Sunday, January 30, 2011

January Reading in Review

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (novel, audiobook)

The Brothers KaramazovI actually started listening to this audiobook in December, but it’s really long. Like, more than 30 hours long. After taking a while to get used to the reader’s pompous British voice and very predictable stress pattern, I was able to sit back and revel in the greatness that is Part One of this book. Anyone who read my blog notes as I read the The Count of Monte Cristo will know I’m particularly interested in narrators who aren’t really characters in the action but somehow seem to be real people nonetheless (whether that be Dumas’ royal we, or the writer resident in the Karamzov’s town). Part One fairly races through the lives of the Karamazov clan to the point at which the action (Fyodor Pavlovich’s three adult sons all move back to town) starts, except action isn’t really the right word. When the dialogue starts, would be closer, though often it’s monologue, like Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor speech.

It’s impossible to skim read an audiobook (though you can speed up some of them), and I feel had I been reading a paper book, I wouldn’t have struggled as much.

One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (novel)

One Hundred Years of SolitudeI just re-read my thoughts upon reading Love in the Time of Cholera last year and I have some similar things to say. I loved the beginning. I was completely drawn in to the world of Macondo, the wonders that the gypsies bought, the obsessions of Jose Aureliano. This is all told in rapid fire narration like the opening of The Brothers Karamazov, but there is no transition to dialogue, no slowing down the pace. This type of storytelling became a bit much by the time of the war – so much was happening, but I didn’t care about those affected – and by the end of the book I felt spent.

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño (fiction)

Nazi Literature in the Americas
I wrote about this book earlier in the month. January seems to have been the month of reading exciting but difficult books. Unlike Dostoyevski and Marquez, Bolaño is explicit about his stylistic constraints: his book is composed of fictional encyclopedia entries, so of course there’s not going to be much dialogue or access into the internal lives of the characters. It was a good read, but had to be taken in small doses in between reading other books.

After the Quake: UnabridgedAfter the Quake by Haruki Murakami (short stories, audiobook)

I wouldn’t recommend this book to people who claim they don’t enjoy, or don’t ‘get’, short stories. There’s plenty of the patented Murakami weirdness (like a giant frog who needs help saving Tokyo), and all the stories feature the 1995 Kobe earthquake in some way, but the endings are sudden and, on many levels, unsatisfying.

'Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and The Challenge of Modernity in America' by John F Kasson (non-fiction)

Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect ManI read this book primarily to research Eugen Sandow, the ‘perfect man’ referenced in the title (and flexing in the buff on the cover), who makes a prominent appearance in the novel I’m working on. However, I was equally interested in the sections on Harry Houdini and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan, and how these three icons of the early twentieth century reflected attitudes to fitness and masculinity at that time.

I borrowed this book from the Wellington Library: perhaps it was also read by Nigel Cox when researching Tarzan Presley (soon to be re-released as Jungle Rock Blues) and Lynn Jenner when researching Dear Sweet Harry (as in Harry Houdini)?

'Leisure and Pleasure: Reshaping and Revealing the New Zealand Body 1900-1960' by Caroline Daley (Non-fiction)

Leisure and Pleasure: Reshaping and Revealing the New Zealand Body 1900-1960Another loaner from the library and another piece of Sandow research. Nice summary of Sandow’s 1902-03 tour of New Zealand and what that meant for the development of physical culture here. Lot's of head nodding from me re: Daley’s thesis that New Zealand wasn’t a world unto itself during this period, that the same trends could be seen in Australia, Britain, the US, Canada, and indeed we were being influenced by these other countries — and yet it’s still valid to look at how it played out in NZ and think about what that said – and says – about us.

Interesting fact I learnt on page 222: until the mid-1930s, Auckland City Council chained up swings and other playground equipment on the Sabbath. I assume something similar happened in other regions. Hard to fathom something like this happening nowadays.

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