We Adore Reading

"We read to know we are not alone." ~ C.S. Lewis

Foe

by mecapozzi

http://wakingonrooftops.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/525544.jpg?w=147&h=225I read Foe by J.M. Coetzee for my World Literature class, and could not put it down. This was unusual for me, especially because I had so much other work to do. Even so, I finished it weeks early and spent most of my spring break thinking about all of the issues it had brought to light. Foe is a post-colonial revision of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, adopting the characters Cruso and Friday from this novel. Coetzee changes plot and character–even the spelling of Crusoe–in his revision, so much so that Foe barely resembles Robinson Crusoe. 

This postmodern novel uses language to address the fallibility of language–a highly meta-textual topic that postmodernism often addresses. It also attempts to answer the question posed by Gayatri Spivak: Can the Subaltern Speak? Friday, whose tongue has been cut out in Coetzee’s rewriting, exists as a perfect example of the subaltern who arguable does not even try to communicate with the narrator, Susan Barton.

Overall, this is a fantastic read, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to do some serious thinking. Part IV of this text is boggling and offers no resolution to this multi-valent text. Do not read this if you are looking for a happy ending, or a neatly tied up story, but if you want to challenge yourself, this is the book for you.

*Foe was published in 1986 by the Penguin Group. It received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. Coetzee is also a Booker Prize-winning author.

A Beautiful Mind

by LRK

A_Beautiful_Mind_(book)This is a book I worked on slowly from early September to mid-November. It’s a big one – nearly 500 pages – and it took me forever, but it was well worth the time commitment. A Beautiful Mind is Sylvia Nasar’s award-winning, best-selling biography of the famed and troubled mathematician John Nash, one of the pioneers of game theory and winner of the Nobel Prize for economics (interestingly, he only took one economics course in his life, and the prize was awarded over 40 years after his winning discovery – read the book!). I found it in the bookstore where I work for only $8, and as a math enthusiast, I couldn’t say no.

Like many biographies, the book starts off a little slow – and a little irrelevant. It describes his parents’ childhoods and early lives, presumably to frame his story in the context of his family. It’s interesting, but not nearly as interesting as John’s own life – and once you get into his college experience, it’s a fascinating story full of intriguing mathematical tidbits. Reading A Beautiful Mind feels like you’re sitting in the enigmatic RAND building, getting a glimpse of the secretive and oddly funny lives of the country’s greatest minds during World War II and the Cold War.

I absolutely adored this book. It’s funny, fascinating, inspiring, and heartbreaking. If you’re interested in mathematics, I would recommend that you find the time to read this book. It’s more than just a biography – it’s an educational look into a world that is completely foreign to most people, and it’s a truly enthralling story.

Wuthering Heights

by LRK

I have to read Wuthering Heights for my English class, so over winter break I decided I’d get a head start on it. Well, that “head start” turned into a three-day reading frenzy almost immediately. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that I enjoyed as much as Emily Bronte’s classic.

From the very beginning, I was surprised by how much I loved it. I’ve really enjoyed classics before (A Tale of Two Cities was pretty good, and I liked Catcher in the Rye), but I’ve never really loved one like this. I’m sure most of you read it in high school, but even if it’s just been a while, I strongly recommend you pick it up again.

The most surprising thing for me was how hilarious the book is. I’ve been guilty of assuming that old books are too serious to be funny or entertaining, but Wuthering Heights actually had me laughing out loud at some points. By the end of the book, I found myself hating every character, but still loving the book, and that’s a true hallmark of a great read – I didn’t like anybody, but the writing and the story were so wonderful that I didn’t want it to end. I was truly disappointed when the book ended.

What’s great about Wuthering Heights is that it can be an English class book – that is, there’s plenty of literary elements to pick out and analyze, and there’s deeper meanings and implications buried throughout the text – but it can also be an enthralling read. Books like The Scarlet Letter get so bogged down in symbolism and imagery that they become dull and slow to read, and personally, I wouldn’t read it for pleasure. Wuthering Heights, on the other hand, is so interesting, humorous, fast-paced, and well-written that I could (and probably will) read it many, many times, for pleasure as much as for its literary merit.

~ Luisa

On Beauty

by mecapozzi

I finished On Beauty by Zadie Smith a few days ago, but needed to give myself some time to process this novel. I read White Teeth over the summer, and adored it. I fell in love with her even more as an author when she lectured at Skidmore College, reading an essay called Why I Write. For all of these reasons, it was difficult for me to separate my appreciation of On Beauty from my adoration of Zadie Smith herself. The novel takes the plot of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, and places it in contemporary Boston. Having never read Howard’s End, I am unable to comment on Smith’s success in borrowing Forster’s plot, but I can note that On Beauty stands on it’s own as a novel set in the 21st century, and does not seem borrowed in any sense.

In all honesty, this book started off slowly. I was nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as White Teeth, and was surprised to find the novel started with emails between Howard Belsey and his son Jerome. The story is developed around the academic feud between Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps. The two men are foils—Howard is liberal, Monty is conservative, Howard is white, Monty is black, Howard is anti-Rembrandt, Monty is pro-Rembrandt—but ultimately, the two are strikingly similar. Around this central feud, Smith addresses questions of race, ethnicity, education, sexuality, and of course, beauty. The Belsey family, for example, is it’s own study in race relations and sexuality. Howard, a white professor at the fictional Wellington College, an institution outside of Boston, is married to Kiki, his African-American, 250-pound wife. They have three children, Jerome, a recently converted Christian, Zora, a slightly overweight, overly academic college student, and Levi, a wanna-be gangster, sweats, hood and headphones included. The relation of each family member to their own race and sexuality, as well as to the races of the rest of the family serves as a poignant look at what it means to be black or white, female or male, beautiful or ugly. I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with Howard’s treatment of Kiki, but could not find any suitable reason for his behavior, besides middle age.I was also annoyed that she continued to forgive him, while at the same time found myself rooting for him

Overall, I did enjoy this novel, although not as much as White Teeth.  Smith, true to form, addresses major questions plaguing American society, and then offers up forgiveness as the answer.

 

*On Beauty was published in 2005 by The Penguin Group. It was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

Great House

by mecapozzi

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I just finished this gorgeous novel by Nicole Krauss on the plane ride to California, and read for about three hours straight. Every time I felt myself getting tired, Krauss would inspire me to continue with her language, or a sudden change in plot, or a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. The novel is split up into a few different sections, entitled “All Rise,” “True Kindness,” “Swimming Holes,” “Lies Told by Children,” and “Weisz,”with each section about entirely different people in entirely different spheres of influence, some separated even by the Atlantic Ocean. Even so, these sections fit together seamlessly, and it’s impossible to imagine the novel organized in any other way. Krauss sews together metaphors as if she were born with needle in hand, and the lives of a dozen characters living in different cities and countries are somehow connected by one thread. This thread is a desk—How could it not be? Krauss is a writer through and through—that frightens and threatens those who own it, but that also gives of its self, changing each of their lives in its own quiet way.

Admittedly, I did not expect the emotions this novel evoked in me, perhaps because of the cover art, or because the title gives absolutely nothing about the book away. In Great House Krauss investigates the writer’s purpose, the relationship between a son and the father who does not understand him, the love a husband has for his wife, who erects walls he dare not breach, the close connection between siblings afraid of their father, who only wants the best for them, and the death of one very significant Chilean poet. Every twist and turn forces you to ask yourself that existential question that lies at the heart of every artistic endeavor, “Why?” Krauss does not have an answer for us, but perhaps the answer is merely the question.

~Mae

*Great House was published in October 2010 by W.W. Norton & Company. Excerpts from the novel originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine. Great House was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Fiction, the winner of the 2011 ABA Indies Choice Honor Award in Fiction, the winner of the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award, and it was shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize in Fiction.

American Pastoral

by mecapozzi

I recently completed this Philip Roth novel and had to immediately write about it because of its undeniable power. Roth sets American Pastoral in New Jersey—mostly Newark and Old Rimrock—during the 60s and 70s, and grounds it within a few historical moments, namely World War II, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. I imagine the story like a matryoshka doll: with many layers—stories within stories. American Pastoral consists of three levels: Nathan Zuckerman’s real experience with the Levov’s, Zuckerman’s speculation as to Seymour “the Swede” Levov’s story and the minor characters’ background stories.

Nathan Zuckerman, the narrator, and an author, had been Jerry Levov’s friend in high school. As a boy, Zuckerman had been enraptured by Seymour and maintains this obsession into adulthood, when Seymour contacts him and asks him to write about what he refers to as the tragedy that has befallen his father, Lou Levov. The Swede and Zuckerman have dinner, and Seymour spends the entire time talking about his second wife, and his three boys, which Zuckerman finds strange. Zuckerman spends some time speculating as to whether Seymour has any personality at all, until he runs into Jerry at a high school reunion. Jerry tells him about the tragedy that rocks Seymour’s family.

The second narrative centers around the family of Seymour Levov. Regarded as a boy who can do no wrong by his peers as well as his elders, he excels in football, basketball, and baseball. He has a younger brother Jerry, a father and a mother. His father owns a burgeoning ladies’ glove business that Seymour later inherits. Seymour goes on to marry Dawn Dwyer, who was Miss New Jersey.  He and Dawn raise the stuttering Merry, who rips them apart.

Finally, Roth completes the novel with a collection of smaller background stories designed to describe the minor characters.  With these smaller stories, Roth manages to investigate the complexity of human thought and personality, and delivers to us a slew of characters that no matter how hard we try we cannot like.

Overall, I found this novel challenging and upsetting. This is certainly not a light read, and the reader must commit to it to get through the wordiness and unnecessary details. I am finding that the more I distance myself from the story, the more I appreciate and enjoy it as a powerful narrative examining America’s post-World War II, anti-Vietnam shift from pastoral serenity to urban violence and anger during the 60s and 70s.

~Mae

*American Pastoral was published in May, 1997 by Houghton Mifflin and was a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1998. It now goes for about $10.85 in paperback on Amazon.com, and $8.25 on the Kindle.

Fiction

by mecapozzi

“Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”

~David Foster Wallace

Fool

by mecapozzi

“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”

~Fyodor Dostoevsky

State of Wonder

by mecapozzi

I reread this novel by Ann Patchett a few weeks ago for the second time, and found it to be a quick and rather mesmerizing read. It was published by HarperCollins in June, 2011 for $15.99 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. (No fiction received the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.) This is a novel filled with fantastic imagery, beautiful symbolism, a cryptic thematic purpose, and a fascinating plot. Marina Singh, an employee of a pharmaceutical company, is sent into the Amazon with the purpose of discovering the fate of her lab-mate, Anders Eckman. Anders had been sent to the Amazon to find Dr. Swenson, who is working on a pill that will allow women to remain fertile into old age. As Marina ventures deeper into the Amazon she comes face to face with her greatest failure , and spends the entirety of the novel overcoming it. In other words, it is a typical coming-of-age story with one twist—Marina is 42 years old.

Patchett’s tone in this piece is spectacular, and the story flows nicely. She does not get bogged down in details, nor does she allow herself to skim over some terrific descriptions of the Amazon and its inhabitants. How she imagined the plot is beyond me, but I found it somewhat similar to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The novel deals with fertility, aging, womanhood, mortality, culture, and science in a mature and profound way.

In my opinion, State of Wonder is a worthwhile read. That being said, if you’re just dying to read Ann Patchett but can only read one of her books—why this would be the case I do not know—I would suggest Bel Canto over State of Wonder. It’s more accessible, and there are far fewer gross bugs.

~Mae

An Abundance of Katherines

by LRK

Originally posted on Luisa Reads:

Pretty decent cover (paperback), although it bugs me that all the girls are identical. They kinda look like Miranda Cosgrove to me, idk.

Alright, now that I covered the super-heavy content of The Poisonwood Bible, time for something light, cheery, and decidedly young-adult: An Abundance of Katherines by the wildly popular John Green. (If you haven’t heard of him, don’t be surprised…I think it’s not that he’s got zillions of fans so much as it is that his fans are loyal and rather obsessive.) It was published by Speak in 2006 and the paperback edition runs about $8.99 these days.

The story revolves around a child prodigy named Colin who’s a little obsessed with achieving “genius” status (he’s looking for a “eureka” moment, something brilliant and original rather than just impressive like him). As the book opens, he’s just been dumped by Katherine XIX, his most recent girlfriend –…

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