What I want to read…

I’ve been reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent with a book club I just started with some friends. It’s much more enjoyable to read a book when you have people to discuss it with, but how can anyone ever get their friends to read the same books… if you’re even fortunate enough to have friends who read at all!

So we each submitted some choices, and voted on those choices (can’t vote for your own submissions!) and ended up with a book that everyone at least kind of wanted to read. Success! It wasn’t my top choice, but I was interested!

The novel is based on the true story of an Icelandic woman sentenced to death for murder in 1829, and her last days living on a farm with a family, who are tasked with watching over her while she waits her execution.

This sounded appealing to me, because I always am curious about the mind states of people in extreme situations. What would it be like, knowing you are doomed to die, awaiting the inevitable end day by day… Because it is like a magnified version of all our lives, all will end, all will end definitely, but we pretend they won’t. I find myself curious of what it would be like when you can’t pretend anymore.

I’m about 40% done with it now, and while it is an intriguing read, it’s not what I’d hoped it would be. The story seems to focus more on the family’s perception of her, and her interactions with a priest, and doesn’t delve much into her internal feelings on death. Not so far anyway. It seems to be more about perceptions, and how we decide a person is one way, just because of what others say of them, or judge their entire life and being all based on a single action, a single mistake.

An interesting read so far!

 

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The Plague, by Albert Camus

I finished it, and though parts of it made me think and feel and were interesting, overall I was mostly bored and impatient with it.

I enjoyed the close-view narration style of The Stranger a lot more, and maybe if I’d gone into it more expecting a sort of dry historical style account for most of it, I’d have liked it more. The last third of the book did have a lot of good stuff to it though.

On to new things!

Out, by Christine Brooke-Rose

What did I just read? I’m not quite sure.

At the end it became slightly intelligible that the POV character was of some higher or lower form of consciousness, and had a brain procedure performed on him. So that sheds a bit of light on the bizarre and confusing way this story was told.

One way to describe it is as a stream of consciousness of someone who is mentally unstable.

Some of the descriptions and ideas are quite beautiful and thoughtful, but they take a bit of work and thinking to figure out what the heck is being described sometimes.

Definitely not a book you can read without some effort, but I found the trouble to be worth it in the end.

uh oh, the French are at it again

I’ve started reading The Plague, by Albert Camus since I liked The Stranger so much, and …. sigh. It’s the same problem I had with Madame Bovary and to a lesser extent, Swan’s Way. There are no characters, and just descriptions of things happening in a very passive, drawn back way. I don’t know if this is a different translator than The Stranger, or what, but it’s a completely different style and not engaging at all.

It’s a fairly short novel, so I’m going to stick with it, but I’m getting all kinds of ‘what not to do’ ideas for my own writing while reading this…

I’m about 20% through it, so it still has time to get better. I keep waiting for it to ‘zoom in’ and start the story, but it might not ever do this. We’ll see…

Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

This one was a bit of a trial. It took me several months to read because it got so bogged down in historical details that I don’t care about.

In this story, a group of editors decide to create their own conspiracy theory about the Templars in order to sell books. They go about it methodically, with lots of research, making connections between topics and events throughout history, all to support their idea. The problem is the author spends way too much effort detailing all theseĀ  historical events and facts and connections. Far beyond what it would take to convince the average reader that ‘yes, these editors are coming up with a believable theory.’

There is so much in the middle section of the book that I started skimming until I found anything actually happening to the characters, or any character thoughts. I ended up skimming probably 30-40% of this 600+ page book, that’s just how much historical babble there is.

That being said, the character stuff is really good and engaging and thoughtful and beautifully written, and the last 20% or so of the book pulled this back up from a two star, to a three star for me.

Highly recommended to historical nerds, or people interested in the Templars, or other secret societies of the occult. But otherwise, it might really tire you out.

The Great Gatsby. Still not sure if I read it.

Well, now I’ve finished it, but I still feel like I haven’t. I had a terrible time trying to pay attention to this one, but I think that was mostly the fault of the narrator. Jake Gyllenhaal (in a trend of having famous actors read classics) gives a dull, monotone reading that would put you to sleep if not for the constant, piercing s-whistles sprinkled throughout.

I already feel I’ll have to give this one yet another try, but next time I’ll be sure to do it in text form.

The parts that I could stay alert for were good, but anything can be boring when read in a tired, simple tone. It reminded me of a ninth grader being forced to read in front of their class, something they have no concept of or interest in understanding. Just words on a page, with no change in pace or rhythm, even when moving from describing a sunset to describing a deadly car crash.

The words will slide right off your brain into oblivion.

 

Finding Frances

The feature length finale of the Comedy Central series ‘Nathan For You’ takes an amazing melancholy turn, when Nathan decides to use the show’s resources to find Bill Heath’s (the Bill Gates impersonator from previous episodes) long lost love.

Though still full of the same comedic flavor that Nathan is famous for, this is a heart wrenching documentary about a man that could not let go of the past.

Bill, now 76 years old, never married, and never had children, has spent his life always wondering what happened to his young love Frances, last seen over 50 years ago. Though it is never stated directly, it is implied that he never married or had children because he was always hoping to find her. Early in the episode we get many clips of him reminiscing about her, always saying ‘I should have married her.’

Nathan takes it on himself to help Bill find Frances, using ridiculous, roundabout tactics that will be familiar to fans of the show. But always present between the comedy is a thick vein of longing, and it will creep under your skin and leave your heart aching.

What kind of love must one feel to still wonder about someone from half a century past? What kind of emotions could prevent a person from moving on after so much time? The relationship of Bill and Frances is startlingly similar to that of Florintino and Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera, except, as we find out during a heart squeezing scene where Bill reads through a box of old letters–Bill left Frances to pursue his career in acting, and regretted it ever since.

I won’t spoil the end, but as the episode progresses and Nathan finds more and more information about Frances, it becomes clear that Bill has held some kind of frozen image of her in his mind, a version of her trapped in amber and unchanging as the decades rolled by.

Is this how all love works? A first impression of overwhelming emotion seared into the brain, unable to be overwritten no matter what else happens with or because of that person. Do we have any choice but to cling to that moment when everything was perfect and amazing, despite all that has changed? That irrationality and inability to accept change–or even perceive it in some cases–is part of what makes us human…

The end of this episode left me with a surreal feeling of the gulf of time that can separate two people–a feeling of melancholy for the past, like opening a time capsule full of childhood mementos, or finding an old love letter in your attic.

This episode was better produced, and miles more meaningful than 90% of Hollywood movies today. Even if you’re not familiar with the show, and don’t care for absurdist/awkward comedy– I would recommend watching this episode. It is heartfelt, real, and peeks at some secret aspect of being human that hides within all of us.