Monday, April 20, 2015

Books: Quarter 1(ish)

The 2015 Classics Project presses on. Here's where we're at so far:

January: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole (1980, 394 pages). 3 stars. Basically, if you enjoyed Don Quixote, you'll probably enjoy this as well. It is a sort of novel known as a picaresque, which means that the "hero" is a kind of self-righteous man-child type who indulges himself in all kinds of dreamy, selfish fantasies without ever learning about himself, taking others into consideration, or really developing as a character at all. The picaro here is thirty-year-old, early 1960s New Orleans resident Ignatius Reilly, who reluctantly tears himself away from his pages and pages of reflective journaling to take a variety of ill-fated jobs in order to to provide for his single mother. It's cute and clever and reasonably entertaining at times, but the picaro stuff does get old after a while, and I have to admit that I can't really see how it stood out enough to get a Pulitzer Prize.

February: The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (1970, 216 pages). 5 stars. Last year for Black History Month, I read Uncle Tom's Cabin, which I did not expect to love but absolutely did. (Should be required reading for all Americans. Period.) It seemed like a good tradition to keep up so this year I chose The Bluest Eye, which I've wanted to read for a while anyway. It's the story of a sad, timid, eleven-year-old Black girl in 1941 that explores ideas of racial self-loathing & its origins, as well as the broader idea of facing rejection for something you can't control and what happens when instead of pushing back against that rejection, you accept it as legitimate. Short, sad, and beautifully poetic (because, Toni Morrison, who remains one of the most captivating writers I've ever read).

March: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (1943, 496 pages). 4 stars. I read this one for Women's History Month. Five stars for being high quality, well-written YA fiction that I suspect would be meaningful to younger teens (and possibly even pre-teens?) without veering into melodrama; three stars for being just not really up my alley. (Then again, I am positive I read it about 20 years too late). So call it 4 on average. I feel like it falls into a particular sub-genre of YA whose theme is, "Life is hard, particularly growing up, especially for poor people, but sometimes good things still happen because FAMILY and LOVE," and those types of books have just never really spoken to me much. Also, I'm not sure why but I found myself constantly comparing it to The Bluest Eye and Angela's Ashes, and...well. That's tough company for any book.

April: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin (1969, 280 pages). 4 stars. April is Women in Science Fiction Month, and everyone was like, "OMG how have you not read this?!?!?" An envoy from a loose federation of humanoid worlds visits a recently discovered humanoid world with the goal of eventually bringing them into the fold. This planet is unique in that its inhabitants spend 24 of every 26 days in an androgynous/asexual state, and then two days in what they call "kemmer," where pheromonal/hormonal interactions with a potential sex partner cause them to become (unpredictably) male or female. LeGuin wrote the book in order to explore what remained basic to human nature when biological sex was no longer a factor. I had kind of a hard time getting into it at first, but it picked up & ultimately was a good story of friendship, political intrigue, and two vastly different peoples trying to understand each other. It was a ground-breaking book for the time in terms of how gender is treated, and I give her a lot of credit for that.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

I remember loving the movie when it came out & have always wanted to read the book, and I was not disappointed. Cleverly & poetically written, dark without veering into morbid/depressing, and utterly engrossing from the first page all the way to the end. (Also, now I really want to watch the movie again.) My first Jeffrey Eugenides & now I am curious to read more by him.