2012年4月17日 星期二

R & R

The post before this one, Treasure Island, represents the last of my books for the time being.  I now feel a need to rest from reading, so there will be no more entries here for a while.  Thanks to those (few) people that have been reading this.  I will be writing my other two blogs until June or so, and you are welcome to peruse those at your leisure.

Best 5 Books Read This Semester:

1. "Now Wait for Last Year" by Philip K. Dick
2. "American Tabloid" by James Ellroy
3. "Journey Without Maps" by Graham Greene
4. "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
5. "Lies, Inc." by Philip K. Dick

 3 Books to Avoid

1. "The 120 Days of Sodom" by the Marquis de Sade
2. "The Dosadi Experiment" by Frank Herbert
3. "Whit" by Iain Banks

"Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure Island was first published in 1883.  It was the first full-length novel that Stevenson wrote, and preceded The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by three years.

In a small English village, Jim Hawkins helps his mother run an inn.  One day a pirate by the name of Bill takes on lodgings in this inn, and after Bill's untimely demise young Hawkins discovers a treasure map among his belongings.  Hawkins and his two guardians then fit out a ship to search for the treasure, though subsequent events reveal mutinous intentions within their hired crew.

Treasure Island is a good, easy read, and has captivated children for generations.  It's not as deep as Stevenson's Strange Case, but it's concise, well-paced, and never grows boring.

2012年4月15日 星期日

"The 120 Days of Sodom and Other Stories" by the Marquis de Sade

"And now Durcet, whom the story had inflamed, like the old priest was moved to suck some asshole or other, but would not have a girl's.  He called for Hyacinthe, who of them all pleased him the most.  He placed the little chap, kissed his ass, frigged his prick and sucked it."

The Marquis de Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom in 1785, while he was imprisoned in the Bastille.  Many critics call it his masterpiece, though one wonders how any book that revolves almost exclusively around rape, torture, and milder forms of sexual perversion can be called a masterpiece.

I will probably come off sounding like a prude when I say that.  Nevertheless, as a work of fiction, and as a work of dramatic value, I found The 120 Days of Sodom to be one of the most boring things I have ever read.  It is little more than a catalog of debaucheries, whose orgiastic finale involves the brutal murders of several young children by psychopathic French aristocrats.

To make matters worse, it's a really long book, and I was only able to get through about half of it.  After finishing this first half, I realized that life is really, really short, and I would rather not spend another minute reading detailed descriptions of sodomy, incest, and whatever else the Marquis thought would shock readers of his time.

As a work of historical importance, The 120 Days of Sodom might be worth a glance.  But only a glance.  Reading any of the chapters at random would be enough.  It says a lot about the France of the Marquis's time, and anyone interested in the ongoing debates concerning the definition of the word pornography would do well to cultivate an acquaintance with this book.  As a story, however, it fails.

Included in this collection was another story, Florville and Courval, which I enjoyed quite a bit.  It shows a softer side of the Marquis, before he decided to follow his prick into infamy.

Despite what many of his critics alleged, the Marquis was a good writer.  I just wish he had used his ingenuity in other ways.  Whereas something like Fanny Hill could be considered a passing amusement, and American Psycho could be assigned a greater meaning, no one is going to get much out of this novel.  It is, instead, something like a black hole, liable to pull readers deeper into their own fixations.

With the above said, I now consign the Marquis to my bookshelf, where The 120 Days of Sodom is likely to remain, unread, for some time.  The curious will of course seek out this novel, but for the less-than-curious the above quote is, I hope, enough.

2012年4月14日 星期六

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

"When the pirate Sir Francis Drake attacked Riohacha in the sixteenth century, Ursula Iguaran's great-great-grandmother became so frightened with the ringing of alarm bells and the firing of cannons that she lost control of her nerves and sat down on a lighted stove.  The burns changed her into a useless wife for the rest of her days.  She could only sit on one side, cushioned by pillows, and something strange must have happened to her way of walking, for she never walked again in public.  She gave up all kinds of social activity, obsessed with the notion that her body gave off a singed odor.  Dawn would find her in the courtyard, for she did not dare fall asleep lest she dream of the English and their ferocious attack dogs as they came through the windows of her bedroom to submit her to shameful tortures with their red-hot irons.  Her husband, an Aragonese merchant by whom she had two children, spent half the value of his store on medicines and pastimes in an attempt to alleviate her terror.  Finally he sold the business and took the family to live far from the sea in a settlement of peaceful Indians located in the foothills, where he built his wife a bedroom without windows so that the pirates of her dream would have no way to get in."

This book was first published as Cien Anos de Soledad in 1967.  The English version was translated by Gregory Rabassa and published as One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1970.  The author, a Columbian, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

One Hundred Years of Solitude follows the rise and fall of Macondo, a mythical town somewhere in South America.  The novel details the immigration of several characters from a town in the west, and closes with the final days of this once-beautiful town by the river.  Throughout this narrative the Buendia family is center stage, beginning with Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife, Ursula, and ending with both Ursula, who lives well past a hundred years, and Jose Arcadio's grandchildren.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is strongly reminiscent of Conrad's novel, Nostromo, and I would be surprised if Marquez had not read it.  I know that Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine author, was strongly influenced by this book, and both Borges and Marquez seem to be taking Conrad's older works in new directions.  Both Marquez's and Borges's stories have a lyrical, hallucinatory quality that Conrad lacked, and while Borges may have been more interested in Escheresque, labyrinthine plot devices, both authors display a love of lonely towns and convoluted sentence structures.  While some of this convolution may originate in the difference between English and Spanish grammar, I would be surprised if there were not similarities that didn't transcend the common language of both authors.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is an incredible book, and moreover a book that should be read slowly.  There are so many fine details in this novel, and it was so well though-out, and the whole thing feels so epic, that I am tempted to compare it to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  No, there aren't any dragons or orcs in this novel, but the fantastic elements are equally surprising.

2012年4月5日 星期四

"Just So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling

The Just So Stories were written in 1902, just after Kipling completed Kim, a book that many consider to be his masterwork.

There's not much to say about it really.  It's a lot like Aesop's Fables.  It is a mixture of poetry and prose.  It was written for children.  It's really short.  One of the stories explains how the leopard got his spots, another explains how the elephant got his long nose, and another explains how kangaroo got his long legs.

It's mildly amusing, but I don't think most kids would get it.  Adults might enjoy some of Kipling's wordplay, but that's about it.

"The Dosadi Experiment" by Frank Herbert

The Dosadi Experiment was first published in 1978.  It is the second book (and the third story) in Herbert's ConSentiency series.  It is also the sequel to the book Whipping Star, also reviewed here.

The Dosadi Experiment is a terrible book, and is one of the worst things that Frank Herbert ever wrote.  The plot is a mess, the characters are wooden and uninteresting (even for Herbert), and none of the ideas in this book are carried through to their logical conclusions.  It is a book full of annoying aphorisms that might make sense if you were really, really stoned, and dramatic tension is almost entirely absent from this novel.

Apparently a frog-like race, the Gowachin, have created a large-scale social experiment on the planet Dosadi, involving both humans and Gowachins transplanted to the surface of that planet.  Following his discovery of this "Dosadi Experiment" an agent of the Bureau of Sabotage (or BuSab, for short) journeys to Dosadi, where he makes a universe-shattering discovery.

The only trouble with all of this is that BuSab's functions are never clear, the "threat" embodied in Dosadi is likewise unclear, and the "court scene" which concludes this book makes about as much sense as the court scene which concluded Whipping Star.

There's much better sci-fi out there, and there are much better books by Frank Herbert.