Friday, December 31, 2010
Books I read this semester
Ever since I added this "most popular posts" sidebar to the edge of my blog, I've been trying to see if I can knock "The Books I read this summer" from its top spot. I mean, really? It has more than three times as many page views as any other post, and I'm not sure I understand why. (Does anybody have any theories?)
Regardless, I figured I'd offer up this sequel post. I read some awesome books in my American Fiction class this semester, and burned through a bunch of novels over Christmas break. I've got everything from comic books to Cormac McCarthy on this list, and some of the best books I've ever read. For real.
#1. Room by Emma Donoghue
A) I read this 320-page book in less than 24 hours.
B) I feel comfortable saying that this is the best book I've read in ten years.
C) No, you cannot borrow my copy. That's how I lose all my favorite books.
"Room" is narrated by a five-year-old boy named Jack, who has been confined in a small backyard shed with his mother for his entire life. She was kidnapped, raped and imprisoned and Jack is the child of her captor. His mother has diligently raised him, educated him and loved him through some of the most disturbing, horrific events you can imagine. But somehow this novel ends up being heart-warming, innocent, life-affirming and beautiful.
I gave it to my Mom and told her she'll probably start crying around page 5. She won't stop until she's finished.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Go buy this book. NOW.
#2. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
I don't care how smart you are. When you read this book, there will be at least five words on every page that you have never even SEEN before.
Shaun Ross gave me this book for my birthday last year, and I've tried to read it and failed twice. I finally picked it up over Christmas and got through it. The trouble is, you have to slow down your reading speed by about half. You really need to focus on every sentence, every word. And when you do, the result is beautiful.
However, not gonna lie: I prefer both No Country For Old Men and The Road. It has the same beautiful language without the dense slog. Also, I've heard some people say that Blood Meridian is over the top. I think those people don't realize that's the whole point, but at the same time I agree. At times it just feels a little, well, TOO epic. Does that sound like blasphemy?
I just looked at my syllabus for next semester, and I'm studying this book. Stoked I got it out of the way beforehand.
#3. Selected Stories by Andre Dubus
The last story in this collection is called "A Father's Story", and tells the story of a lonely rancher named Luke Ripley and his college age daughter. I studied it in Douglas College and it may have begun my obsession with father-daughter relationships. It my second favorite short story of all time, after "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway.
Some of the stories in this collection are boring (there's a few about baseball) while others are sublime. There's lots of drinking, lots of Catholicism and lots of weird sex. Andre Dubus' stories have been adapted into the movies In the Bedroom (it sucks) and We Don't Live Here Anymore (awesome movie).
I love the way Dubus' language is completely stripped of extra words. He just has the raw facts and meticulous details. His stories are haunting and dark, but also have some beautiful moments.
Score (collection): 70/100
Score ("A Father's Story): 96/100
#4. The Devil You Know by Jenn Farrell
I bought this book on the ferry. I met the author a few years ago, when she came to talk to my class at Douglas College. It's published by Anvil Press and I was interested because I'd like to try to get a collection published with them one day. (I can hope, right?)
There are a few really good stories in here. "Blonde" is really stark and disturbing. But most of the stories are bland, cliched and Farrell's voice isn't very distinct. The second story in the collection, "Solitaire", was so awful I almost didn't read the rest.
A lot of the stories centre around young, substance-abusing, slutty girls. They tend to be overly simplistic, kind of preachy, and half the time I felt like I was reading some sort of misguided feminist manifesto.
Someone recently dubbed Farrell as a "badass Alice Munro". I happen to believe Alice Munro is the badass Alice Munro. Jenn Farrell has a long way to go before she can even be considered alongside her.
#5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
What else can I say about an American masterpiece? I thought it was a little short. It was a fun read, but I never would have picked it out as the intense classic everyone's convinced it is.
I'm glad I finished it before the movie adaptation with Leonardo Dicaprio, though. Apparently it's coming out next year.
#6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Volume 7
Alongside American classics of literature, I also made time to read...yup, that Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Joss Whedon continued the series in comic book form after it got cancelled on television, and I've been religiously picking up each new installment. I like the art, I like the dialogue, and I like how much more they can do with the series now that they're not constrained by TV.
This particular edition was EPIC. Let's just say it involved cosmic, literally earth-shaking sex between Buffy and Angel. (Finally!) I know, I know, I'm a giant nerd.
#7. Seven Good Reasons Not To Be Good by John Gould
John is my fiction teacher at UVic, so I thought I'd check out his writing. This is his first novel, and it took me a while to get into it. But he's got a quirky voice and a bizarre, undeniably Canadian cast of flamboyant characters.
The story centres around Matt, a 44-year-old film critic who is flying across the country to convince his best friend Zane not to let himself die. (Zane has AIDS and is refusing to take his medication, partially to negate his oppressive effect on the earth and become one with the universe...yeah, I know. Weird.)
In case you haven't noticed a theme yet, I enjoyed the weird sex and the hilarious dialogue. This is a fun read. Check it out.
#8. Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
I've already read this book about three times, but I decided to give it another go after reading the sequel that came out this year, Imperial Bedrooms. Before he wrote American Psycho, Ellis wrote this story about a guy coming home to L.A. from college. He discovers that his friends are all vacuous, soulless, drug-addicted socialites.
I'm hoping to base the novel I'm writing on Ellis' formula here. (Except my story probably won't be as nihilistic or graphic.)
I love this book.
#9. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
I'm not sure what's missing, but this book SUCKS. It picks up with the same characters as Less Than Zero, but it's twenty years later and they're all grown up. Ellis continues to blur the line between fact and fiction (something he's dabbled with in other novels) and not only does he write himself into the book (as "the author") but he mentions the 80s adaptation of his book.
It's boring, repetitive and pointless. I think Ellis has been doing too much coke, is too in love with himself, and forgot how to write.
#10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Honestly, I like his short stories better.
The Sun Also Rises is fun, has some cool characters, and showcases Hemingway's signature style. But there's just too much random bullshit in there--descriptions of the drinks, the money, the bull-fighting, and not enough of the emotional drama we're invested in.
The story is told by Jake Barnes, this dude who is impotent after a World War I wound. He's in love with Lady Brett Ashley (a wicked, sexy and legendary literary character) but she's flitting from one man to the next, getting drunk every step of the way.
Have you ever heard the line: "Isn't it pretty to think so?" -- it's from this book! I love figuring out where famous quotes are from.
#11. Pearls Sells Out by Stephan Pastis
Again, I like to hit every register and I try not to be too pretentious about the shit I read. And I totally love Pearls Before Swine. I can sit and just read endless strips, laugh out loud to myself, and even write down some of the quotes. I finished this in one evening.
#12. Palo Alto by James Franco
I've already written about this book on my blog, and mentioned my obsession with James Franco. But it's worth mentioning again: this book is awesome. Seriously.
#13. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Martin Scorsese adapted this book into a movie, and I turned it off halfway through. BORING. Which says something, because I don't think I've ever seen a Scorsese movie I didn't like until this one. (Okay, I hated the end of The Departed, but that's beside the point.)
The book is beautifully written, but if period pieces or costume dramas aren't your thing, then you won't like this book. It's an easy read, though. And it has its moments. It's about this dude, Newland Archer, who realizes he's not actually in love with his fiancee and he actually wants to be with her sexy, divorcee cousin.
#14. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston needed a better editor. There are some major flaws in this novel, logical inconsistencies and plot holes. But it's fun, it's all written in African-American dialect, and the story of Janey Starks' three marriages is really insightful and engaging.
#15. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
I dare you to read the first three paragraphs of this book, then describe to me what just happened. You won't be able to.
This book is a MESS. When it was first published critics dismissed it as an experiment-gone-haywire or the delusional rantings of a crazy person. No one could even figure out how to read it, and I don't blame them.
But once you slog through it, you slowly start to pick up patterns. You start to put two and two together. And if you work really hard at it, maybe you'll understand it a little bit. Maybe.
Honestly, I think this book should come with an instruction manual. My advice: read the synopsis and explanation on Wikipedia before you even try. Or read the book backwards, starting at the last quarter and finishing with the first.
I did finally get the hang of it, and I bragged about it for months. After you read this book you'll feel like you deserve a reward.
#16. Assholes Finish First by Tucker Max
I picked up I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell a few years ago, and ploughed through it in an afternoon. The thing about reading Tucker Max is you don't know what you should feel: amusement, righteous indignation or total human disgust.
Tucker Max is a fucking degenerate douchebag, but he's got a way with words. And somehow he gets away with his inane, destructive, terrible behavior.
As I was reading this book, I realized that I'm supporting him by buying it. I kept on wanting to put it down, I kept finding reasons to be offended or horrified, but I KEPT READING. Why? I still can't quite answer that. I may have even laughed a few times.
Max has founded a whole new genre of literature called "fratire", and tons of people worship him. Because of Tucker Max, there are more douchebags in the world. Plain and simple.
Don't read this book. Or do. Shit, I don't know.
All right, everyone. That's it. I hope this inspires you to pick up a new book--and seriously, go buy Room. Like right now. You'll thank me later.