Friday, May 30, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #85

Title: Lord Jim
Author: Joseph Conrad
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: No photo available of this cover, folks, so instead I'll treat you to an awesome photo of the impressive Joseph Conrad. That's a 'stache and a half!!

Thoughts: This was a story about courage, cowardice, escape, and redemption, a deep, dense exploration of "the soul of man". It tells of a young, romantic sailor who, in a defining moment, makes the wrong choice and wrestles with the consequences thereafter. One noteworthy thing about this book is that the idea of forgiveness (of one's self and by others) is nearly absent-- once Jim makes his mistake, he is doomed to wander through the remote jungles of the earth to escape from its legacy. Needless to say, it was very difficult for me to relate to this worldview. Also, Conrad's writing is intensely steeped in colonialism, and his remarks about race (and even gender) are frequently off-putting (at best). It was hard to tell from his tone if he was critiquing and satirizing the idea of the white man as a supreme being or if he was stating that idea as fact. I would have really liked to discuss this book in a classroom setting-- there was a lot going on, and it was difficult to draw out all the themes alone.

Tangentially, it was interesting to read this book after recently watching Hearts of Darkness, the film documenting F. F. Coppola's trials and tribulations on the set of Apocalypse Now (an adaptation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness). If you haven't seen either movie, close this window and Netflix 'em now! Apocalypse Now is one of the best film adaptations ever, and Hearts of Darkness is a must-see for a filmmaker.

One final thought: Conrad, considered one of the foremost novelists of the 20th century, wrote these novels after learning English in his mid-twenties. English was his third language (after Polish and French)! That's amazing/depressing-- the man wrote far better in English than I ever will... and it wasn't even his SECOND language. I'm totally illiterate.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #86

Title: Ragtime
Author: E.L. Doctorow
Judgin' the Book by Its Cover: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Thoughts: I loved this book. I was hooked from the first few pages, and I devoured the whole thing in just a few days. Historical figures slipped in and out of a simple story about a family living outside of NYC in the years following the turn of the 19th century, but it wasn't in any way reminiscent of hokey "historical fiction".

The book was a story about change, specifically the way that simple personal decisions gather steam and become society-wide changes. The wide variety of characters from different situations helped to paint an impressionistic picture of what life was like in those years, and I found myself looking up the real people who appeared in the novel because they were portrayed so compellingly (not a few of whom I was convinced were creations of Doctorow's imagination, due to the magnitude of their eccentricities). Very enjoyable read, especially for a New Yorker. Highly recommended!

Now, I have a 16 books to read before I get to skip a previously-read novel, which is by far the longest stretch in the quest. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Read This Article!

The whip-smart Aspiring Novelist/Scrabble Champion kristywes has a provocative (no, not that kind of provocative) article prominently featured on Radiant's blog about what happens when you step out of your comfort zone and actually experience the radical diversity that us New Yorkers claim to love but usually avoid. Check it out here-- all the cool kids are reading it!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dachshund Spring Fiesta 2008

Last Saturday, the family, my Man Friend, kristywes, and I checked out the annual dachshund spring fiesta at Washington Square Park. There were dachshunds galore!! A good time was had by all.