Who's reading what?

Was Albert Camus a better goalkeeper than George Orwell? Have your say here.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David » Sun Aug 25, 2019 7:54 pm

I love Ulysses, but I could just could not get on with the Wake.

On the Road I read years ago, round about the time I was reading Catch-22 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (It was a teenage thing.) Should I - can I - go back to it?

And I love Dickens, but I haven't tackled one for a while. (If I had to, I think I'd go for Pickwick Papers.)

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Mon Aug 26, 2019 5:25 pm

I get the "just dip in and read a page at random" approach to the Wake - probably the only way I could manage it - but I suppose there's a reason why the pages were arranged in the order that they're in. Then again, if we can't discern that reason then it's moot, and all that matters is you enjoy it for what it is. From what I read of it, some of it's good but some is tedious.

And when you've read a page, do you mark it in some way, or just accept that you'll end up rereading it without realising, and possibly never get to certain pages at all?
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Mon Aug 26, 2019 5:33 pm

Never read On the Road but I read The Dharma Bums when I was about 17 and thought it was pretty good. I just remember the scene where the guy is working as a fire lookout sitting on top of a mountain and a mosquito settles on his arm but he's so zenned-out that the mozzer doesn't realise he's alive and flies away without biting him.

Or is that a Gary Snyder poem?

Dickens-wise, Dombey & Son will be my next Dickens as well, but probably not anytime soon. Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are by far my two favourites; together with Pickwick they're the only ones I liked at all.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David » Mon Aug 26, 2019 6:19 pm

k-j wrote:
Mon Aug 26, 2019 5:33 pm
Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are by far my two favourites; together with Pickwick they're the only ones I liked at all.
They sound like my top 3 too. Although I also remember enjoying Nicholas Nickleby. And, I think, Martin Chuzzlewit.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Mon Aug 26, 2019 6:32 pm

As for me, I've been reading a lot this year. Since last September, books I've rated 9 or 10:
  • Slow Boats to China - Gavin Young - reread of probably my favourite travel book ever, with amazing characters throughout but highlights are a ride in a clapped-out cargo dhow with a crew of fatalistic Baluchis across the Arabian sea, and a wild encounter with pirates in the notorious Sulu sea.
  • A Room of One's Own - Woolf - just brilliant, groundbreaking writing
  • I The Supreme - Augusto Roa Bastos - the "Paraguayan Ulysses"... not much like Ulysses except that you need to read it at least twice, and have some idea of the backstory to really understand it, but one reading's enough to know you're in the presence of genius
  • Playthings - Alex Pheby - brilliant novel of schizophrenia
  • The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne - Brian Moore - tragic alcoholic decline of a respectable Irish spinster
  • The Thing Itself - Adam Roberts - gripping sci-fi premised on Kantian metaphysics
  • Night Train: New and Selected Stories - Thom Jones - talk about distinctive voices in prose - this guy gets inside his characters like no one else
  • The Mirror Thief - Martin Seay - wildly ambitious debut novel set in Renaissance Venice, early C20 Venice Beach, and the present-day Venice casino in Vegas
  • The Gallic Wars etc. - Caesar - in the luscious Landmark edition
  • Anthropos-Spectre-Beast - Tadeusz Konwicki - ostensibly written for children (or teens? - before such a thing as "YA") this is really a deep and beautiful portal / parallel worlds story with a talking dog and a stunning ending
  • C - Tom McCarthy - one of those postmodern novels you love or hate, worked for me
  • Dark Places - Kate Grenville - expertly constructed portrait of a respectable and psychopathic Victorian paterfamilias
  • North of South: an African Journey - Shiva Naipaul - pretty great East African reportage and postcolonial commentary
  • Housman Country: Into the Heart of England - Peter Parker - all things Housman
  • Hav - Jan Morris - Morris's only fiction, but not really fiction, this is a travel guide to a fictional melting-pot republic tucked away on a peninsula in South Europe, perhaps the finest example of worldbuilding for its own sake. It's in two parts, the first being a traditional travel narrative about a visit to Hav in the seventies, the second, written in the 2000's a shorter return to a Hav which has undergone a not-fully-explained revolution. The first part is simply tremendous fun; the second part is a sad and frightening account of the ways things, people and places can and do go wrong in the world and a lamenting of modernity.
  • Midnight's Children - Rushdie - blew me away with its energy and intelligence
  • Rigadoon - Céline - I love Céline's sui generis prose style... but if you don't care for ellipsis... stay away from this... it's the tail-end of WWII... Europe in anarchy... travels of the peoples... smoke... ruination... and how can a collaborator save his skin... and not just his own skin... his wife's skin too... even the skin of his cat... there's a bank account in Copenhagen... we'll take the train...
  • Everyone Wants to be Ambassador to France - Bryan Hurt - scintillating short, sometimes very short stories, sharply funny, really unusual and effective writing that punches way above its weight
  • Soft City - Hariton Pushwagner - stunning graphic work from the 60's obsessively detailing a materialist dystopia
  • The Last Samurai - Helen DeWitt - amazing father-quest novel about a child prodigy with tons of obscure erudition
  • The Magic Mountain - Mann - fever dream
  • Hons and Rebels - Jessica Mitford - can't get enough of the eccentric interbellum Mitfords. Love the decription of one of them spending hours as a child in front of the henhouse learning to imitate the expression of a chicken as it lays an egg. And the second half of the book, about the author's relationship with and marriage to her husband is great too, with their experience of trying and failing to fight in Spain, then heading to America and working in an Italian restaurant in Miami before Esmond and the book meet their end in the war.
  • If Then - Matthew de Abaitua - bloody wonderful near-future sci-fi novel set mostly in Lewes and the beaches of Gallipoli. The best (maybe only) fictional treatment I've read of the potential end-point of the AI and big data revolutions. Like Simon Ings' "The Smoke" which almost made this list, there are quasi-zombies in this story, but the whole thing is very original. It's also a superb portrait of the Gallipoli campaign.
  • Lyric of the Circle Heart: The Bowman Family Trilogy - William Eastlake - just finished this. Eastlake is just a fantastic, underrated writer. "The Bamboo Bed" and "Castle Keep" are wild, original war stories (Vietnam and the Ardennes respectively). These three books which I read in one volume are set in mid-century in and around the Navajo country in New Mexico (scenes in old Mexico and Colorado too). Eastlake's Indian characters are striking and completely unlike any others I've met in fiction. He's also one of the very best dialogue writers I've read - if you like dialogue that doesn't always pretend to be realistic. There's an Indian called "Afraid of His Own Horses" and another Indian called "The Other Indian" which I'm afraid cracked me up most of the time. Gorgeous descriptions of sky, rocks, arroyos etc.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David » Mon Aug 26, 2019 7:54 pm

Your reading record is, as ever, stunning.

Is the Tom McCarthy the one one about reliving a traumatic event again and again? I hated it.

I am intending to read Housman Country, based on your previous praise of it.

Wow - Midnight's Children. Read it when it came out. Enjoyed it. Since then he's written nothing I can read. Of the ones I've tried, anyway.

I got through The Magic Mountain years ago. Fever dream is a good way to describe it. I feel I should read Joseph and his Brothers next - with "next" being an elastic concept.

I got that Uwe Johnson you recommended. Making very slow progress with it - certainly not one chapter a day (even though I know they are not long chapters).

The main ones I have on the go at the moment, apart from others I'm just dipping into, are:

Robert Macfarlane - Landmarks
Bob Spitz - Dylan: A Biography
Emma Smith - This is Shakespeare

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Aug 27, 2019 10:46 am

I have to admit my pace on Anniversaries has slackened significantly. I'm at about page 550 I think but have only been reading a chapter or two per day once or twice a week. It doesn't help that the damn thing's too big to take along with me when I travel, which is more than ever this year. That said, I'm still enjoying it enough to read a few pages now and then - just often enough to keep the thread - so I expect to finish about a year from now. I do get the sense that the original has an enormous amount of Plattdeutsch which the translator has really struggled to bring across into English.

I'm reading more this year as I've knocked off the ultra-distance cycling until further notice and am now working from home which means I can pick up a book when I'm free for 15 minutes rather than just pretending to be busy.

The Shakespeare book looks good. I read Taming of the Shrew this year and thought it was pretty lacklustre. Well it wasn't bad at all, but high standards etc.

I read a good review of Landmarks, probably in the Guardian but wasn't moved to get hold of a copy.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David » Tue Aug 27, 2019 6:46 pm

Taming of the Shrew is the subject of the first chapter, which is a good one. I am reading or rereading each play as they occur in the book - she doesn't do them all, just about half of them, I think - and the Shrew didn't hold up very well to that either.

Some great discoveries or rediscoveries, though. I'd read Richard II just recently anyway, but Richard III was even more exhilarating than I'd remembered, at least until things start to go wrong for him, and Comedy of Errors much better than I expected.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Thu Aug 29, 2019 4:50 pm

I don't remember reading Richard III but I did see it in about 2003 at the Globe. Many great lines in that one and yes, the plot is a ripper too. Richard II I saw and read maybe 10 years ago in Vancouver, but all I remember is the sceptred isle...

Last night finished Voss by Patrick White. Not perfect, but brilliant in many ways. The two halves of the novel are both brilliantly written, I just wasn't sure about the interface between them. Lots of religious symbolism which didn't nark me as much as it usually does.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Sep 24, 2019 3:57 pm

September books:

YT by Alexei Nikitin - intriguing post-Soviet story about a group of friends who, as schoolkids in the early 80's, create a sort of correspondence-based empire-building game (like Civilization) which attracts the attention of the KGB. Fast forward to the current century and someone wants to keep the game going - but who? Not entirely satisfied with the ending but some interesting comments on if and how one is able to leave the past behind.

Selected Stories of John Cheever. Started drinking martinis again because of this. At his best Cheever is brilliant and there were only a handful of stories out of the 60 or so in this selection that didn't have something to recommend them.

The Blind Owl - Sadegh Hedayat. The "Persian Poe"? Definitely not far off the mark. Plenty of arresting images and echoes in this decadent 1920's novella but a bit too wrapped up in itself for my liking.

A Confederacy of Dunces. One of the most overrated books I've ever read. Just utter shit. If you like slapstick and gross-out there's plenty of that. No other humour I could see. There's one character who is old and senile and simply there so we can laugh as she gets people's names mixed up, nods off inopportunely, etc. The lead character - all the characters - are just one-dimensional cut-outs, like the worst of Dickens but more irritating. This is clearly one of those books that people read as adolescents and then wear as a badge of faith the rest of their lives.

An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It - Jessie Greengrass. Short stories, a 100% dialogue-free zone which is a red flag but some of these are rather good. Others feel too close to personal essays.

Doting - Henry Green. Another terrific dialogue novel in the vein of Nothing, proceeding via numerous short two-person encounters usually over a meal. Six characters total, five of whom become increasingly entangled with each other - but I think it's really about the relationship between Diana and Arthur, who amusingly have more and more sex (with each other) the more complex their intrigues become. The emphasis on dialogue serves to bring us readers onto the same epistemic level as the characters and makes the point that words are all we ever have to go on... As ever with Green, the characters are dealt more or less an even hand - he strikes me as a wonderfully humble, democratic author. Only three more of his novels left to read now.

The Viceroy of Ouidah - Bruce Chatwin. Was expecting a travel narrative but this is (fact-based) fiction. It's about a humble Brazilian cowhand who ends up in Dahomey (now Benin) making a fortune controlling the slave trade there in the mid-19th century. Some really excellent tropical writing and Chatwin revels Heart-of-Darkness-style in the savagery of both Brazil and Africa. Framed by the hero's hundreds of descendants, who despite being by now fully-Africanised still think of themselves as white and special, holding a reunion in Marxist revolutionary 1970's Dahomey.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 4. Half way though. Three or four years since I read the first three volumes. There's just nothing like Gibbon, I could read him all day. I do struggle with the Latin and Greek in the footnotes though :(
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Macavity » Fri Sep 27, 2019 2:47 pm

September


Vanity Fair - Thackeray - satirical and sentimental surfaces, but essentially human wickedness is the heart of the novel for even the 'good' have their vanities exposed. I can recommend this one for humour and insights on the destructive, corrupt behaviour of hierachies. I feel the narrator quite enjoys Becky Sharp's despite her ruthlessness in social climbing. The second time I have read this book.

Oliver Twist - Dickens - some iconic villains, but the second part of the novel is weak with a limp love story.

David Copperfield - Dickens - again iconic characters - Uriah Heep, Micawber - and again some weak female characterisation. I've read this novel a number of times because I find it uplifting and I can recommend it for that reason. The narrative is quite pacy for Dickens and there are a multitude of colourful characters.

I'll probably re-read some more Dickens in October - either Bleak House or Great Expectations.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David » Fri Sep 27, 2019 4:40 pm

k-j wrote:
Tue Sep 24, 2019 3:57 pm
A Confederacy of Dunces. One of the most overrated books I've ever read. Just utter shit.
Exactly what I thought about Infinite Jest. (Not one of your favourites, I hope.) Clever shit, admittedly. But dear me.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Fri Sep 27, 2019 5:23 pm

Macavity wrote:
Fri Sep 27, 2019 2:47 pm
September


Vanity Fair - Thackeray - satirical and sentimental surfaces, but essentially human wickedness is the heart of the novel for even the 'good' have their vanities exposed. I can recommend this one for humour and insights on the destructive, corrupt behaviour of hierachies. I feel the narrator quite enjoys Becky Sharp's despite her ruthlessness in social climbing. The second time I have read this book.

Oliver Twist - Dickens - some iconic villains, but the second part of the novel is weak with a limp love story.

David Copperfield - Dickens - again iconic characters - Uriah Heep, Micawber - and again some weak female characterisation. I've read this novel a number of times because I find it uplifting and I can recommend it for that reason. The narrative is quite pacy for Dickens and there are a multitude of colourful characters.

I'll probably re-read some more Dickens in October - either Bleak House or Great Expectations.

best

mac
Been a long time since I read Vanity Fair. Looking at my log I'm astonished to see that I rated it 3/10! What was I thinking? I'm sure I'd like it a lot more if I read it again, maybe I should. I do remember being really impressed by Thackeray's rendering of the chaos and confusion of warfare. There's more of that in Barry Lyndon which I read last year, although the novel as a whole is much inferior to the film, albeit that's a pretty high bar.

Not read Twist and not going to. Didn't like Copperfield at all although I do love Micawber. Bleak House is terrific.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Fri Sep 27, 2019 5:28 pm

David wrote:
Fri Sep 27, 2019 4:40 pm
k-j wrote:
Tue Sep 24, 2019 3:57 pm
A Confederacy of Dunces. One of the most overrated books I've ever read. Just utter shit.
Exactly what I thought about Infinite Jest. (Not one of your favourites, I hope.) Clever shit, admittedly. But dear me.
I haven't read it David. Your appreciation of Pynchon gives me cause to trust you on this, so thanks for the warning.

For the record I should note that A Confederacy of Dunces isn't clever at all - just rubbish.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Macavity » Sun Sep 29, 2019 6:12 am

I read Oliver Twist out of curiosity. There was some pay-off: the manipulative evil of Fagin, the elemental violence of Bill Sikes. Essentially may interest waned when Oliver became less present in the narrative. What did you dislike about David Copperfield?

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Oct 01, 2019 5:53 pm

Macavity wrote:
Sun Sep 29, 2019 6:12 am
I read Oliver Twist out of curiosity. There was some pay-off: the manipulative evil of Fagin, the elemental violence of Bill Sikes. Essentially may interest waned when Oliver became less present in the narrative. What did you dislike about David Copperfield?
It was some time ago but here's what I thought of it: https://www.librarything.com/work/7489/details/21017197

But as with Vanity Fair, I've a feeling I wouldn't be so annoyed were I to read it again - which however I don't have time to do. Too many other books.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Macavity » Wed Nov 27, 2019 7:04 pm

Oct/Nov

I stumbled upon Daphne du Maurier's writes this year - read Jamaica Inn, The House on the Strand. In Sept/Oct I read the short story volume The Birds. The latter story differs from the Hitchcock film. There's more menace in the open ending! Overall, the stories are okay on ideas, but lack tension and narrative drive. Two of the stories I found tedious.

Dickens - read Great Expectations and Bleak House. I've read both of these before, which is therefore a recommendation. I still feel for the foolish PIp, which wasn't the case with Copperfield, but the first person narrative of both is more authentic than Esther in Bleak House. Dickens tends towards 'angelic' unrealities for his women when they represent the 'forces of good'. Dickens is more convincing and more involving with child/male perspectives. However, Bleak House does have the lawyer Mr Tulkinghorn, a terrific characterisation of a cold calculating individual (unusually, for Dickens, he says little but menaces much).

Anne Bronte - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Too melodramatic for my tastes, but the narrative by the main female character did make me wonder about the author and her attitude to her brother.

Proposed reading for Dec. will include revisiting A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.

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