The Grey Pen Goings

Navigation through a World that's Wild at Heart and Weird on Top.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Books I've Read So Far on My Journey

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
Lethem’s book is a twist on the gritty detective story, with the protagonist a low-level mobster with Turret’s. The plot itself is not much deeper than a regular detective novel, but the style is engaging, the characters are entertaining, and the Turret’s angle is very interesting. Fun if not too deep or moving. 6.5 on the recommendation scale.

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
A large, frenetic tale that is written as the autobiography of Oskar Matterath, a thirty year-old who willfully stunts his growth at the age of three. Oskar grows up in Germany during both World Wars and these events, obviously, color his childhood. The tale is twisted, strange, fantastical, absorbing, and the style is great—you get the feeling that Rushdie read a translation before going at Midnight’s Children. It wanders at time, lags a bit, but is a wonderful, engaging novel. 8.3 on the recommendation scale.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
After absorbing a book based on German history, I figured I ought to plunge into the works of the country I’m living in. Kundera’s works are like philosophical candy—he offers simple treatises about, obviously in this case, laughter and memory, and proves his points with examples through stories. Not only are these stories and his style remarkably straightforward, they often have to due with sex. I feel like there’s sort of two ways of looking at the world at any given time—that it’s impossible or very simple. Kundera, his country’s history heavy on his mind, only sees one. 6.2 on the recommendation scale.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
This was my first foray into Joyce and I found it very interesting. For several reasons it took me a while to get into it—that I’ve been on a modern kick for quite some time now, that I’m not Irish Catholic, that the structure and style of the story don’t really reward an adult reader till the fifth section, in my opinion. As a wannabe writer there are certain sections towards the end that make me say, “Yes, yes, exactly!” But otherwise I was sort of bored by my wading through it. 5.7 on the recommendation scale.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
I went back to the other Kundera book I’d read as a sort of comparison. Though similarly structured and similar in style, Lightness holds up much more than its Kunderian brother. Why? Kundera gives us much more time with the characters, dotes on them, attempts to explain them and their problems, that by the end we understand the philosophical point while feeling empathy for the characters. This is simply not the case with Laughter and Forgetting, where characters don’t really exist beyond the points Kundera is trying to make. 8.7 on the recommendation scale.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
There are certain writers who, beyond meaning or subject matter, are flat-out style masters. For me, personally, Rushdie falls in this category. Arundhati Roy. Jonothan Safran Foer. And Vladimir Nabokov, whose wit and playfulness astounds me every time I read him. His puns, his gigantic, precise vocabulary, most everything he uses fits perfectly—and English was his third language! This I find amazing, that he wrote his books in English despite knowing Russian and French first. Pale Fire is the concocted edited version of an epic poem by a fictional poet, and the edited notes take on a story far greater than the 999-line poem. Nabokov doesn’t necessarily hit your heart with each book, but in terms of style and enjoyment, he’s certainly a master. 9.4 on the recommendation scale.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
This is only the second Murakami book I’ve read, after the tight and totally engaging Norwegian Wood. I’ll says this about Kafka, it is as equally engaging, something you don’t want to put down because you want to know how its bizarre events are combined. The ending effects were disappointing to me, though—why go out of your way to make fantastical events seem real, or weave suspense into the reader, if you’re not going to fulfill their expectations at the end? Murakami gets really wrapped up in his metaphors, and his introduction of talking cats and time-traveling and mysterious phenomena—while fanciful and initially enjoyable—falls flat when their use is random. I’m still going to give the Windup Bird Chronicle a go. 4.3 on the recommendation scale.

If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Unfinished as of now, but can't imagine the last fifty pages bringing it below an 8. Very heady.


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