Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
MrCat

MrCat's (mostly) classical corner

Recommended Posts

Since everyone and their cat has one of these threads, I've decided to make one after half a year spent here since it will be easier to talk about my readings and maybe some might be interested in what I have to mumble about. 

 

The title is classical because I mostly read classics (though that's another topic on its own since I consider Dune and LOTR classics too). 

 

This will also be a good place to keep up with my book challenges and goals. 

 

Goals for next year are :

 

1. Read more classics (duh) 

 

2. Read Ulyssses, Moby Dick and Middlemarch. You know,  books that most people say they've read but haven't

 

3. Read some modern lit for a change. I don't get along very well with modern lit but then again I barely read any. I'm not really in touch with current books or trending authors so that might change in the future. 

 

4. Read more American lit. Faulkner, Kerouac Steinbeck, Vonnegut etc. 

 

5. Re-read some of my fav books/series. I am not sure exactly what to pick, I will just see in time but Jane Eyre, Dune series will probably be read. As well as Virginia Woolf's entire bibliography. 

 

6. Last but not least, attempt to have a go at Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. 

 

Thx for reading and see you around. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I probably should have made this thread after the holidays since I've read very little during this time. I did finish To Kill a Mockingbird however. 

 

I understand why it is a classic and sadly, in some ways it still is relevant today. The first thing that comes up is the writing. Usually when you think of a "classic" novel, you think of hard language, probably sophisticated descriptions and heavy writing. I love Dickens and Virginia Woolf but they are not easy and forgiving authors. Harper Lee is. Sadly not much happens up until half the book is over but it still serves to set the pace for the second half. The action sometimes feel episodic and it takes some time for things to get going but it's all fine once it does. 

 

I've seen people complaining about characters being too one dimensional but that is not really the case. They are all a product of their time and place, from the ever righteous Atticus to Boo and Tom. Even Mayella, the one that condemned Tom to death the second she opened her mouth, is a product of the patriarchal society she lives in. I'd also say that there is a lot of character growth even though it's mostly just evident for Scout and Jem. 

 

There are so many themes and issues in this book that I am surprised all most people ever talk about is racism. Social condition (regardless of colour) and  women's rights and expectations are excellently pointed out in the book. Then again, it's not unusual for a single scene/fragment/idea to take up a book's spotlight *points and Lady Chatterley's Lover*.  

 

Characters are also great and it's great that Harper Lee decided to tell the story through children's eyes. They are so innocent and naive, most of the time having a better understanding of things than the adults do. Indeed it could be argued that they were white and not poor (unlike many of their classmates) but besides Atticus that gets all the praise for them stands one of my now favourite characters in literature: Calpurnia. 

 

Excellent book and definitely  worth its praise. Move aside The Great Gatsby, TKAM is the great American novel. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read To Kill a Mockingbird for English class and liked it a lot at the time.

 

I hope you have a nice reading year in 2017.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Glad you enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird - I agree that the characters have great depth to them, and that's where I feel so many lessons can be learnt from the novel.

 

Also, please give In Search of Lost Time a go. It is a beautiful piece of work which will never leave you. It is definitely worth undertaking, and is the type of novel that needs to be read slowly, one day at a time, so it shouldn't necessarily take up a large part of your reading time.

 

Other than that, I wish a happy new year and hope it is filled with joyous reading.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird when I read it. I have to agree with you about Dickens not being an easy author. I have read a couple of his books fairly recently and they do take effort and dedication. I'd like to read more classics, so will be following your thread with interest.

 

Have a great reading year! :smile:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Beloved by Toni Morrison 

 

I will start writing about books in this format from now on since it's easier to follow and find. 

 

Continuing my adventures through American and modern authors, I stumbled on this little book and by reading it I hit two bottles with one stone. (yes I know it's two birds with one rock but I'd never hurt some poor birdies). 

 

This book was strange to say the least. There are so many things going on, so many characters that you only read about once and then never hear again, so many points of view, so many stories. But I will start from the beginning. The writing is good, not great, difficult at times but once you get used to the language it's easy to keep up. I like how the author kept going from the present, back in time and then back in the present. 

 

The book itself is dark, incoherent and deep. Well, you might take out deep depending on how you feel on the slavery matter. The thing is that by trying to write about so much in so many words, makes it feel pretentious. Yes there is suffering and horror but there is also joy and hope. I feel that people focus too much on the negative stuff in the book (which is nasty as hell) and somewhere along the lines, loose touch with the positive aspects. And that is not all that is missing. Similar to TKAM, Beloved threads a very touchy subject and it seems that is the only subject most people recognize in the book, thus ignoring the language, the internal suffering of every (black) character in the book, Sethe's struggle with her past, not just her present. 

 

I liked how the story was disjointed, quickly jumping from one thing to another. Not many books do this it's a good way of keeping the reader's interest up. 

 

If the writing is good, the story is good, the ideas behind the book are good, why am I not enjoying this as much I had expected? 

 

Well, firstly , like I said before, the subject is touchy so there's an involuntary feeling of being guilty if you do not like it. Kind of like seeing Schindler's List and not liking the movie. You cruel 'person of dubious parentage'! But you see, touchy subjects need to be presented with writing and story and characters and it's in this last part that the book failed for me.  Secondly, none of the characters made a big impact. Sure they all suffered but what else is going on with them? Except the suffering and bad past, what else can I say about them? They do not have anything memorable or distinct thus making them just some random colored people that suffered from the abomination called slavery. It reminded my in some ways of Life of Pi, where the author tried to insert a lot of symbolism and metaphors that in the end just felt pretentious and without substance. 

 

With a little more focus on just few things, with a little more character development, this book could have been amazing. As it is, it's just average. Sadly, I feel that a lot of potential was wasted here.

Edited by MrCat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

 

This was my first Faulkner novel and I have to say I was quite impressed. Faulkner is also one of those authors that has a "hard to read and understand" tag but just like Dostoyevsky, that was simply not the case for me. However, in Faulkner's case, the writing and language had a purpose and I will get to that now. I feel very inadequate to write about this book since I am sure there is a lot of stuff that I am missing but I will do my best to do it justice. 

 

The story is quite linear and simple but that is not the thing that sticks out in this book. The characters are what give the book substance and each in their own way contributes to the novel. 

 

The story is about a family that's strolling around the countryside in order to bury their dead wife and mother. It is told in turn by each family member and this is where Faulkner's writing truly shines. Sadly, this is where he loses most points because of the constant confusion he creates. The story is written in a very southern vocabulary and even after two books in the setting, I was still not used to the language. Errors are all over the place and there's always a letter missing or a verb messed up and this can make the reading very tedious. Once you do get past that though, it's really good. Every character sees Addie's (the mother/wife) death differently and they each cope with it in different ways. Faulkner uses this in an excellent manner, changing the language and view with each person. In this sense it reminded me of James Joyce's Dubliners where every short story is told by a different person. 

 

This is a book about character development first and foremost so do not expect a sophisticated plot. The characters are simple, uneducated and poor peasants and they would not make interesting characters at first glance in any novel. Yet Faulkner's brilliance lies in his ability to give them each personality, interior and exterior struggles , personal issues, all united under the same event, Addie's death. The mood changes from funny to depressing and the author captured this perfectly with his style of writing. 

 

Yes the book might be hard, yes it might be confusing at times, yes maybe it is just classic Faulkner but it is very much worth reading. 

 

4/5 stars from me and my interest for the author just went through the roof. 

Edited by MrCat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you. I think this book is certainly not ment for everyone, I wouldn't exactly call it a "must read", unlike... To Kill A Mockingbird. But it does offer excellent writing and characters so it might be the right read for someone looking for those things in a book. 

Edited by MrCat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not the kind of book I'm interested in, but I enjoyed reading your review :).

 

Rather the opposite for me - sounds right up my street, especially when Mr Cat says "This is a book about character development first and foremost so do not expect a sophisticated plot."  Plots are fine in their places, but all too often overrated in importance.  Mr Cat's review reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf.......and she's one of my favourite authors!  As I Lay Dying is on my US States challenge, so is for me a must-read. Thank you for an interesting review.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm all for character development over plot as well. As I Lay Dying very much on the list.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Character development over plot was not the reason I said it didn't sound like my kind of read. I've liked other books that focused more on the character development than the plot. It's more that I don't get on well with books written in earlier time periods, particularly if they're not in my first language. There's just something about the writing (in English) from earlier times, that I find hard to read (and perhaps reminds me of high school). There are exceptions, I have liked some books that were written in earlier time periods (like Jane Eyre), but I don't read that many of them and I don't really buy them anymore. It's a personal thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 

 

     The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s autobiography, dark, honest and surprisingly not as feminist as most reviewers claim it is. Her alter-ego, Esther, describes her internship in New York at a popular magazine, her dreams and aspirations and then somehow everything manages to crumble down. I am not exactly sure how much of the book actually coincides with her real life but it’s a sad story even if a quarter of it was true.

 

     I said earlier that the book is not as feminist as most people claim and I know that raised some eyebrows so let me clarify certain things. The reader finds out very early in the book about Esther’s situation in NY, her age, thinking and the fact that “I was supposed to be having the time of my life”. Society throws expectations at us from a very early age and that mixed with every young person’s sense of invincibility and an “I can do everything my life” attitude, puts a lot of pressure on the individual. Notice I said the individual and not the woman. Every person is subjected to this at some point in life and while I’d assume that women are most affected by this, I would not count out men. Of course there are some feminist ideas thrown here and there about women’s dependency or independence of men, childbirth and marriage but they are treated from a very one dimensional point of view. You can’t compare childbirth with anything and can’t understand it properly as a man but fathers are just as well involved in the child’s birth, they also have hopes and fears, just like the mother. Esther also often contradicts herself in the book and given the circumstances I found this to be totally acceptable.

 

     I could say that in some ways Sylvia’s book speaks to the read on a personal level. We’ve all been young and with more or less similar problems at some point and maybe that’s why so many people like the book and resonate with it so much. Beyond the gender, the norms, the fears, the expectations, every person has had similar struggles at one point in life and every person can identify with Esther’s struggles. It’s very misleading to call the book feminist when it appeals so a much wider audience.

 

     The narrative is very straightforward and the writing wasn’t anything special. Everything in the book feels and is very dated, especially since she mentions the Rosenbergs in the first sentence but the themes in it are universal and timeless. I have not read any of her poems but this book got me interested and maybe I will pay them a visit soon. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

 

This is one of those "The movie was better than the book" books and yes of course I am going to mention the movie so fast. Do you like the movie? Do you like Audrey Hepburn? If the answer to these questions is yes, then feel free to skip the book. In fact, you might feel free to skip the book anyway, unless you are a fan of Capote's works or want to rush through some reading challenge. But let's start with the good bits. 

 

Capote's Holly is quirky, funny, lonely, fashionable and overall a person you'd never feel bored around. She's an excellent character that reinvented herself based on what people around her wanted. By the end of the novel I wasn't exactly sure how Holly really was and if she was ever honest to anyone. Capote gave her a plethora of attributes, both interior and exterior, and just toyed with them, putting each forward depending on the occasion. The book is quite feminist at times and I am sure it must have caused some muttering at the time. Holly is a prostitute but a classy one. She only hangs out with rich and important people and she's only 18. There is a particular fragment in the book where she talks about gay marriage and love and for an 18 year old, I have to say Capote sure gave her some wits. 

 

As much as Capote invested in Holly, the rest of the characters were left out and did not get the same treatment. Nameless narrator, Mag, Joe Bell they all fall in the same pot even though some do get more attention than others in the book. And as much as Capote gave Holly her own unique personality compared to the shallowness of the others, at times she is still a silly eighteen year old girl. She suffers from the first world problem syndrome too often and it's hard to take seriously her more mature feelings and opinions at times. 

 

The book has many excellent quotes and one liners but most of it is "filler". Kind of like when you are watching a TV show and you see one important episode, then 15 filler ones just to make the time pass and then another episode relevant to the story. There's not much happening and almost nothing interesting that does happen have a purpose. 

 

These being said, I rate the book 2/5 or skippable/5. 

Edited by MrCat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

 

I will start my writing with a small nod to  John Green's open letter sections from Crash Course: "An open letter to Virgina Woolf. Dear Virginia Woolf, I love your works. You are truly the queen of excellent prose matched probably only by Jane Austen. Your novels might sometimes be hard to read, I even have to re-read certain passages and  my brain struggles as it is put to the test in order to grasp your writing. Sometimes it just goes over my head. But to quote a character from this book: What does the brain matter, compared with the heart? Best wishes, a random reader" 

 

Reading Mrs Dalloway is like... Well you know what? Screw it. I'm not even going to try and compare it, because I would not do it justice. Instead of insisting on fancy words like modernism or stream of consciousness I'll just say that reading Mrs Dalloway feels like you are in a crowded street, where everyone goes left and right constantly and you can hear their thoughts and know their inner secrets all the time. Mrs Dalloway isn't necessarily about the central character with the same name, or any character for that matter. It is about moments in life, moments that we all have and share with others, moments that the author analyzes and reflects upon in such depth that one might think Woolf personally knows each and every member of our species. 

 

There are nods in the book regarding social condition, feminism (what's up with me and this subject?), effects of the war on society and even civilians that did not actively participate in it. However I feel that Woolf's writing was directed towards the characters with probably  some of the most beautiful prose ever written. Each character (even the ones that don't appear very much in the book) is sliced in pieces so the reader can explore his most inner feelings and thoughts. 

 

One noticeable thing that I especially liked about this book (and to a certain extent it reminded me of Joyce's Dubliners) is how ordinary the characters and situations are. There's no hero with extraordinary qualities that performs extraordinary feats, we just read about ordinary people with ordinary lives. Yet, similar to Faulkner's characters in As I Lay Dying, Virginia Woolf gives them more meaning by showing off their inner struggles and beauty. She shows us that even ordinary people can be great, think great and have deep feelings. 

 

Final verdict: 5/5 and definitely a book that is worth reading.  

Edited by MrCat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was also not very impressed by Breakfast at Tiffany's (the book) and didn't enjoy it that much. I haven't watched the movie yet, but I plan to some day. It's good to know it's better than the book in your opinion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Can only agree with you about Virginia Woolf. I discovered her for myself about five years ago, and have feasted on her books since. I'm now starting on her essays. Mrs Dalloway is one of my favourites, alongside To The Lighthouse, The Years, and Between the Acts, but there's not one I don't love, aside from, perhaps, Flush - which I will have to reread to make my mind up once and for all.

Talking of books and films (as with Breakast at Tiffany's), have you seen the film of The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham's book? Strongly linked to Mrs Dalloway, it is (IMO) superb. The film of Mrs Dalloway itself is also good, but for me lacks the depth and richness of the original - not surprisingly given the insight that Woolf's writing provides.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was also not very impressed by Breakfast at Tiffany's (the book) and didn't enjoy it that much. I haven't watched the movie yet, but I plan to some day. It's good to know it's better than the book in your opinion.

 

The movie was with Audrey Hepburn and that's what made the movie excellent in the first place. Her acting, her persona, how she looked in the now iconic black dress at the start of the movie, all made the movie great. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the role (Holly in the book is blonde too) and he was very unpleased with Audrey but I'm sure the entire world thanked the producers for their choice. 

 

 

Can only agree with you about Virginia Woolf. I discovered her for myself about five years ago, and have feasted on her books since. I'm now starting on her essays. Mrs Dalloway is one of my favourites, alongside To The Lighthouse, The Years, and Between the Acts, but there's not one I don't love, aside from, perhaps, Flush - which I will have to reread to make my mind up once and for all.

 

Talking of books and films (as with Breakast at Tiffany's), have you seen the film of The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham's book? Strongly linked to Mrs Dalloway, it is (IMO) superb. The film of Mrs Dalloway itself is also good, but for me lacks the depth and richness of the original - not surprisingly given the insight that Woolf's writing provides.

 

No, I have not seen the movie. I have heard about it though and I will keep an eye out for it. I 

 

From Viginia's works, I have to say that I like all of them but Mrs Dalloway and Orlando would be my favourite if I'd have to pick. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Coming back to my old thread after several months. Life tends to get in the way on things but I have been back on track with my health so reading is back to normal. I read just a few books these past months but some were excellent so all was not lost. 

 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

 

After my previous experience with Mr. Capote's work, I was rather reluctant to get back into his writing but since I already had the book on my shelf I decided to give him another try and I am glad I did. I usually do not read crime books (unless we are counting Agatha Christie) because I am not really a fan of the genre but after reading Capote's book, I might have a change of heart. 

 

The story is written in a very novelist style and Capote's writing really shines here. It probably inspired future genre writers and it certainly captured readers through the decades. At times it feels like a biography and the distant voice that narrates the story sometimes gets to be either very detached or very personal to the characters. The pacing is great even though I'd make a case against the beginning where things tend to drag on a bit too much. Of course this servers as introduction to the Clutter family and the author's writing make them feel very real but I sometimes felt that he spent a little too much time time on them. Nevertheless, the story eventually moves on and that's when the things start moving on. The story starts moving faster and faster, keeping the readier in suspense while at the same time revealing its characters. The villains (though Capote doesn't actually call them like this and in fact leaves much to debate over certain aspects like judgement or capital punishment) make for very good characters studies and it;s mostly because of them that I kept reading the book. 

 

I've been giving the book some praise but there are still things that didn't tick for me. 

 

For once, modern society is very desensitized from crimes because unlike the 60s, we hear about them more often, not only on the news, but in movies and TV shows too. Now of course this does not undermine the events or the story every much in its own way, but things that were shocking and scandalous 50 years ago do not quite have the same impact today. Remember, there was a time when Lady Chatterley's Lover was shocking. I am not well read in modern crime books to make a good comparison (I will eventually read The GIrl on the Train) but I am guessing that modern books have subjects that feel closer to the reader. I often felt that Capote's only reason for taking the side of the murderers is purely for shock value. 

 

At the end of the day, I am somewhere in between when rating this book. Yes the writing was good and so were the two murderers but everything else was negligible. The insight offered inside their minds is good but the connection the reader should make with the events and the people's actions and thinking are not there. 

 

I'll give it 3/5 since it was better than the other Capote book I read but still not enough to make it memorable. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

 

Continuing my journey through American literature (and modern literature by my standards) I stumbled up Kerouac's book. Before reading it I did a little research into The Beats generation to have at least a general picture of them and their ideas. I have not read any other work from members of that generation so my judgments are made based on this book alone. These were pre-hippies if I can say so but I personally liked the actual hippies more.

 

When reading a book related to not only a person, but to an idea or a generation, I feel that it is important to zoom out and look outside the book as well. Elements related to  the Beat culture were among other things, sexual liberation, rejection of materialism, drugs and the human condition. These are shown in Kerouac's book too but they way they are shown leaves much to be desired. 

 

The action takes places in America in the 50s and we see it through the eyes and Sal Paradise, a professional bum. Together with other bums, including the number one bum, Dean Moriarty, they travel across the country for no reason and we are given insight into their lives filled with drugs, alcohol, jazz and women. Fascinating, right? Well, not really. Above all these flies Kerouac's impression on white male superiority, homophobia and sexism, all wrapped up in bad writing. I'm not all crazy for political correctness everywhere or modern feminism but even for someone living in the 50s, there has to be a limit. Every woman in this book is there just to fill up blanks. They never have proper attributes or contributions, they just roll along with the men.  And instead of complaining about racism, I will just leave you with a quote: 

 

"There was an old Negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same God-blessed patience their grandfathers had practiced in ante-bellum Alabama."

 

Yes, that is an actual line from the book. 

 

I kept reading this book on an on hoping to find some saving grace, some merit to it but it was all in vain. Everything was bad, from the action, to the ideas, to the characters and writing. However my biggest disappointment goes beyond the book. This is supposed to be representative of the Beats generation and it just shows how little contribution (if any) there was from them. Miles Davis didn't want to be associated with them anymore either at some point.  There;s no comparison with the Beats and some actual important movements, like The Lost Generation. 

 

0/5. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Middlemarch by George Elliot

 

What happens when you combine Jane Austen with  Virginia Woolf? You get a book like Middlemarch. No wonder Virginia Woolf liked the book, I can see why.  Let me put it this way: from all the literature I've read so far, nobody describes life and society better than George Elliot. Literature especially from the 19th century is filled with books that have lots of characters with personal arcs and connection, from Jane Austen, to Tolstoy, Victor Hugo or Gustave Flaubert but none of them capture their lives like George Elliot. Everything in this books happens so naturally and there is so much attention given to detail that nothing is out of place. 

 

The book goes beyond its characters and explores other themes like politics, social class, feminism and marriage, all tied up in excellent writing. I wish modern authors would write so passionately about things they care in our times but now you can't kick a pebble without someone feeling offended. Elliot wrote about what she was against about, from social conventions to marriage and happy endings. I'd say that she makes her points even better than Jane Austen because she tackles many subjects in a more profound way. 

 

There are certain things that I often see mentioned when people complain about the book and the most common complaint is it's length. Indeed it does take a while for it to get going and those connections and tied ends that I mentioned earlier do take some time to get to but in the end it is all worth it. The complexities of human life described by Elliot, probably made even Virginia Woolf jealous. There are also tons of references in the book and while I enjoyed taking an occasional break to check out something I did now know, many readers might get annoyed by this. Elliot talk about Milton and Shakespeare like they are some acquaintances and treats their work like they are common knowledge. 

 

I understand now why in so many places it is mentioned as being THE Victorian novel.  I strongly recommend this books to everyone even if they are not particular interested in 19th century literature. Also, as with most Victorian novels depicting society, it is good to have a little background on the period. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read In Cold Blood for English class in high school, and I liked it at the time. I read more crime books though when I was a teenager, than I do now, I'm less into that kind of thing now, for some reason.

 

Shame On the Road was such a disappointing read for you. I haven't read it and don't know much about it, but I don't think I'll ever be reading it as it doesn't sound like my sort of thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×