RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Books

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is nothing if not aptly titled: after reading nearly 100 pages it seems to me to be one huge joke.

I’d been wanting and meaning to read IJ for years, and the more I heard about the book and its author, the more I wanted to read it—but a thousand-something pages? I still haven’t finished War and Peace! Finally, after seeing The End of the Tour, I began.

In the first three chapters I found gems of wisdom buried in acres of verbiage, and was in serious need of guidance; I went to the Internet and found dozens, if not hundreds, of sites dedicated to IJ. I read a few reviews and reader discussions, scanned the Wiki site, and returned to reading. But now, fresh from laudatory reviews by people whose opinions I respect, and gushing declarations by fans and readers, my gut reaction was: You’ve got to be kidding! I mean, huge chunks of IJ are absolutely unreadable. The boredom, the repetition, the footnotes, many of them wholly unnecessary: was DFW putting us on?

Wallace committed suicide in 2008, 12 years after the fame and glory that followed IJ. I don’t know enough about the guy to speculate, but it’s safe to say there was some sort of mad genius going on in there. IJ is indeed a work of mad genius—so much so that I’m somewhat scared to admit my lack of enchantment. David Eggers, who wrote a somewhat negative and astute review of IJ when it came out, has hidden or somehow banished his review from the public; many years after IJ‘s outsized fame he wrote a foreword to the book that was purely positive, expressing the opinion that not a single sentence of IJ is imperfect, not a word out of place. Duck and cover, Eggers!

Thus, to ward off my fear of fans and laudatory literary luminaries who will surely attack my intelligence, or lack of same: for the record, my favorite author is Doris Lessing—no literary slouch—and I’ve slogged through, even delighted in, the works of Henry James, Thomas Mann, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Edith Wharton, to name just a few who can be rough going.

Is Infinite Jest a work of infinite jest? Is it The Emperor’s New Clothes? No: the shame is, this probably could have been a  much more accessible, readable, and therefore better novel. In the final analysis, Infinite Jest is a powerful testament to the utter absence of bold, intelligent editing in the publishing world today.

On Reading: Quotations

Posted on

jonahreading

I collect memorable quotations on everything from sex to humor to writing. These are all on the joy of reading. 

What better way to grow up and mature through life than accompanied by great novels to show us the way?–Lucy Horner.

Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier. ~ Kathleen Norris

Be careful of reading health books. You may die of a misprint.—Mark TwainMarkTwain

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before. ~ Thomas Carlyle

A book is like a piece of rope; it takes on meaning only in connection with the things it holds together. ~ Norman Cousins

I read the newspaper avidly. It is my one form of continuous fiction.~ Aneurin Bevan 

A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images.—~ Albert Camus 

The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring—Warren Chappell

The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected.~ Frank Dane 

Never judge a book by its movie.~ J. W. Eagan ~

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.~ Logan Pearsall Smith ~

Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark?~ Fred Stoller ~

No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.~ Atwood H. Townsend ~

“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. –Proust

Everything I know I Learned From Art

 

Having just watched No God No Master, a 2012 film about the Palmer Raids of the 1920s and, peripherally, the railroading and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, it occurs to me that everything I know about history I have gleaned from movies, novels, and song lyrics. Before seeing

Sacco & Vanzetti (Photo: Wikipedia)

Sacco & Vanzetti
(Photo: Wikipedia)

this movie, I did not know that Emma Goldman was deported from the US, never to return. I had no idea what the Palmer Raids were, and though I knew about Sacco and Vanzetti, I was fuzzy on the details (though I knew a bit from Holly Near‘s song Two Good Arms.)

This is not the history they teach in American schools—at least, it’s not anything I was taught.

Thanks to Doris Lessing I know something about colonialism in Africa. I learned about the French Revolution from Marge City of DarknessPiercy‘s City of Darkness, City of Light. I know the history of India from dozens of novels by Indian writers, most notably A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and, to a lesser extent, the film Gandhi. Recently I’ve gotten a dose of Nigerian history from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Lest anyone think I’m swallowing works of fiction or Hollywood productions whole, I almost always look up the facts online afterwards; even before the Internet, I did my homework, especially when writing book reviews: I compared Piercy’s details in the abovementioned book to those of historians Will and Ariel Durant—Piercy, who does exhaustive research for her novels, was remarkably faithful to the facts.

When I was in my teens, my twenties, and beyond, I read so many books and saw so many movies about the holocaust and slavery that they no longer fascinated but enraged and depressed me, until I finally swore them off; besides, I could probably write up a syllabus for each. Recently I added domestic violence to the list; having worked in a battered women’s shelter some years ago, I don’t need anymore painful education in that department either.

I don’t listen to music, read literature, or watch movies in order to learn, but because it’s what I love to do. Still, it makes me furious that I wasn’t taught important historical events in school, where they just threw dates of wars and generals at us, not to mention lies about our country. It just goes to show that in the end, as Virginia Woolf noted, it’s the artists who’ll save us.

 

Still Writing: New Blog

Posted on

Readers and other Dirty Laundry Followers! 

 

I’ve just begun a new blog, Still Writing, with a primary focus on writing, books, and most particularly, my books.While the site is still under construction, I’d be delighted to get some visitors, commentary, followers, and feedback. The construction is going slow, but there’s a hefty number of posts up that I transferred from another old blog, BookBuster, soon to be permanently shut down. In fact, I just put up a Dirty Laundry post from last year about the wide world of publishing, so come on over.

 

book piles

 

The Goldfinch: Book Review

Posted on
Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch (Photo credit: Images by John ‘K’)

 

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
Winner, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014

Spoilers ahead.

 

“To write a novel this large and dense…is equivalent to sailing from America to Ireland in a rowboat, a job both lonely and exhausting…—Stephen King, reviewing The Goldfinch in The Guardian

If reading fiction is an escape from reality, I’m having trouble with re-entry. It’s been over a week since I finished The Goldfinch, yet it’s still one of the first things I think of in the morning and return to several times during the day. Somewhere around page two or three hundred I took up residence in the world created by Donna Tartt, and I’ve yet to move out. (“…with very great paintings it’s possible to know them deeply, inhabit them almost…” —from The Goldfinch.)

The Goldfinch however, is no escape: it thrusts us into the awareness, always just beneath the surface, that the only way out of our troubled lives is death, a truth most of us tend to avoid. When forced to face it, our reactions can range from depression to terror to thoughts of suicide (as in might as well get it over with). I don’t know if this was Tartt’s intention, but it was, at least for me, the novel’s ultimate statement. Not that she doesn’t offer glimmers of joy and hope along the way, particularly in her long summary-like ending: but the dark side decidedly overpowers the light.

A plot-driven novel, The Goldfinch is full of twists and turns and moments of heightened suspense. Unlike most plot-driven books (see John Grisham, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, et al), in which the action is fueled by stereotypical cardboard characters, The Goldfinch is populated by multi-dimensional  human beings: Theo, the narrator around whom all others spin; Boris, his chief sidekick, dragged all over the world by his abusive businessman father; Pippa, the girl Theo falls in love with moments before a bomb goes off in the New York Metropolitan Museum, setting the plot in motion; and dozens more. I can still vividly picture every one of these characters, though Tartt, thankfully, allows readers to fill in most of our own visuals—which is odd, considering she’s so heavy on other kinds of description.

As both a reader and writer I’ve never been that interested in description, whether of city streets or country roads, lavish mansions or run-down hovels. Thus, Tartt’s long, elaborate word paintings of whatever’s going on while what’s really going on goes on annoyed the hell out of me—that is, for the first hundred pages or so, until I fully surrendered.The plot is so engaging that I’d impatiently scan the page (or rather Kindle screen), my nerves twitching with the feeling of Come on, get to the story already! For instance, just as Boris is about to tell Theo (and us) what’s become of the treasured painting at the center of the plot, Tartt leaves the conversation momentarily to let us know what’s showing on the TV set in the bar. She’s also big on that famous plot device, the flashback: after the explosion, when Theo crawls through a collapsed passageway seeking an exit, Tartt flashes back to a time when he was stuck in another tight space. Sometimes she even writes a flashback within a flashback.

At such moments I became distracted and annoyed, and read as quickly as possible to get past what I saw as “extra”s…but then a funny thing happened on my way back to “the story”: I began to notice that my impatience was similar to what happens during suspenseful passages; Tartt’s long flights of description left me literally suspended. I was desperate to know what would happen next: I had to turn the pages. Eureka! Are these literary devices—the descriptions, the flashbacks—purposeful techniques employed precisely to create suspense? Is her deftness with these methods partly what makes the book so compelling? Perhaps. No, more than perhaps: probably. It’s worth noting that The Goldfinch is only Donna Tartt’s third published novel, and that she spent eleven years writing it. At a time when would-be authors attend workshops on “How to Write A Bestseller in a Weekend” and toss off a book in six months’ time, Donna Tartt is holding down the fort of literary excellence.

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta