Category: book report

Book Report: The Song of the World by Jean Giono

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I have tried to make a story of adventure in which there should be absolutely nothing ‘timely.’ The present time disgusts me, even to describe. It is sufficient merely to endure it. I wanted to make a book with new mountains, a new river, a country, forest, snow and men all new. The most consoling thing is that I have not had to invent anything at all, not even the people. They all exist. That is what I want to say here. At this very time when Paris flourishes – and that is nothing to be proud of – there are people in the world who know nothing of the horrible mediocrity into which civilization, philosophers, public speakers and gossips have plunged the human race. They think only of adding to their comfort, heedless that one day true men will come up from the river and down from the mountain, more implacable and more bitter than the grass of the apocalypse.
– Jean Giono, 1937

This quote can be found on the back cover of the paperback version of Giono’s French adventure/pastoral novel Song of the World. Not only does it explain, in a roundabout way, the purpose of his novel, but it gives precise definition to his overall philosophy and motivation as a writer. His motivation is not unusual: the motivation of most writers is to create a world that is parallel to ours, but molded in the authors own image. The author wishes to play god in his own little world, so to speak. What strikes me in Giono’s statement is the ferocity with which he expresses his motivation, and the anger he throws at the “modern world.”

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Book Report: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

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The first thing I’ll say about this book is that I have rarely experienced so intensely the feeling, after finishing the book, of not wanting to leave its confines. In this case, my desire to stay in 18th century Nagasaki was so intense that even though I finished the book about two weeks ago I’ve been unable to start reading anything new; any other set or scenery just bores me after a few pages. I have the same feeling whenever I finish something by Jean Giono (report forthcoming) – leaving his mythical world of Provence after diving so deeply into it is jarring to the system. Similarly, reading something like Anna Karenina, which envelops you for hundreds of pages in its cloak of wintry Russian aristocracy, is hard to leave behind. I think that might be the highest praise you can give any book.

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Book Review: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway

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Take Hemingway. People always think that the reason he’s easy to read is that he is concise. He isn’t. I hate conciseness — it’s too difficult. The reason Hemingway is easy to read is that he repeats himself all the time, using ‘and’ for padding.
-Tom Wolfe

As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.
-Vladimir Nabokov

I’m pointing out a couple of the common insults flung at Hemingway not to say they’re false – they’re true to a point – but to illustrate what one is up against when one tries to defend Hemingway and make a case for his writing. The author has become so polarizing that American readers have basically split into two camps:

1) Those who agree that Hemingway, along with his ex-pat pals like Fitzgerald, had in the 20s, 30s, and 40s brought about a refreshing change to literature, exchanging the over-wrought and ungainly prose of turn-of-the-century America, Britain, and France (looking at you Proust, Henry James) for a modern, precise, descriptive and quietly poetic style that has carried us forward into the current era of literature.

2) Those who believe as Wolfe and Nabokov do, that Hemingway was basically a chauvinist with a conjunction fetish. Once he was six feet under the Sawtooth Mountains, in 1961, it seems this second group dominated Hemingway discussions; that is, everybody just seems to make fun of him now. Between mocking his declarative style and bemoaning his macho pursuits (“bells, balls, and bulls” as Nabokov so awesomely put it), it seems a Hemingway appreciator – or one totally new to the man’s language – has a hard mountain to climb, and may just prefer to sit it out in the end.

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Book Review: Kafka On the Shore by Haruki Murakami

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Man I’m really on a roll with these book reviews! This one’s pretty easy, though, check it out: WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?! Review over.

Just kidding. Actually, here is my reenactment of the entire novel (SPOILERS?):

Kafka: Are you my mother?
Person who may be his mother: No. Yes. Maybe?
Kafka: Should we have sex?
Person who may be his mother: Sure.

Kafka: And you, are you my sister?
Person who may be his sister: No. Yes. Maybe?
Kafka: Should we have sex?
Person who may be his sister: Why not?

Kafka: And you, are you a boy or a girl?
Person who may be a boy or a girl: Boy. Girl. Both?

Kafka: Am I dead?
Everybody: No. Yes. Maybe?

Kafka: Seriously, what is with this book?
The Reader: An excruciatingly psychoanalytic look at the angst and existential nature of the pubescent teenager?
Kafka: Maybe…
The Reader: Modern retelling of Oedipus Rex?
Kafka: Eh…
The Reader: Japanese writers are crazy?
Kafka: That’s the ticket.

You just keep being you, Mr. Murakami. And I’ll keep reading.

Book Review: The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

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The tale is simple: Paul Chowder is a poet. Unassuming, quiet; rather boring, actually. Paul Chowder has collected an anthology of rhyming poems, and is now tasked with writing the introduction to this anthology. He’s having a tough time of it. And his live-in girlfriend has left him out of frustration at his listlessness. He spends his days in the barnhouse loft thinking, singing made-up songs to himself, reading poetry (though unsure he even still likes poetry), doing anything but writing the damned introduction. This is the scenario Nicholson Baker drops us into. Perhaps not the most electrifying plot for a novel, but I’m not so sure this is a novel anyway. In reality it’s more like a fake memoir; something closer to Jim Harrison’s Wolf, except with less drinking and sex. I think making this distinction is important to understanding and liking the book as well. If you go into it expecting something in the way of plot, climax, resolution, etc., well, you’ll probably come away feeling a bit cheated. If you come to this book expecting a good story, however, you will feel sated by the end, full of life and good poetry.

The Anthologist is a rambling, free-form book. This line from the book sums it up quite well, actually:

It’s hard to hold it all in your head. All the different possible ways that you can enjoy life. Or not enjoy life. And all the things that are going on.

It is hard to hold it all in your head sometimes. This book is one person letting it out of his head. I hesitate to even approach the phrase “stream of consciousness” because nothing turns off a casual reader (or even an avid reader) like a STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS narrative. Gah! Get away! Make it stop! Baker’s book has much going for it though that should make you consider adding it to your book list. 1) It’s pretty short. 2) It’s pretty funny. 3) Paul Chowder is simply a likable character. He’s nice, sweet in his own way, and has a sort of innocence to him that you don’t usually see male lead characters carrying. Even when he mucks things up, it’s hard to stay mad at him. This makes the book pleasant to read and think about.

And most importantly 4) it’s about POETRY. Yeah poetry! While the book doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of poetry to enjoy, it insists on an appreciation of poetry and all the fun things that go with it, like language, wordplay, rhyme, meter, and melody. Yes melody. Read the book, you’ll get it. Our Mr. Chowder spends a lot of time talking about poetry. You’ll fall in love with the writings of poets you’ve never read before, like Elizabeth Bishop and W.S. Merwin, and then you will spend a Saturday afternoon collecting their collected works. Probably half the book he spends talking about poetry. Yikes, you say. But don’t worry, you love poetry. If you don’t, this book is not for you. But if you didn’t love poetry, you wouldn’t read my blog, and here you are reading it, so you must love poetry, therefore you will love this book.

Find The Anthologist here.