretty much mirrors that book's abhorrent narrative.

Secondly, it's a full blown projection of the Marquis' mind, the most corrupted in humanity's history. If you think I'm being hyperbolic in any sense, I ask that you set a scene where this excuse for a writer actually wields any measure of political power. He would exceed all horrors humanity visited upon itself. He really would. I'm not overreaching.

His character's philosophies about cruelty are barely withstandable in how they excuse such violence and beating down and full-bore raping of all manner of innocence.

This book, and his monstrously detestable Sodom have ruined me as well. Entire words are now associated with this bestiality which sicken me and turn my stomach every time I now read them in different contexts. Particulary: lubricity. That word, and others, now are only associated with this revolting obscenity. I am like Alex and his "Lovely lovely Van!"

I don't need to point out how telling it is that the author refers to rapists and plunderers with soft words such as "bandit" and "villain," while referring to innocent rape victims as "wretches" and "whores." We know how this man thinks, don't we? But some of us read his books with enjoyment. Don't include me in that company.

Where is the entertainment value in this anyway? Why would one enjoy reading a fictional account of a poor woman being smashed and eviscerated and plundered and plowed ad nauseum? Who considers this literature worth reading? Stay away from me, whoever you are.

I hope never to come across anything like this barbaric repugnance again. I will not survive it."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: October 2059.

210Yells
Mar 3, 2017, 1:51pm Top

Having survived 120 Days, I am NOT looking forward to continuing on with his depravity. I am also at a loss as to how this stuff has survived all these years and continues to be read (and admired by some).

211Deern
Mar 4, 2017, 12:40am Top

Survived, continue to be read and are included on must-read lists and kept there edition after edition. :(
I had to put down Sodom about two years ago, still in the first part (knowing from a spoiler somewhere how much worse it gets) and so far never picked it up again. I'd hoped this second one wouldn't be as bad. I thought maybe I should read them to see how twisted a mind can be, but I guess my life is better without them.

212MartinBodek
Mar 23, 2017, 3:12pm Top

Book #52: Caleb Williams
Days to read: 20
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "This reads like a fusion of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Fugitive, but with no resolution, and hence, no satisfaction whatsoever.

For maybe the first time in the history of every book in the 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die, I understand the context. I get what the author is trying to say. I know a bit of the history and the times, but it's a wild stretch to say that this is the way things actually are.

Are they really? As a fictional narrative, it doesn't feel so. Either Williams tried to say this is how it is for everyone, and then created a charachter to suffer from everything, which makes for bad storytelling - or he tried to say this is what it's like when the world's greatest conspiracy falls all over one single man, and is Job-bed to death and hounded to oblivion.

Either way, it doesn't inform, in my opinion, and if it doesn't inform, then it's not entertaining, is it? It's just an unsatisfying fiction.

Injustice is not entertaining. Who would read this and be satisfied, to say to oneself, "Yep, this is how it is."

I don't buy it.

Every courtroom incident is bracing, and depressing, and I wanted to get away from them as far as possible, only to have the book end in one, and none of the alternate endings leaves me with a cleansed and succored palate. Quite the opposite in fact.

The book is good when these crushing unjust elements are not involved, when Caleb is self-reflecting, but when the repeated abuses of justices are heaped upon him, my heart fell, every time.

Clever turns of phrase kept me reading, though.

Bottom line: if it's designed to inform, then this is too far-flung a fiction to serve in that regard. If it's designed to entertain, it just doesn't, at least not to this vengeance-in-my-fiction-please soul."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: October 2059.

213Nickelini
Mar 23, 2017, 8:57pm Top

Are you still reading in chronological order?* Have you been able to find everything? What year are you up to?

*If so, you are just wired differently than I am -- reading the books of any one decade --- let alone the whole list -- would make me quit reading forever and possibly suicidal. Or maybe my suicide would end the reading. Anyway, good for you.

214MartinBodek
Edited: Mar 24, 2017, 9:23am Top

>213 Nickelini: Yes, I am still reading in chronological order.* Somehow, one way or another, I've managed to get my hands on all the material (and for free, at that!). Considering I'm reading The Interesting Narrative, I'm up to 1789.

*And haven't committed suicide just yet - or perhaps I did, and this is the afterlife reading room, which I imagine how I'd spend my afterlife anyway.

215MartinBodek
Apr 14, 2017, 10:58am Top

Book #53: The Interesting Narrative
Days to read: 21
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "This reads like a combination of the biography of Frederick Douglass and Forrest Gump. In other words, he floats around accidental-like on a breeze, and suffers mightily wherever he goes and has great adventures.

Where didn't he go? And what didn't he see in cruelty?

It's almost not quite believable, but the narrative gives off an air of authenticity via his combination of eloquence, assertions of truth and request for fact-checking, and his finding God.

Astonishing, truly, and moving."
Rating: ****
Projected Finish: January 2060.

216MartinBodek
Edited: Aug 11, 2017, 1:44pm Top

Book #54: The Mysteries of Udolpho
Days to read: 21
Source: Yorku.ca
Review: "I think a far more appropriate title for this book would have been "The Kitchen Sink," because, mother have mercy, that's exactly what was thrown into this overstuffed mess.

Now don't get me wrong, the author is good, and talented, and tells a story well, and is really, really, really obsessed with nature, and describing every last bit of it, but put on some brakes, woman!

If I was her literary agent, this is what I'd tell her:

'Ann, baby, listen, you've got about 972 plotlines in this monstrosity. You could afford yourself a great, long career, if you de-coupled, oh, I dunno, about 400 of these stories and form them into separate books. You could be publishing stories for centuries hence after your death! Please don't cram it all into one book, even if, as I can see, you're sharp and clever enough to tie up every single one of these 972 loose ends.'

But she didn't listen, did she? Maybe it's because she was so busy cranking this thing out at such a crazy pace, that she fainted repeatedly from the exertion, which must have been what inspired the characters in this behemoth to do about 239 times."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: May 2060.

217MartinBodek
May 15, 2017, 9:38am Top

Book #55: William Meister's Apprenticeship
Days to read: 10
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/boring

boring
adjective

Synonyms and Antonyms of boring:
causing weariness, restlessness, or lack of interest "I wish this book weren't so boring; I keep falling asleep whenever I try to read it."
Synonyms:
arid, colorless, drab, dreary, drudging, dry, dull, dusty, flat, heavy, ho-hum, humdrum, jading, jejune, leaden, mind-numbing, monochromatic, monotonous, numbing, old, pedestrian, ponderous, slow, stale, stodgy, stuffy, stupid, tame, tedious, tiresome, tiring, uninteresting, wearisome, weary, wearying
Related Words:
aseptic, barren, blah, dullish, pleasureless, prosaic, prosy, soggy, spiritless; blank, earthbound, gray (also grey), inanimate, pallid, pedantic, sterile, suspenseless, undramatic, uneventful, unexciting, unimaginative, uninspiring, unnewsworthy, unrewarding, unsensational, unspectacular; annoying, bothersome, irksome, irritating; longsome; palling; draining, enervating, exhausting, fatiguing, wearing; debilitating, enfeebling; demoralizing, discouraging, disheartening, dispiriting; common, commonplace, ordinary, tepid, unexceptional, unsurprising, vapid; cumbersome, lumbering, plodding, poky (or pokey)"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: January 2060.

218gypsysmom
May 15, 2017, 5:29pm Top

>217 MartinBodek: So, I take it this book didn't excite you?

219MartinBodek
May 16, 2017, 9:16am Top

You can say, as they say, you can say that again.

220MartinBodek
Jun 19, 2017, 3:17pm Top

Book #56: The Monk
Days to read: 29
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "Now that's what I'm talking about.

In the same manner that Dangerous Liaisons saved an entire genre (the epistolary novel) from never having a proper representative book written well, so too does this book rescue one (goth) from such a fate.

It takes what all goth books preceding it tried to do (and failed), and does it right.

I have written before that this goth genre is very kitchen sink. It attempts to throw dozens of elements into a narrative and weave a story. It isn't done well.

Until this one! Every aspect of the genre is made interesting here, and fascinating. Things are compelling, and grab your attention, and peril and bedamnedness is ever-present and comes across as real, and feasible, and possible, as opposed to the trash that is the work of the Marquis De Sade.

Yes, a man can devolve in precisely this way. It is completely believable.

The goth elements could have been stripped away, and the story could have been great, but somehow, by skill of the young author, these elements add to the story. They don't subtract at all.

I even understand how the somewhat-lengthy diversions serve the story, as instructive parables to how things might turn out.

Finally, the ending is altogether fitting, and horrific, and satisfying."
Rating: ****
Projected Finish: July 2060.

221MartinBodek
Jul 13, 2017, 4:25pm Top

Book #57: Camilla
Days to read: 30
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "This book is so interminable, that even though I officially finished reading it, I don't think I'm really done. The boredom I endured will live with me forever.

Nothing interesting happens here, nothing. Oh sure, the author tried to spin some comedy out of the multiple misunderstandings, as if it was one, looooooooooong Three's Company episode, but it's so one-note, it's aggravating.

The book is filled with one-note characters too, completely indistinct and uninteresting.

I've read boring books before, but this took the cake, especially considering its size. Not even the great Voltaire could dense this gelatinous mass into any version worth reading, unless Mr. Furley himself audiobooked it. That's the only way.

I want the month back that I spent reading this book."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: February 2061.

222MartinBodek
Jul 26, 2017, 11:43am Top

Book #58: The Nun
Days to read: 12
Source: New York Public Library ILL
Review: "I totally dug this book, dug it completely, totally got it, had it actually resonate with me.

I know people in this situation, I relate to them, I understand, and therefore it struck a deep chord with me.

It is a real book, with its feet in reality, told by as real a narrator as possible, by a deft hand who tells his tale ala Voltaire, that is: completely skipping over the unnecessary parts and only giving the reader what matters. In his own words: "deleting...everything...contrary to utter simplicity."

That's what I'm talking about. That's how you tell a story. It is so much more satisfying then the endless barrage of literature, from this era, about women trying to figure out to whom exactly they can whore themselves out to ensure a good life.

It is no coincidence that this entire story is the complete opposite of all that.

Great book, great read. Magnifico!"
Rating: *****
Projected Finish: December 2061.

223Simone2
Jul 28, 2017, 4:33am Top

>222 MartinBodek: Great review about a great book!

224MartinBodek
Edited: Jul 28, 2017, 8:36am Top

>223 Simone2:: Thank you! It deserved it! There are some diamonds in this giant rough!

225MartinBodek
Aug 2, 2017, 1:31pm Top

Book #59: Hyperion
Days to read: 7
Source: library.globalchalet.net
Review: "What in the hell was this lunatic rambling on about for so long?

At least it was over before I could claw my face off. One full star for brevity.

And thank Zeus his correspondents never wrote back. I wouldn't have survived such an ordeal.

Maybe they were wondering the same thing I am."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: June 2060.

226Deern
Aug 3, 2017, 2:02am Top

So you're done now with the 1700s? Things will get better! :)
I haven't read The Nun yet, your review moved it up my tbr list. Yes, I'm planning to get back to those 1,001 books eventually.

227MartinBodek
Aug 3, 2017, 11:23am Top

>226 Deern:, "Things will get better! :)" So I've been told. I hope everyone is right. The pile of Jane Austens looks promising.

The Nun is truly an excellent book.

228MartinBodek
Aug 10, 2017, 1:27pm Top

Book #60: Castle Rackrent
Days to read: 6
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Meh. I get that it's told from a very interesting point of view, but that very interesting point of view tells a story that isn't worth telling, then speeds over all the good stuff to give us only the boring un-interesting parts. I understand this book is first in many classifications, but it is also the first boring book of anything (thankfully) that has comparable brevity."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: January 2060.

229MartinBodek
Sep 19, 2017, 2:52pm Top

Book #61: Elective Affinities
Days to read: 40
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Be careful what you wish for, is the overt lesson of this book. But who among us will not swallow the red pill, if offered to us? Nobody wants the blue pill. It's boring.

It comes with a price, though, because in real life, when you swallow the red pill of temptation, everything will get mucked up, and just fall apart straight into hell, and drag you with it.

Yeah, that's the lesson.

The book's psychology is excellent, and is at its best crescendo when all four main characters embark on their risky enterprise. However, once the gentlemen leave the scene, the glue they represent falls apart, the clever interplay vanishes, and the book meanders until they reappear, and the book recovers, whilst barreling towards a fitting ending.

Had that middle, flailing part been absent, the manuscript would have been an outright masterpiece. The men should have stayed on scene."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: January 2061.

230MartinBodek
Oct 17, 2017, 11:43am Top

Book #62: Sense and Sensibility
Days to read: 27
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "They say that matchmaking is as difficult as splitting the sea - which seems to be the thesis of this book, with a healthy dose of agita to the extreme, non-stop yentas and their attendant (albeit amusing) babble, Three's Company-level confusion, weeping, and piano playing.

This is my first experience with Jane Austen, and I totally get it. The characters are real and relatable, and operate as if they exist in the real world. The dramatis personae are distinct and sharply defined.

Most amusing to me was the formality of the dialogue, a trap into which I fall sometimes, to the dismay of a few (Why can't I sprinkle "shan't" and "whilst" into a sentence every once in a while?), but certainly to my delight.

The book was not at all the opposite of being not the reverse of unobjectionable (wink!)."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: August 2061.

231MartinBodek
Oct 27, 2017, 10:55am Top

Book #63: The Absentee
Days to read: 9
Source: Free Kindle version
Review: "There was nothing in this book that I cared for, or could relate to. Know how we each have a checklist of things we enjoy in a book, that we're happy to check off when enjoying a great one? Well, this is the opposite. Out-of-my-league Irish upper-crust rich folk? Yeah, not interested. Absentee landlords? Don't really care about them. Assholes? Sure, they make for great literature, but these characters even suck at being that! The only thing I could appreciate was the formality of everything, which I liked, because I'm anachronistic, but she was aping Jane Austen, wasn't she? So, demerit for that. Demerit for everything. I couldn't care fewer."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: March 2061.

232MartinBodek
Edited: Dec 15, 2017, 10:29am Top

Book #64: Pride and Prejudice
Days to read: 26
Source: My wife's library
Review: "As I make my way through the Jane Austen oeuvre as part my 1,001 Books to Read reading project, I appreciate her more and more, and I'm just 1/3rd of the way through all of her writings (which isn't much, actually; she died at 41??? Two books were posthumous? They're all considered classics?!).

She truly does stand apart. Where it feels much literature of her era is still scratching and clawing and trying to find themselves, she goes and sets the standard, repeatedly.

Her stories are compelling, her characters distinct, interesting, and intelligent, and their dialogue witty, playful, and altogether completely charming.

I'm hooked, I'm a fan, what can I say?"
Rating: ****
Projected Finish: August 2061.

233puckers
Nov 22, 2017, 5:10pm Top

>225 MartinBodek: I have just completed Hyperion and have to say your review is a pretty fair assessment of this overblown nonsense.

234MartinBodek
Nov 22, 2017, 5:13pm Top

THANK you!

235tess_schoolmarm
Edited: Nov 23, 2017, 2:14pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

236japaul22
Edited: Nov 22, 2017, 7:39pm Top

I'm so relieved and excited that you like Jane Austen! She's one of my favorites. I think her writing stands up to any era's but particularly when compared to her contemporaries, it's really outstanding.

>235 tess_schoolmarm: have you tried the 1001 books app? It has the whole spreadsheet and you can search it easily. I use it a lot if I'm at a used book store or library sale to see what books are on the list.

237tess_schoolmarm
Edited: Nov 23, 2017, 2:14pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

238MartinBodek
Edited: Dec 15, 2017, 10:31am Top

Book #65: Mansfield Park
Days to read: 22
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This Jane Austen book is a bit of a departure from her first two. It is darker, more lesson-heavy, and far less flighty.

She retains her hallmarks, of course, vis-a-vis her snappy dialogue, defined and distinct personalities, and a massive - though scrutable - org chart.

It's as if she was experimenting a bit following the successes of her first two smashes, while holding on to the elements she knew would keep her readers interested, and remain in the fold.

It's too bad, though, that her main character is the kind not everyone would prefer to read about: a shy person, with no initiative, floating along accidental-like on a breeze (to paraphrase Mr. Gump), waiting for author's expected pretty little bow to be tied at the end.

However, her aforementioned hallmarks save the entire book. She's a clever, witty woman, that Austen, and she's a pleasure to read."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: November 2062.

239MartinBodek
Jan 17, 10:16am Top

Book #66: Emma
Days to read: 18
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Constantly tinkering, isn't she? Mansfield Park was a departure from her first two successful books, and this book departs even further whilst still retaining her hallmarks: snappy dialogue, defined and distinct personalities, and a massive org chart. This one was inscrutable though. She also tinkered with class structures a bit more than her first three books.

This one was less about societal mores and more about the fun of meddling. I don't think Austen is preaching anything here; she's just after a good time. As ever, a pretty little bow ties everything together, and the book's return to flightiness is welcome after the darker predecessor.

She remains eminently readable, above all else. Four Austen books down, two go."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: November 2062.

240MartinBodek
Jan 17, 12:04pm Top

Book #67: Rob Roy
Days to read: 15
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "I was shocked - shocked, I say! - when I put "Rob Roy" and "Tyler Durden" into a search engine, and found nary a result. That was a Googlethwack I was not expecting. What was obvious to me seems not be obvious to anyone else. I cannot be the first reader in history to see this clearly in the text and draw this conclusion.

Think about it: an uninteresting man does uninteresting things for a living, meets an uninteresting woman, woos here in an uninteresting way, has himself uninteresting adventures and legal pickles, and finally runs into the singular interesting figure in his universe to save him from his uninteresting life, and then the author does an uninteresting thing by not involving the book's actual namesake in enough of the story.

I can't imagine what the author was thinking. He had the whole clever concept staring at him, ready to be unfolded fantastically, and instead of flipping the uninteresting things to interesting, kept things uninteresting.

Eight and half score years later, Chuck Palahniuk got it right, but until then, this was all wrong."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: November 2062.

241MartinBodek
Feb 2, 11:55am Top

Book #68: Ormond
Days to read: 15
Source: ebooks.adelaide.edu.au
Review: "This book is so meanderingly indecipherable, that it feels like a con job. This Edgeworth lady must've said to herself, "Hmmm, can I write a book, while actually just putting random pleasant words on pages, and having people believe it's coherent, that I can pass off as a classic? I believe I can!"

So she did.

There are conversations here, where you really don't know what people are saying. There are travels that happen, but you don't really know where people are going. There's stuff going on, but you can't really tell what's happening.

It's frustratingly readable, though, hence the successful con, but it's an incomprehensible mess, dressed up as a book, and I refuse to have the wool pulled over my eyes."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: October 2061.

242amerynth
Feb 3, 4:47pm Top

Every time you post about a book you really dislike, I find your reviews are so interesting, it bumps the offending book up on my tbr list just so I can see what you are talking about. Bumping Ormond up right now...

243MartinBodek
Feb 5, 12:32pm Top

It's gratifying to know my negative reviews promote the reading of books. May it be that my positive reviews motivate the same.

244MartinBodek
Feb 15, 1:25pm Top

Book #69: Persuasion
Days to read: 13
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Once more, Austen maintains her hallmarks - snappy dialogue, defined and distinct personalities, a (really) massive org chart, and that pretty little bow - while tinkering with events, plots, and stories, to distinguish them from the rest of her oeuvre (a word I can now spell without looking up!).

Where this differs is with the hurriedness of the book, as history records that she wrote it whilst racing against failing health. You can see this in the pages not only because the book is shorter, but because there is more narration, more giddy-up, and less allowing the characters to define the story through their actions.

Five Austen books down, one to go. Lamentable, as she died too young. She is incomparable in her era, in my humble opinion. I would have wanted to read more.

I want doesn't get."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: August 2061.

245MartinBodek
Mar 22, 2:38pm Top

Book #70: Northanger Abbey
Days to read: 35
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Everything is interesting about this book. It was the first Austen wrote, but it was published last, after her death.

As such, her certain hallmarks are not fully on display, but the book is nevertheless decidely artful, as is everything she created.

Where Austen usually has siblings portraying virtues and vice, and opposite traits in general, here such dynamism is captured in a single character.

The org chart is smaller, and Miss Jane has created some big ones.

There is far, far less dialogue, and much, much more story telling.

There is also the omniscient writer's voice, interjected, and in one instance, a veritable diatribe.

There is much here that is anti-conventional, and refreshing.

But it all works, because it really didn't matter how much the writer tinkered with her craft, she always produced something memorable, and readable, with a tangible verve."
Rating: ****
Projected Finish: May 2062.

246MartinBodek
Mar 23, 1:27pm Top

Book #71: Frankenstein
Days to read: 30
Source: New York Public Library
Review: I read this book a loooong, looooong time ago, and I absolutely loved it. I'd re-read it, but with a projected finish date for this project standing at 44 years hence, I have to skip over those I've read, and put them in the rear-view for now. I must take advantage, as I only have 17 of those - this being the first - and it's psychologically invigorating to notch another off quickly as I get to it, in my chronological way of tackling this project.
Rating: *****
Projected Finish: August 2061.

247MartinBodek
Apr 20, 1:46pm Top

Book #72: Ivanhoe
Days to read: 26
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Adventure, heh. Excitement, heh. A reader, craves these things.

Man, there isn't a detail in this universe that goes unobsessed over by the author, is there? The book would have been 300 pages shorter had knights not stepped on red flowers or worn sashes just so, at this angle or that angle, and the visor having this many dents. That was all a bit much.

The pomp and gallantry and heroism and bravado were all wonderful. It was actually a great story, elegantly told.

But: it has a black, dark sheen that was a ruinous experience for me: the anti-semitism bandied about was revolting, and it made me cringe on multiple occasions. For this reason, I could barely enjoy any of it. There was just too much of it, steeped too far into it.

It didn't even feel necessary, is the problem. There was no reason for it. The story would have been amazing without it. But with it? Repugnant, really. Sorry."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: December 2062.

248MartinBodek
May 14, 3:44pm Top

Book #73: The Monastery
Days to read: 31
Source: ebooks.adelaide.edu.au
Review: "Now that I've read three Scott novels (and won't redd any more of his works ever again), I totally understand his...tao, for lack of a better word:

1) Note ridiculously superfluous details with a too-keen eye and bore your reader to death because you focus too much on this and forget to tell a story.
2) Have a boring story to tell boringly.

Nothing interesting happens here, at all. There are no compelling characters, not a good hero, nor a good villain, nor a fun romance, not really any inspirational derring-do. Nothing. Bleh.

He couldn't even make the Monastery interesting. It's called The Monastery, for Pete's Sake. Can something interesting happen there? Can the monastery at least be interesting? Can anything be interesting? Or hey, can more than a slice of the novel actually take place there?

No?

Hello?

Walter?

Sir?"
Rating: *
Projected Finish: February 2062.

249MartinBodek
May 31, 12:43pm Top

Book #74: Melmoth the Wanderer
Days to read: 17
Source: ebooks.adelaide.edu.au
Review: "Okay, I get this novel, I really do. It's quite expertly crafted, and the nested stories within the nested stories are all quite interesting in and of themselves. The plot itself unfolds in an interesting way as well; quite an achievement considering this work is surrounded by others who can't quite achieve what is attempted here, but certainly try, with most being failures.

Problem is, this book requires a high level of focus, so that you don't lose your way figuring out where exactly you are now in the narrative. You can get lost if your attention wanders.

I thought, wouldn't it be interesting if someone drew up a chart showing the nested stories, and voila! Someone did!:

https://twitter.com/philistella/statu...

That helped a bit.

The read was a unique experience, a model not much tried. It's hard to do."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: April 2062.

250MartinBodek
Jun 27, 9:40am Top

Book #75: Albigenses
Days to read: 27
Source: New York Public Library Interlibrary Loan
Review: "Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz​."
Rating: *
Projected Finish: September 2062.

251MartinBodek
Jul 12, 2:20pm Top

Book #76: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
Days to read: 15
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This book was clever, but should have been much cleverer than its execution. It's inconsistent.

I feel the author tried too hard to tickle the reader's brain with his conceit of duality.

Here's what I would have done better:

1) Get rid of that opening narrative. It serves no purpose but to do whatever the opposite of whetting your appetite is.
2) Make the Jekyll/Hyde mystery much more mysterious. The book gives up way too much in forcing it in a defining direction.
3) Inserting himself into the ending is not as smartypants as he may have thought. Several have tried - Stephen King notably - but it's always awkward. It doesn't sell.

So: pretty damn good, but boy could he have used an editor to make this sparkle."
Rating: ***
Projected Finish: May 2062.

252MartinBodek
Aug 1, 1:00pm Top

Book #77: Last of the Mohicans
Days to read: 19
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "I have a friend who considers this the greatest book of all time.

Next time I bump into him in the train station, on the escalator, during my morning commute, I am going to ask him what's wrong with the insides of his head.

Then, I'll apologize for being so crude, and ask him for his honest opinion.

I found the book meandering until the midpoint, when - precisely in Chapter 17 - the book suddenly goes Blood Meridian, and becomes a better adventure from there.

By then, though, it was too late, and all the overdescriptions of nature proved rather grating, and his mimicry of Sir Walter Scott's style particularly irking.

Had the book started from that midpoint, this would have been entirely different review.

But alas, it didn't, and this isn't."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: June 2062.

253MartinBodek
Sep 21, 11:54am Top

Book #78: The Betrothed
Days to read: 34
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "Forgive my French, but this book is one giant cockblock, in a world gone straight to hell, with a nice release at the end.

Okay, now back to regular English: jeez, what's everyone's problem? Can't leave this couple alone?

It's like The Road, with lovers, with a...

SPOILER ALERT!!!

...happy ending. Which ruins everything the novel was building up towards. It's like those movies where a whole US city is nuked, but yay, the two attractive heroes make it out alive!

That kind of stuff gets on my nerves.

The author should have killed them too, along with everyone else. I would have given a whole extra star just for that."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: January 2063.

254MartinBodek
Oct 4, 12:01pm Top

Book #79: The Red and The Black
Days to read: 29
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "I am amazed at how much I loved this book. I thought it would be another tossaway on the 1,001 Books to Read list, from another tossaway other, but boy was I surprised! For shame that history hasn't remembered this book at all, nor has it remembered the author.

Here's why it's great:

1) The main character is like an evil Joseph. That is, a charmed man, who becomes a manipulator, and everything goes his way, and others are charmed and seek to elevate him. That's...interesting.
2) Everything gets a slow burn, especially the seductions, and hard-to-gets. These are extremely satisfying.
3) The narrative doesn't get too crowded. There aren't too many characters, and whatever there are get full plot and exposition. Every person is fully realized, as are their interests and modus operandi.
4) The ending is satisfyingly bleak, as it should be. Beautifully Shakespearean. I don't care if I ruined that for you. I hate happy endings in literature that doesn't point in that direction. That mistake wasn't made here.

What a nice find."
Rating: *****
Projected Finish: August 2063.

255MartinBodek
Nov 9, 12:35pm Top

Book #80: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Days to read: 35
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "In my view, this is in the top-2 (the other being Don Quixote) for greatest, finest, richest, most well-told books ever written. Every note that must be struck in literature was struck here masterfully:

1) Not a word is wasted. Everything described, every thing brought forth, serves a purpose to drive the story forward.
2) The characters are highly defined, detailed, real, with purposeful motivations, concerns, and realities.
3) Everything told is interesting, compelling, and most of all: riveting.
4) The details of Paris are so rich and dazzling. The picture of events, the scenery, the way things work are all easily imagined because of the masterwork narrative.
5) Finally, no story of this fine caliber is complete without heartbreak, and there is heaps of it, littered throughout, and certainly at the crescendo, which itself is built up to in fine-handed fashion, under the pen of a master."
Rating: *****
Projected Finish: February 2064.

256MartinBodek
Edited: Dec 6, 12:33pm Top

Book #81: Eugenie Grandet
Days to read: 27
Source: New York Public Library
Review: "This guy thinks he's Victor Hugo. He is not. He thought he could exposit for 90 pages, then finally tell his story. He was wrong. He should have exposited briefly, told his story, and alternated - like Hugo. He also thought he could give us meaningless dialogue and scenes, without tying up loose ends. He was wrong to think that could entertain.

True, those first 90 pages are a waste of time, but like all good novels who meander before finding their footing, a good, literal bullet to the head finally sets things in motion.

But the story still can't be saved, because despite finally having some kind of momentum, and some dread, established, the story, on the whole, remains joyless and depressing. Everybody loses. Humbug."
Rating: **
Projected Finish: May 2064.

Group: 1001 Books to read before you die

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