Thursday, December 29, 2011

John P. Marquand - The Late George Apley

Sitting here in Starbucks on a Thursday morning, I read the last 90 pages here in the sweet smells of coffee and a variety of incongruos music. I can't find the particular reading mental energy from my apartment. I haven't read very much in my apartment since my wife and I moved to Lombard, IL. I find in my own recollection of this project that many things in mine and Drew's life has changed considerably. Though this project remains the same, same goals, same challenges, but the entire tone of that which we do now has changed. The motivations seem the same, but viewed in a different light given our different courses in our recent past.

When Drew and I began this project, we were so full of hope for what the future held for either one of us in the scope of this journey and our friendship. Several sharp turns later, especially for Drew, and we arrive at this current moment different people, changed for better or worse. I find this to be a central issue raised during the course of this project and especially raised in the novel I just finished.

John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley is a novel about a landed Bostonian arsitocrat during a time difficult, challenging, and potentially causing the existinction of everything he ever loved. Marquand picks his setting, timing, and contexts very well to execute his agenda against this character, but I found the novel not too one thing nor another which was very frustrating. Drew read this work a little while ago, and we talked about it before I began reading it. I have chosen the last few novels I have read by the website which generates a random number for me. I just plug in that the my minumum in 1918 the year the project began, and my maximum of 2010 which is the last year we had before we began this project. Nevertheless, Drew and i talk about this novel before I began it and he had a very ambivalent view of this work. As you can track over the course of this conversation between Drew and I we often have simliar reactions to books, where neither one of us have loved while the other has hated a particular work. Often if we have differing reactions they are shades of gray of one another where I believe I quite liked Martin Dressler where Drew was luke-warm to it, and the like. This novel proves no different for our track record. I remain ambivalent toward this novel with a strange conflicted like and dislike for it.

There are several aspects of this novel that I like very much such as the character development and the format that Marquand chose to pioneer it seems in this novel. His use of personal and professional tones through personal and professional letters written by Apyley was incredible. Marquand is a master of voice. Marquand can change tones and directions on a dime, and you never have to look back to the beginning of the paragraph to figure out who is talking because the voices of the different characters are stark and alarmingly distinct.

The aspects of this work that I couldn't stand were some of the things that Drew and I talked about before I begain reading such as: the idea that this work is a satire of the Boston elite. I have nothing but glowing approval of well-done satire even if it limits the work due to the nature of satire to the context of its own time and concerns. There are several conflicts that are so universal that can stand the test of time but often this is not the case. Apley I think can stand the test of time if it is made obvious to the reader that this is in fact a satire but not one that is terribly funny. Given these parameters the jury is out as to whether this novel works as a true satire at all. Certain aspects can only be seen as purely satire, but much of the novel is completely genuine and emotionally quite evocative. I am very uncertain about this book, but is was a pleasant read, and I am glad it is over.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sinclair Lewis - Arrowsmith

I know that it has been awhile since my last post here. Drew and I started a new blog on WordPress I believe, but I do not remember the login information there so I am just going to record my blog here and transfer it over there so I start my next book. Right now I have my Winter Break from seminary courses at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. My wife and I moved from Bradley, IL in September, quit our jobs and got rid of a lot of our stuff to pursue this thing, and now that I am done with my first quarter of school work, I am finally able to get back to reading fiction which is a welcome relief from theological reading and writing. The one thing that I must really train myself to do is when school gets back into session, that I am not pining after reading more pulitzers. This project has been something that I have been able to put down and let it stay down for awhile, but when I pick it up again, it consumes all my waking attention.

Sinclair's Lewis' book I started reading quite some time ago, I believe I started reading it while I was a substitute teacher at St. Anne High School. I had a prep period one period there and I forgot to bring a book, or maybe actually I finished the book the period before, I don't remember, and I look through the English teacher I was subbing for's little library. This little library was for students to take books from to do book reports if they forgot to go to the library or bring one from home. I found Arrowsmith the same edition I had and nearly the same shape, tattered and marked. So I began to read it, but shortly after that Drew and I must have come up with a challenge because I put it down and didn't come back to it for a couple of months. I eventually, because I had bought copy I had used and it was in terrible shape, I went and bought a reading copy at Barnes & Noble. So I finally pick it up and discovered that I only had 250 pages left to read, so I decided it would be an easy finish for me at the beginning of my break to sort of get me back in the spirit of the project.

Sinclair Lewis' Arrowsmith is a convoluted book that seems like it saying one thing when it is definitely saying another. I enjoyed reading it, but as has been the case with some of the Pulitzer's so far, I wondered what it meant and why it won the award. I don't think fiction has to mean something, but more specifically I wondered what it meant to him, what it meant to the Pulitzer committee, and what it is supposed to mean to me. I really like the turn of the century Christian influence that Arrowsmith buts up again through out the plot who are mostly ambivalent characters if not a little annoying. My favorite quote is one from one of these zealous Christians, Ira Hinkley, addressing Arrowsmith very early on in the plot, "You think you have some of these fancy modern doubts, but I tell you simply got indigestion." Then he tries to convince him to go to a YMCA and exercise and study the Bible. I just thought Lewis' recollection of these characters to be funny and mostly amiable. Lewis really really investigates the scientific aspect of this novel, and if any one out there is a Scientist and is looking for a novel to read this holiday season - this is the book for you. There are large portions of this book that I had to read somewhat slower to track why this experiment going wrong would effect the plot, but at points he gets pretty technical with early 20th century scientific jargon. It is fun to read things of that time period and see how entrenched in the time that it is, but also how timeless these pursuits are.

Lewis paints a picture of a altruistic scientist, Martin Arrowsmith, who is constantly finding himself impeded by the influence of others on his time and research capabilities. All that Arrowsmith would like to do in the world is sit in a laboratory and experiment for the rest of his life. The first hiccup to any of that is experience in Medical School at Winnemac where people are constantly intruding on his time like the above quoted Ira Hinkley, Cliff Clawson, and eventually Leora, his soon to be wife. Then Leora and Martin go and live with her folks for awhile while Martin practices medicine in Wheatsylvania, North Dakota where Leora is from. Here, Martin is impeded by Leora and her family who not only don't understand scientific research but don't understand fully the practice of medicine. Martin's reputation is tarnished here and they moved to Nautilus, Iowa where he meets another loud-mouth Christian with political aspirations Pickerbaugh. Pickerbaugh saps all of Arrowsmith's time with grand standing and general phoniness. From here Martin joins a practice of his follow Winnemac student Angus Duer in Chicago, this from here he goes out to be with his professor and life-long hero Gottlieb. Here is where the book actually starts to be a book, all the rest of the book really seeks only to affirm the relationship between Martin and Leora in a quasi sincere way. I believe the characters and their relationship, but I am not sure I take it all the way Lewis wants me to. So the ending isn't as powerful to me. But the novel begins when Martin lands in New York. The characters are there for awhile and it really develops the atmosphere perfectly, then Martin meets up with a previous character, Sondelius, and finds himself in St. Hubert of the Caribbean fighting plague. This scene is a great protracted scene with some bitterness in it. Then Martin returns to New York and lives out his days in general lackluster writing. This book has over a hundred times where it could have stopped and didn't, and it is mostly the question of this reader where things should have ended and why they didn't. Nevertheless, I don't think it was a complete waste of my time having read this book and would recommend it as a very decent read to anyone who has the time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Richard Ford - Independence Day

Wow, it's been awhile. I didn't remember which book I had finished last until I looked over the blog just before typing this post. I have taken a little break from reading all things pulitzer, which oddly coincides with the summer, as last summer Drew and I also took a break which you would think maybe I would take up reading more fervently. But it hasn't happened that way. So I return to reading with Ford's pulitzer-winning novel, Independence Day. i started reading Ford's novel over the Fourth of July weekend. I thought that it would be an introspective but delightful read that would put into perspective our national holiday without an emotional identity. All of these things Ford takes within his scope, and strives toward that end continuously throughout his novel. Ford is a writer for writers. He is deliberate, controlled, precise, and very intellectual. Everything he places before your eyes is exactly what he intends and furthers his artistic goal completely. Ford's main character Frank Bascombe is a ex-sportswriter real estate agent with a pension for self-awareness, that might not be the right word, I'll try neurotic. There are so many questions I have for Ford and his main character, if I could pose questions to a fictional character. I haven't read anything else by Richard Ford, nor have i read anything else about him, but I have to imagine that Frank Bascombe isn't a far shot from how Ford may see himself. To put this review simply, and the complete opposite of Ford's writing style, I did not like this book. Ford takes 450 pages to say absolutely nothing about anything at all. Ford is ambivalent about virtually everything in life, our 'hero' of the fiction claims obviously not to be a hero and almost completely doesn't care about anything, so then that makes me realize, 'why should I care about this book?' I think there are several things that Ford tries throughout the novel that I found interestnig. I understand that Ford is playing with conventions throughout the novel, often switching voice throughout, weaving in dialect in very odd times even in the narration. Certain aspects of the novel are very interesting to me, but the overall attempt I think falls too short of interesting for me. Ford is a master of making long drawn out conversations of nothing. Almost every conversation Bascombe gets into in the novel he ends up becoming angry at someone else's political view, worldview or lack of one. It is amazing. Whereever Bascombe goes he has to have a long drawn out conversation that ends up not saying anything else at all. Ford writes eloquently, but says nothing. It is infuriating. I try not to let my own worldview affect my taste in literature too often, but this time I can't. In this novel, Ford postures constantly an aloof, sophisticant that is too involved in himself to mean anything to anyone. Bascombe is the most self-involved jerk I have ever had to read 450 pages about. The Existence Period is meaningless. I really really didn't like this book. It wasn't painful to read, but it definitely wasn't enjoyable. I am glad this one is over and it bumped my stats up 2 percentage points.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bernard Malamud - The Fixer

With this book, I am now over the 50% completed mark for Books Read. For now my pages completed lacks behind considerably as I have read most of the shortest books on the list which is troubling for the completion of this project. It took me until I was over twenty novels in to develop the statistics aspect of the project, and that is concerning because I didn't keep track of the page lengths I was dealing with and that led to me working against myself in finishing this project quickly. The longer the book, especially some of the ones I am not excited about reading, the harder it is for me in my reading disposition to finish. I read slowly, as has been exhaustively noted here, and the longer the book the slower I work. This fact results in fewer finishes and more frustration with the duration of this project. But now is a time for celebration though, that I have turned a corner and have now reached that 50% mark that which I had previously thought unachievable for a long time.

So now on to Malamud's winner, The Fixer. The first thing that surprised me about this book was that it is the only Pulizter winner that I have read so far that has been based entirely outside of America. There are some winner that the main characters are from other countries, and travel out of the US. But Malamud sets this novel in Pre-Revolution Russia, specifically in Kiev, what we now call Ukraine. Malamud's main character Yakov Bok is a Jewish peasant from a Russian community to house peasant, and he travels to Kiev for work. There is entrapped for a murder he didn't commit, and forced into prison to live out a sentence-less sentence until he arrives for his trial. He suffers through 2 and a half years in prison unsure of his fate. Knowing the evidence against him is false, he has hope that truth will prevail. Bok knows the time and place he lives in, and the merciless slaughter of Jews in recent years, killing his parents actually and making him out to be an orphan, decidedly goes against his notion of a fair trial. So Bok sits. Bok goes insane. Bok freezes and eats filth and suffers for seemingly no reason at all other than the unbridled hate and superstition of the Russian people.

Malamud is a superb writer. Malamud writes with power as if this happened to him and he is retelling it to you through Bok. I find his voice to be true and transparent. There is nothing fabricated in his environment down to the stove in the room, what the walls look like. What cockroach ridden cabbage soup tastes like. It is a perfect setting. You believe everything he is telling you and you look for clues, the seams in his descriptions that might betray him but there are none there. Malamud keeps you reeling from his powerful prose and exceptional pacing. This is a titan work of American fiction. Everyone should read this book, and everyone no matter what stripe or state you are in will enjoy it thoroughly. Malamud addresses so so much in this book, Jewish/Christian conflict which spill into the base nature of all people for all time. It is an amazing feat that Malamud winds you through this novel. Forcing you to answer his questions. What is truth? What is duty? What would you do the wiser now for having read this work? Malamud is a writer amongst writer.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jeffery Euginides - Middlesex

I just wanted to start this post by saying, admitting to all of you readers out there, that I cried at the end of this book. Over the course of the exhaustive reading, there are time that I probably haven't given a book it due justice. I can admit that here, in saying, that when this reading list has become a competition between Drew and I, I focus on the goal. This goal-oriented approach helps me to get through some of the less appealing books, but possibly, I have overlooked and not spent enough time with some of the better books on the list. There have been several times over the course of this list that I have felt totally lost in a novel, and Euginides' Middlesex is one of them. I love this book. I was lost in his narrative, completely lost, ready for whatever it was that he was bringing to me next. Thirsty I would say for the next page, paragraph, scene, or chapter. I am careful to say that, as if one could consider this a page turner, I wouldn't go that far. It wasn't a thriller, there were moments where it dragged, just a little bit. I say that with the utmost respect, I really truly do. There is not a lot that I can find at fault with this novel, a subtle portion of pacing perhaps, and it pains me even to offer this slight criticism.

Euginides is a master of fiction. He knows it, and unlike as I have mentioned before Cunningham, he doesn't lord it over you. Euginides trusts his reader and that would make me cautious to recommend this book to the novice fiction fan. It can be a hard read at times. But to his more seasoned fan of fiction this book is a marvel of literary allusions with seeming effortlessness, this has to be mentioned any time there is a reference to T.S. Eliot's Wasteland. Euginides is a master. Again, not as pedantic as Cunningham at times to use every little piece he introduces until it is beating you over the head, Euginides weaves it through carefully. Chapter 11 is an amazingly crafted metaphor throughout the novel. AMAZING! I laughed out loud when I figured out, as he was saying it, what the reference was to. It was fantastic. There is too much in this novel to reduce in a short review like this, to make mention a few things.

The subject matter of this novel is difficult for me to get attached to. I have no experience whatsoever and as the casual observer of this phenomenon in our society, I have to say that I come to this novel having formed no conclusions about transgender and related topics. So coming into this subject matter, I didn't know what to expect and how my upbringing and current worldview would shut me off to this novel. Euginides destroys those notions and opens you to understand this character fully. Euginides brings within his scope all of the human and American experience. I was constantly reminded of Chabon as Euginides was introducing so many subplots dizzying the careful reader to keep track of the important events. But unlike Chabon and Cunningham, Euginides doesn't embarrass you with their ambition. I felt an overwhelming careful precision to Euginides writing that less careful, more - I offer considerately - 'confident' author's might not take the time to carefully construct. This novel, and Euginides writing gives me something to aspire to - precision. Plain and simple, that is what Euginides perfectly exemplifies - precision. He executes his character development, his seamless transition, his plot devices, his dialogue, everything churning toward and improbable but overwhelmingly believable, fitting, and perfect ending. Chabon and Cunningham represent a very common literary, artistic figure to me. Writers that assume so much talent, so much artistic prowess that often they overlook the simple steps one needs to take to humbly submit their art to a critical audience. They assume a lot of confidence in their abilities that sometimes some editing and hard work would have worked out some of the hard edges that a critical eye will find and find fault in. They are unbelievable writers in their own right, Pulitzer Prize winners, but I believe that the reason for the prize as I have great respect for, is the sheer ability of the writing. There is a lot of forgiveness for over-confidence and maybe not as tightly spun writing when they can command their styles and art as they do. Euginides does all of that. Euginides's writing is gorgeous, but he combines that with razor-sharp precision. I love it.

This novel did everything that you would want an epic novel of its caliber to do, everything. It is in my humble appraisal as near a perfect novel as I have ever read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pulitzer Stats Update

As someone, anyone, hello? may have noticed, my pulitzer stats fluctuated. My total pages, pages read, and pages left to read have changed, which has also changed my percentage read. The reason for this is simple. I installed Apple iLife '11 on my computer which has a spread sheet function identical to Microsoft Excel. I put all of the page numbers into the spread sheet and it gave me a much more accurate reading of the work I have accomplished and the work I have further to go. Also, I got different editions to the books on the list. As I have exhaustively mentioned throughout this project, I have developed a several allergic reaction to book dust. Thinking back on my travails throughout this journey, I realize now that this must have begun at some point during this project and I believe that I did not always have this allergy, but that I must have caught it while hunting around in some of the sketchy locations we had to travel to, thinking of here the Salvation Army store in Kankakee, IL and Toad Hall in Rockford, IL. Two wonderful places that have not kept their due care of their materials. I found A Bromfield Galazy at Kankakee Salvo store for $.10, and I got T.S. Stribling's winner for under $5. I think also found Lafarge's Laughing Boy for $3, and a few others I can remember right now. Anyways, I just thought I would make mention of the fact that objective stats changed, hard numbers that should have been pretty well locked down fluctuated and that might raise some eye brows. I am currently reading Edwin O'Connor's The Edge of Sadness.

If you will notice, I just finished Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird which I loved, and am going on to 62's winner Edge of Sadness. I noticed a large whole in my 1960's reading and felt like trying to read through the 60's. For a summer time activity, I might be rewarding. Next to tackle will be the late 30's early 40's which also reflects some ill attention.

Faithfully charging ahead...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harper Lee - To Kill A Mockingbird

To Whomever It May Concern,

This book is amazing. There I said it. It may surprise whoever reads this that this blogger did not read this book before now. I understand your expected and assumed surprise. For one reason or another, this book escape my scope of my assigned reading in College, and as it was assigned to me in High School, like every other good American High School English student, I used spark notes when I could and when I couldn't I just listened to the class discussion of it and made it up as I went along. To all my teachers, I apologize for not having read this when it was assigned. If it is any consolation, I love it. There isn't much that I can say about this book that hasn't already been said. I think one of the 'novel', some pun intended, part of this pulitzer project Drew and I have embarked upon is that for whoever reads this blog, you will get a review and a reaction to many books a lot of people have not read. One of which, Angle of Repose, and I would like to take this time to apologize to Mr. Stegner, I am sorry I trashed your book, reading back on my post, I felt it harsh and unforgiving. It was my true reaction at the time, but please forgive a careful reader his own modest opinions. You were awarded a prize by a panel of jurors. A humble student of literature is no object of great prestige or import that you must fear his ire.

A slight caveat, for any of you who have avoided reading this mammoth work of the American Classical Canon, read it now. It is a treasure. I knew the story going in, and let me take the time now to say that what level of gravitas a book, I mean a single work of fiction by an author who only wrote one novel, was awarded one prize in her life, that I would know the story of her novel inside and out to be oft-quoted in movies and television shows, the cultural consciousness about this story amazes me. I mention several times throughout this blog to be an aspiring writer, to achieve her level of awareness to the public is amazing. On the level with Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and A Christmas Carol. Harper Lee succeeded in making a very humble book about the Deep South torn in the racial debate is astounding. As many people do, I place this work right next to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as possibly one of the only book's given the title 'A Perfect Novel'. I can literally, under no circumstance, find fault with any one bit of this novel. It was perfect. Congratulations Ms. Lee, you have achieve a rare feat in this project. I have nothing negative to say about your book. You Win! Anyways, read this novel, cherish it, and read it to your children. It is magical.