Books: Last Book You Read and Rate It

Discussion in 'Entertainment' started by Ceremony, Mar 12, 2017.

  1. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963) - Finished this a few days ago. A colleague had brought this one to me when I mentioned I haven't read many female authors in my life. I liked it, found it very competently written yet throughout the book I found something was lacking...perhaps the lack of a distinct voice. I don't really see any flaw within this one, except that I found it a little dispassionate, which didn't stir me. There is a neat and intelligent little trick where Sylvia Plath has her main character express sick thoughts and act in a bizarre way with even-keeled descriptive prose which can then trick the reader into thinking that she isn't all that crazy at all which in ignorant way is how I could see a mentally-ill person function and hide their illness/believe they are sane. There's some good lyrical moments in spurts as well, but it's not a work that's likely to stick with me.
     
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  2. SonicY

    SonicY Daydream Nation

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    GB, I'm curious - do you buy, lend, or borrow?
     
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  3. GB

    GB Registered User

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    Apologies for my tardiness.

    Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. Set in New York in the 80's the protagonist is a fairly unlikeable man dealing with his failing career and failed marriage. Accompanied by another, even less likeable, man he spirals downwards for most of the book. It's a novel that would be easy to hate. I think McInerney does two things that make it work. There is a plot development that shines some light on the protagonist's behaviour. It doesn't make him likeable but at least allows him to be rooted for. The other is the novel is written in the second person. This should be irritating but instead drew me in to the novel and killed the detachment that's often present to the protagonist. It's pretty funny in places too.

    The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride. An 18 year old Irish student, Eilis, moves to London to attend drama school. She struggles to fit in, eventually meeting an older man, an actor just starting to become famous ,(although famous in a Timothy Spall way rather than a Colin Firth way). They meet up, embark on a doomed relationship, break up and try again. As the relationship develops the book develops & introduces the actor's character in a way that ends up turning the focus of the narrative completely. It's incredibly well done. There's a rhythm to the book that makes it unsuitable for reading in small chunks but it is absolutely worth the time & effort.

    Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. Waters' first novel. (I'm sure you're familiar with Park Chan-wook's film The Handmaiden. That was based on her third novel). A young woman in Victorian England falls in love with a male impersonator. They move together to London, fall in love, work together and become a roaring success in the music hall scene. The book's about first love and how universal that is. It's also about queerness and the struggles of coming to terms with that. (It may be strange to say that a novel is unabashedly lesbian but this book is.) It's also about the heartbreak when first love ends. That's pretty much what I knew going in and if that's all it was it'd still be a really good read, easily 4*. For me the thing that makes it so masterful is that it doesn't end there. Instead of being a first love/coming of age novel it pushes past those tropes. We follow the protagonist, Nan, as she moves on with her life and deals with the grief of a broken relationship, the loneliness of being secretly queer & the consequences of the bad decisions she makes because of that. It even has that rarest of things for literary fiction - an optimistic ending. It's my favourite book of the year, even if it does sag a little in the middle.

    My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up by Stephen Elliott. A novel in stories & essentially a roman à clef. Told as fiction, according to the author, to avoid misrepresenting anyone's sexual history it's a series of stories about a man who is into female domination. It's not in any way erotic, but it is very explicit. After the first story the stories proceed in basically linear fashion. The protagonist makes a series of poor decisions, gets into some awful relationships before ending up in a place where it's possible that he could be happy. In a lot of ways this reads as a redemption story with lots of very non-mainstream sex.
     
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  4. GB

    GB Registered User

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    Mostly borrow. I'm lucky enough to have easy access to two different local authority library systems that provide me with most of the books I really want to read and many, many others that I discovered. I'd say roughly 80% borrowed 20% bought. Any books I buy get donated after I've read them. For every book I buy and read there is at least one I've bought and not read yet. I'm getting better at that though, I'd like to read at least 25 of my unread books this year and then donate them.
     
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  5. SonicY

    SonicY Daydream Nation

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    A good book that I, at times, loved - and, at times, slogged through. Mantel is a master of the end of paragraph rhetorical flourish; hers is the quintessential British wit. I had to remind myself at times that she was making the dialogue up. But, at other times, it gets dragged down by the machinations of the individual characters. A ton of red herrings, and a ton of conversations that led nowhere, but overall, a very good technical novel. Just not one I'm clamouring to re-read. 3/5
     
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  6. GB

    GB Registered User

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    Have you read Wolf Hall? I tempted to read them both but I'll probably wait until the trilogy is finished.
     
  7. SonicY

    SonicY Daydream Nation

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    See, that's fantastic. I'm a bibliophile. I probably buy... half of my books? I have two bulging bookshelves in my house, and my wife is terrified that I'll soon demand a third. One of my resolutions this year is to A) Borrow at least 75% from the library and B) Donate some!
     
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  8. SonicY

    SonicY Daydream Nation

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    Yup, years ago. I didn't enjoy it as much as Bodies. It's very cerebral, and a little harder to read.
     
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  9. GB

    GB Registered User

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    I don't regret donating my books at all. I've donated about 550 now, since I moved house I just wouldn't have room for them. I've got about 50 that I'd like to read and donate this year.
     
  10. GB

    GB Registered User

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    I read her collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Outside of the title story it was just fine so I'm tentative about diving into one of her larger works.
     
  11. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    I couldn't imagine not buying any book I read. I've probably got about two bookshelves worth as well - one in my apartment, with also a bunch of books in drawers/TV set - and boxes in my mom's storage. Considering the price of used books, I prefer to simply buy them this way I always have them in case I want to re-visit one of them and also I think it's a nice hobby. I don't even own a library card.
     
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  12. GB

    GB Registered User

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    Do you reread often? I used to but it's pretty rare for me now.
     
  13. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    I wouldn't say often, but sometimes, and I often like to go back to certain passages or a short story that I really like.
     
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  14. LarKing

    LarKing Registered User

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    I’ve bought like 10 books that weren’t textbooks in my life. And most of those were gifts for other people. Just don’t see the appeal in paying for something you can conveniently get for free.
     
  15. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    - Hobby
    - Convenience
    - Build something that you can give away/donate to someone
    - It's really not expensive at all

    It's totally dorky but if I have children, I hope they get into literature - it was never something that my own parents ever instilled in me and I think it kind of reflects badly on them that I had to go out and do it on my own but whatever - and that if they do, they can have access to all these great books right in their own home. I live in a two-bedroom apartment where we turned one of the bedrooms into the living room but later on in life, I'd love to set up a library/reading/working room inside my home.

    My paternal grandfather had an extensive library with some incredibly rare books. One of them being an being some crazy edition of The Art of War. Before he passed away, he agreed to donate his entire library to the national library in Rabat, Morocco. I think that's a pretty signifant and selfless achievement that he should be proud of. He was fond of his library and he took great pride in it while caring or it, considering almost no one was allowed in. It took up an entire apartment in his home and it was consistently locked with a key. :laugh:
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
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  16. stingo

    stingo Registered User

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    I like buying books . It’s a fun hobby, especially when you hit up used bookstores and find a gem.

    I would like to get my future children into reading and I heard growing up with books in the house is a big help to that.
     
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  17. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    Maigret Goes to School
    , by Georges Simenon

    If there is any author who is my equivalent to comfort food, it has to be Georges Simenon, who wrote the best detective fiction imaginable and did it over and over again. The only continental contemporary who is his near equal that I can think of is Italy's Andrea Camilleri whose Inspector Montalbano series provides a similar pleasure. Hemingway helped Simenon gain a reputation as a stylist, and you can see why Ernest liked him so much. Simenon's style is virtually invisible. His writing is totally unshowy, but nonetheless perfect. He writes with economy and precision, every sentence seems just like the right sentence, but he doesn't make a fetish about it. The style serves his spare but atmospheric stories ideally and he is a master of character. He wrote 75 Inspector Maigret novels and a bunch of short stories. I've probably read at least a fourth of his work and I have yet to be disappointed. Maigret Goes to School, in which Maigret travels to a small provincial town to help out an innocent man, is among the best of Simenon's books that I have read. It provides a plausible mystery, believable and interesting characters, and a further portrait of what makes our Parisian Police Inspector tick. All in all a very satisfying and enjoyaboe read, even if you do not normally warm to the mystery genre. Simenon was a contemporary of Agatha Christie, but where her books seem charmingly dated, Simenon's novels seem timeless.
     
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  18. SonicY

    SonicY Daydream Nation

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    Man, I had such a journey with this novel. I entered it having been wowed by all of the plaudits and awards it had received in 2017- and much like most of the Man Booker winners I've read, I was expecting something different, something I'd need to earn. But I didn't think it'd be that much work to get there. I don't know if I've read a novel since Ulysses that required so much word-by-word focus. Saunders doesn't prime you for his world at all, so you have to gird your loins and dive in. And if you do, and you allow yourself to BE confused, you'll have a tremendous deal of appreciation for the novel. Saunders is a master, and the way he weaves sentences of otherworldly profundity is rare in the modern literary zeitgeist. I savoured every moment of the elegaic aside on what the dead appreciate about life that he gives near the end of the novel. It is some of the best writing I have ever read. It's not a perfect novel, and it's not for a light read - but it's worth it. 4/5
     
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  19. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921) - Oh, man. I wish I could end my review after the first period but the reviewing of novels tends to help my understanding of them and exactly what I liked and disliked about them. This book is a masterpiece. There's an obvious debt to Dostoyevsky in there, particularly through the humorous despair and manic energy felt by D-503, the main character of the book. The story revolves around D-503, who is living happily under the iron fist of a dystopian state. He is also the leading engineer/mathematician when it comes to the construction of The Integral, a spaceship to be used to conquer other worlds in the universe. The book, at first, is his attempt to convince the reader (who can either be a regular human being as we think of them or sentient beings in worlds to be conquered) of the virtue of One State and his arguments against freedom, unpredictability, and individuality. To make a long story short, he (hilariously and despite himself) gets caught up with a number of individuals who are attempting to cause an (endless) revolution against their oppressive government.

    The book's execution of prose is unlike anything else I've read. The narrative keeps jumping from thought to thought within a single paragraph, and often, D-503 doesn't bother to finish his ideas, words or stories. This sounds terrible on paper. Yet it works, perfectly so. You never feel gypped and the technique never comes across as lazy. It fits seamlessly with the personality and mannerisms of its hero. The novel makes interesting arguments both for and against freedom and individuality (although, at least for me, the arguments for the latter were more persuasive) and I'd encourage anyone with an interest in these questions + tolerance for challenging art to take a crack at this novel. It's not always a particularly easy read, and sometimes, it can feel quite convoluted, but if you take the time to read and re-read, it becomes a wonderful pleasure. George Orwell is said to have based 1984 on We. Both are masterpieces and I can certainly see the resemblance. But there are distinct differences. Whereas Orwell deals exclusively with Winston Smith's inner rebellion, We also deals with the common man's happiness within the restrictive state, and gives a glimpse into how Winston Smith's fellow citizens may have felt if they were asked to explain their life philosophies. 1984 also deals more with the logistics/practicality of such a state as compared to We, which is almost entirely internal. The mad dash of an ending is also a complete masterpiece, and I felt a rising sensation within me throughout the last chapters. Throughout the entire book, Zamyatin's sense of imagery is second-to-none, and one feels like they should be observed alone, within a completely silent museum. I know that I had other thoughts about the novel, and I jotted them down at the office, but I'm currently at home and will add them on to my review tomorrow since I'll have to go in. But full marks on this one. One of the greatest novels I've ever read.

    --------

    Quick attempt at a list of works that I consider masterpieces, both novels and short stories. No order to them besides the first one.

    Novels

    The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (favorite thing out of anything in humanity)
    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
    Amerika by Franz Kafka
    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig
    Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
    A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
    Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
    Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
    The Fall by Albert Camus
    The Stranger by Albert Camus
    The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
    Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
    Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
    Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
    The Life Before Us by Romain Gary
    We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
    City of Glass by Paul Auster
    1984 by George Orwell
    The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
    The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    I'm already running out of steam, and I know I'm forgetting some. Short stories will be even worse.

    Short Stories

    Goodbye, My Brother
    by John Cheever
    The Nose by Nikolai Gogol
    A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
    A Serious Talk by Raymond Carver
    A Report to an Academy by Franz Kafka
    The Depressed Person by David Foster Wallace
    The Lute by Romain Gary
    In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
    The Artist at Work by Albert Camus

    I know there are more, but I'm doing this quick and off the top of my head and I've got to head out.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2019
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  20. GB

    GB Registered User

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    Great review, I knew you'd love it.

    I've got The Fall next up on my reading list.
     
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  21. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    No doubt. Let us know what you think of The Fall. I'd be highly interested in your take on it.
     
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  22. GB

    GB Registered User

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    Will do. Along with your high regard for it I have The Plague at 5* & The Stranger at 4* so I'm confident it'll be the girst really good book I read this year.
     
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  23. Amerika

    Amerika Lil Ainjil

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    I think it's his best.
     
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  24. stingo

    stingo Registered User

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    Great review. I’m still reading Infinite Jest, but I think We just became the next book I am going to read. Thanks.
     
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  25. Ceremony

    Ceremony ______________

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    I buy books. I feel it reinforces my sense of futility in the world.

    -

    An amount of time ago, I had a conversation with a girl about books. Aside from the before and since unexperienced feeling of bliss I went through immediately afterwards I don't remember many of the details. At least right now as I type I'm trying not to, because I'm that uncomfortable in my own skin and head that it's making me feel very strange.

    One memory I do remember is that she told me she liked Kurt Vonnegut, so at some point (the 16th of May 2017, it can't have been too long after that pointless anecdote) I bought Breakfast of Champions. I read it recently. I feel as if I shouldn't have.

    With no idea what to expect or what sort of writer he is – outside of Slaughterhouse 5 generally being known as something most people from 15-25 read as a class or when they decide they want to know the world by reading a handful of the most popular books of the past century – I went in and... well, I still have no idea. I can't even really describe what the book's about, so I'll try something different focus on what I thought as I was reading it.

    The book is ostensibly 'about' two main characters, Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoover, the things that go on in their head and the things they experience as their paths are pushed towards one another. The dominating feature besides these two is Vonnegut himself who interjects pretty much constantly, sometimes directly, sometimes not. I like the way he gradually becomes a more involved character himself towards the end of the book. I think if I were to read it again knowing what to expect I'd have a greater appreciation of some of the nuances earlier on but for the most part, I sort of get it.

    The main feeling I got from the book however was that I was reading something I wasn't really prepared for in terms of the rest of the writer's work. I know there's a lot of connection between Vonnegut's various writings, and at times here I felt there was an implied familiarity with this on behalf of the reader. Those obviously passed me by. Maybe because of this I often felt like these occasions were a rare foray for me into the world of the literary satirist, which I generally find to be a field populated entirely by people who write as if they think they're much cleverer than they are. Reading more than three sentences of Oscar Wilde makes me want to retch, for instance.

    In this case I was able to sympathise a bit more though, partly due to the aforementioned ignorance, partly out of genuine sympathy for what seemed at times to be a not very disguised writing out of a man's semi-frequent experiences with madness. He talks a lot about wanting to empty his head of all the loose stuff rattling around in it, and the frenetic and jumping yet still conversational style of the novel allows for this pretty well, even if a lot of it is specific to him in a way I can't appreciate.

    Short of reading it again with a glossary or within his entire oeuvre in its right place I'm not sure what more insight I can offer here. I get the feeling I wouldn't really enjoy Vonnegut as one of my favourite ever, or that I'd enjoy it personally other than as a curiosity, but I think I could understand him reasonably well.
     
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