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Monday, December 27, 2010

Robert Penn Warren - All The King's Men


I first started interacting with Penn Warren's book was back about a century ago when I lived in Sycamore, IL when I was a delivery driver for Pizza Hut. I had a lot of time in the car at the time and I wanted to use my time to the best of my ability and that was when I started my brief but wonderous love affair with audio books. I listened to a couple of the pulitzers that way Junot Diaz, Philip Roth, Michael Shaara, and a little of Shirly Ann Grau. I also started probably the first 2 hours of All the King's Men on audio book but gave it up because the writing was too poetic to follow while driving pizza around in the snow. So, all of that said, I put Warren's book down for several months and have picked at it a couple of times since then in between some of the more compelling reads. I do not read very many books the length of Warren's. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am a shockingly slow reader especially for this task and this lifestyle, and so to embark upon a long novel is like torture to me. I love reading and I love the fact of having finished a book. So I tend to read short terse fiction and poetry because I can grasp them in the time most people would take to read a longer work. For this project I have set about reading some of the longest books I have ever read and I am coming to find out reading long books is a lot more fun than short books and you can live in them longer and the writer writes that way for that reason that he can introduce more things than shorter fiction. I love following characters for this long. Jack Burden is a fantastic character. Willie Stark is a fantastic character, and I loved watching them rise, change, fall, come back, and live in the synapses of my mind. So, as a consequence of my slow-reading speed, I have made the trade off of slow pace but extremely high retension. Drew and I are constantly having conversations about these books that go similarly to - I will say, 'oh man i loved this part of this book,' and Drew will get this glassy look in his eye, mostly from the whiskey but somewhat for the remembering a passage from a book he read a few months ago, and I recite the rest of the selection from memory and Drew will say, 'yeah' and trail off in a foggy memory a said novel. So, though there was an expanse between the starting and the finishing of this novel, I can maintain a solid narrative of it because of my retension. That was mostly why we decided to blog about our reads because Drew's speed benefits him in the reading, but my retension benefits me in the writing about them. I will not forget these novels, as Drew might, but I wanted a bookmark so to speak of the events and my initial reactions. The more I dwell on any novel, the more I come to like it in retrospect, so I start to color the lines in a little and reflect postively on a book I initially hated, so if I didn't mark down that I was ambivilent then we get to the end, sit down to write about all of our experiences and find that I loved all of the books equally which isn't fair to anyone. So with all of that business attended to, I shall dig into writing about this novel.

I loved it. There, that is all you need to know. I love this book like I have read it a million times. I loved this book. There was nothing not to be totally and utterly enthralled in. Warren's voice is clear and distinct. He writes powerfully about the human condition, and tells you something about the world and time. He walks you through his world of seedy characters and corruption with the slightly marred hand of Jack Burden and makes you love every minute of it. You hate and love, you cry and you laugh, and you smile that little wry smile when you know when something is going to happen but you can't wait for it anyway. You will fall in love with Jack and Anne like you never have before. There are parts of Warren's writing that is the most honest true to life and actually teenage conversation that he had to have lifted it from his life because it is too real. The love story is too real. He is masterful in his retelling of teenage love and how the world and yourself ruin it, but it was going to be ruined anyways and its going to hurt but thats ok. The rest of the novel could have been drivel anyways, and I would love it for the love story. I will say for all time that that love story is the greatest ever put to paper. FOR ALL TIME, until I have to retract this in order to crown another which would be ok with me because I would have read a masterpiece, Jack Burden and Anne Stanton is the greatest love story of all time. There I said it, now I'll take all comers. Enjoy this book. Go read it now and love it. Then come back and tell me about it, because I'll be ready.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

John Kennedy Toole - Confederacy of Dunces

There is a swirl of mystery and drama that follow this book and all of it is intriguing from the movie curse to the New Orleans history with Mr. Toole and his mother, Toole's untimely suicide and his mother's push to get this novel published, whether she changed in the ending to fit publishers demands and all sorts of issues this novel brings with it a certain type of hype. All of this goes into this review of this book, for this entry I cannot separate myself from the context in reading this book.

Drew finished this book before me. I think we actually picked up near the same time, but then I put it down because I was not sinking my teeth into this work as well as he was. Anyways, I eventually picked it back up. After I finished Mambo Kings which wasn't an easy read for me, and then moving onto this bear of an undertaking was sort of jarring for me and hurt my appreciation of this novel. I just want to say all of this because I don't want to demean this novel if I didn't enjoy it as thoroughly as some other readers might have. I concede I probably missed something along the way. I will confess that the first couple of chapters were something unlike anything I have ever read and were for the most part a laugh riot. I have not read a lot of funny things, but I love to laugh and love all types of comedies, slapstick, satire, and many others, but after the first few chapters and some incidents throughout the rest of the novel, the humor is not sustained and what ensues in the weirdest story I have ever read. Ignatius is the most pitiful character I have ever interacted with and it was mostly just very uncomfortable reading it. When I finished the novel, I had no idea why Toole ever wrote this. I just didn't get it I guess. I feel like Toole is such a masterful writer that I didn't get what he was laying down at all, and he is somewhere scauffing at this blog post. I felt for his protagonist, and related to him somewhat for being so painfully socially awkward, getting himself into situations by way overthinking everything, making bad situations worse and feeling totally unequipped for this life and rather losing myself in fiction. All of this to say, I just didn't understand why Toole wrote this novel. You come to the end and everything ends in a weird melodramatic victory for Ignatius, but do we believe he will change and actually get normal and function in society or at least Myra's society. Anyways, this novel was written in a time and place, and I can't get a handle not on Ignatius's worldview but even Toole's what does he condone are we to laugh at Ignatius or are we to side with him and scoff at late 1960's New Orleans culture with gays and strippers running the streets. Anyways, I was very very confused by this novel, and finished it put it down and shook my head for a solid five minutes trying to wrestle with all of my own defeciancies at not being able to grasp the work in front of me.

If you feel up for the challenge, the words on the page make sense, they are written in English. The sentence and grammar make sense. The plot for the most part makes sense, things happen mostly naturally throughout. It is told in a straight forward timeline. The characters reactions and dialogue mostly also make sense. But grab for yourself themes, symbols, or any sort of meaning you want because I have no clue. I enjoyed the process of moving my eyes over the words if we call that reading, but understanding this book I did not do. So read it if you will, you may laugh but you may also leave shaking your head.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oscar Hijuelos - Mambo King Plays Songs of Love


Just to clear the air about this book before I keep bringing out this one fault with this novel throughout my review of it, this is an explicit novel. There is only one other book that I can compare to the explicit sexual nature of this novel and that is Junot Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I loved both books, but both of them are not novels I would recommend to my mother because of the sexual nature of both books. Now sex is a central issue to both books and are used purposefully, mostly, and it is an ingrained thing in both cultures the author is trying to portray which is meaningful but beyond that there is still an overwhelming amount of sexual encounters in both books. All of that said, I must comment more thoroughly on this incredible work.

I put this novel down several times in the last year. I don't remember when I first started it, it could be as long ago as March, and I have finished several novels in between, but my steel-trap mind for text wouldn't let this novel and its characters escape me. When I picked it back up recently, I had to get reacquainted with the characters shortly, but after that it was as if I hadn't missed a beat. The characters are fantastic, they are hate-able, lovable, pitiable, and admirable at times. This novel runs the gambit of human emotions and takes into its view all of this character and this cultures existence. I was in love with sections of this book. There are times when I was totally enchanted with stories and times in Cesar's recollection, times I didn't want to end, but knew they would and hoped that they would as dignified as they deserved. I dreaded the ending of this novel, because I knew it was coming but Hijuelos dignifies his character with an ending befitting him. The ending is a swell of emotions that my heart was almost not big enough to contain. I loved the ending of this novel. I loved sections of it, I could really forget a few portions of it, I couldn't wait for other sections to end, but all in all, I really appreciated having to have to read this book. If I wasn't forced to and someone had casually recommended it, I would have put it down as I did in March and never picked it back up and wouldn't have been rewarded with its ending. Hijuelos is a fantastic writer and I will read more of his work after this project is over, I am glad he won for this novel.