Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books I Read Over Winter Break

Cat’s Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut (re-read)
I wish I could be a Bokononist.

Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut (re-read)
Anyone who thinks that WWII was a just war should read this book.

Timequake - Kurt Vonnegut
Possibly the most wandering, tangent-filled, anti-novel I have ever read. Should have been a collection of short stories. At least half of the paragraphs had no direct relationship to the plot, and instead were personal anecdotes relating, often but not always, to the unsuccessful first attempt at the novel. Discussed free-will, the general terribleness of life, and how humans can live in such a pointless world (much the same as every other novel he has written but more explicit).

War Dances - Sherman Alexie
Alexie, again, describes the lives of half a dozen, mostly half-indian, men I would not want to be. With lives that are dumb and pathetic and semi-autobiographical. Like with Vonnegut, one has to be constantly wondering if what one is reading is fiction. David Shields would have a cow.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
The story of a nerdy, morbidly obese, second-generation Dominican whom no one ever loves, except for a middle aged, married, part-time prostitute, sort-of. His life is brief, sort-of. and wondrous only if one considers the stories of his mother, sister and grandparents, which Diaz does at length. Oscar de Leon (Wao is a nickname) is born an american, lives to adulthood as an american, yet somehow dies a Dominican after realizing that he is doomed.
Moral of the story: the two best things for a man are to kiss a woman and be beaten to within an inch of his life.
The Tolkien references are the highlight of the story, especially his more obtuse ones from the Silmarillion. “Speak, friend, and enter” is definitely going on my dorm room door.
On a personal note: up until part III I felt a considerable kinship between myself and Oscar (I have the extra 200 pounds in my tongue instead of my waistline and the thousands of role-playing hours in Legos instead of D&D shit), but when he lost weight he ceased to make any sense as a character. Unlike his previous infatuations, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for his last love and I can’t tell if he was resigned to his doom or just being stupid. Also: he is a immigrant, I am not, this matters; I’m not sure why or how but it does.

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver does the Kingsolver thing to great effect. Her imagery is blatant but not ugly. Her use of multiple voices is without equal, thought not to the same effect as in The Poisonwood Bible.
It has been a very long time since I cried at the death of a character (I was dry-eyed at the end of The Road, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and Oscar Wao) and, despite my knowledge of its historical inevitability, I cried when Lev Trotsky died.
The story loses momentum after the aforementioned assassination but somehow manages to end in a manner fitting of its first pages.
I have never hated the 50s as much as I did when reading the last fourth of this novel, whatever their flaws, the hippies did the world a great service.

Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card (re-read)
Good idea, bad writing. Card’s prose does not match his vision. The slang especially is annoying and unauthentic. His racial profiling is also aggravating, he assigns attributes to a race, comments on them, and then makes them central to his two dimensional minor characters. The protagonist, a white male, has three side-kicks, one ethnic, one female, one very short, his enemies are arrogant europeans that are bigger than him but not smarter. Could this be more cliche?

Night - Elie Wiesel
The best holocaust account I have read. Wiesel does not try make something good out of his experience, he is not trying to find redemption in it, he is simply bearing witness. Recording the reduction of a people, both physical and psychological.
I have read more horrific accounts but none that chronicle the process as well as this one, the practiced, expert annihilation. Night emphasized more than others that the goal was not enslavement, it was liquidation. The cruelty to the living is almost extraneous. That anyone escaped at all is astounding.

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