Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Readings

I have been inactive on the blog for a long spell now. Part of it was boredom, part laziness. Have not been doing much in the last few days except for a couple of trips here and there, the latest one being Nepal, which was quite remarkable even though very different from what I was expecting. In the last couple of days have also been remarkably busy with my new iphone, which has kept me jumping and busy. (Oh it is the coolest device to have ever come out!). It is on this new lease of life that my enthusiasm has returned and I am back to blogging.

Amidst all this activity, have managed to read a few books that I found quite interesting and others which were really the greatest contributor to my ennui. Some from my reading list:

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin: It is a story of homosexual love, but more than that, is a truly artful narration of guilt, selfishness and the absolute freedom of being in a foreign land. I loved the language and the frankness of the writer, his ability to draw the perceptive feel of Paris which is both dear and alien to the narrator. Even in the few pages of it, you feel the darkness and sourness of Giovanni's room - which lives with you for sometime.

Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan: Both Giovanni's room and Bonjour Tristesse are part of the Great Love series by Penguin, which seems like a very promising series - though equally elusive, since I have been unable to find the remaining books, except Seducer's diary which for some vague reason I have not been inclined to pick up. Anyways, I quite liked this slim novel, again for its clarity, frankness and captivating depiction of the life of hedonistic boredom. I was unable to quite see the parts in it that shocked France. Most likely it was the youth of the writer, combined with the surprising clarity with which she deals with the vanity of her age. But still shock is too strong an emotion for a country that I associated with hedonism.

Dead Souls by Gogol: This is part of my Russian Literature education series :) I don't think Russian literature can even begin to emerge without the reading of this book, which was just brilliant. I haven't read Pushkin, and this is the oldest I have ventured in the genre, but I can already see in this book the formation of the unique narrative style of Russian masters, which is not found in any other literature. They talk you through the characters and the story, never themselves vanishing from the work or working behind the curtains. Dead souls is very critical of the Russian and Russia, and is also replete with a characteristic humor. I totally loved it, especially the first part. In the second part, the script gaps were a little disconcerting, but it was easy to see where the story was going. I think I should regress to Pushkin now - specially since Gogol was so enamored with him.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: This is another great classic. I had started it two years ago and left it mid-way, and now on reading it again, am quite unsure as to why I did that. It is certainly engrossing. Even though it is a tale of misery, and reminded me terribly of 'How green was my valley' (Incidentally Ford has made very good adaptations of both works), I liked it for its transient nature and mobility. In every moment of reading it I felt the sense of impending doom, so much so that when the doom did come, I was left a bit unsatisfied with its stature. Despite all the despair in the story and the lives of the Joad family, there is a ring of resilience and stubborn hope which keeps the work alive.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth: I think I am quite sick of the American song and its much emphasized much hyphenated dream. As if Hollywood has not given this abhorrent self-love and self-glory enough stage, there are writers like Mr. Roth who want to underline it again. I hated the drama and the filmy story. The characters were inconsistent, and Roth did not quite know if he wanted to make this into a tear-jerking soap or a serious novel. Anyways he hung in between and managed to annoy me quite substantially. I was disappointed because this book was in the Critics list of Modern library, and I had not had yet come across complete disasters from that list. There is always a first time.

The Gathering by Anne Enright: I think the Booker has gone overboard in rewarding the absurd this year. I simply hated it - so much self-love and drama that is fit only for the room of a therapist. It is from works like these that you can learn how to make the most ordinary childhoods abused and the most normal families dysfunctional. Going by this yardstick, every person I know is likely to end down a river. The language was good - but what are good words placed in a poor context?

I am also reading Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain off an on. It is slightly of the style of Sebald's Rings of Saturn and Chatwin's In Patagonia. I am taking it very slow, because it is quiet and lazy, and relates Xingjian's travels through the mountains and villages in search of the mountain of soul.Unlike the other two who travel alone and meet ghosts and people, Xingjian has created his own companions - a 'you' and a 'she', sometimes a 'he' joins them too on their long journey, and the effect is interesting. A lone traveler can only have thoughts, but a traveler with companions can tell stories, pose questions, delve into memories, relate to the places, tease, dramatize and make the place come alive.


4 comments:

Alok said...

pleasure trips, iphone... hmmm good solutions for the ennui problem... :)

That Penguin love series looks really wonderful though i wish they would make available the whole books rather than sections from them. Stendhal's book "On Love" is pretty funny and undeservedly obscure. It has not just "cures" but also classifications or types of love, stages of love and other things... all in a tongue in cheek style. He was himself suffering from problems related to unrequited love when he wrote it. But I guess something is better than nothing. It is not easy to find that book. Same for his autobiography Life of Henry Brulard.

Seducer's Diary is similarly a (self-contained) chapter from Either/Or. I haven't read it in full but keep reading from it now and then. It is probably my favourite book of philosophy, not that i have read a lot... He has lots of things to say about "Ennui" too :) and that seducer's diary is a good intellectual analysis of "hedonistic boredom" (like Bonjour) and a life devoted to sensory and intellectual stimulation and the despair that it leads to. I think you should definitely give it a try. Check out the wikipedia link for Either/Or for more.

Much as I resent the objectification of books I must say the covers look great too.

Madhuri said...

Well - the solutions are helping. At least marginally :)
The series is very good, but like most good books,is extremely difficult to find in bookstores here. The reason they have come out with part of the book is to contain the thickness, in keeping with Penguin's original idea of a travel pocket book. They also have a similar series on great ideas and of course their pocket editions which have books like Sebald's Little Austerlitz and Nabokov's Castle Lake.

Alok said...

yes, seems like a win-win situation. readers will not be daunted by the weight and thickness and the publisher will save money on the paper...

Cloud Castle Lake btw contains a beautiful story called The Admiralty Spire (I see you already have it on your shelf)... it is also about first love and how to write fiction out of real life experience and so many other things... it is really hilarious, one of my all time favourites.

Madhuri said...

I read that one - it is absolutely amusing and brilliant.He packs so many things in the small text - fictionalizing experiences, trite writings, capturing memories, Russian culture, political indifferences. And still keeps it humorous.