Tag Archives: Classics

Infinite Jest: Why Reading this Book Makes You a Hero

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I started reading David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest  at the cottage. I set myself an (overly) ambitious target of 100 pages a day. Ambitious because it took me an hour to read 15 pages. And I could only reasonably avoid my family and read on the dock for seven hours of the day. Because reading Infinite Jest is an exercise in focus, absorption and dedication. Like the ‘entertainment’ that so bewitches characters that they cannot look away (choosing death by starvation or dehydration rather than stopping the consumption of the entertainment) the novel asks for (demands?) complete attention if the reader is to make sense of the overlapping plot lines, constantly shifting points of view, temporal and geographic locations, narrative styles and relationships among characters. Continue reading

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Filed under American literature, Fiction, New York Times Notable, Prize Winner, Reader Request

Dracula: Everything you thought you knew about vampires is wrong (views on Twilight remain unchanged)

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It’s my parents’ fault that I don’t know anything about Dracula. I thought I knew little bits about the story from pop culture, but then I remembered I don’t know anything about pop culture because my parents didn’t let me watch movies or TV. And that I didn’t, truthfully, know anything about the story. Okay, my argument falls apart because my parents certainly encouraged me to read. And widely. And I could have read Dracula before my 32nd year. But I didn’t. Like the undergrad student I was chatting with yesterday, I assumed I’d have my whole life to read the pile of ‘classics’ I always meant to read but had never bothered. You know, the kind of book you pick up at the used bookstore for $2 only to let it languish on your shelf for years because you think it probably won’t be that good because it was written so long ago and besides there’s the hip new Twilight thing to read.

No, it wasn’t a brush with mortality that made me decide it was finally time to read a classic work. It was S. and D. independently and within the same week citing it as a terrific read. And me feeling hugely embarrassed when reading the children’s version  (not a paid advert btw) that I had no idea who the two women or five heroes referenced. I laboured under the view that Dracula was about a vampire and a castle and that was that.

I. was. wrong. This book is about so much! And it’s so enjoyable to read! Enjoyable but also scary. I had a couple of nights of bat-related nightmares (for real), so if you scare easily (or at all) I might suggest avoiding reading this one right before bed, or perhaps preparing yourself to jolt awake convinced you hear flapping (probably compounded in my case in that I *did* once wake up to a bat flapping about my head after it got in through a cracked window. I DIGRESS).

It’s about science: As our heroes attempt to work out just what in the fuck is going on with all the blood loss and mysterious nighttime shenanigans they challenge positivist assumptions and make space for other kinds of knowledge: “It is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.” Well, sort of. Maybe. They still seem to use all the methods and approaches of Good Science in their quest, but Dr. Van Helsing makes it clear that there are limits to accepted truth.

It’s about gender: Oh what oh what to do with women. And their pesky desire to contribute, be independent, make meaningful lives. They must. be. eaten.

It’s about sexuality: Man-bat comes in the night and slips up under the covers to eat ladies. Ladies love. Men love. But usually only by engaging in passionate discussion and hand kisses.

It’s about form: letters! journals! phonograph records! meeting minutes! Look at all the ways plot and character can be developed in the pieced together epistolary form. There were a few moments where it felt analogous to the 2016 plot wherein characters have to explain why no one has a cellphone or cellphone reception in order to make the plot believable: characters kept explaining why they were bothering to write down what had just happened in such detail so as to convince the reader that this was not, after all, literary convention but instead the raw goods of vampire attack.

So whether it’s genuine interest or deep social shame for not having done so already (or, better still, fear that you’ll die before you read it) that motivates you to read Stoker’s classic work, seize on the interest and get it! (I’d add that I ‘lost’ my library copy (aka it was in the car and I assumed it was lost forever because it was under the seat) and found a free version online in under two minutes – so degree of difficulty in obtaining a copy can’t be an excuse here). That way the next time some punky punk of a reader gets excited about Twilight or True Blood or Insert-One-of-Bazillions-of-Vampire-Cultural-Objects-Here you can roll your eyes and explain “well, X work may be great, but it’s derivative of Stoker’s original work in Y way.” I look forward to your comments explaining the intertextuality of Stoker and how he’s really referencing Y work. Or how Twilight is in its own right a classic work. Ha.

 

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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner

My Struggle: Karl Ove Knausgaard and the Book You Should Be Reading

tumblr_inline_n8cflnHeOh1qzy8r9Don’t make the mistake I did and be caught off guard by this literary sensation. Go read the first installment (and then immediately all the others because you won’t be able to resist) of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s masterful, genius autobiographical series My Struggle. You probably already did. You’re probably one of the bazillions of people who have read the book and have read the countless articles extolling its virtues, its genius. And if you are, I say to you: Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Why did you let me wander around without this book? (to be fair, the book was endorsed on the Slate Political Gabfest ages ago, and was a book recommended by the fabulous L. – thanks!)

Okay, okay, so why so great? Why so necessary? Continue reading

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Filed under Erin's Favourite Books, Prize Winner, Reader Request

Fanny Hill: *blush* *blush* *yawn*

     

Gosh but Fanny Hill has A LOT of sex in it. Sex between men and women, women and women, men and men, partners of varying ages, mental and physical abilities, in different positions and in different environmental conditions. It is in short, a novel without a plot, but instead a collection of events that allow for the graphic narration of sex. So many mentions of exploits, things gorged and red, thrusts, sighs and wetness. In fact, I’ve included a word cloud so you can see just how much of the text (all of it!) is given over to narrating sex.

Yep, it’s not one to read/listen to out in public. Such blushes.

But despite the titillation and *cough* excitement of the first few chapters of Fanny Hill, I admit I quickly became bored of yet another sex scene with yet another virgin or yet another “mistaken” attempt at anal sex. Which isn’t to say that I’m a virtuous or prudish reader, rather, that 250 pages of the same plot events would be boring no matter what was being narrated! Yawn.

As for the limited character development… well, I was disappointed. Fanny is principally awesome because she isn’t at all embarrassed or ashamed of her wanton behaviour, rather she relishes pleasure and seeks it out for herself. But the conclusion of the text sees her marrying her one true love and renouncing the wanton life in favour of riches and monogamy. Yawn. Given just how scandalous the rest of the book is, I can see little reason to end it with such convention. I had rather hoped she’d die of venereal disease… Perhaps one of my 18th century scholar-friends can provide me an answer to why such a conventional and annoying ending?

So while I’ll recommend Fanny Hill if you’re looking to diversify your personal pleasure reading, I can’t recommend it well if you’re at all interested in anything approximating plot, character or thematic development.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, British literature, Fiction