Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - Heroines

It's Top Ten Tuesday (and my ninth anniversary) again from the Broke and the Bookish.  And this is tuff.  Top Ten Heroines.  Ok, remember this blog is chronicling my exercise of reading more widely. And this...this here is what I'm talkin' bout.

No, I cannot give you a top ten list of heroines.  Here's a few off the top of my head:

1. Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Two words - Pelennor Fields.

2. Dolores Price from She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb.  Perhaps it could be argued that she isn't a true heroine.  I think she fits.  She has a ton of shitty things happen to her.  Her life seems to be one bad decision after another.  And quite frankly she isn't very likable.  Until, she comes out on the other side a better person for it all.  Kudos to Wally Lamb for writing a great, believable female character.

3. Camille Preaker from Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  Dark subject.  Love it.  Camille Preaker is f'ed up.  She's not just a cutter.  She's a literary cutter, carving words into her flesh one blade at a time.  In Flynn's debut thriller, Camille returns to her hometown and messed up family as an investigative journalist covering the murder of a child.  It's a study of how evil women can be, and somehow Camille, f'ed up as she is, faces down her dysfunctional family, and rises above the bitches (it's the word that works here) inhabiting the pages of this book.  Props to Flynn for not turning Camille into a "series" character after the success of this book.

4. Um, yeah this is going to be a problem...

Any help here?  I haven't read any Austen or Bronte sisters, that is coming though.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Decline and Fall" by Evelyn Waugh

EVELYN Waugh was a dude!

It's true. Now, I've learned this stunning fact a number of times. Yet, somehow when I, at last, came to read one of his books I was shocked to learn this again. He also was born into a snooty upper class British family, but was snubbed by said class because of a brother's indiscretions. If that sounds ridiculous, it is nothing compared the ridiculous comedy of errors that is his satirical novel "Decline and Fall", which, get this, makes fun of the snooty upper British Class.

The story is circular, with main character Paul Pennyfeather ending up where he began as a theology student. Everything in between is the meat of the story as Paul begins the story being expelled from college for indecent exposure - an unfortunate consequence of a hazing incident. He then moves directly to a job as a schoolmaster of a boarding school for boys. This despite being honest about his reason for being kicked out school. Yes, this is the kind of humor that permeates "Decline and Fall". He will move onto engagement with a super rich widow, and a prison sentence for trafficking prostitutes. All before finding himself right where he started.

All of the characters are literary constructs. Pawns on the board for Waugh's comedy. In this way, they remind a great deal of Flannery O'Connor's grotesques. Even Pennyfeather is but a piece. For the most part he serves the role as camera lens. He is the reader's lens to view all the bizarro workings of the rich. Pretty much everything in the novel happens to him. The same could be said of most every character.

Another unfortunate bit on the characters is that book is populated with tons of characters with long,strange, humorous names like Clutterbuck and Bret-Chest-Wynde, etc. I don't even know if I got those right, and that's my complaint. It's difficult to keep track of them all.

The book is very funny providing many laugh out loud moments. I did appreciate the character of a pompous ass architect (being one myself - an architect, not a pompous ass), who played the role of the misunderstood artist in over the top hilarity. This character even provided some of the most interesting insight into the human condition near the end of the novel, when describing Pennyweather as a static personality (kind of like a camera lens, you know).

I enjoyed the novel, more than I expected. I don't tend to gravitate towards stories about the rich. I prefer Everyman stories and those about the poor and downtrodden. But, hey, Waugh was pretty much poking fun at the upper class. The book is recommended for those interested in dark, satirical comedy.

Next up for me Les Miserables...in other words, look for the next review in a few weeks.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Book Blogger Hop

It's book hop Friday again courtesy of Crazy-for-Books. Today's question is:

Do you use a rating system for your reviews and if so, what is it and why?

I've only reviewed one book so far. Look for another over the weekend of Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall." I'm still thinking about a rating system. My last review I just stated I gave it 4 stars, which is what I rated Sister Carrie on Good Reads. I always struggle with rating stuff because inevitably you end up comparing books, and because there has never been two books equally as satisfying in the history of literature, I always end up wondering how I can justify giving a book 5 stars when it really isn't my favorite book ever. If I use that as the measuring stick, I will only have one five star book. I'm leaning towards a fuzzier rating system. Maybe (+) for excellent reads. (-) for crap reads, and (~) for everything in between. Sort of a thumbs up, thumbs down thing.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

It's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish. So again first time...Here's my shameful list of books I have never read in no particular order.

1. Hamlet by Shakespeare. I kid you not. I have seen it performed, but forget what I said about "no particular order" this IS my most shameful.

2. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Shamefully, I've never read anything by Faulkner.

3. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. I haven't read Ulysses either, and it scares the crap out of me, but this (I think) is supposed to be Joyce's accessible novel...

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I blame my teachers for this one. Am I the only product of the U.S. public school system that was never assigned this book? The hell of it is I READ all of those books that I was assigned...those other teachers wasted their Mockingbird assignments on a bunch of kids thumbing through Cliff Notes!

5. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I've read much of Hemingway's work, and I would not feel bad about missing this one if it weren't for one little thing. My research paper in English 201, my sophomore year of college, was titled "Symbolism in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms". And I received an A+ on the paper from a teacher who informed us on the first day of class that she doesn't give out A+ grades. I somehow weaved my magic out of a bunch of critical articles on the novel. Shameful. I wish I still had the paper for when I read the book.

6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevski. I'm not looking up the spelling on that name. Shoot me. It looks really long.

7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It looks really long.

8. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It looks really long.

9. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I've always thought the opening lines were cool. No clue why I've never read past them.

10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Seems a favorite novel of many people. I thought Franny and Zooey was just OK, so who knows when/if I'll get around to this.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Hop

Book Blogger Hop

First time doing the book hop put forth by Crazy-for-Books, so my apologies if I screw it up.  The idea I think is to share links to book blogs, so that all of us book lovers have more blogs to read, because there's too much time in the day and we need something else to read besides books.  OK, maybe that's not exactly it.

The question for this week is how many book blogs do I follow.  I'm a newb, so um two.  They are:

Dead White Guys Lit Which is a fun blog about the classics.
Reading  Envy  a newer blog as well, by a local NaNoWriMo friend

There. I hopped. Maybe. Or did I?

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Loved this book.  Let's just get that out of the way.

Theodore Dreiser was one of the main figures of the Naturalist movement.  This kind of scared me. I pictured this dude cavorting around the woods with no clothes on around the turn of the last century.  It's no accident that this post includes no images of Dreiser.  I was too scared to google images of Dreiser.  Of course, it turns out Naturalism (not Naturism) is some literary movement grown out of Realism, which has something to do with us being the product of our heredity, what social class we're subject to, etc.  Predestination, I suppose.  I'm sure I've got it wrong, because that's what I do...misinterpret things.

(possibly spoilers )
The plot and subplots of the book aren't unique (hint: plots seldom are).  The major plot is the Rags to Riches story of the titular character.  The subplots are a love triangle between Carrie, Drouet (a traveling salesman), and Hurstwood (the manager of a Chicago club) and the corruption and ultimate destruction of a man, in this case Hurstwood.  The latter of these subplots is the standard plot of the noir narrative, which it should come as no surprise was the most interesting of the narrative structures for me.  But plot isn't the good stuff this novel is made of.

None of the characters in Sister Carrie are likable.  What? Huh? That's right.  Drouet is interested in upward mobility, and sees Carrie as a nice little feather to put in his cap.  When she is down and out in Chicago early in the book, he puts her up in a nice enough place and takes care of her well enough.  He also leads her to believe that he will marry her, but pushes the future date further away at every mention.  Despite, not wanting to marry her, he tells others that she is his wife, and has Carrie play along with the charade.  To Drouet, Carrie is an attractive possession.  Hurstwood, a friend of Drouet whom is married with children, fall in love with Carrie, whom he thinks is married to Drouet, and plots ways to run away with Carrie, when his wife finds out his hand is pushed and he essentially kidnaps Carrie, and eventually becomes a bigamist.  Carrie is only concerned with having nice things, and uses Drouet and Hurstwood to these means.

I disagree with the notion that you must find a character to like for the novel to be any good.  I wouldn't want any of the people populating the main narrative of Sister Carrie as friends.  I do, however, empathize with all of them.  Just about any American has dealt with the desires of material goods to some degree or another.  So Carrie's fascination with nice things is an easy relation.  She changes, as all good characters should, and comes to see the emptiness of consumerism.  Again, empathy.  Hurstwood is the character destroyed in the novel.  When he runs away with the woman he thinks he loves,  he is leaving behind his successes, his children, and his self esteem for a life on the run.  When he finds that he is unable to rebuild his career in New York his downward spiral begins and he is immobilized by depression and fear.  If the reader can't feel for Hurstwood during his fall from grace, he/she needs to check their heart.  It may be a size or two too small.  Drouet is the most difficult to empathize with, and he doesn't really change.  However,  most any man can relate to being captivated by a beautiful woman.  It's not much, but it is how the reader, at least the male one, will connect to the character.

In a sense all of these character are villains used to display the main theme of the novel, which is the emptiness and corruptive quality of American consumerism.  How's that for universal?   I often felt I was reading a novel of contemporary times, until someone rode by in a horse cart.  The novel works best when the story of these characters illuminate this theme through their stories.  Dreiser often appears at the beginning of chapters as the omniscient narrator to explain what the following scene will mean.  It's not a method I'm often fond of, but it works better than it would seem when first encountered.  It's also one of the perks of reading a classic.  That the author hasn't been exposed to workshops and endless how-to writing books.  The rules are broken, and often things work just fine.

So what about this Naturalism?  Carrie came from nothing and still made it.  Huh?  How does that work into the whole born into your situation, predestined by heredity, social class, etc.  And then there's Hurstwood, who has nearly everything before his fall for grace.  It baffled me.  Then I realized how very little of the changes brought about in Sister Carrie were actively brought about by the characters. Carrie's success as an actress is entirely depicted as natural  talent.  Hurstwood's fall can be traced back to an incident that leads him into running away with Carrie, against her wishes.  Specifically, a theft from the club he managed.  This could almost be explained away as fate, too.  The safe accidentally closed, with Hurstwood handling the money and he having no way of opening it.  Finding himself in a desperate situation, imagining himself charged with the theft regardless, he made a whole slew of bad decisions, before coming to his senses too late.  This is pretty standard of the noir character as well.

So I loved the book.  I gave it four stars.  It only missed the rarefied air of the five star novel due to Dreiser's prose which isn't as beautiful as say Nabokov's.

The Take

OK, the Big Ass Book Sale has come and gone.  My take wasn't huge but I did manage to get books that I wanted and I managed to do it without reaching the point of wanting to open fire on the human race.  So, that's a plus.  The take:

Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Keep the Aspidistra Flying - George Orwell
The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain
Veronika Decides to Die - Paolo Coelho
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
The Alchemist - Paolo Coelho
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Really Big Ass Book Sale

Our local Literacy Association has a huge, huge, HUGE book sale every year for a fundraiser.  It's unbelievable.  Anyone who questions Americans' interest in reading needs to attend this event.  Something like 20,000 people show up every year, which makes shopping the sale a yeoman's effort.  I have a love/hate relationship with the thing.  I hate dealing with the crowd, but it warms my heart.

In past years, I haven't really made out that well at the sale. I get a handful of books for dirt cheap, but I don't really get a truckload of stuff that I want...because I'm never prepared.  Alas, this year I have a list of about 40 books, plus a handful of books for wifey, and a long list of books for my son.

They are also allowing early entrance this year for a fee, and I'm going to give that a try...unless it already looks like sheer madness at 7am (and it might), in which case I'll just wait for regular entry, and fight the crowd. I'm 6'4, 250lbs.  I'm kind of hard to push around.

Really Big Ass Book Sale, Here I come.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


First post.
Why am I doing this?
I don't know.  Ok, maybe I do.  I'm trying to read more widely.  For years I have almost exclusively read crime novels, and even more specifically hard-boiled crime novels - think Chandler and Hammett over Christie (who I actually like OK, too) and the woman that writes all those 'Cat' books.  After all those years, I finally did start seeing some of the limitations of genre and I came to loathe series books, which seemed to nail down even more formula within the genre.  So, I've started to look elsewhere, and this is where I will chronicle my search of elsewhere with the occasional diversion into my old comforts.  I can't abandon the genre entirely, if for no other reason than I, on occasion, write stories of my own in the genre.
Who is Mr. Jones?
He is somebody who has been through all of F. Scott Fitgerald's books and is very well read.  Yet is still completely oblivious.  He's also probably not a big Bob Dylan fan, because the bard didn't have many nice things to say about him. Which leads me too...
Who am I?
I'm a father to a beautiful seven year old boy named Dylan (and before you ask the answer is yes).
I'm a husband. Happily married 9 years this month.
I design churches for a living.
I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan.
I'm a former professional baseball player.
My favorite book is in constant flux. Currently I'm leaning towards Lolita
I'm currently reading "Sister Carrie" by Theodore Dreiser. So look for the first 'real' post to be about this.
I've not been through all of Fitzgeralds books (I've read Gatsby), and I'm not very well read (that's the point of all this), but I AM oblivious.  Just like Mr. Jones.