Sunday, September 15, 2013
by Emily Bronte
read: circa 2005
Guardian 1000 Novels
Wuthering Heights is my dad's least favorite book ever. Maybe if I'd read it when I was 15 as required high school reading, I would have felt the same way, but I read it 10 years older than that and really liked it. It's almost perfectly constructed, it's emotionally powerful, and the prose is great once you get used to it being 150+-years-old.
The Wiki page says there's a role-playing game based on the novel, and you can find the rules here: http://unseelie.org/rpg/wh/. I really have nothing to say. I think I've been living my life incorrectly that I've never played this.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Pride and Prejudice
by: Jane Austen
read: circa 2006
Guardian 1000 Novels
When the last remaining suitor proposed to the titular Bachelorette in that show's finale a few weeks ago, she accepted with a breathless "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" This got me thinking about how much I hate that phrase and sent me down an Internet rabbit hole looking for the first known instance of it, the better to direct my hatred towards the correct individual responsible. I didn't find anything conclusive (it's probably related to "A thousand times goodnight" from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), but it was apparently said in the movie version of Pride and Prejudice from 2005. It fortunately does not appear in the novel, which is excellent.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West
Time 100 Novels, Modern Library #73, Guardian 1000 Novels
One of the wonderful things about reading through lists like those linked above is finding hidden gems. I never read Nathanael West in high school or college - in fact, I never heard of him. His short, tragic life - he died in a car crash at 39 - likely provides part of the explanation; with only four novels published, he's maybe not considered as essential as more prolific authors.
I loved "Miss Lonelyhearts," the novella that opens this collection. The letters the protagonist receives are heartbreaking that both his retreat from reality and his co-workers' defensive humor ring true. The absurdity and sad tone reminded me a lot of Wise Blood. And while it's an entertaining story, it's also got deeper levels - the paths Miss Lonelyhearts takes to cope with the horror he sees parallel the paths we take in our search for meaning in modern society.
The Day of the Locust had some similar elements - sadness, absurdity, a parallel between the protagonist's struggle and the challenges of modern life - but is longer and has a more-developed plot. I saw some similarities between Faye Greener and Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly. It also features a character named Homer Simpson, possibly the inspiration for the cartoon character. I didn't like it quite as much as "Miss Lonelyhearts," but both stories show that West is a master author, one that until now flew under the radar for me and perhaps many other readers.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
A lot of themes run through Philip K. Dick's work. Below is something of a reference for his Selected Stories collection:
Dick as horror writer / There is a secret, hidden world happening parallel with our world that we aren't even aware of: "King of the Elves," "Imposter," "Roog," "Adjustment Team," "Upon the Dull Earth," "Precious Artifact," "A Game of Unchance," "Faith of Our Fathers," "Rautavaara's Case"
Characters don't know what reality is: "Imposter," "Precious Artifact," "The Electric Ant," "The Exit Door Leads In," "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon"
Fatalism / Destiny: "The Minority Report," "A Little Something For Us Tempunauts," "Paycheck"
Memory / Manipulation of memory: "Paycheck," "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," "The Electric Ant," "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon"
Humanity creating things (especially robots) that it can no longer control: "Second Variety," "Autofac"
Sunday, September 8, 2013
The Spy Who Loved Me
by Ian Fleming
The Spy Who Loved Me is unique among James Bond novels, written in first-person from the perspective of a young woman thrown into an unfortunate situation - which, of course, Bond rescues her from - with Bond almost a minor character in the story, first appearing more than halfway through. The story of heroine Vivenne Michel is interesting, but suffers from Fleming's misogynistic world view. Viv's best memories and regrets all have to do with her past relationships with men, and she can only be saved emotionally by encountering a Real Man - James Bond, of course - who treats her like a Real Man should. Fleming tried something different here, but it's not as successful as the standard Bond formula.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
by Philip K. Dick
Time 100 Novels
After surviving an explosion, the characters in Philip K. Dick's novel Ubik find themselves dealing with an unknown threat disintegrating them one-by-one, and a world that seems to be crumbling around them. Or maybe they didn't survive the explosion at all? Dick is considered a science fiction writer, but I think he's as much a horror writer. Dick's brand of horror is insidious. Obviously we know there's no Freddy Krueger and there aren't zombies running around. But when Dick asks, "How do you know that reality actually exists and this isn't just in your head?," it's a horrifying sentiment that's more difficult to dismiss.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
The Man In the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick
Guardian 1000 Novels, Hugo Award
Fatalism is a theme that runs through quite a bit of Philip K. Dick's work. "Minority Report" and "A Little Something For Us Tempunauts" are two examples. In the former, the protagonist creates a police branch that can prevent crimes before they happen by foretelling the future, and in the latter time travelers get stuck re-living the same stretch of time over and over. Both situations imply an overarching fate that people are trapped in.
The same device is present in The Man In the High Castle, an alternate-history fiction where the Axis won World War II. Several of the characters employ the I Ching to help guide their actions and predict the success they will have in their ventures. World views are often expressed in terms of inevitability of outcomes; for example, the Germans are described as hastening humanity towards its inevitable destruction. Towards the end, the book almost breaks the fourth wall (through the introduction of a "fictional" book-within-a-book where the Allies won WWII), and the narrative hand of Dick himself adds a level of fatalism over the entire novel.