Monday, January 31, 2011

Week 4: The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

I underestimated The Sound and the Fury. Because it is a classic, I had a vague idea of the premise of this book despite never having read it. I was simply expecting a drama about an aristocratic Southern family’s decline. It didn’t take long before I realized that this book was much more than that, and also, downright crazy. I mean “crazy” in the mind-boggling sense. As in, I put this book down multiple times to furrow my brow and mouth, “WTF?” But I mean this in the best way possible. I was not prepared for Faulkner’s wild writing. The book is divided into four sections, each with a different narrator and radically different perspectives. Stream of consciousness is a technique that is employed heavily in certain parts of the story, and it is fascinating and extremely poetic. It can also be incredibly confusing at times, but even so, it’s rewarding in the same way that piecing together a jigsaw puzzle is rewarding. The story emerges in bits as opposed to being revealed clearly all at once. Additionally, the characters for the most part are either wholly unlikable or deeply flawed. Not to mention the book is filled with racial terms that are historically accurate for the time the story takes place, but are still cringeworthy. Oh, and speaking of cringeworthy, let’s throw in some other creepy elements, such as: suicide, hypochondria, harassment of a mentally retarded man, black servants, borderline incest, promiscuity, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, disownment, embezzlement and whippings. Despite all of this, the book is thoroughly engaging and truly artistic. Its abstract nature seems so fresh and modern even though it was published in 1929, and the reader can easily see how other authors might have been inspired by Faulkner’s writing. I don’t think I will easily forget this book and I'm glad I read it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week 3: 2666, by Roberto Bolaño

At the risk of sounding effusive, I am going to publicly declare my love for Roberto Bolaño. After reading The Savage Detectives, I was smitten. I knew I wanted to tackle 2666 for my book challenge this year, but I balked at reading the book’s 900 pages in a week. I decided to go for it and never looked back. This book is so wonderful that it didn’t feel long – despite regularly having to read on my lunch breaks; at the bus stop; until 2:00 am – and I ended the book wanting more. The story is divided into five parts. It was written posthumously after Bolaño’s death at age 50. As he became more ill and began to put his affairs in order, he suggested that 2666 be split into five books to make it more appealing to the masses so that his wife and children would be provided for financially. However, it was ultimately decided by his heirs to keep the book whole, and after reading it, I can’t imagine it being split up. Each part is connected to the others by a common, terrible thread: the mass murders of Santa Teresa, Mexico (based on the real-life mass murders of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico). Together, each section forms a tale that is beautiful, frightening and mysterious all at once, a tale that spans various continents and decades. Bolaño is the magnetic guy at the party who loves books and poetry and is at once effortlessly cool and friendly. He understands men and women, the intricacies of life, and the yearning for adventure. This novel showcases his exquisite writing skills. The ease in which he can switch from one culture to another (narrating convincingly through the perspective of an American, for example) or rewind back through history (from the mid-nineties to Germany in the throes of war) is remarkable. I wish I knew Bolaño, or at least, I wish he hadn’t passed away. I suppose all I can do is read the rest of his books and befriend more of the characters that he crafted so lovingly.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Week 2: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This book was not an easy read. It’s a joy to read – peppered with beautiful, vivid imagery and genuine human moments – but it’s not an EASY read. I was not that far into it when I hit a wall, frustrated with characters that are given the same names over and over again, and the dense pages in which every sentence overflowed with details. I’m glad I stuck with it, however, because by the end of the book I was enchanted and I was sad that I had reached the last page. Set in a fictional, South American town called Macondo, the book chronicles several generations of the Buendia family. There is a cyclical nature to the book that first reveals itself in the repetition of family names and personality traits. This cyclical nature emerges as one of the themes of the book, and over the span of a century, the reader is reminded of the cycle of life itself, as well as its inevitable end. The book is also noted for employing “magical realism”, which lends a heartwarming, almost fairy-tale quality to the story. For example, the sky rains tiny flowers at one point, covering the streets; one character is followed by yellow butterflies everywhere he goes; another character ascends to Heaven as she is folding sheets. Overall, I think anyone who reads this book will find themselves smiling and reflecting on the beauty and grace of life.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Week 1: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

This book is the latest selection for my book club. Also, it's a pretty long book. Those two attributes helped me to decide that this would be the first book of the year. I'd get my book club reading done, and by reading 562 pages in a week, I'd be preparing for a lot of upcoming reading time. This book has gotten a lot of hype, so I had somewhat high expectations upon opening it. It did not disappoint - this book is awesome. This is the story of a slightly dysfunctional family as they all struggle to figure out who they are and who they are becoming. There are segments of the book devoted to each family member's perspective and the reader becomes acquainted with each of them. Franzen is a great writer. He blends beautiful, elegant phrases with supreme readability. He does a great job of capturing ordinary moments and human emotion, with both tenderness and humor. Relationships, whether romantic or familial, are captured so effectively that I suspect anyone who reads this book will empathize with at least one of the characters. It will make you reflect on the nature of family and friendship and parenting, and how to be better at all of them. It will make you wonder what you'll be like when you're older, and you'll find yourself thinking back to past years and how you were shaped as an adult. All in all, this was a GOOD BOOK.

The Beginning

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2011 is to read a book a week this year. My reason for tackling this challenge was to more consistently incorporate reading into my life. Instead of viewing reading as a spare-time luxury, I am working towards integrating books into my daily routine, with the hope that I can train myself to read more, even when I don’t necessarily have spare time. I’m not a book reviewer, and I’m not seeking to provide insightful reflections on the books I’m reading. My purpose is simply to keep track of the books I’m choosing, and offer a quick opinion on each one, and ideally, keep the ball rolling throughout the entire year! Yikes.