Friday, February 26, 2010

Dropping Acid and Names

Terry Southern (Nile Southern and Josh Alan Friedman, eds.)
Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995 (2001)

Most of the things that I found striking about the book are not really repeatable in this forum. Let's just say that drugs, sex, and celebrities play a major role.
The book was recommended to me in several different places, mostly on-line, mostly by comedy writers citing their influences. I can see how this is mind-expanding stuff, and it's well-written, it's just not easy for me to relate to it.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as reading should broaden your horizons. And if you're curious about how, for example, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, and Terry Southern eluded the Chicago police during the 1968 "riots," then you're in for a treat. Or if you want to know about some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Dr. Strangelove, or if you want some insightful cultural (literary, musical) reviews, this is for you.
Ah, now I know what's been bugging me about the book all along. He's not very self-critical.
Still. Good read.

Hank Cinq

King Henry the Fifth
by William Shakespeare (1599)

What fun. Between the chorus setting the scenes and Henry whipping his outnumbered army into a frenzy, the play is chock-full of memorable lines, stirring words, emotional nutrients and moral fiber.
As I'm putting this down here, I realize there's a bit of a correlation between the chorus constantly apologizing for having inadequate materials on stage and begging the audience to "piece out our imperfections with your thoughts" and Henry asking his outnumbered army to go "once more into the breach, dear friends, once more."
Also, because it's a(n) historical play, the outcome (I'm guessing) was known to the audience, so the play is really all about the spectacle, and it doesn't fall short.
Thumbs up.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review by Shellie (and John): The Metamorphosis ~ by Franz Kafka

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There are some amazing covers for this book – I liked this one. It links to the Amazon US book purchase site for this edition.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis

Mini Synopsis:  A novella published in 1915, it is set in Europe in the early 1900’s. The main character, Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find that he has transformed into a bug. Being the sole support of his aging parents and teenage sister he becomes increasingly worried about their future. They are appalled at his appearance and leave him in his bedroom alone while hoping he disappears.

Shellie’s Thoughts:  John (the husband) and I listened to this audio book while driving. It was unabridged. This will be a joint review.

We both agreed that, while the narration was done with an English accent and was pleasant it was surprisingly upbeat in tone, it felt like a slightly bizarre period piece, telling of woes in that particular time. Where instead of the main character having a terminal disease he turned into a beetle. 

This horrific event espouses the horrors of loss, abandonment, loosing one’s ability to communicate, and station in life, as well as our ability to truly recognize who we are or what we have become.

I felt that although the writing/reading was intriguing, I wanted more. Perhaps it is being so accustomed to drama and hype within modern day reading The Metamorphosis went comparatively limp. We agreed and gave this book 3 Stars. We liked it but it was not what we expected.


An Austrian/Czech author born – July 3, 1883 died – June 3, 1924. He is purported to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Sadly, he was not well known until after his death.

For Wikipedia information on Franz Kafka link on his picture.

Thinking about The Metamorphosis further - apparently there are a number of layered meanings within the story which are not apparent without discussion.

John’s Post Discussion Thoughts: For a book that is widely regarded as a classic, I was a little surprised and was somehow expecting more. I can see how there are different layers to the story, and can well imagine that with repeat reading or with discussion, greater depth becomes apparent.

For example, I just read a view that the most radical metamorphosis in the story was not Gregor himself, but rather how his family reacted to him and to their changed circumstances. Which is a most excellent twist and now seems obvious, but I didn’t get that at the time. Maybe listening while driving was not the best way to experience this story.

Purchasing links for the audio version of this book from The Book Depository US/Euro/AUD/Canada (please not these are not affiliate, I included them so you can access the version that we listened to.)

Original and slightly different post on ~ Layers of Thought.

Completed books to date:

  1. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  2. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
  3. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  4. Dracula – Bram Stoker – review coming soon
  5. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
  6. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Since July 7, 2009 I have completed 6 books – at an estimated one book per month. I am two behind…I better start reading faster!

Becky's Progress: 35

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer.
The Way We Live Now. Anthony Trollope
Devil's Cub. Georgette Heyer.
Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston
Cannery Row. John Steinbeck
Sweet Thursday. John Steinbeck

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

HERZOG, by Saul Bellow

Woohoo! Knocked out one more title. My review for Herzog is here.

I'd love to hear thoughts, especially from other people who've read any Bellow in the past. I find myself getting very irritated with his books, then loving them in retrospect, and then going on to read more. He just makes you think so hard and feel so much that by the end, it's worth the effort.

This brings me up to 24 books since last April, a number I'd be very proud of if I didn't secretly know I've knocked out most of the short ones and left all the Tomes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Breach by Patrick Lee

Here is quick little review of what I just completed off my list. This is at my blog too, though I altered it slightly for this post.  :)

The Breach by Patrick Lee is absolutely not a book I would normally buy, ever. I'm a romance junky and this is all sci-fi-ish and a total guy book, which means it might as well be a classic that was written before my time. However, Fill-in-the-Gaps is all about me broadening my horizons, so when I saw this awesome cover art and a great title, I bought it. I figured I would make myself read it in the name of my Fill-in-the-Gaps list. 'Make' is not the right word, 'couldn't hardly put it down' would be accurate. I finished Lee's book in five days. I would have finished it faster but I had to force myself to put it down. Lee's believable writing along with my dream world is quite a crazy combination. That's a compliment, if you're wondering.

From the very first sentence Lee's writing had me, and by page five I was in love with his character, Travis Chase. All I wanted to do is wrap Travis up and make him all better.... and I didn't even know what he'd done to get where he was. For all I knew, he deserved his circumstance. I didn't care. I knew right then that I would follow Travis Chase to the ends of the fiction world, and I will. When book two comes out, I'm there. Oh and FYI to the ladies who like a strong female character... Chase teams up with a fantastic, kick-ass female character. White-hot embers. That's all I'll say.

Lee's book is one that proves any reader can be won over; any reader can be dragged across the line they've drawn, into areas they have always disliked.

I'm going to go off and pray that my grammar hasn't send any of you over the edge while all of you go buy this book. See you reading pals later   :^)

EDIT: I completely forgot about this. My twitter friend @Susan_Adrian is holding a contest at her blog on this book. If you want to try and win it, go here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review-When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris and find everything he writes to be funny and witty. No exception here. I find his commentary on life to accurate and painfully funny. I could blather on and on about all the bits I found funny, but just go read it and hopefully you'll feel the same.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review-Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley

I choose to read Thank You For Smoking because I liked the movie. Plus I read another of Buckley's books, Florence of Arabia. Buckley has a way of poking fun at difficult issues like smoking without preaching. I enjoy his sense of humor. I liked Thank You For Smoking but not as much as I liked Florence of Arabia.
Nick Naylor is a spokesman for the tobacco industry. It's a job for him. It pays the mortgage. But as the book develops Nick's position on his job changes. The changes from something to pay the mortgage to something that changes his life. I liked Nick. He's personable and funny. I liked the MOD Squad too. Some of the other characters (Nick's secretary for example) were useless and cluttered up the story. But I overlooked those useless characters and enjoyed the novel anyway. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kate C-100 List

I included books from the past 20 years that won one or more of the following awards: Man Booker Prize, National Book Award for Fiction, National Book Critics Circle Award, Orange Prize for Fiction, Faulkner Award for Fiction, and/or the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Here's my list in no particular order:

{100 Prize Winners}

1. Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
2. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
3. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
4. Europe Central by William T. Vollmann
5. The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck
6. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
7. Three Junes by Julia Glass
8. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
9. In America by Susan Sontag
10. Waiting by Ha Jin
11. Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
12. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
13. Ship Fever and Other Stories by Andrea Barrett
14. Sabbath's Theater by Phillip Roth
15. A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis
16. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
17. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
18. Mating by Norman Rush
19. Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
20. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
21. The Gathering by Anne Enright
22. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
23. The Sea by John Banville
24. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
25. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
26. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
27. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
28. Digrace by JM Coetzee
29. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
30. The God of Small Things by Araundhati Roy
31. Last Orders by Graham Swift
32. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
33. How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman
34. Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
35. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
36. The Famished Road by Ben Okri
37. Possession by AS Byatt
38. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
39. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
40. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
41. March by Geraldine Brooks
42. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
43. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
45. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
46. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
47. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
48. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
49. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
50. Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
51. Independence Day by Richard Ford
52. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
53. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
54. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
55. Rabbit At Rest by John Updike
56. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
57. The March by EL Doctorow
58. Atonement by Ian McEwan
59. Being Dead by Jim Crace
60. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
61. The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
62. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
63. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
64. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
65. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
66. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
67. We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
68. Small Island by Andrea Levy
69. Property by Valerie Martin
70. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
71. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
72. When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant
73. A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne
74. Larry's Party by Carol Shields
75. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
76. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
77. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
78. Everyman by Philip Roth
79. War Trash by Ha Jin
80. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
81. Postcards by E. Annie Proulx
82. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
83. The King's Evil by Will Heinrich
84. The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
85. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (co-winner)
86. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
87. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
88. The Early Stories by John Updike
89. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
90. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
91. Women in Their Beds: New and Selected Stories by Gina Berriault
92. Mrs. Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin
93. Billy Bathgate by EL Doctorow
94. Spartina by John Casey
95. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
96. The Caprices by Sabina Murray
97. The Human Stain by Philip Roth
98. The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
99. Philadelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman
100. The Great Man by Kate Christensen

PS Check out my book club blog if you'd like! I'll post my reviews here and over there.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Laura's Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

This began the dream that I didn’t want to wake up from, ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel García Márquez. I found it ironic that I read this story in Big Sur, in solitude. Turns out irony was used to great effect in the book. This story follows the Buendía family as they found the fictional town of Macondo and chronicles the family’s joys, loves, eccentricities, and tragedies until the town’s and family’s demise. The tale is a one hundred year story with some nineteen characters, if you don’t count the seventeen children of one of them. And a lot of the male characters have similar names: José Arcadio Buendía, José Arcadio, José Arcadio Segundo, Col. Aureliano Buendía, Aureliano José. You get the picture. The chart of the family in the front of the book was one I referenced quite a bit as I read. But, they all have unique compelling stories. On the plus side, the women all had very different names and that made them easier to keep track of. Having said all that it didn’t really read like an epic to me. It was so personal. Felt like someone was sitting across the table and telling me the story over coffee, or something a bit stronger.

The name of the family Buendía [good day] is a comment on solitude itself. For as much as solitude gripped the family there were decidedly more bad days than good but this led to a greater self-awareness of many characters in the end, and if not the character than the reader got a window into the many forms solitude can manifest and the price paid for its indulgence. Despair and madness could be found there but so could consolation and enlightenment. Irony plays a big role in the book and is hilarious and tragic at times. I’m not a big message person but, perhaps, the message of solitude is that once it is sought to tame the pain of the world it can quickly become a prison with unique costs no one can ever anticipate.

I learned so many things as a writer when I read this book. One of the main things that I learned is that the most captivating details for the reader are the most personal details for the writer. I know that sounds obvious, but for some reason I got more clarity on what this means for my own writing. I came later to find out in the afterward that Márquez grandfather introduced him to the miracle of ice. Márquez modeled the narrative of the story to simulate how his grandmother told her tales.

I also saw how irony was used for great effect in ramping up tension. It was also very enlightening to see how certain images were revisited throughout the book to ground the reader both in time and emotion. The use of this technique helped to tie the many varied stories together.

Here is one of my favorite quotes of the book:

“Gaston was not only a fierce lover, with endless wisdom and imagination, but he was also, perhaps, the first man in the history of the species who had made an emergency landing and had come close to killing himself and his sweetheart simply to make love in a field of violets.”