Monday, August 30, 2004

This list will be simple enough; I am going to list each book I read since sometime in mid-June (which happens to be about as far back as I can remember with certainty). I'll write a short bit about each book.

The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer

In Progress

Blindness by Jose Saramago

In Progress

The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

Meh. I'd say this is the most mediocre book I have read in a long time. It was strongly recommended to me by a friend and, since it was a finalist for the National Book Award a few years ago, I thought it might be worth reading. Now I remember why I respect the Booker Prize so much more than the National Book Award. The novel was fine—I'm not sorry I read it—but it is really not much more than a good story without a lot of substance behind it. I prefer novels that are more likely to make me ponder. The one literary element that really had potential, the book's namesake painting, was woefully underused as nothing more than an explanatory device. Probably not an author I'll try again.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn

This proved to be much more fascinating than I'd feared. It's also been a sharply controversial book that has become known as one of the most influential books of all time regardless. Nominally, it is a theory on how scientific revolutions come to pass: the events that trigger them, the forms they take, and the path to their general acceptance. If you've ever heard of a scientific paradigm, this is where the notion comes from. This work, especially its notion of multiple perceptions of the same world, has also been applied to other disciplines outside of science. Highly recommended.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A thoroughly refreshing African American novel. It is a story that touches less on racism (though it is there as an important subtext) and more on the lives and loves of the characters who are trapped within their own culture. However, Nattie and those around her do get out of the white culture for awhile, only to find that the basic human condition is unchanged no matter where one happens to be. Regardless, the book does wonders with unique, inspiring characters who grow and change over the course of the story and ultimately are able to locate themselves within the context of their surroundings. A book that definately gives a large nod to the works of Zora Neale Hurston.

White Noise by Don Delillo

No one is tapped into the dark underside of contemporary American culture like Don Delillo is. In White Noise, Delillo explores death and humanity's fear of death in an insightful and uniquely contemporary way. This may sound boring, but Delillo is an absolutely hilarious and fascinating writer. His philosophical dialog, while utterly unrealistic, is entertaining and astonishing in its complexity of ideas and connections. It is pure pleasure to read what his characters have to say about culture and all that it implies, especially in Delillo's conception of the new forms of dying unique to our time.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This is the latest book by my favorite contemporary author. Like Ghostwritten and number9dream, this is written in Mitchell's near-trademarked transparent writing style. As a result of style and attention to detail, his chracters are well-realized and either highly likable or despicable as the situation calls for. For me, the best part is the usually deft manner in which he is able to employ his themes and literary pyrotechnics without sacrificing the enjoyability of the story. If you're interested in the nature of reality, destiny v. agency, post-colonialism, and human nature (among other themes), this is one highly enjoyable novel.

The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

*Yaaaawn* I decided to read this book because it is the foundational text of the psychoanalytic school of literary criticism. T.S. Eliot, among others, lists it as an inspiration. Since lit crit is my bag, I thought I might as well read it. Yes, it is an important book about the reason why we dream and the processes that take place. It's ideas of displacement, condensation, wish-fulfillment, etc. are all important to literature, but this is the driest book I've ever read. Despite the clear, easy writing, it was a very difficult book to get through.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels

This short and extremely influential document is the ideology that the USSR and communist China founded their governments upon. It is indeed incentiary writing about how the "history of civilization is the history of class struggle" and as capitalism continues to exploit the workers (the proletairat) and thereby widening the social gap between them and the upper-middle class (the burgiose), a revolution was inevitable. He proceeds to outline what this is going to look like and what the results will be. Unfortunately, he frequently indulges in questionable logic, incorrect assumptions and worst, an assuption that once the proletariat is in control, they'll want to give up their power eventually. Hah!

Brave New World: Revisited by Aldous Huxley

I read this directly after finishing Brave New World. This is Huxley's big, long essay where he essentially says: "see how fucking right I was?" His thesis is that the society he envisioned in Brave New World was coming to pass far more quickly than he imagined. He then goes on to detial the steps that are inexorably leading to our descent into totalitarianism. At the end, he suggests systems of eduction that he sees as the only way to prevent this almost certain and horrible future.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

This novel centers around outsiders: sane men in insane societies where art, beauty, and all the profound things in life are replaced with the sensual pleasures. Huxley envisioned this as the ultimate totalitarian state: one where everyone is happy and content with their stations in life, but no one is as free as they think. People are born into the system, live their lives in it, and die in it without ever realizing it exists.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

I think I originally read this in 6th or 7th grade. I remember thinking it was okay, but not as good as White Fang. Well, it's a lot better than I remember. Aside of it's being about a dog, it's also about spirit, survival, will, and the primitive forces in anyone. It's a quick and easy read that I would recommend to anyone.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I first read this as a sophomore in high school and remembered little-to-noen of it. On rereading it, I must say it was more enjoyable than I remembered. It is far from a "great work" in a literary sense, but it is a thorough, scathing, yet truly fair and honest satire about why communism can never work: humans (er, I mean pigs) do not have the necessary moral character to deny the corrupting influences of great power.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

This novel truly surprised me. I had never heard of it before reading this list, and probably never would have pick it up either. Historical fiction has never siezed my interest. However, this is a fascinating book that is beautifully written and packs some very subtle satire and characters worth rooting for.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Wow. I did not particularly enjoy this book. Some parts are fascinating, but his experiment in natural living and in a more honest human economy just does not ring true to me. I can accept pieces of his arguments as useful, but on the whole, I'm far from a disciple. His indictment of society aside, I just don't find his alternative views as an improvement.

Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

Once again, Foucault is showing us that everything we know is wrong by tracing the history and evolution of discipline and punishment from the stocks and public executions of the 18th Century to the modern penitentiary system. He argues that despite the good intentions of the modern penal system, it has failed in its noble aims. What's more, on some level, society knows it has failed, but keeps it around anyway because it serves as a method of control which we cannot give up.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

This was my first Woolf novel. While it wasn't as difficult to read as I had been led to believe, it was difficult to gain an understanding of. That said, I found it a rewarding novel with some provocative existential and pyschological insights.

Howard's End by E.M. Forester

A surprisingly excellent book. It is simply and elegantly written, and easy to understand and appreciate. There are also more issues than I can begin to discuss simmering beneath the surface. However, one way to read it is a chronicle of the changing culture of England in the early 20th century. It's much more interesting than you heard.


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