Proust: Rambling thoughts, or more?

I’ve started listening to my first Proust, and it’s not very engaging. It is interesting though. Mainly I’m thinking “this guy is just going on about inane memories that can have no importance to anyone other than himself, and yet this is a classic.”

I think that goes to show that you really can write about anything, even thousands and thousands of words about the feeling of drinking a cup of tea, and it will be good if you fill it with passion.

I am early in the book, so maybe it pulls together and connects in some overarching way, or to tell some story. But so far it seems very self-indulgent and meandering. I’m still listening, though….

Mystery on the side

I’m listening to another Nabokov novel, and no surprise, it’s great. This one is about a struggling businessman who also seems a bit mentally unstable, running across a vagrant who happens to look exactly like him.

The instant he sees this face, a plan sparks in his mind. You can tell, but, you don’t know what that plan is… and that is the mystery. Not how he is going to do something (he’s going to do it by using a look-alike in some way) but what he is going to do.

Since it’s Nabokov, I automatically suspect that this guy is way less smart than he thinks he is, and also that there is a lot going on between the lines. I’ve not yet discovered much, but it is fun searching for it.

Language is a tool not a box

After much recommendation, I am reading a book that on the surface is about a subject (American History) that holds mostly no interest for me. But boy is it good and weird and written in a strange way.

Would you read a novel made of citations? That’s what this seems to be… a large portion of it anyway. Also, the point of view changes every paragraph almost. And each paragraph (each POV, that is) is written in a different style. Some of them with no punctuation, misspellings, or odd capitalization, and each one signing off with their name at the end.

Example of citations:

The rich notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far-off spirits.

-Keckley, op. cit.

Willie lay in the “Prince of Wales” bedroom with its dark purple wall hangings and golden tassels.

-Epstein, op. cit.

The cheeks of his handsome round face were inflamed with fever. His feet moved restlessly beneath the maroon coverlet.

-In “History Close at Hand,” edited by Renard Kent, account of Mrs. Kate O’Brien.

Example of POV changes:

The lad, overawed, followed close behind us, looking this way and that.

-hans vollman

Well now I will give you A part of, or all of, if you like it, a Song my dear husband used to sing. Cauld it Adam and Eaves wedding Song. This Song was Sung by him at my sister’s wedding. He was much in the habit of making Songs and Singing of them and— Oh no, I won’t go no closer. Good day to you, sirs.

-mrs. elizabeth crawford

We had reached the edge of an uninhabited wilderness of some several hundred yards that ended in the dreaded iron fence.

-hans vollman

And the entire novel, so far, is written this way.

‘You can’t do that!’ shouts the English teacher. Well, the point of writing is to convey ideas, and this does that well, in its own way. If it works, it is allowed!

Why should we treat language like a fence around us? Uproot that fence and use its posts to carve your message into the ground!

Language is for using, not for obeying…

Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

This is the epitome of genius. Nabokov must have some kind of freak literary gene that makes him so good with words. This is one of the few books I’ve wanted to start reading again the moment I reached the end. (I think Lolita was another…)

On the surface, Pale fire is a 999 line poem book-ended by an introduction and commentary by it’s editor and publisher. But between the lines, it is a hilarious journey into the mind of a delusional narcissist.

It’s hard to say much about this book other than it is brilliant, subtle, and such a wondrous feat that I sometimes wonder if Nabokov was not a plain old mortal human like the rest of us, but instead an incarnation of writing itself.

I feel lucky to be alive in a time when this book exists. Read it!

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka has some way with words that makes everything seem like a slow, surreal nightmare. This story, in simple, straightforward language, manages that feeling while still being somewhat comical.

Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he’s transformed into a giant insect-like creature who’s smell and appearance so horrify his family that they can’t bear to be in the same room as him for more than a few seconds.

But, like The Trial, it all has the effect of a strange dream… an inevitable, existential horror creeping slowly but unerringly.

First he is sequestered to his room, only able to listen to his family or guess what they are up to. Then the furniture is removed from his room. Then the room (and he) gathers dust and trash and is left untended… and his relationship deteriorates at the same time.

And it all somehow evokes a feeling of… shrinking, of the world being stripped away until reality is a single room, a single floorboard at which your eye is pointing, unblinking.

A short, strange read. Well worth it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Reading this was a bit of a wake-up call to how vapid and soulless(hehe) vampire movies and books are today.

Dorian Gray, in a fit of youthful exuberance, trades his soul for endless youth, and gets more than he expected.

Not only does time not affect him in any noticeable way on the exterior, nothing seems to affect him in any way on the inside either. At the start, he frets that the death of his love, Sybil, is not affecting him as much as it should. Later, all his possessions and pleasures do nothing to make him feel complete. The vampires and immortal beings of modern storytelling have no drawbacks (sun doesn’t even hurt them!) making them boring and un intriguing.

This is a great story about how we obsess over youth and beauty at all costs, and an interesting look at the costs of a life without feeling or soul. What is it that causes aging, anyway, besides the scars of our experiences? If none of our experiences affected us, life would be an empty, perfect, shell…

Enjoyable and thoughtful read.

The quest for youth

I’ve started listening to the Picture of Dorian Gray, and it has a lot of intriguing dialogue so far.

I like that Dorian is so jealous of the painting even right from the start. That it will stay young and he will get old is such a painful idea for him, that he brings it up even a few days later, to say that the painting is already days younger than he is.

I never thought about aging when I was 20 years old… so this Dorian is quite the vain person to be worrying about it so young…