Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Catch 2-blah....

So in the interest of honesty, I have been trying to read the novel Catch-22 for the past week. I cannot truly express how little I care about this book, so far. It is slowly getting interesting, but I don't know how long it will take to actually read it. So, the posting will be slowed until I finish it. Yuck.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

No. 45 - The Sun Also Rises

So I'm going to be reading the Modern Library's 100 best novels. First up? Number 45, Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.

Let me get this out there at the beginning: I HATE Ernest Hemingway, I always have. His 'iceberg theory' (which I have to be completely honest, it could be something that a teacher/professor attributed to him, I've never read anything by him describing it, but it sounds right, so I'm going with it)of storytelling is pretentious and his storytelling style has become sort of a shorthand for 'underdeveloped.' My experiences with Big Papa were previously confined to some short stories and two novels I had all read in high school: The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms.

So the question is out there, why would I pick a book by Hemingway first to read off of the list? I don't know. I do not have a good reason other than it looked good and short (which is a good enough reason to me). For whatever reason, I picked up The Sun Also Rises Thursday afternoon and found it compelling enough to finish yesterday. I have to be honest, I really enjoyed the book. It finally gave me some understanding about several things concerning Hemingway.

First, it is the only work of Hemingway's that I have read where it didn't feel like he was trying too hard to be 'literary' or important. That was always my beef with his work, they have always felt too labored and stiff. I liked the main character, Jacob 'Jake' Barnes. Jake was maimed in the war and as a result he was impotent. This fact come up very obliquely several times as a reason why Jake has difficulty committing to relationships, but it becomes obvious that even if Jake were whole physically, he'd be just as incapable of finding happiness and contentment. Jake's interactions with his friends and acquaintances was enjoyable and Hemingway does really make post-war Paris and Spain feel alive. The dusty, underdeveloped backwaters of Spain and the bright fanfare and non-stop Bacchanalia of the Festival of San Fermin are a great complement to the disintegration of the relationships that are happening in the novel. Hemingway has always somehow been linked to the running of the bulls in Pamplona and now I finally know why.

This is not to say that this novel is perfect, far from it. The rampant anti-Semitism in the novel is off-putting. Robert Cohn is ostracized and belittled for being Jewish, he's the outsider of the group, whose personality falls into stereotype on more than one occasion. There are plenty of reasons to hate Cohn's character, Hemingway didn't need to keep hitting that chord. In fact, there are several instances of some fairly nasty racial epithets in the novel. In 1926 these terms were less shocking I'm sure, but to today's reader they are unsettling.

The idea of how this novel would be written in today's world is an interesting one. Sure, we'd probably get a more sanitized world-view, but I'm positive that the content today would be much more explicit sexually and linguistically. Neither of which would improve the book. The general tone of these characters looking, searching for something to give their lives some sort of meaning would be cheapened by the tawdriness of it.

They say that this is Hemingway's ode to the Lost Generation, that this was his way of expressing the ennui and discontent that afflicted this post-WWI group of writers and expatriates. I don't know about all of that, what I do know is that it gave more credence to the idea that people have never changed. When Jake and his companions continue searching for something to fill the void within themselves, whether it is religion, alcohol, or sex, they were mirroring the world that Hemingway lived in, but they could just as easily be writing about people today. The quote at the beginning was Jake's response to Robert Cohn's complaint that he isn't living his life to its fullest capacity, that he wasn't living his life all the way up. I had always believed that to be a 60's or 70's gripe.

So, now that I have finished the first book of this challenge, do I still HATE Ernest Hemingway? Nah,that's way too strong. I don't know that I'll read any of his other works, but this book worked for me. Maybe relying on opinions created by a teen-aged version of me isn't the best idea... Something to think about I guess.

P.S. The Iceberg Theory really was Hemingway's. I still think it's garbage...

The List

If you have never noticed, I tend to be a little bit arrogant about a few things. Well, maybe very arrogant, but you know what, I don't give a damn about your judginess, so whatever. Anyway, I've always taken a bit of pride in the fact that I am fairly well-read. Some of that is a reflection of taking the amount of English courses that I have taken, some of it is the fact that I love to read.

So I was sitting at work the other day the idea of these "best novel" lists came up and I was curious as to how many of these books I've read. I've seen several of these lists, the one from The Guardian is good, as is the one from the College Board, but for some reason, I was really drawn to this one from the Modern Library (which isn't really a group of librarians, but whatever). What was surprising to me is that I had only read eleven of the 100 books listed. Now I hear you saying to yourself, "Only eleven? You suck Francis..." trust me, I said it to myself as well. So I set myself a challenge: to read the other 89 in 2012 (preferrably before December when the world ends). Can I do it? I dunno, but I'm going to give it a roll. And lucky you, interwebz, you get to be subjected to my superficial ramblings about these books. Ha, ha!

For the record, prior to Wednesday, January 18 I had read the following books (with their ranking on the list):

2 - The Great Gatsby
5 - Brave New World
13 - 1984
18 - Slaughterhouse-Five
31 - Animal Farm
41 - Lord of the Flies
64 - Catcher in the Rye
67 - Heart of Darkness
69 - House of Mirth
74 - A Farewell to Arms
88 - Call of the Wild

Now, I'm going to be honest here, I've read about half of number 90, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, a book that did a fantastic job of killing off the VanAusdal Family Reading Club, so I need to finish that one off to count it. The books on this list are pretty varied and should make for some interesting reading, and if I don't make it through the list this year, what's the worst thing that happened? I read some good books? Sounds good to me.

One last thing, I'm not going to go in any particular order, as you will notice in my first reading selection.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Location - Sometimes

So, I am making the leap to a more mature, less flippant blog... You can find it here: http://gonnasayno.blogspot.com/. Stupid name, I know. Maybe I'll change it later.

I'm still going to post here occasionally, if only to vent in a more private kinda way, but the other place will be more active... So with that, adios for now...

Watch This Show!

I am reaching the age where I'm starting to wax nostalgiac over a great many things. Music was better when I was young. Movies today aren't worth a damn. These kids today... All of that kind of grumpy old-man stuff that makes me crazy, I'm saying it and thinking it. Except that I do not really believe it. Things today are different, but that really meaningless in the grand scheme of things. They just are. Our culture reflects us, for better or worse. Take television for example. For the most part television in the 70's and 80's stunk. There were great shows, but the crap to gold ratio was astonishingly bad.

Thankfully, most of the dross from this era (I mean Alf, really?) has been relegated to the dustbin of history, never to be heard from again except in some ironic, hipster kinda way. What's left? Well, that is what they call the 'Golden Age' of television, right? All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and the like. Except that when you watch it from a modern perspective, these shows are preachy, moralistic, and slow. Which of course must mean that they had meaning. Or not. Viewed from today's prism of an uptempo world, these shows are dated and difficult to watch, unless they remind you of a simpler time, like when Hawkeye would bust out the wine to get the unnamed nurse of the week tipsy so he could reinforce his Lothario reputation. Of course the concept of 'date-rape' was still a decade or so away.

Which brings us to today. Our airwaves are filled with tripe that makes My Two Dads look like Shakespeare. The art of the narrative seems to be lost, at least that is the rallying cry of those who look to the past and see some sort of utopia. The reality is that we are going through a new Golden Age. There are some amazing stories being told today. Not all of them are playing on the big 4 networks, but if you are looking at today's television landscape and seeing a wasteland, you're not looking in the right spots.

So, why am I writing all of this today? Well, one of today's best shows not on a premium channel, FX's Justified, is making its return. And I cannot wait to see what happens to U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens. He's not quite an anti-hero, but rather he's a character that enbodies the more relativist nature of today's America. We don't trust the do-gooder who has no flaws, nor do we want Dirty Harry shooting up the place, we like to see our heroes today as flawed but just. That said, Raylan doled out some serious justice in a great season two of Justified and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.