Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Favorites: Volume 2.

Oh hey. So I know anyone reading this (is anyone reading this? I mean, I'll keep writing anyway out of pure narcissism, but I'm curious) has probably given up on me, and I'm sorry, but here's the deal: Midterms. Have. Lasted. Weeks. Oh yeah, and apparently I'm about to graduate? Let's not talk about that. Moreover, I've been so tired that (though I'm typically an insomniac) I've been sleeping about twelve hours a night and they're testing me for a battery of things, including Lyme Disease. Yay possibly undiscovered tick bites! So forgive me for my lack of attention to the mighty internet, may we all bow down before it (enough of a tithe, do you think?)

So here, my dearest most darling readers, we continue onward through the journey of my favorite books (in no particular order, of course):

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not...I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies...I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.
The Spanish cover. Typical.
Quite honestly, I have a deeply harbored obsession with the concept of retellings in their various aspects, especially when an old story is given a modern update and setting. Combine that with my passion for folklore, fairty tales, and mythology, not to mention the sometimes disturbing, but always enchanting creations of Neil Gaiman, and I'm hooked. I'm not a Sci-Fi person by any stretch of the imagination (LARPing makes me nervous in an almost pathological way, which is actually an issue when you got to my college), but there's something of pure poetry in a mask of simple language that sweeps me up every time I read this book. You get to (and it is a privilege) follow Shadow after he's released from prison, as he gets swept up in a world the rest of us aren't aware of: that gods from all cultures have been carried to America through immigration and now exist among us in new human forms. Simultaneously, there exists new gods that desperately want our attention and the power—the gods of technology. An apt metaphor for our rapidly changing world, told in a way that immerses you in a new world, or rather, your own.

The Unberable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?
Too obscure for captions.
Kundera's a novelist the way Tolstoy's a novelist—he's also a philosopher, but he slips all that hard-to-muddle-through stuff in really painlessly (actually in a way that startlingly beautiful, if you want to get precise here.) That quote up there is actually a philosophical dialogue with Nietszche, but when you're a literature lover (not primarily a lover of philosophy) that's just the trappings and embellishments that makes something good to read even better. Two simultaneous love stories weave in and around in other in Soviet-occupied Prague, in an eery dreamscape that is still clearly reality. It's hard to explain this book without going deeper into the multifaceted philosophical viewpoints and allusions, but when it comes down to it, it's simply joy on the page.

Like the Red Panda, Andrea Seigel

I only had a half hour until school let out and everything Larome was doing was making my head hurt. The sun was shining from under his chin, bringing every single hair out of his face. I could see hundreds of them. His hairs were so obvious that they made him look fake, but then when I changed my focus to his actual head, it was so sharply defined that everything in back of him started to look fake. That right there shows just how useless perspective is, since it can always change...I gave him a weak smile because I didn't want him to think I was an uptight white girl, and then I walked quickly to the office because I couldn't wait to get out of there.
All I can think of when I see this is early on in the book
when she's talking about how cold it is in the office and
she's wearing a white shirt and her nipples are showing.
Because I'm mature.
Meet Stella Parish. She's your typical teenager: perfect grades, has a bad-boy boyfriend, heading to Princeton in the fall, dresses like a Catholic school girl, and is planning her suicide the way other girls plan prom. But stop right there—this isn't your typical novel of teen angst, anxiety, and depression. This is wry and witty, a girl who's not actually a cynic, but an idealist with a dry sense of humor who seems perfectly sane and reasonable. I remember reading it in high school and defining it as the “the female Holden Caulfield” because when it comes down to it we understand her, she doesn't seem like this overly emotional wreck, and goddamn it, we even like her. From drugs to sex to beach balls and synagogue, there's an amazing tidbit about every aspect of the world Stella is saying goodbye to within these pages, and she's asking you, inviting you, to read them, to know. Ridiculously funny and understatedly wise, I think this is one that will earn it's place eventually. (Though when I found out Andrea Seigel published this when she was twenty-two, I almost threw up.)

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
Why yes, Devon, this does look like a calm read.
I'm not telling you any spoilers on this one,
but the cover speaks for itself.
The Brontë sisters are pretty much some of my greatest heroines. They were only women writers in a time where that was difficult to say the least, but innovative women writers. Jane Eyre arrives on the scene to tell us her life story, from her perspective, addressing her reader directly. It doesn't seem like much now, but it meant a lot then, a book told by a woman written by a woman (though no one knew.) Groundbreaking, I promise you. As is Jane—here we have a heroine that was more delicately attempted by Austen with Elizabeth Bennett—the plain, intelligent female with a sharp wit who has the brooding, dark man to falling in love with her. Once again, none of this is new to us as modern readers, but that's because here's the precursor to all the stories that sound like this, in its original form. In high school, Jane Eyre gave me a gateway into understanding how to love classics, because when it comes down to it, Plain Jane is just a girl like any girl, no matter what time period you're in. Plus, I still have naughty dreams about my vision of Edward Fairfax Rochester.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
A good and wholesome family read.
I mean, look at how much she's enjoying her popsicle.
So I know you've already got this very particular image in mind when you hear Lolita: a preteen girl with heart-shaped sunglasses seductively licks a lollipop and captures you with her penetrating gaze. Um, well, yeah. That's about right. Lolita is the young and insatiable Dolores Hayes, our narrator Humbert Humbert's step-daughter, and yes, lover. Get over that for a second and re-read (or read for the first time, because I bet a bunch of people are skipping over it because it's italicized—that's right, I caught you) that paragraph, because Nabokov is a freakin' wordsmith and this (in my opinion) is his magnum opus. With his European sentence construction, there's a nuance to his work that makes it read like a prose poem, and there's something so highly personal it feels like a diary—a confessional poem of sorts with an inventiveness in his language all writers can aspire to. Oh, and there's this: the dog started to lope alongside my car like a fat dolphin...Oh god, it gets me every time.

Go, go, go, go! Read! Catholic school girls and fat dolphins await!

Here, here, here, here, here. Goddamnit.

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