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Thread: What book are you currently reading?

  1. #151

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    It's really odd when you come across something, and then suddenly it starts appearing everywhere. A few days ago, I considered getting a box set of Frank Herbert's Dune books in the near future, and then a day later a friend of mine randomly said something about wanting to read Dune. And now it's mentioned here, too.

    Finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Thomas Bernhard's Woodcutters, Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, Albert Camus' A Happy Death, and a collection of stories by Anton Chekhov in the past two weeks. Also got about halfway through Hugo's Les Misérables.

    I've found that, generally, works that are considered great usually are, but not always. Les Mis is one of those that has disappointed me. I can't help but compare it with Tolstoy and his book, War and Peace. Both are gargantuanly long(Les Mis is ~1400 pages while War and Peace is ~2100), both were written in the 1860's, both are set in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, and both are national epics.

    Just about everything that Tolstoy gets right, Hugo fails at miserably, at least from a literary standpoint. Les Mis is plauged by incessant digressions, which can go on sometimes for upwards of 100 pages that have little to no relevance to the story. At one point, Hugo writes a nearly hundred page long rendition of the Battle of Waterloo only to say in the very last sentence of the last page that one of the characters of the novel was present. In another, he rambles on for dozens of pages about the history and theological niceties of a particular order of nuns because the protagonist spent the night in a crypt hiding from the cops in a cemetery owned by the order. His digressions mostly center on philosophy, theology, politics, history, and the philosophy of history. These are also all things that Tolstoy incorporates into War and Peace, but unlike that book, Hugo's digressions in Les Mis are very forced and arbitrary and aren't organically woven into the cadence of the novel. They are distracting, overly long, and wearisome.

    There's no doubt that Victor Hugo was a supremely intelligent and knowledgeable man, but a good novel is more than the sum of its components. It's just not a great work of literature, in my view. It may be a great book, but not a great piece of art, not a great piece of literature. That's how I see it, at least. The abridged version, which is about half the length of the unedited book(700 pages), is probably more enjoyable.

    Woodcutters was my first Bernhard novel. A friend recommended the author to me, and I have to say, it's had a tremendous resonance with me. It's a book I can see myself re-reading every year or two. I've seen someone describe Bernhard as "the Shakespeare of the grumps". I don't know about that, but he's definitely made it to my top ten authors, perhaps top five. It's bleak stuff, but I also think there is humor in it from a certain point of view.

  2. #152
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    I think Dune is on everyone’s mind because of the movie coming out next month! I’ve been meaning to read it for a year or two, since my friend recommended it, but the movie release has spurred me to action. I did the same when Cloud Atlas came out - my dad had been recommending that one for a long time and I rushed through that and a re-read of Life of Pi in time for both films to come out.

    I’ve been wanting to read The Road! I swear I have a copy somewhere that someone left behind in a trailer I lived in for work some years back… A couple different people have told me they read that book when they were stationed somewhere kind of isolated and that it was the most depressing experience! I can dig it.

  3. #153

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kisota View Post
    I think Dune is on everyone’s mind because of the movie coming out next month! I’ve been meaning to read it for a year or two, since my friend recommended it, but the movie release has spurred me to action. I did the same when Cloud Atlas came out - my dad had been recommending that one for a long time and I rushed through that and a re-read of Life of Pi in time for both films to come out.

    I’ve been wanting to read The Road! I swear I have a copy somewhere that someone left behind in a trailer I lived in for work some years back… A couple different people have told me they read that book when they were stationed somewhere kind of isolated and that it was the most depressing experience! I can dig it.
    The Road is bleak, but at the same time it's also a book about life and hope.

    This is one of my favorite passages in the book, one of the very few dialogues that aren't between the nameless father and his son:


    You cant go with us, you know, the man said.

    He nodded.

    How long have you been on the road?

    I was always on the road. You cant stay in one place.

    How do you live?

    I just keep going. I knew this was coming.

    You knew it was coming?

    Yeah. This or something like it. I always believed in it.

    Did you try to get ready for it?

    No. What would you do?

    I dont know.

    People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didnt believe in that. Tomorrow wasnt getting ready for them. It didnt even know they were there.

    I guess not.

    Even if you knew what to do you wouldnt know what to do. You wouldnt know if you wanted to do it or not. Suppose you were the last one left? Suppose you did that to yourself?

    Do you wish you would die?

    No. But I might wish I had died. When you’re alive you’ve always got that ahead of you.

    Or you might wish you’d never been born.

    Well. Beggars cant be choosers.

    You think that would be asking too much.

    What’s done is done. Anyway, it’s foolish to ask for luxuries in times like these.

    I guess so.

    Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave. He lifted his head and looked across the fire at the boy. Then he looked at the man. The man could see his small eyes watching him in the firelight. God knows what those eyes saw. He got up to pile more wood on the fire and he raked the coals back from the dead leaves. The red sparks rose in a shudder and died in the blackness overhead. The old man drank the last of his coffee and set the bowl before him and leaned toward the heat with his hands out. The man watched him. How would you know if you were the last man on earth? he said.

    I dont guess you would know it. You’d just be it.

    Nobody would know it.

    It wouldnt make any difference. When you die it’s the same as if everybody else did too.

    I guess God would know it. Is that it?

    There is no God.

    No?

    There is no God and we are his prophets.



    The issue is that death is inevitable and there is no transcendental guarantee of the meaning or significance of our actions. The backdrop of the apocalypse just makes for a more poetic exposition of these real life issues. Why live at all? Why bother with anything if we'll all eventually die without any kind of guarantee of an afterlife and in ten thousand, a million, or a billion years it will be as if we never existed? McCarthy doesn't shy away from those questions, but the response he makes is surprisingly upbeat. His answer isn't resignation or submission, but he just doesn't pull any punches and portrays the situation as it is.

    His prose is really great. It's simple, yet elegant. I've never really been a fan of Hemingway, who is renowned for his concise and simple style, but McCarthy does it for me and I think he succeeds in pulling off what Hemingway couldn't quite achieve(in my view at least). He's definitely one of the very few, truly great living American authors.

    Definitely recommend giving it a try one day! Both times I've read it, it was in a single sitting. McCarthy's physical description of the post-apocalyptic landscape is a lot of fun, if you're into that kind of thing, too.

  4. #154
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    Hey. One of my favourite authors.

    McCormac's The Crossing ends as such:

    After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hands and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.
    If you think that's harsh, then who better to write about the harsh lives of wild wolves?

    I've known several wolf people who I suspect saw themselves in that particular work about a cowboy kid's doomed attempt to carry a wild wolf across the Mexican border into safety. Wish I had a paper copy. He phrased the wolf's passing excellently. As only he could. Found it! This is about the death of a wolf. Enjoy. Paragraph breaks my own:

    The eye turned to the fire gave back no light and he closed it with his thumb and sat by her and put his hand upon her bloodied forehead and closed his own eyes that he could see her running in the mountains, running in the starlight where the grass was wet and the sun's coming as yet had not undone the rich matrix of creatures passed in the night before her.

    Deer and hare and dove and groundvole all richly empaneled on the air for her delight, all nations of the possible world ordained by God of which she was one among and not separate from. Where she ran the cries of the coyotes clapped shut as if a door had closed upon them and all was fear and marvel.

    He took up her stiff head out of the leaves and held it or he reached to hold what cannot be held, what already ran among the mountains at once terrible and of great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but can themselves not make on any altar nor by any wound of war.

    What we may well believe has power to cut and shape and hollow out the dark form of the world surely if wind can, if rain can. But which cannot be held never be held and is no flower but is swift and a huntress and the wind itself is in terror of it and the world cannot lose it.
    Yes. This is good. This is delightful. Shiversome.

    Likewise, I loved The Road as a book, intoxicating and lovely and disturbing in all the right ways.
    Last edited by Coyote Jones; September 13th, 2021 at 02:42 PM.

  5. #155
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    Oh, that’s beautiful. I remember in high school starting to read All the Pretty Horses as my own pick for a novel in class. It didn’t grab me, and after having grammatical and punctuation rules drilled into me, I found the lack of quotation marks distracting.

    I wish I’d stuck with it! Though I did read some other great books for that class.

    My dad swears Blood Meridian is amazing too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kisota View Post
    My dad swears Blood Meridian is amazing too.
    Heh... it isn't for the faint of heart. Making a movie based on the book would be nearly impossible. Relentless and senseless deaths. It can be hard to follow the Spanish conversations, especially as they're written without quotation marks. If I didn't have aphantasia, if I could picture things in my head, the novel might have felt more vivid and gripping. Too many characters, too much to have to force myself to remember.

    But it's quite a renowned book. Recommended if you can handle the brutality. (I'm a horror fan. It doesn't faze me.)

  7. #157
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    So I read this book. It was on a list of solarpunk novels made by the people at Tor. Finished it a few weeks ago but am writing up the review now.

    My rating is "Not terrible, but okay."

    Like, okay. It's certainly solarpunk. The premise is intuitively interesting--woman gets targeted by bounty hunter and tries to figure out why they're after her. Problem is the rest of the plot.


    Orfeus, our protagonist is a musician who's life is shattered when aforementioned bounty hunter, a member of the Order of the Vengeful Wild, targets her. They chase her around a few towns, and eventually she decides to join them because she hopes to figure out why the fuck they're targeting her. Ultimately turns out that the boss of the Order of the Vengeful Wild made the contract to target her, in the hopes of luring her in as his replacement. Which requires that she kill him, rather than that he just retire. This is dropped at the end of the book without much explanation or dealing with the consequences.

    There is a subplot about disappearing people and medical experiments which is frankly irrelevant for my review.

    Anyway, at multiple times, I found myself wondering why the Order was organizationally incompetent, and feeling that they didn't fit with the setting.

    Here we've got this band of self-appointed vigilantes. They are, it's made clear, feared by the populace as a whole but enough people think well of them to do them favors and give them stuff for them to continue operating. In otherwords, we're supposed to think of them as Batman. You wouldn't invite Batman over for dinner but you're glad he exists.

    This poses something of a problem because literally everyone in the Order seems to be nuts.

    They are apparently incapable of following a leader unless they kill the old leader, which seems like a poor idea imported from modern werewolf urban fantasy rather than a logical thing for a band of vigilantes to think. Despite their official purpose being to protect society and nature from harmful individuals--by killing them if necessary--they take bounties, and they won't tell the public who called in the bounty (reasonable, I suppose) or why they're doing it. This is, of course, an excellent way to utterly destroy trust: Kill or hurt people for unstated reasons.

    They seem to be rather uninterested in the actual cause they're supposed to be championing, and more interested in fighting.

    Apparently they will take in people who were their targets and train them as members. The main requirement seems to pass trial by combat, which is done with live weapons and apparently occasionally leaders to fatalities. That is how you lose perfectly good members of your organization and make people not want to join. There does not appear to be that much effort paid to making sure they actually agree with the ideas of the organization, which I suppose would explain the rest of their issues.

    Oh, and their leader felt that the best replacement for him was an untrained musician whose most notable talent is that (for some reason) she has access to a rare form of nanotechnology.

    Now, to be fair: The book and Orfeus both treat the Order of the Vengeful Wild as being flawed. The problem is that the book (and our protagonist) not only massively understate those flaws, but that they don't seem to be aware of the fact that many of those flaws are fatal flaws that would destroy an organization.

    The book's characters are mildly interesting, but ultimately not good enough to redeem the multiple issues with the plot.



    It's not offensively bad. It just isn't very good. Three out of five, and I'm probably being generous.

    Other than that, I'm reading Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, and How to Tame a Fox.
    "If you are worthy of his affection, a cat will be your friend but never your slave. He keeps his free will though he loves, and will not do for you what he thinks unreasonable; but if he once gives himself to you, it is with absolute confidence and fidelity of affection." -Theophile Gautier

  8. #158

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    Been on a roll.

    Read In Our Time, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, all by Hemingway, in pretty short order about two weeks ago. Except for In Our Time, I had read them all earlier this year. The first time I read through Hemingway, I wasn't impressed. He didn't live up to his reputation, who, by standards of many, literary experts included, is the best writer to ever live. I don't think he really holds a candle to any of the more famous modernist writers. On my second reading, I could set aside my expectations and just read it without preconceptions and enjoyed it much more. I think Hemingway really excels with his short stories.

    Also read The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce and The Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce last week. I've already read his oeuvre before, but it seemed like a good opportunity to read some secondary literature before revisiting it again. I plan on going through the Cambridge Companion to Ulysses before that.

    Then I powered through Tortilla Flat, The Moon is Down, The Red Pony, of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, and The Pearl by Steinbeck. They're all short novels that collectively only amount to about 600 pages and can be gone through in a day and a half or so. I really enjoyed Steinbeck when I was younger and this was my first time revisiting him since my first year of college. He hasn't aged well: his prose and style seem pretty sophomoric compared to a lot of his contemporaries, but it should probably be considered more as popular literature. A really great place to begin getting in literature, I think.

    Just last night I finished One Flew of the Cuckoo's Nest. I am a fan of the movie so I wondered how the source material would stack up. It exceeded the movie. In the novel, a seemingly deaf-mute Native American is the narrator and everything is filtered through his perception and it lends itself to a very different dynamic than the movie, where Jack Nicholson's character McMurphy is the center of everything.

    Also got through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas last week and am currently going through the Gonzo Papers. Hunter S. Thompson is a blast. It's kind of hard to classify his work as non-fiction or fiction. It blurs the lines, but tends more towards non-fiction. I love it. His Hell's Angels book is a lot of fun too.

  9. #159
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    I still haven’t seen the movie version of Cuckoo’s Nest. I should do that eventually. I did read it though. John C Reilly does an audiobook version that’s fantastic.

    Steinbeck’s been hit or miss for me. Haven’t read him in a long time though.

    I did finish the first Dune book in time to see the movie. HIGHLY recommend the movie, by the way, it was a great adaptation and a beautiful film. Saw it in IMAX and I can hardly think of a movie more worth the price of an IMAX ticket. And then I watched it again at home on HBOMax. Still good.

    I’m reading Bernd Heinrich’s “Summer World” now, which is one I started in the past and got distracted from. In fact, I know when I started it, because the bookmark in it turned out to be a to-do list from when I was living in a very remote trailer in another state for work some years back. Clear out the fridge, turn off the inverter….

    I’m trying to read some of the books I currently physically own so that I can pass them off to others.

  10. #160

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    The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester Arthur

    Sounds boring but surprisingly, no. If you'd like to know a whole bunch about a president most people don't remember ever existed, here you are. I find him interesting because he wasn't really "supposed to" be president, and when he became president everyone was like "oh no!" because he was this corrupt machine politician, but then he basically did a 180 and surprised everyone.

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