2019’s Reading Wrap-Up (or It’s Better Late than Never)

 

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New Year’s Eve in Dogville (1903) by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (a/k/a Kash Coolidge)

 

Well, dear readers, here you are, well into the new year while Janakay is still piddling around with the old!  Time just seemed to gallop away from me, there at the old year’s end, what with the “Big Book Sort,” the holidays and a (very) little recreational travel.  One day it was early December and I rather unrealistically thought I might actually catch up with my 2019 Challenges; then I blinked and it was mid-January!  No matter how many times this has happened to Janakay, she’s always surprised!  I suppose it’s that child-like sense of wonder that keeps her going!

2019 was a big year for me as far as bookish matters are concerned.  After literally years of thinking it would be fun to write about some of the great books I was reading, and to connect with others who shared my passions, I (finally) launched my blog and — gasp — participated in not one, but two Challenges! (the first was Karen’s “Back to the Classics” Challenge; the second was the TBR Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader).  Now, a year later, what do I think of the whole enterprise?

The blog itself has been rewarding, even if it’s been on life support at times;  my “launch year” unfortunately coincided with a final, rather intensive year of academic work on my art history degree.  As for the Challenges, well . . . . Janakay isn’t always into completion!  It’s a kind of  glass half–empty, glass half-full thing and, since Janakay has a naturally sunny disposition she regards both her Challenges as having been very worthwhile exercises.  Even if the total number of reviews and books read were somewhat less than ideal, the Challenges ensured that reading in 2019 was quite stimulating and definitely more challenging than the previous year’s when, sad to say, I was in a bit of a science fiction-fantasy rut.  Regrettably, however, around midyear my reviews fell far short of my reading; so much so that I didn’t see the point of a final linkup post for either my TBR or Classics Challenge.  Because this is the month named for the god who gazes into the past as much as the future, however, and I haven’t posted in quite some time, I thought it would be interesting, at least to me (you, dear reader, can always click elsewhere for entertainment!) to do a sort of informal tally of the results of my Challenge participation.

I’ll begin with the “Back to the Classics Challenge,” as the books I selected were generally more of a stretch for me to complete than my TBR selections.  The final sum of my posted reviews — five — was pretty bad.  The number of books (eight) I read for the Challenge, however, wasn’t too horrible, particularly when I consider that the Challenge required me to read books from genres (such as translated literature) that I normally avoid because they’re too much work!  Here’s my thumbnail tally by category:

19th century classic:  For this category I rather ambitiously selected Henry James’ 1890 The Tragic Muse, written right before HJ’s disastrous stint as a playwright.  Although Muse displays the realism so characteristic of 19th century literature in general, it’s also quite philosophical in a sense; James uses his characters to debate various opinions regarding the nature of dramatic art and the plot turns on the conflict between pursuing art and meeting the expectations and obligations imposed by society.  One plot strand centers around Nick Dormer and his decision to pursue painting rather than the political career expected by his family, while the other revolves around Miriam Rooth, a fiercely dedicated actress who rejects a conventional life in favor of the stage.  Since Muse is mid-period James, its syntax is much more manageable than HJ’s late masterpieces (Wings of the Dove, for example).  As with any novel by HJ, one shouldn’t expect thrills and chills.  Although Muse does have some extended discussions on the nature of art, particularly dramatic art (one senses that James is working through his ideas regarding his upcoming career switch), the major characters’ choices, along with their resulting complications, do create a bit of tension in the plot.  Like the great artist he is, James creates complicated and subtle characters.  While I found Nick a bit bland, James does wonderful female characters and Miriam is one of the great creations of 19th century English literature.  How many novels of this era portray a strong and supremely gifted woman who navigates considerable practical obstacles and arranges her life to allow the full exercise of her talents?  Miriam is not only unusual, she and her choices are fully believable.  Although I liked this novel very much, it’s not one of HJ’s masterpieces and I’d hesitate to recommend it to someone who only intended to read one or two of HJ’s novels.  I obviously love James’ work and actually managed to review Muse in some (well, too much) detail; if you’re interested you may check out my post.

20th century classic:  Decisions, decisions!  So much to choose from!  I finally settled on Elizabeth Bowen’s debut novel, Friends and Relations (another one of my rather rare reviews; you may find it here.)  Friends is a deceptively brief but stylistically rather complex novel involving the secrets and shifting relationships of two very different sisters and their respective husbands.  Although I found some of the novel’s characters rather two dimensional and its ultimate plot twist unnecessarily melodramatic, it also contained moments of real emotional insight and tenderness, as well as some wonderful comedy.  A detailed and seemingly believable depiction of upper class English life between the wars is an added bonus.  And, of course, the novel is beautifully written.  Friends is definitely worth reading, if not quite equal to Bowen’s later work, such as The Last September or The Death of the Heart.

Classic Tragic Novel:  For this category, I read Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, published in 1949, but, alas, failed to post a review.  I found this category quite interesting because it made me question the very definition of a “tragic” protagonist.  Must s/he be Aristotle’s person of noble qualities, subject to adverse circumstances and brought low by an inner flaw?  Or can our tragic protagonist be some poor schlub in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Or a couple of rich, educated, culturally blind Americans who traipse around Algeria, carrying too much emotional baggage and descending into their own hell of utter darkness?  If you answered my third question affirmatively, well, Sky is the very defintion of a tragic novel.  Kit and Port Moresby, the couple in question, are the ultimate adventure tourists, scorning the mundane; Port is intent on seeking out the increasingly remote and isolated while Kit becomes more terrified as they leave “civilization” further and further behind.  Neither Port nor Kit understands or is interested in understanding anything about the people or cultures they encounter, and both are totally unsympathetic characters; if you want warm and fuzzy, this is not your novel.  The couple’s journey is bleak, the north African landscape is tortured and the prose is gorgeous, as Bowles describes a terrifying and empty universe in which civilization does not triumph.  This novel is bleak, bleak, bleak.  Janakay loved it and wants to read more Paul Bowles, but is afraid to; she has also vowed to travel exclusively with guided tour groups in the future.  Sky has been my “jinx” book for ages; without the Classics Challenge it would have continued languishing unread and I would have missed a great read (many thanks, BooksandChocolate!).

Classic from a Place You’ve Lived:  One of the more interesting places I’ve lived is New Orleans, Louisiana.  From the abundance of myth, legend and literature associated with this oh-so-special city I picked The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, a white, male, southern novelist I had successful avoided for most of my life.  Percy was quite the flavor, back in the day; did you know The Moviegoer won the 1962 National Book Award over such contenders as J.D. Salinger (Franny and Zooey), Joseph Heller (Catch-22), William Maxwell (The Chateau) and Isaac Bashevis Singer (The Spinoza of Market Street)?  Although Percy’s luster has faded a bit in subsequent years, Moviegoer continues to be regarded as one of the greatest U.S. novels of the 20th century; early last year The New Yorker made a persuasive argument that it continues to remain as relevant as ever.

The novel’s non-linear plot centers on the travails of Binx Bolling, a well-connected New Orleans stockbroker with a knack for making money, who occasionally (please forgive Janakay’s snark) attends an afternoon movie, which he finds more “real” than his quotidian routine.  In addition to (occasionally) watching movies, making money and seducing his secretaries, Binx wanders around New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and Chicago seeking god and spouting thinnly disguised existentialist philosophy.  By novel’s end, Binx accepts reality, marries the neurotic rich girl and decides to attend medical school, which he will have no trouble getting into and which his family will pay for.  Despite Percy’s skill with dialogue and description, his frequently lovely prose and his sincerity, Janakay did not like Moviegoer, which she considers enormously overrated (lots of guilt here!  When I lived in New Orleans, I patronized a nice little bookshop that had a candid photo of Percy browsing its stacks and I heard, first hand, that he was a very nice guy!).  Are any of you cyberspace wanderers familiar with Moviegoer?  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts, as I’m afraid my own cultural bias may be blinding me to the novel’s virtues (I’m highly resistant to the woes of privileged southern white boys).  It’s worth noting that Moviegoer reflects the racial and sexual attitudes of its time and place, which have thankfully improved somewhat over the fifty-odd years since its publication.  Also, before I forget — this is one of the novels I read but never got around to reviewing.

Very Long Classic:  I’m afraid I totally bombed out in this category.  I had originally intended to read Miklòs Bánfly’s They Were Counted, volume I of his Transylvanian Trilogy, an unsung classic from eastern Europe.  Last July and fifty pages in, I realized this was not going to happen (at least not in this lifetime); I opted instead for a nature walk in Corkscrew Swamp, a wonderful nature preserve located in the western portion of Florida’s Everglades (boardwalks! birds! river otters! ghost orchids!)  Of course, I could have switched selections, made Tragic Muse my “very long classic” and reviewed Jane Eyre or Great Expectations (both of which I re-read last spring) for my 19th century category.  Oh, well …………………. those river otters at Corkscrew were wonderful!

Classic Comic Novel:  Another bomb!  I intended to read something by Ivy Compton-Burnett, who’s a favorite author of mine (her humor is so very black and her dialogue is so very, very funny) but kept saving it as a treat.  Then — it was December and I decided to read a couple of contemporary detective novels instead!  (If you haven’t yet met detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, devout Buddhist cop and half-caste son of a Thai bar girl, stop now and read John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 immediately!  Provided, that is, you’re not offended by an unflinching look at Bangkok’s sex trade).  Remember what Janakay said about her addiction to non-completion?

Classic in Translation:  The Challenge was just what I needed to get me reading some of those wonderful translations out there, particularly as I tend to confine myself to anglophone writers.  Thanks to the NYRB Classics, I had several novels by Guy de Maupassant gathering dust on the shelf so I took this opportunity to read Like Death.  Set in Belle Epoch Paris, it involves a simple but piquant situation:  noted society painter Olivier Bertin is beginning to feel his age when the lovely young daughter of Anne de Gilleroy, his longtime mistress, appears in his life.  The novel follows the growing realization of both Bertine and Anne that the former is subsuming his love for Anne into a passion for her daughter.  Although I thought the story might work better as a novella than a full-length novel, it was psychologically quite acute and offered a wonderful look at the aristocratic Paris of the late 19th century.  I did manage to review this one; follow the link if you want details.

Classic novella:  I literally have hundreds of these in a very special, very neglected corner of a very large book case and hardly ever read one!  2019 and a Challenge — here I come!  I really, really meant to read one in 2019 — one little afternoon in December would have done it — but Bangkok 8 was so exciting I simply had to follow it with Bankgok Tattoo, the second book in the series!  And, after all, there’s always 2020 . . . .  I did read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein last spring, which technically qualifies (it’s less than 250 pages) but just didn’t feel like writing about it!  Janakay has to wait for inspiration!

Classic from the Americas:  This was a category in which I did the reading but didn’t do a review, primarily because it took me so long to make my selection.  After several months of dithering I finally settled on Zama, a 1956 novel by the Argentinian writer Antonio Di Benedetto.  Di Benedetto (died in 1986) was a contemporary of Borges and Cortázar who never achieved their international fame; Zama has only recently been translated into English and made readily available through the NYRB Classics.  As the novel opens, it is circa 1790 and Don Diego de Zama, a midlevel functionary of the Spanish empire, is stuck in a dead end posting in what is now Asunción, Paraguay.  Zama longs for everything he doesn’t have:  the bright lights of Buenos Aires; promotion (as a Spaniard born in the colonies he faces considerable discrimination in this respect); the wife and children whom he’s too poor to have with him and for a remote, fantasy Europe that he has never seen.  The novel falls into three chronological sections (1790, 1794 and 1799); in each period Zama faces, respectively, a serious sexual, financial and existential problem.  In each period Zama over-analyzes and misinterprets his situation; essentially he’s so busy presenting his life to an imaginary audience he misses, or is unable to face, the reality in front of him.  Zama’s tragedy, perhaps, is that he’s never quite able to lose himself in his fantasies; he retains a neurotic self-awareness that ensures he’s continually disappointed by the realities of his situation.  It’s all very existential (Di Benedetto was a great admirer of Dostoevsky) and Janakay isn’t at all sure she grasped everything there was to grasp; in fact, after I finished Zama I was tempted to settle in for a re-read (it’s quite brief).  Zama is a challenging, but very worthwhile novel.  And, did I mention it’s quite funny at times?

Classic Play:  I’ve been meaning to read Ben Johnson’s The Duchess of Malfi  for years.  I’m still meaning to!  Another category where I dropped the ball.

Classic from Africa, Asia or Oceania (including Australia):  Thanks to NYRB Classics, I had long possessed a copy of Maria Dermôut’s The Ten Thousand Things (1955) sitting unread on my shelf.  This highly autobiographical account of life on the remnants of a Dutch spice plantation in Indonesia was one of my favorite reads of the year.  Ostensibly the story of a young woman who returns to her grandmother’s garden to raise her child and grow old, the story moves backwards and forwards in time to encompass hundreds of beings, the living and dead, the supernatural and natural, to show in the most subtle way possible the interconnectedness of all things.  I reviewed this novel in great detail in a prior post(I’m afraid I became a little carried away with the visuals, having just completed a couple of courses in Dutch art!); there’s a wonderful essay that explains the novel far better than does my review in Lost Classics (edited by Michael Ondaatje), a fascinating little book which is in itself worth tracking down.

Classic by a Woman Author:  For this category I read and reviewed The Blackmailer, the first of a number of novels by Isabel Colegate, a wonderful English novelist who’s a favorite of mine.  Blackmailer, which is set in the post-war London of the 1950s, is a surprisingly subtle look at the relationship between the blackmailer and his/her prey, and the intricate cat and mouse game in which they indulge.  The novel offers crisp dialogue, a great depiction of post-war London’s publishing world and some wonderful supporting characters (including a hilarious old nightmare of a nanny and Bertie the spaniel, portrayed with great vividness and not an ounce of sentimentality).  Perhaps best avoided by those demanding a great deal of action in their novels.

I did a bit better with my TBR than with my Classics challenge, completing ten of the twelve books I selected from my enormous TBR pile.  Alas, however, I only reviewed four.  Regardless of numbers, however, the Challenge really motivated me actually to read some of those very interesting books I’ve been accumulating all these years and was, more importantly, a lot of fun (I’m very sorry to see that the Challenge won’t be offered in 2020).  The real standouts for me were Tom Drury’s The Driftless Area, a wonderful noir thriller with supernatural elements, which I reviewed, and Ester Freud’s Summer at Gaglow, which I did not.  My real regret is that, once again, I’ve evaded Jane Gardam’s The Man in the Wooden Hat, which has been on my TBR list for years!

Regarding my choice of illustrations — have you ever wondered where those nauseatingly cute paintings of anthropomorphic dogs playing poker and so on came from?  For better or worse, we owe them to Kash Coolidge, a graphic artist who created them as part of an advertising campaign in the early part of the 20th century.  In the illustration I choose, the canines all look like they’re having a doggedly good time on New Year’s Eve, don’t they?

 

 

12 thoughts on “2019’s Reading Wrap-Up (or It’s Better Late than Never)

  1. You should see my smile right now. This made my day at so many levels. I’ve been wanting to hear from you forever, and hear you talking about life and books it’s simply something I look forward all the time.

    The dogs art, and how you comment on it made me laugh hard. I went back to it, and sure thing, they look nauseated, ha ha ha.

    I’m not being patronizing, but I don’t see a failure anywhere. 10/12 TBR challenge! And 8 Back to the Classics. Bear in mind the caliber of books your have read, and I love that you have sprinkled them with things that made you happy at the time, and that felt freeing, such as those mysteries.

    I’m sad you won’t have the TBR challenge. But you can totally pick 12 books you’ve had for a year or longer. As for the Back to the Classics. I am in it again, because, if we take the challenges as inspiration, and not worry about completion, it’s so true that they are wonderful. I also love the posts like this, where we reflect upon our reads, and we share with friends.

    Some of your books intrigue me. I know where to come when I need ideas. You inspired me to read Henry James. I totally know about The Moviegoer. I found it at my favorite store a couple of weeks ago. I plan to read it this year. Maybe I’ll be able to add to your experience reading it. I did not know, but it’s supposed to be a fiction work based on Kierkegaard’s philosophy.

    As if you didn’t have enough to read, another blogger, cathy, writes about that white priviledged man type of writer or character, https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/24361160/posts/4013

    I used to read and loved Maupassant, and I enjoyed all your reviews and I’ve missed some of your long ones which I’ll come to read later today.

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    1. Silvia: it’s so nice to reconnect! Your enthusiasm, not to mention bookish insights, always add much to my reading experience. Although I realize you’ve many demands on your time, I can’t wait to see what you make of The Moviegoer; knowing your love of philosophy I actually thought of you when I read it (you’re right about Kierkegaard; I saw a review somewhere discussing this point). I suspect you’ll have much more insight into poor confused Binx and his spiritual quandary than did I. Also, since you don’t have my prejudices, you’ll be much fairer in evaluating it!
      Oh — and thanks for the link! I popped over to Cathy’s blog (which I’m now following!) and read her very interesting post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Meeting you and reading your blog was one of the best things of last year. Your art studies, and the paper you had to write and all, were super fun to read about. And your photos, the museums specially, your bird sighting trips, and the cats. I like how you see beauty in the mundane. And your humor. I remember well your entry about your stroll around the market in your area, and your Halloween post. I am keen on finding kindred spirits, and following their blogs, 🙂 I like the stories behind your reads.

        Cathy’s parents were book dealers, her mother, in her eighties and very lucid, takes avid reading to a new level. I found Cathy at Goodreads, and then I realized she also has a blog. She posts sporadically, and I totally treasure her posts. Her parents sold from children books, to rare and collectibles, and everything in the middle. I love her caustic humor, and we overlap in our penchant for the not so well known books and authors, and, like you, in how much we relish the art of the brown bag-book sale. She has a non conformist attitude, and her love for rescuing books from oblivion, 🙂 She does have a knack for writing. I don’t go for obscure books on purpose, it’s just that my interest, -specially for books in Spanish-, takes me to tiles that are not well known.

        I’m very curious to know what I’d make of The Moviegoer too. I didn’t understand Fear and Trembling that well, though. I don’t think fairer evaluating it, but I’d probably have a different angle. I’m glad to know that story about Percy. You have the best anecdotes. I admire how much you know about books, and that’s important too, it’s context. Thanks for each and every link you’ve shared, in your blog posts, and in the comments, here or at my blog. I do click on them, read the articles, poems, or anything you send. Because what’s reading books without reading and writing about them, and about the life around them? I’m always forgetful about this aspect of being a reader, and every time you expand my knowledge of a book, author, prize, personal experience, etc., I love it and appreciate it greatly.

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  2. Hi Janakay,

    This is the umpteenth time I’ve tried to leave a comment. 😦

    Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was great. You are right, it did come upon us quickly this year. I blame it on Thanksgiving being so late in 2019. The next time I get a paid holiday from work will be Memorial Day all the way in May. I might need to take a few mental health vacation days in between. I had almost two weeks off from work between the years and got a lot of reading done, which was satisfying. I also discovered those cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies, however, and spent some time watching them as well. They are so bad, they’re good, you know?

    I agree that the Challenges are worthwhile exercises. Like you, they help me read books that I might not get to as quickly were I reading by whim.

    I will probably skip The Tragic Muse, though you do make it sound tempting. I find James’ characters too subtle and complicated sometimes. I have the same problem with D. H. Lawrence. Sometimes they are so deep, I can’t fathom them as a reader which frustrates me. I do plan on reading Portrait of a Lady and Washington Square one of these days for fun and because I MUST, I will read The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl and call it a day.

    I’ve only read The Death of the Heart from Bowen and I’m afraid I also found it a little to subtle for me to grasp. But I am willing to give her another shot.

    I have read The Sheltering Sky and I kind of hated it – SORRY all my thoughts are so negative! It may have been too bleak for me. In particular, I found Kit’s fate to be very disturbing. But I also read it when MUCH younger. Perhaps if I were to read it again, I might be drawn to the dark side.

    I have also read The Movie Goer and really didn’t find it to be all that. I read it when fairly young (in my 30s) and honestly at that time it would not have even occurred to me to read it in the context of that of a privileged southern white boy, you know? I just accepted the status quo. I read it because it was supposed to be “good”. But I normally want a wee bit more plot that it had. But I see in the comments that it is supposed to be based on Kierkegaard? Sometimes post-modernism just isn’t for me.

    I’ve never read any Ivy Compton-Burnett. She is a favorite of one of my favorite bloggers, Simon at Stuck in a Book. So one of these days! But I actually have read Bangkok 8, so how about that! It’s been many years now, but I do remember liking it. I remember the opening, a car full of snakes, right? But who done it and why? No clue. I’ve only read The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate which was pretty amazing. The movie adaptation of it is also pretty good, but I don’t know if you could get Mr. Janakay to watch it.

    I LOVED Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat is an interesting complement to that book. I’ve read the whole trilogy and the first book is still the best of the three, in my opinion. However, I know there are other readers who disagree with me.

    I agree with Silvia, the dogs don’t really look like they are having a great time dancing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ruthiella! I’m so delighted you persisted and dropped by, despite those frustrating internet problems! Do you know I had the same problems with your blog, in leaving comments? I tried several times, only to have the comment disappear into cyberspace. In my case, it was probably your good luck, as I was nattering on ad nauseam about Durrell’s Alexandia Quartet & Mann’s Magic Mountain! I nagged Mr. Janakay, my in-house technical guru, to leave his internet baseball schlock for a bit and figure out what was going on. My fount of internet wisdom concluded that it was some glitch in the server. Whether he was right or not, once I switched from Safari to Firefox my comment posted. I’ll try again this weekend and see if “the fix” still holds. Your 2020 challenge list looks very intriguing and I can’t wait to see your reviews (they’re great BTW). And congrats again on your challenge win in 2019! You inspire me to do better myself (I’m o.k. with the reading; it’s just I get lazy with the reviews).
      We are of one mind regarding the Classics Challenge — I’m so glad it’s being offered again — with one big exception. You’d get around to reading those books, challenge or not, and I wouldn’t! (my pre-challenge 2018 reading list was pretty soporific). I plan on participating again this year and will post my list next week. I’m having problems with a couple of categories, particularly 19th century. There’s tons of things I like from that period but I want to read something new and nothing appeals right now. Janakay can be very picky and whimsical at times! I was going through ANOTHER old box of books, however, and may have found something: Emily Eden’s The Semi-Detached House. I’ve actually read it, but so long ago I’ll be looking at it anew. In the many years since I read it, I’ve also read Susannah Moore’s contemporary novel, One Last Look, a fictional take on Eden’s time in India in the early 19th century as her brother’s official “hostess” (he was governor general). I loved Moore’s novel (have your read her? she’s a fav of mine), which has given me a renewed interest in Lady Emily.
      I know what you mean about Bowen, as I’m ambivalent about her myself. Yes, she is (overly) precious at times and way too subtle for poor old Janakay as well. Yet, as I noted, I seem to keep coming back. I plan on reading her Eva Trout as part of the 2020 challenge. Since I think this will be a sweep of Bowen’s fiction, I guess I’m condemned to be foreever ambivalent about her, as there will be no tie breaker novels left.
      I was very interested in your take on Bowles. No need to spare my feelings on your different reaction! I’ve avoided him for years, literally; Sheltering Sky was a jinx box for me and I fully expected not to finish it. I think I ended up liking it so much simply because I didn’t find it all that difficult to read! Kit’s fate was indeed disturbing and the characters were ALL totally unlikeable. But there was something there, for me. Some of the language is, indeed, gorgeous and Bowles offers — what? a well-thought out view of the universe? A convincing one? one that’s logically consistent and that draws you in? There’s a scene in a Faulkner novel (The Hamlet, maybe?) where, as I recall, one of the characters witnesses a truly disturbing act and says that even if he’s seen something god is o.k. with, he doesn’t want to believe it’s true. Or something like that. I felt that way when I saw an ant swarm in South America; birds and insects were just fleeing like crazy to get out of the way (only way they survive); I saw a large grasshopper just covered with ants that were getting ready to eat him alive and he wasn’t even struggling, just holding perfectly still. It’s all part of the natural order of things, but Janakay doesn’t like to think about the implications! I hope, by the way, you weren’t eating breakfast when you read the bit about the ant swarm. It makes me mildly nauseous even to think about it. Bowles has something of the same effect but boy can he write. And, whether or not you agree, you can’t deny that he’s showing you things that do exist in our tidy little plane of reality.
      Well, that’s enough philosophy for Saturday morning. I’m glad to find a similar non-admirer of Walker P. I guess I have SUCH a chip on my shoulder I can’t be fair to the guy. I did enjoy his description of, and references to, New Orleans; it was a “hey, I’ve been down that street” kind of reaction. But that whole southern thing just leaves me cold (and he IS a very southern writer, I don’t care what the critics say). I spent three years in close quarters with the somewhat nastier equivalents of Binx Bolling (one of my law school classmates was actually named for Walker Percy, if you can believe that. I think there was probably a family relationship, else why inflict that name on anyone?) and it was not fun. I also hated the end, where the mature Binx assumes the his wife/pseudo cousin’s burdens (was her name Katherine? can’t even remember) — do you recall, he gives her detailed instructions about which street car to take and how to pick something up from his office. O.k. she’s neurotic, but please!!! The novel’s finer philosophical points escaped me (I’m not a philosophy reader), so I’ll have to wait for Silvia to enlighten me there!
      I’ve had other literary friends of very sound judgment who loved Old Filth, so I’m going to give it another try! I am determined to read it and THIS will be the year! (since the TBR Challenge isn’t being offered, I’m doing my own).
      Re Henry J: you’re probably wise to skip The Tragic Muse; although Miriam was great there IS a lot of talk. I think you might actually enjoy Portrait and The Ambassadors. Golden Bowl? Welllllll — the first time I read it, it was a real slog and a “you’ve got to be kidding” reaction. The second time I loved it. When I went back for a third re-read, about a decade ago — I just wasn’t up for it. So I’ll be interested to see what you think!
      How lovely to have two weeks to read! That amount of time allows you to really tackle something long and/or difficult. Do you teach and did you have a semester break? I definitely vote for some mental health days in the upcoming months — it’s a long time until memorial day!
      I do like Isabel Colegate. She’s one of those interesting writers who, while perhaps not of the very first rank, has something to say and does so in a really talented way. I couldn’t do her masterpiece, The Shooting Party, however, because of a description of a bunch of slaughered animals. I know I’m missing a lot and I’ll have to try it again, when I’m feeling strong.
      Bangkok Tattoo is almost as good as Bangkok 8. I think I read the third in the series, but it was getting a bit too mystical at that point and I was getting a bit bored with the bar scene/brothel stuff.
      I do apologize for rambling on, but I’m delighted to be back in touch! Happy New Year and keep those reviews coming!

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  3. Wow. I’m impressed with your exchange, Ruthiella and Janakay. It was like watching a tennis match with book titles and authors being served and tossed back and forth.

    I loved when Ruthiella said, “I may love the dark side”. I’m not a super fan of Star Wars, but it sounded cool, like a Dark Vader comment but in a positive way.

    Your Internet problems are something I understand first hand. I have a suggestion. Before you try to hit publish, select all the comment and copy. If it doesn’t go through, you may still be able to paste it.

    Though I don’t know the authors you mentioned, I only know James by one book, and yes to the subtleties that are so out of reach. In my experience, these authors require one to read them as extensively as possible, and reread them. But to me, it’s too much. I have been married 19 years, for my books, I can’t give authors all that fidelity, hahaha.

    Another interesting point I have discussed with my friend Travis, who is more familiar with modern lit than I am, is violence. The scenes you described remind me of the way they talk about Blood Meridian. The only way to read these books it’s if they have poetry and beauty, and if that poetry is accessible to us the readers. I too need to be emotionally strong, and this past year, there’s been hardships we have overcome, or are working at, but my mind needs a moral and nurturing equilibrium that I can’t challenge, -even if the proposal is honest and has value-. That’s why somehow, I am gravitating more than ever towards modern lit, despite of constantly being negative about it. It’s not a pretty century.

    And thank you for your honesty about the Southern type. I don’t have that hang up at.all. But I suspect that The Moviegoer is class B or B+ lit. I love southern literature, but the women reign supreme: Flanery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Carson McCullers, and I add Angelou. That’s Southern to me.

    We will see, because if they have to tell us about a philosophy in the book and we can’t see it, such as we can easily spot in The Stranger, to say something, is it well done? Nope.

    You also made me think of a book by Vargas Llosa, The city and the dogs, that even in my youth when I could read King and other horror books, I could not read pass the first pages.

    What is these authors rational or what are they after? Llosa is probably being loyal to the violent narco and guerrilla society he knows well. Nabokov is the first to expose the white privileged man dirty and dark side, and he very clearly wrapped it in the finest language -I know by inference from reading other books by him, he is a magician-, but I can’t read Lolita.

    Best luck in your forays into this complex territory.

    And I am looking forward to your list or lists with much trepidation, Janakay, the same with your reviews, Ruthiella.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I meant though I can’t always read modern lit, I still gravitate towards it because I know there’s value, and it appeals to some part of me as a human and a reader. The ambivalent feelings for these authors and books is something I share with you, Janakay.

    Like

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