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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

LibraryThing Meme: Top 106 Unread Books

LibraryThing users unscientifically calculated the top 106 books that users own, but haven't yet read. The data was based on the user-defined tag "unread". How many have you read?

So, here's the game: Bold what you have read (because this is hard to see, I'm going to underline as well); italicize those books you’ve started but couldn’t finish; asterisk those you own, but haven’t read. Below are my results.

Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
*One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
*The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
*The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
*Madame Bovary
*The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
*War and Peace
*Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
*The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
*Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
*Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
*The Canterbury tales
The Historian
*A portrait of the artist as a young man
*Love in the time of cholera
Brave new world
*The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
*The Count of Monte Cristo
*A clockwork orange
*Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons

*The Inferno
*The Satanic Verses
Sense and sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
*Tess of the D’Urbervilles
*Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
*Les misérables
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

*The Prince
*The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
A confederacy of dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The unbearable lightness of being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
*The mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
*Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
*Cloud Atlas
*The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
*On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
*Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
*The Aeneid
Watership Down
*Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White teeth
*Treasure Island
David Copperfield
*The Three Musketeers

My final stats:
61 Read
40 Owned but unread
5 Neither owned nor read

One observation: this is a great reading list. A lot of classics, and a lot of great contemporary stuff too. I didn't love, love, love everyone of these books that I'd read, but I couldn't find any that I hated. (Though Joyce, had I ever given him a shot, might have qualified.) So, dig in.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Book Review: "The Enchantress of Florence" by Salman Rushdie

This was my first Salman Rushdie book, and BOY, has it been difficult to neatly summarize for a review! I’ve sat down countless times over the past couple weeks and just frozen up. So, please forgive the eclectic nature of my review.

On one level, “The Enchantress of Florence” is a historical novel with wonderful information about 16th Century Hindustan (India) and Florence, Italy. On another level, there is the story itself, chock full of characters and their back-stories, and those characters’ respective adventures. This layered story interweaves, back and forth across time and place. On still another level, this a platform for a fictionalized Akbar the Great to ponder the deep questions of humanity: a politically powerful man portrayed as being on the cusp of intellectual greatness as well.

There are a great many themes and juxtapositions in this book. Here are a few:
The confluence of differing histories, philosophies and belief systems (e.g. between East and West);
Power: political power versus the power of belief;
The power of belief as a political/historical force: if you believe in something strongly enough, it has the force of reality; it is self-determining; especially in the realm of politics;
Force and prudence: one of the characters of this book is a fictional Niccolo Machiavelli, who in real history wrote philosophical treatises on political power, particularly espousing the idea of a balance of force versus prudence to successfully rule. The upshot is the employment of this idea: “the ends justifying the means”;
Legend versus history: e.g. “magical realism”; also: what really happened way back when?; can we ever truly know?;
Women: what kind of power do women have in a patriarchal culture, or any culture, for that matter? Sexual? Intellectual? What do men really want from women? Loyal wife? Plaything? Intellectual equal?;
Who creates whom? Do we create ourselves, or are we created by others? What factors play into those things?

“The Enchantress of Florence” is very like a huge colorful tapestry: look in the upper right corner and there is a story of ancient Hindustan. Look: bottom left, a picture of 16th Century Florence. Look: there is Akbar the Great… And over there, Niccolo Machiavelli. That one female figure hiding behind a column, sometimes clearly seen, other times faded, seems to be saying something. The women in this tapestry, all of them at its center: so many of them are indescribably beautiful. All the male heads woven ito this picture, from the great of leaders, to the lowliest of servants, are all turned towards them. Looking at this tapestry, it’s hard at times to know what is real and what isn’t. There are strange workings just under the surface; unexplainable phenomena. In the end, is it just a story? My eyes wander all over this tapestry; there is a lot to see here.

Akbar’s complex characterization carries the story. He is characterized as a man who, in his kingdom, tries to reconcile all men, regardless of religion or status. He entertains the incredible idea that discord and difference might actually be a force for good, rather than ill; an idea that coming from a king is very unusual. In one scene he is slicing up a foe, in the next he is contemplating deep things. One moment he questions his identity as a god-like ruler; later in the book he wonders about women, imagining into being his “perfect” woman. This he does at the expense of interest in his “real” wives. Later he is awakened to an undeniable and disturbing allure of an unconventional, self-determinate woman. Akbar’s mind cannot be boxed; he is standing on an isthmus between ignorance and enlightenment. Ultimately, however, he realizes that his philosophy is as temporary as life itself: alive only as long as he is.

In its scale (though not in length) “The Enchantress of Florence” is reminiscent of “Don Quixote” or “The Brothers Karamazov”. It is unusual for me to read a modern novel that is irreverent with timeline and theme. But like those earlier masterworks, this is a welcome part of the journey. A book with so many layers is one that keeps its reader thinking about it long after the last word is processed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Imagine Me and You" by Billy Mernit

Billy Mernit’s successfully leverages his career as a romantic comedy writer and teacher in his first novel, the engaging and funny “Imagine Me and You”.

The novel’s protagonist, Jordan Moore, is a struggling “rom-com” (romantic comedy) screen writer in Los Angeles whose script is being courted by a very “now” filmmaker. This should be a good thing, but Jordan’s marriage to his adored Italian wife, Isabella, is in grave danger. Because of his wife’s departure back to Italy, Jordan finds himself blocked in his ability to work on his script, thus endangering his movie deal as well. He is a man both cornered and desperate, about to lose everything that matters to him. What transpires is magical and unexpected: an imaginary mistress who becomes real, changing Jordan’s life in unimaginable ways.

Throughout “Imagine Me and You”, Mernit also leverages the typical rom-com storyline. In a satisfying hodge-podge of the expected plot rom-com twists and turns, Mernit makes sure that his romance-writing protagonist notices his own life plotting the course of a typical romantic comedy, making fun of both the genre and himself. The story reads as cleanly as if it were a movie. This book was fun to read, much like watching a movie in my head; I found myself utterly losing track of time.

Jordan’s journey of self-actualization was particularly engaging to me. The process of more deeply understanding one’s individuality is often painful and tedious. Middle age seems to be the common time to seek answers to “deeper” questions about identity and purpose. In journeying with Jordan, I found myself wondering if I am living a life true to myself. Mernit balances both levity with profundity, but not so much of either that the story loses its momentum.

All that said, the main characters were a little flat and not especially sympathetic (his minor characters flesh out more strongly), but the dialogue is good: witty and smart and real.

My only real criticism of this book is this: when the story begins, Jordan’s wife has only been gone two weeks. Most of the story’s tension is built around this agonizing two week separation. Truthfully, this just falls flat with me. Two weeks is way too short a period of time to convince me of the extent of desperation that Jordan feels. If the story had started with Isabella already having been gone two months, all the other resulting action and emotion would be more proportionate.

Given the breezy, warm, southern Californian setting of this novel, “Imagine Me and You” may just be the perfect summer read.

Monday, April 07, 2008

First Quarter Reads

Currently reading:

The following are the books I read the first three months of 2008.


#1 "The Year of Living Biblically" by A.J. Jacobs*
#2 "Born Standing Up" by Steve Martin
#3 "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving*
#4 "Two for the Dough" by Janet Evanovich
#5 "Talking Hands" by Margalit Fox
#6 "Empress of Asia" by Adam Lewis Schroeder
#7 "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznik
#8 "Disappearance: A Map" by Sheila Nickerson
#9 "Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill
#10 "On Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwan*

#11 "The Chess Machine" by Robert Lohr
#12 "The Dead Fathers Club" by Matt Haig
#13 "Danny Gospel" by David Athey
#14 "Take This Bread" by Sara Miles*
#15 "The Translator" by Daoud Hari*
#16 "Patrick" by Stephen Lawhead

#17 "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks*
#18 "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" by Jeff Kinney
#19 "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" by Jeff Kinney
#20 "Nine Parts of Desire" by Geraldine Brooks*
#21 "Wrack and Ruin" by Don Lee
#22 "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory
#23 "I, Elizabeth" by Rosalind Miles*

The only book of the above that I truly didn't like was "Danny Gospel". It was an Advanced Readers edition for LibraryThing. The books I marked with an asterisk (*) are those that I would highly recommend, though for different reasons.

Right now I'm working on Robert Rankin's "The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse". It's very funny and entertaining and a good break between ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy; I just finished the new Salman Rushdie this morning (EXCELLENT!), and then got my next ARC this afternoon shortly after starting "Hollow Chocolate Bunnies").

Rankin isn't well-known in the U.S.; he reminds me of Christopher Moore, Jasper Fforde, and Terry Prachett. He's worth looking into. As if you couldn't gauge from the title, he's a bit of a humorist.

If you have any specific questions about why I liked what I did, don't hesitate to ask.

Okay, so that's enough of a post for now. Back to reading.


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