Monday, March 16, 2009

Best Books that I Have Recently Finished

Dubliners by James Joyce

One of the reasons that 2009 is going to be a great year is that this year I’m finally reading Ulysses again. And just like 10 years ago when I first read Ulysses, I’m warming up for that book with his earlier works…actually, I don’t know that I’m going to reread A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man since I’ve read that probably 3 times in the last decade, but a few weeks ago I finished completely reading Dubliners for only the second time ever (although I’ve revisited several of these stories many times).

The first time I read Dubliners I think I was a little impatient with it, I ate up the stories I knew I liked (or would like) and sort of blasted through the ones I didn’t think much of right off the bat. This time I tried to relish each story and consider their relations to the overall themes of Dubliners (first and foremost: paralysis and non-progression). Some stories I found I liked more than I ever remembered (The Sisters [which still trips me up with all its similarities to Araby], An Encounter, Eveline, A Serious Case, Clay, A Mother) some I still couldn’t go all in for (After the Race, Two Gallants, Ivy Day in the Committee Room) and I appreciated certain favorites even more than ever—for the first time I clearly understood that the boy’s uncle was coming home drunk in Araby (which I still consider as perfect a short story as could possibly exist), I still get a real kick out of the Boarding House, and the Dead really socked me in the gut this time. Also, and this is big, I have decided that the Dead is better than Araby . . . that’s a major change in opinion for me. While the economy and story telling and imagery of Araby is absolutely flawless, the Dead is just a masterpiece and gives us a taste of the genius that Joyce had inside of him—stylistically, rather different from what you’ll encounter in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but the Dead stands with them as work so far apart from what almost every other writer in history is capable of that it’s hard to believe you can buy it in just any old book store. Belongs in a vault or museum and whatever price you pay for falls far, far short of its value.

Revolution of Hope by Vicente Fox

Sometimes you’re at the Strand and they’ve got the autobiography of that interesting recent President of Mexico on sale for eight bucks and you say: Hey, why not? And now I know the story of Vicente Fox. Interesting enough, I’ve never read this sort of book before. Did you know that after business school he quit his first office job to drive a Coca Cola delivery truck and that he was President of Coca Cola Mexico at age 32? And that a few years later Coke wanted to make him president of all Latin America, but he decided to go back to his farm instead? All true!

The book has a very macho tone and he seems to dedicate at least four pages in each chapter (whether it’s about his time at President, either of his grandfathers, or working on the family farm as a kid) to his main talking points ( globalism, United States being nicer to Mexico) but I enjoyed learning more about the guy who was the first person outside of the PRI elected as President of Mexico in over 70 years and how that happened. He seems like a friendly dude who really cares about Mexico, I can support that.

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I’ve been scared of India for a while and this book hasn't helped me feel better about the country at all. If you live in India and are rich, your driver might murder you, no matter how nice or mean you are to him. And if you live in India and you aren't rich then oh no, that's terrible news. Actually, enjoyable little quick read with great descriptions of how awful being poor in India must be and how so-so being rich in India is, but I’m very prejudiced against fiction written in the second-person and there was plenty of that in this book. I’m also prejudiced against books baring book club discussion (and meeting-location) suggestions in the back. If you had invested in book clubs in 2002 you'd be a millionaire right now and not at risk of losing your fortune, either.

Might I also add this: definitely better than Life of Pi.

UPDATE: I want to say this, too: What's good about this book is it struck me as authentic, when Mr. Adiga talked about the protagonist's life in his poor village, I believed it. When he talked about the protagonist's move to the city and how things were different there and the interactions between all the servants, I believed it. Authenticity, or the feeling of authenticity, goes far. Pretty much the only reason I thought Mexican High was awful was because I didn't buy any of it for one second--and that's a pretty big reason.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

SPOILER ALERT: Ivan dies!!
Russian literature. Definitely haven’t been reading enough of it.
Also, remember how I read that mobster book that I found in a pile of books that were being thrown out? This book was also in that pile.

Moleskine #2

Sunday I filled in the final line of the second of these popular little notebooks that my Mother has been keeping me supplied with via birthday and Christmas gifting. I seem to take about 9 months to fill one up and it's a very satisfying journey. In my moleskines you will find: ideas, overheard conversations, Institute notes (copied down exactly as they're found on the board), small diagrams, maps, movie showtimes, flight reservation numbers, lists of many varieties (to do, to buy at grocery store, to read, to email, books read, things to eat, things not to eat, etc.), handmade calendars, the occasional sketch, expenses, incomes, and descriptions of all my phone calls from Andy (and that's what you'd be reading if you blew this picture up and squinted.)

When I have a home again and a bookshelf there's going to be a spot for my filled notebooks with little labels on their spines indicating the dates of their service. Also, when you come over to my home in the future, please don't snoop through my well-labeled and prominently-displayed moleskine notebooks, they're private.


Anonymous said...

+1 points for coming around to the conclusion that the Dead is an unsurpassed masterpiece.

Araby is excellent, but the Dead is more excellent.


Lauren said...

I agree with Ryan -- The Dead over Araby. Have you seen the film adaptation of The Dead? With Angelica Huston acting all Irish? It's a pretty good adaptation for the short story to be so, I don't know, internal.

I just started Finnegan's Wake last night. But maybe I'll warm up with some of the Dubliners, too. Not a bad idea.

miss b. said...

White Tiger was recommended to me by Mr. Politico Cello Student and is next on my list. Although I'm apprehensive now.

Sara said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Dead. Love it! I pretty much fell in love with James Joyce after reading it, but sadly Ulysses has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for years