Friday, April 4, 2008

Notes on books and various other written media I have read lately

The Plague by Albert Camus

The Plague is about a plague that strikes the town of Port Oran in Algeria. It describes the behaviour of the populace and of several specific characters over the course of the plague. It's existentialist and emphasises the inevitability of life and our inability to control our own destinies (I wrote a major essay on a similar theme about Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn, so it's a topic of which I am rather fond).

Something I spend quite a lot of time thinking about is the relationship between style and the quality of a book. The Plague was very interesting in terms of style. It was narrated by someone who calls themselves 'the narrator', and we find out only at the end that 'the narrator' is actually Rieux, the main character. This gives it a really detached air. Yet it still manages to describe the events with the utmost compassion. Some parts were very moving. The prose is bare and unadorned, yet still beautiful. It's like those European trees in winter, stark and black against the white sky. Those trees are beautiful enough to make me want to live in Europe. But it's interesting that such objective prose can be so emotive. I used to think that beauty came from the use of intricate metaphor and imagery and stylistic techniques, but I've started to change my tune, and reading The Plague only confirmed this for me.

Harper's Bazaar

Has incredibly boring articles. A friend lent a few magazines to me in an attempt to convert me to fashion. The fashion was pretty, but the articles...... there was one about models being too thin, and I suppose it was always a hard ask to expect someone to come up with an original article on such a hackneyed topic, but I mean, really. It just went round and round and round, going over the exact same things, not even attempting to assert an opinion or make a statement. Euhhhhh. The other articles were similarly boring, because really, who wants to read about Katie Holmes or 'your definition of luxury'? I skipped most of them and looked at the pictures, like a little kid.

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

I have been wanting to read this book for aaaaaaages, because it has a fantastic concept. Queneau wrote about an inconsequential meeting on a bus and a short conversation about a button. The story has no point, which is the point in itself. It's just a vehicle for the exercises in style. He writes the about the same sequence of events in 99 different styles, from haiku to sonnet. I was kind of waiting for it to tell me something profound about style (which I'm so into right now) and it kind of did, but not how I expected it to. More than anything, though, it's funny. I especially laughed at the opera one. It must have been the most enjoyable thing to translate (originally written in French). I might write something more profound about it later, but at the moment I'm feeling like my brain is leaking out of my ears.


I don't know if there's any point me writing about this. Basically, it's a French magazine for teenagers about... stuff. I'm reading it to improve my French, and it seems pretty good to me. It seems to lack the slightly patronising attitude magazines for this age group often have, but I have doubts that my French is good enough that I could pick it up, anyway. With French, I never have any trouble understanding anything, but I can't pick up tone or more subtle things like that. I should read more in French. Basically, I only mention this to remind myself to write sometime about the differences in reading in different languages, because it's pretty interesting.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I have heard so much about Neil Gaiman that when my friend sent me a link to an e-book of American Gods I started reading it straight away. So far, though, it's rather dull. It's intriguing, but in the way a thriller is intriguing, i.e., boringly. It's written like a thriller but with less action and I like it not. I'm just waiting for something decent to happen. I am not reassured about the tastes of the human race.

In other news, I gave my Dad Cat's Eye to read and HE LOVES IT. Interestingly, he seemed much more affected by it than I was. He said he was crying his eyes out as he read it on the plane. Which is odd, or maybe I am just cold-hearted. But I love discussing it with him, and contrary to my expectations, he still made me think of new things about the book. I thought that he wouldn't have assimilated it enough after the first reading to be able to discuss it properly (only because I wasn't able to after my first reading, but maybe I'm just dumb) but he made me think - maybe the reason I like it so much is because I can identify with Elaine's isolation in primary school. That's why it made him so sad - it reminded him of his own misery in primary school. Except it's not really misery, because as we were saying, kids have such limited experience that they just accept all this bad stuff that's happening to them as normal, natural, the way of life. I certainly did, Dad did, Elaine did. She captures perfectly the exquisite loneliness and unhappiness of those days, except that you're not really lonely or unhappy because you never take a step back to evaluate it objectively. Or you're not able to take that step back, either way. So go Dad for being smart and cool.

This is why I love reading so much; there is always more to find in even the most shallow of books. This is basically the only reason I liked Harry Potter so much; for the only time ever (probably in all of history) there was this book that almost everyone had read, and almost everyone was happy to talk about it and discuss it. It made me very happy. In terms of booktalk, the week before the last HP book emerged was the best in my life.

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