Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Modern Literature

I'll be on Maui until Sunday, so you'll miss the daily haiku for four days. (Don't worry, I'll catch up on Monday!) In the meantime, enjoy a bunch of rather short surprise book reviews!

My new-ish job affords me a good deal of time to read in between phone calls. Never having been a particularly voracious or gifted reader, I'm surprised to have finished about ten books since late September. Here are some thoughts on each:

Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut
A really fantastic collection of Vonnegut's short stories. Possibly my favorite recent read, largely due to the variety of timbres and settings he thinks up. My new favorite writer.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Interesting "horrors of the future" novel in which humanity is genetically engineered to enjoy and fit into their strict social castes. Great concept and vision - particularly for the 1930's, but the top of my head got a little sore from being beaten with philosophy. Let humans be humans. We get the point already! While I appreciate the value of this book, the writing really became surprisingly tiresome.

Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
My latest read. Broken up into 127 reeeeeeally tiny chapters. Great for reading a few minutes at a time, like at work! Vonnegut centers the action on a tropical island. Without giving away the plot, I can tell you that it involves a wild plot twist, radical science, and a fundamental shift to the future of humanity. Pretty intense stuff, all wrapped up in sly and charming writing.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
Heartwarming without condescension, here is a quick, light read dealing with the complex world of the main character Christopher's high-functioning autism. If you have a family or friendship history with autism, you can judge better than I how accurate its portrayal is. I for one surely bought into it and thoroughly enjoyed the story in the process.

Deadeye Dick, Kurt Vonnegut
A more personal and (nearly) realistic narrative, but told in no less of a compelling and smart Midwestern voice. This one also involves a unique plot twist, a good bit of radical science (this time plausible!), and a major and permanent shift in the lives (as it were) of a smallish group of regular folks. Not the most outstanding, but charming and one of my favorites because of it.

Don't Think of an Elephant!, George Lakoff
How to be a liberal, form and articulate your values and morals, and "win" political and personal conversations with conservatives by re-framing the debate. Eh, I probably would have loved this book right after the elections in 2004 (when it came out), or especially when I was 19 and just learning how to dislike people because of what flags they flew. I'm not so interested in the topic now, but it sure was nice to see a coherent presentation of a fully-formed liberal worldview of morals and values all collected in one place.

Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Another "horrors of the future" story in which firemen are engaged in mass censorship through destruction of any and all books. Bradbury's apocalyptic vision of an urban populace imprisoned by their government through endlessly empty entertainment technology is slightly similar to our own uber-tech world. From the moment that the protagonist begins his "awakening," the narrative rips you along delightfully at action-movie pace. The academic in me got some real chuckles out of the ending (both with and at the author), though the ending as a whole did feel like a bit of a let-down. On this first read, I caught about a dozen typographic and other editing errors. Then I got a real laugh as I read the afterward as Bradbury tried to equate novel editors with book-burning government censors. Maybe he should have let one take a brief, supervised look at his copy before publishing it!

Galápagos, Kurt Vonnegut
I loved this book! Maybe because I'm living on a tropical island at the moment. As usual, Kurt dishes up a crazy plot twist, radical science (evolutionary this time!), and a vision of a future for humanity that is at once terrifying and comforting. This is probably my number one pick so far. 5 stars! Check it out!

Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
Tiny book. Great writing (and/or translation?)! Visionary! Brilliant! Quirky! Funny! Tragic! Kafka has it all. In this, my first Kafka adventure, I was entirely pleased. The dark, heavy broth of this narrative can start to wear on you. So if you're prone to bouts of depression and father-son dominance issues, I'd recommend something lighter, like 1984. But seriously, it has my highest recommendation. One of the most recognizable metaphors in all of literature, and certainly a contender for the most well-developed.

Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
Rich writing, an ideal blend between narrative, poetic writing, and philosophy/religion. Not bad for a work by a German writer writing about the culture of India in the past, then translated into English!! The perfect novel for some wide-eyed American (or German?) kid wanting to learn more about Buddhism without going to a temple. :) The writing really is great, though. While so much happens to our Buddha-like main character over the course of his long and varied life, the story is clearly and rightfully focused on his spiritual development. How do you write a novel about someone "achieving" Enlightenment? I don't know, but I think this was it. Cool.

Speaking of Enlightenment... I also read portions of Ch'an Master Sheng-Yen's Complete Enlightenment (6%) and Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe (65%). I was eventually overwhelmed by the non-mathematical physics discussion, and underwhelmed/bored by the Enlightenment. Oh well, what can you do?

No comments:

Post a Comment