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2011 Book #32: Sweet Thursday

I've done it again! I waited too long to write this blog post, and I've forgotten what I want to talk about. I used to have a rule that after I finished a book, I had to write the blog post before I started a new one, but, at some point, that rule went out the window. Now, I'm two books behind. But I've been busy!

My laziness aside, I really loved Sweet Thursday, even more than Cannery Row. In fact, I'm close to knocking Haruki Murakami down a rung and declaring Steinbeck my Favorite Novelist. His language is soooo beautiful, and lots of his stories, especially in these two novels, are lovely in a sentimental sort of way.
For what can a man accomplish that has not been done a million times before? What can he say that he will not find in Lao-Tse or the Bhagavad-gita or the Prophet Isaiah?

Sweet Thursday is a sequel to Cannery Row. This one begins after World War II, and Steinbeck spends a good deal of time talking what happened to the characters in Cannery Row - those who went to war and those who didn't. Most of the first novel's characters reappear here, and the focus is similar. You can read about Cannery Row in my earlier post.

In Sweet Thursday, the central plot line is similar to that of its prequel: Mack and the boys are trying to cheer up Doc. This time, instead of throwing parties that inevitably destroy Doc's lab, they want to find him a wife. All of Cannery Row's residents are involved, even the new ones. And, as in the earlier novel, Mischief Ensues.

Sweet Thursday is one of the best novels I've read in a really long time. Steinbeck captures the setting and time period amazingly well, and all of the characters are well-rounded. The only other Steinbeck novels I've read are Travels with Charley, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath, which was my favorite before Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. I'll read East of Eden soon. Posted by at No comments:

2011 Book #33: O Pioneers!

I don't really have much to say about O Pioneers! I generally enjoyed it, but it's entirely forgettable. When I was in college, I reluctantly read My Antonia, also by Willa Cather, and thoroughly enjoyed it though I expected to hate it. O Pioneers! is the same type of novel - you know, pioneers and things, and I thought I'd like it more than I did.

I only finished reading it yesterday, and I've forgotten most of it. It's about a family of (what?) pioneers, the Bergsons, in the Great Plains, trying to survive and add land to their farm. The father dies and leaves his land to his two sons and one daughter, and they quibble about what happens to it. Then, there's a Steinbeck-type tragedy (a la Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath), and, as in another Steinbeck trend, Life Goes On. That's about it. It's short.

Again, I liked it well enough, but I think O Pioneers! might go into the Wait.-I-Read-That? pile with Franny and Zooey and other novels I've totally forgotten I've read. If you're trying to choose between this one and My Antonia, go with the latter. I need to read that one again.

In Cather's defense, there are lots of DeLillo-ish quotes that make me want to work on the DeLillo Project again and expand it.
The great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.
A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.
We've liked the same things and we've liked them together, without anybody else knowing.

It fortified her to reflect upon the great operations of nature, and when she thought of the law that lay behind them, she felt a sense of personal security.

This kind of language is what I like best about O Pioneers!


2011 Book #34: The Lake

I'm generally a fan of contemporary Japanese fiction. I've read and liked a few of Ryu Murakami's novels, and Haruki Murakami is one of my very favorite authors. A few years ago, I read Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, and I generally liked that one, too. That said, Yoshimoto's The Lake is a total waste of time. The only novels I've read this year and actively disliked are Things Fall Apart and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The Lake is fluff fiction with some of the latter novel's annoying-as-hell preachiness. Generally, my rule is that if, 50 pages in, nothing interesting is going on, I can scrap it. This one was so short that I didn't. I figured something interesting was bound to happen. I was totally wrong.

The Lake is about a girl whose mother has recently died. She lives alone in a big city in Japan, and she's lonely. She meets the guy whose window faces her from across the street, and they begin dating. He moves in. She's not sure what it is, but there's something wrong with him. He's damaged in some way. He asks her to go with him to see two of his old friends who live near a lake, and she agrees to go. They arrive at a little cabin occupied by one nice guy and his bedridden sister. The friend puts his hand on his sister's head, and she speaks through him. Fine. So the couple goes back to the city. Long story short, it turns out that (spoiler!) the boyfriend had been kidnapped and brainwashed by a cult when he was a kid, and he has problems forming relationships. The End.

This book was a total waste of time. I read it quickly simply because I wanted it to be over. The translation is terrible, too. Here's an actual sentence:

Stacks of incomprehensible books about biochemistry and genetic engineering and so on would be stacked up next to him, their pages marked with Post-its.

Really? Mr. Translator, couldn't you have tried just a little harder?

I'm glad I didn't waste too much time on this one. I'll move on to something more interesting, though I'm not sure what that is, yet. Shouldn't be hard to find: I do work in a library, after all.

2011 Book #36: Everything that Rises Must Converge

It took me a long time to read Everything that Rises Must Converge, but that's not because I didn't like it. Now that I have a job, I've been reading a lot less. I get up, go to work, come home, and watch bad TV. I've only been reading during my (very short) break at work and just before I go to bed. I'm glad I've gotten ahead in my quota. Also, it's too damn hot around here to read. The high today was 109. I know I said last winter that I'd rather it be 100 degrees outside than fifty, but 109 is just ridiculous. I'm working with window units here.

Anyway. The only Flannery O'Connor I remember reading before this was ye olde high school and college favorite, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," which, I guess, I liked well enough. I've never been one for southern lit in general, though I've always loved A Confederacy of Dunces, and I've grown to like Faulkner a lot. I enjoyed Tom Sawyer, though I don't have any interest in other Twain.

But O'Connor! She's fantastic! I have a new favorite short story writer. I'm not sure which of these short stories I like best: they're all really, really good, and they deserve a second (and third!) reading. I'm sitting here staring at the list of stories, trying to single one out, but I really can't, so I won't.

Everything that Rises Must Converge is O'Connor's last collection. She was still working on it when she died. She only published one other collection, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, so I might pick that up at the liberry. Where I work.

Speaking of the liberry, I've been thinking about writing a series of book reviews for their blog. This post would not be a good example of a review, though I've been considering looking into gearing my entries more toward the formal. We'll see if I can doff my laziness for a bit.

2011 Book #37: Cosmopolis

I don't even wanna talk about this one.

I hadn't read a DeLillo novel in quite a while - we're faaaar away from the glory days of the DeLillo Binge. While I was working on the Thesis Monster (which I still have to finish), I read most of his novels and realized that he's just writing the same novel over and over with different characters and settings. Once I saw that, I lost all interest in DeLillo and all interest in the Thesis Monster. Which is why I haven't worked on it in a while.

Here's the plot of every DeLillo novel I've read (except, maybe, of Underworld, which I didn't finish): A guy (always a guy: DeLillo writes Man Novels) experiences some sort of postmodern angst related in some way to the media. He runs away from his life or otherwise destroys it. Sometimes he attempts to return and is unsuccessful in reintegrating himself.

There. I've just told you the plot of Cosmopolis. And Americana, Great Jones Street, Mao II (the three novels included in the Thesis Monster), Libra, White Noise, Point Omega, Falling Man, and all the others I've read. That's right: all of them.

Really, Don DeLillo? I thought you were better than that. Or at least a bit more creative.

I still say I'll finish the Thesis Monster, and now I have a wee bit of incentive. Next August, I want to start Librarian School, which means another master's. Which also means I need to finish the one I'm "currently" working on. I only need thirty more pages, and I have until early April to do it. I need to get my shizz together.

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