Monday, September 6, 2010

My Summer Reading List


Now that class is in session and I will probably only manage reading 1 book of choice by the time I graduate, I thought I'd take a look back at the novels that shaped my brain over the last 4 months.

1.Catcher in the Rye

It still baffles me that I managed to make it to my 24th year (because there's no year 0. Don't think about it too hard, it'll mess with your mind) without reading J.D. Sallinger's novel. After he died last spring, I decided it was time.
The book is little more than the story of Holden Caulfield wandering aimlessly through the city and thinking to himself about how just about everyone he knows is a "phony."
It's a peak inside the adolescent mind, and seemed all-too-familiar to the "he's a tool" conversation that I've been known to have with my friends. Really, nothing happens, but there's something captivating about the text. B+

2. The Lost Symbol

I like reading, but I'm not the bourgeois literary purist who can't appreciate the value of contemporary pop fiction. I want my brain to be stimulated but I also want to be entertained and Dan Brown generally delivers.
In the third, and latest, of his Robert Langdon treasure hunting stories, Brown serves up a swashbuckler packed with his staples of religious and historical artifacts, ancient secret brotherhoods, somewhat fictitious technologies and an uber-creepy bad guy. This time Langdon is in D.C. searching for a hidden Masonic pyramid that if found would weild some massive, unknown power.
Frankly, Symbol has neither the action of Angels and Demons, nor the resonance of The Da Vinci Code. At this point, Langdon's good-thing-I'm-a-genius last minute saves are becoming contrived and in the end, the payoff doesn't deliver. The carrot is dangled in front of us on too long of a stick, and when the curtain finally falls I asked myself "Really? That's it."
Still, was I not entertained? B

3. The Portrait of Dorian Grey

Oscar Wilde's novel about a man whose portrait ages while he remains forever young (I wanna be) is oft-referenced and oft-parodied. Even James Blunt drops a little Grey gem in his song "Tears and Rain."
Essentially, Grey doesn't age and as he slips further and further into moral darkness his physical face remains as innocent as a schoolboy while the face on the portrait is twisted with malice, scarred by sin, and you know, whatever.
It's an interesting concept, and I couldn't help but anticipate the upcoming conflict. What happens when he finally reaches an age where people realize he is forever young (Do you really want to live forever?)? Will he be discovered of his crimes? What happens if you stab him? Is he immortal, or merely unevolutional?
Problem is, before Wilde can get around to answering these mysteries, the book ends in a fairly obvious way. Classical fail. C

4. The Great Divorce

I read this entire book in one sitting (it's not very long but still, that's cool). I went to the library, picked it up, headed over to Citrus & Sage (patronize it! in the good way) ordered my Pixie (todays category: Delicious drinks that sound complete homosexual), plopped down on the couch and dived into the mind of one of history's greatest theologians and intellects.
Divorce begins in hell (or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it) and follows a man as he journeys towards heaven (actually, this is more like purgatory or...it's somewhere in between, not important). While there he observes the conversations of other lost souls with the angelic messengers sent to usher them into heaven. For the most part, these lost souls kick against the pricks relying more on their material goods, their perceived intellect, and just about every other human weakness.
Reading this book, I constantly had to stop, look up, and like Ted Theodore Logan exclaim "Woooooooooooah," and my eyes would glaze over as my brain shifted position in my head to fit the swelling.
C.S. is my homeboy, someday in the afterlife I'm going to party with him. A

5. Valis

In hindsight, it was a bad idea; but I followed up Divorce with Philip K. Dick's VALIS. After the one-two punch of these novels, my brain was goo for a while (for those of you who were around me this summer, this, combined with some emotional/existential isses is your answer) and I'm still not sure if I've fully recovered.
I was on EW.com one day and they had an article about the different novels that appeared on the series Lost. Being an avid Lostie, and always looking for a cool new book, I jotted some things down. I had already read "Watership Down," the library didn't have "Ulysses," so I ended up with VALIS.
So, VALIS is the story of Horselover Fat. Horselover Fat is not a real person, he is actually a second personality of the Author Philip K. Dick. Dick is sometimes aware of this fact, sometimes not, and often engages in lengthy conversations with Horselover, who is really Philip.
Horselover/Philip has an experience where he thinks that he receives a message from whatever supreme being is out there via a bright pink light. After this encounter he proceeds to catalogue his revelations in an "Exigesis" and searches for the latest incarnation of the savior of mankind. He eventually finds "it" in the form of a very young girl, or did he?
Besides that the book is filled with observations on the human mind, time-space relativism, religion, the afterlife and cancer. Just to give you an example, Horselover claims that time stopped shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire and began again in 1970's California, meaning that the two time periods are mere years apart and that an unexplained black prison known as "The Empire" has persisted through all these ages. A fact that he repeats sporadically throughout the book "The empire never ended."
I'll stop there. Nutshell: this is the weirdest book I have ever read, and I could not put it down. It boggled my mind, and left me fully confused, and read like a bad trip on paper. B+

6. The Day that Shook the World

This book is less a novel and more a collection of firsthand accounts and journalistic reports that regard the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I got it for about 50 cents in a used book sale and took it for light reading with me to my conference in Georgia (I read it on a plane. I'm not superstitious, but I tried to hide the cover from the people sitting next to me).
It was interesting, but given that we're going on 9 years since, the content was incredibly outdated. The chapter of survivor accounts was chilling, and some of the background on Al Quaeda was informative, but all in all there wasn't much that I haven't already heard on CNN. B-

7. The Lonely Polygamist

I'm a big believer in Entertainment Weekly. I see what they tell me to see, I read what they tell me to read, and I do what they tell me to do. I am no mindless sheep; rather, they have earned this trust.
As such, when they told me that Brady Udall's polyg novel was "the must read of the summer" I took their word for it.
Golden lives in the ugliest part of Utah and has 4 wives. He has 26 children, in 3 houses. He works away from home at a construction sight where he is building a whorehouse (is there a PC term for that? Brothel?)
His wives are frustrated, sexually and emotionally. His children are neglected and Golden himself is toeing the line of infidelity (yes, he has 4 wives AND he's unfaithful).
The story is told from 3 perspectives: Golden's, his youngest wife Trish's, and one of his older sons Rusty's. Golden is mourning the loss of a favorite daughter, and is begining to buckle under the strain of being a church leader (on of the 12 apostles in his church, of which there are only 8), supporting 31 mouths in a bad economy, and attending to his many husbandly/fatherly/manly duties. Trish feels like an outsider in the family, is desperate for sexual relations with her husband, and is beginning to question her decision to be a sister-wife toeing the line of infidelity herself. Rusty is your average kid; he is desperate for attention, dealing with teenage boy hormonal issues, and hates being in a polygamist household. I can't blame him.
I hate polygamy, and this novel certainly doesn't make you want to sign up. The protagonist is a lying, cheating, sniveling, affectionate, weasel of a man. It's hard to root for him, and I'm not sure if I was supposed to anyway. Nonetheless, the polyg life is presented in a very modern, emotionally raw, and completely thought-provoking manner. B

8. Atlast Shrugged (2/3)

I have not yet finished Ayn Rand's masterpiece, yet the delay only seems to prolong the exquisite savor of this epic portrayal of human society. Rand paints a picture of an alternate America in the industrial age where the pursuit of moral equality has all but extinguished the very flame of the human spirit.
In a system where men are rewarded not for their ability but for their need, mediocrity thrives and the complacent swine suck the blood of those too proud to stop their drive for progress and innovation.
Atlas is at times both exhilirating and terrifying. Rand creates great men, herculean pinnacles of vision and drive only to turn and lash them like slaves to a system that is all to familiar to today's political climate.
I wonder to myself what the our country would be like if President Obama, and every member of the U.S. congress had read this book. Page by page it is changing my life, and the way that I see the world. I could not think of a better way for you to spend 1200 pages. A+

2 comments:

  1. Hey Ben, I thought I'd leave a comment, just to let you know I was here. I'd like to pretend I'm as intelligent as you and read a whole bunch, but I really don't. I am enjoying your writing. I felt the same about "The Symbol". I mostly just read parenting books and pop fiction when I do read, so that is one I can relate with. It was so very lame. What a lame ending.
    C.S. Lewis is incredible. I have that book, but have never read it. I like to keep books like that on my shelves so people THINK I'm smart. I don't think I've fooled anyone yet though.

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  2. I have a couple of books like that on my shelf too.

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