Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

This week Broke and the Bookish asks which fictional characters you would like to be friends with.

1. Sam Gamgee, Lord of the Rings. Is there anyone who thinks Sam wouldn't make a great friend?

2. Jean Valjean, Les Miserables. Valjean's persistence in becoming a "good man" makes him an ideal candidate for a good friend.

3. Sancho Panza, Don Quixote. He pretty much stuck with a total lunatic. I think he would stand by me.

4. Oedipa Maas, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. Ok, she probably wouldn't have my back when the chips were down, but her persistence in looking into the mysterious kind of makes her a kindred spirit. Plus, she basically is the reader.

5. Vince Camden, Citizen Vince by Jess Walter. He's a low-level criminal with a heart and a desire to change his life and the world just a little bit.

6. Lacey Rawlins, All the Pretty Horses. This dude will cross the border with you with hardly a penny to your names, go to prison with you, and stand by you while you keep making mistakes which threaten to put you back in prison...all because you are friends.

7. Rorshach, Watchmen by Alan Moore. Someone's killed an old "friend", and it looks like you and some of your other old friends might be next on the list. Nobody else seems to care...but Rorshach does. Just don't have him over for Christmas dinner.

8. Sal Paradise, On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Ok this may be stretching the term "fictional", but that's ok. Wouldn't it be cool to make some of those road trips with Sal and Dean? And I think Sal would make a better friend than Dean, who is more flighty.

9. Ree Dolly, Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Ree is an individual, which may make it difficult to see her as a friend, but as we get to know her, we find that there's more to her search for her dad than survival, than securing her ability to move on with her life...there's her love for her family and the family name. Ree is honorable, and that is perhaps the greatest quality in a friend.

10. Andy Dufresne, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King. Confession...I haven't read this novella. But if Andy is anywhere close to being accurately depicted in the movie, how could he not be awesome?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

This is my first time participating in the Lit. Blog Hop, courtesy of the Blue Bookcase (clicky on photo above). I love the idea of this hop, as it focuses sharply on blogs that I'll be more interested in. I'm glad there are a lot of YA/Paranormal blogs out there for readers of this genre, but the literary blog often seems like an ant in the woods for all of these blogs out there.

The question this week is What piece of 21st Century literature do you think will still be read in the 22nd century?

Tough question. I haven't read all that many books first published this century that seem to carry the "timeless" cross. I'll go with The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I think a century from now McCarthy will be our era's Melville, and The Road seems to be more of a keeper than No Country for Old Men. I realize that the verdict is split on the novel. I know many people who HATE it. The people who love it, really LOVE it though. I fall into the love category. I think in The Road, McCarthy has produced a beautiful, if dark, story of fatherly love. The images of the Father resting his hand on the Boy's chest to feel his failing breath will not soon leave me. It is the fatherly love theme, and not the post-Apocalyptic setting that will keep this book in readers' hands a century from now.

What about you? What books written in the last ten years do you think will still be around 100 years from now?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Anthony Hopkins as "Mr. Stevens" in the film




The Remains of the Day is a Booker Prize winner by Japanese/British author Kazuo Ishiguro.  It is another novel about the upper crust British class.  (Why do I keep reading these?)  This on the surface does not sound like anything I would be interested in.  A movie was made of the novel starring Anthony Hopkins.  It looked very snooty.  So I’ve steered clear of it.  However, if your interested in books at all and contemporary fiction especially its hard to avoid the critical praise heaped upon Kaz Ishi.  So I caved in and read his most famous title.  I’m happy to report that it is a good book.

“The Remains of the Day” is structured around a road trip taken by Stevens, a butler at the famous Darlington House in England.  During this road trip, Steven reflects back upon his career of servitude.  It is through these flashbacks that the narrative of Stevens’ life is told.  Perhaps Ishiguro’s greatest achievement is how well he is able to leave things untold and the reader is still able to fill in the gaps, and the full picture is revealed…somewhat.  For instance, Stevens’ comes to realize that perhaps Lord Darlington isn’t the great man he always thought he had served – in fact he was likely a Nazi sympathizer.  But the complete nature of Darlington’s failings is never told.  Ishiguro could have double the size of his book simply by telling the whole story.  It probably would have been easier. But the story is stronger for what is left out.

The main characters of “Day” are Stevens, of course, Miss Kenton, and Lord Darlington.  Stevens is not a likable guy in my opinion.  He sees his complete, unwavering servitude as “dignity”.  He has deluded himself into thinking this way because of a similar quality in his father told through another memory.  In which, his father’s loyalty to his master is tested and his father does not waver.  Later, when the father health is failing Stevens sees his commitment to his duties over attending to his ill father as ‘dignity’.  Literally his whole life is serving Darlington

Darlington is a minor character in that he is somewhat shrouded in mystery.  We don’t really get to see much of his true character, because all of his time on stage is revealed through Stevens’ delusions.  In this way, however, he serves the story well, as it illuminates for the reader this major failing of the main character.  As for Darlington’s character, he is perhaps best described by a young visitor to the house…the younger Mr. Cardinal, a friend of the family through his deceased father.  Cardinal describes Darlington to Stevens as being an old fashioned, noble gentleman who believes too much in being a sympathetic winner.  This led him to believe that the resulting Treaty of Versailles after Germany’s defeat in WWI was too harsh.  The Germans in convening years have exploited his kindness and have used him as a pawn.  Darlington himself is deluded by “gentleman” qualities.

Miss Kenton is a housemaid at Darlington House, who is the only person that is really able to speak with and relate to Stevens in such a way that he actually seems human.  Yet, even these conversations are few and far between…yet, they are the chisel that breaks through the harsh fa├žade Stevens’ has constructed.  Miss Kenton’s obvious feelings for Stevens and his obliviousness to them is further illustration of Stevens’ delusion.  Stevens’ road trip includes a visit to the now married Miss Kenton.  It is this visit in which Stevens begins to come to the revelation of one of the book’s major themes, the idea that one must stop looking back, and must stride forward.  An encounter with a stranger in the park after this meeting with Miss Kenton reiterates: (Paraphrasing)  “Most people consider the evening the best part of the day. Why not kick your feet up and enjoy it?”  Stevens begins to question what he will do with the remains of his day…

I didn’t like Stevens, until perhaps the very end and even then he can’t completely break free of his delusions, but I did like his story.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - Villains

I'm back.  A nice topic for the Top Ten Tuesday this week.  Villains.

1. Sarumon The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.  Maybe the big baddy was Sauron, but who can relate to him/it.  Sarumon on the other hand was a despicable traitor.  We've all come across our own Sarumons, maybe they weren't about world domination, but that doesn't make our very own Sarumon less of a prick.

2. Humbert Humbert Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  Maybe my favorite novel, partly because of the character of Humbert, the ultimate unreliable narrator.  He makes your skin crawl on one page, and you catch yourself sympathizing with him on the next.  I can think of no better way to illustrate Nabokov's mastery than this.  He evokes sympathy for a pedophile in the reader.  Are you kidding me?

3. Tony Cardo A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke. Robicheaux goes undercover and finds himself living under the roof of mob kingpin Tony Cardo.  Cardo is pretty much your run of the mill mafioso, except that he has a paraplegic son, whose love is constantly pulling him apart at the seams.  The father-son relationship here also has Robicheaux conflicted. The book is the best of the Robicheaux series because Cardo is Burke's greatest character.

4. Judge Holden Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.  I should point out that I'm just writing these as they come to me, so they aren't in any order of "bad-ness".  I point this out now, because the Judge should top any of these lists if you've read Blood Meridian.  He's an enormous, hairless, white (Moby Dick white) man of elite intellect that is totally committed to violence and basically thinks it is man's nature to kill one another.

5. Terry Lennox The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler.  As is usually the case with Chandler, the whole cast comprise a great villain.  Lennox stands out in particular, because it is a drunken Lennox that we are first introduced to in the book, and Marlowe for some reason sees him as a wounded bird and helps and befriends him.  And the reader totally buys it, because Lennox is THAT good.  It is Marlowe's friendship with Lennox that sends him circling around the bowl.

6. Javert Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  Has there ever been a more obsessed villain?  This story is as much about Javert's conviction that the law is always moral slowly eroding away, as it is about Jean Valjean's search for redemption.

7. Patrick Bateman American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.  I hated this book.  I hated Patrick Bateman, the yuppy serial killer that is the main "protagonist".  I also happen to think this reaction is exactly what Ellis wanted.  I'll probably never read another Ellis book again (I've read Rules of Attraction as well), so it may have been a bad marketing move...HATE Bateman.

8. Gutman The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  He is sort of a lovable villain.  There's something romantic in his obsessive pursuit of that black bird.  But don't be fooled he's also a devious S.O.B.

9. Veruca Salt Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  Of all the bratty kids that accompany Charlie to the chocolate factory, she's the one who has stayed with me all of these years.

10. Lady Macbeth Macbeth.  by William Shakespeare.  Willie's best femme fatale (?).