Friday, February 02, 2007

January's Reading: Climbing On Mt. TBR! Chewing Up Chunksters!

I'm pleased and surprised as I look back at my books read in January. Pleased because I completed one Chunkster, and took a healthy bite off of another. Surprised because so far, I've managed to stay on track. It's laughably easy for me to get derailed early and often. One of the reasons I think I've been reasonably good is because I've given myself permission to read something "light and easy" everytime I complete a goal. Here's the list. I decided to start doing page counts, mostly out of curiosity.

1. The Good Earth -Pearl S. Buck (fiction)
I didn't plan to read this book. I saw it when Manfred, Jr. and I went to Bandi & Luni's and, well, you know, it just jumped into my armload of books.

At 418 pages, it definitely counts as a Chunkster, but I was virtuous and didn't sneak it onto my list. Read while I was reading Vanity Fair, The Good Earth seemed to go very quickly in comparison. As I read the book, I had fun comparing and contrasting how things were done traditionally in China and Korea.

This was a re-read of sorts; I read it when I was pregnant with Manfred, Jr. 23 years ago, but stopped reading when O-Lan died. It was a different book for me. I marveled at O-Lan's quiet strength as before, but this time, I had a softer heart and a deeper understanding regarding her husband, Wang Lung, whose attitudes and weaknesses had me in a book-throwing rage all those years ago.

I also had a deeper appreciation for Pearl S. Buck for breaking new ground by demystifying Eastern culture. In addition, she tackled certain "taboo" subjects that her Western contemporaries would've tied themselves in knots pussyfooting around. Because of her directness and frankness, her writing still feels fresh, even more than 70 years later.

2. Vanity Fair -William Makepeace Thackeray (fiction) 862 pages!!!
This was numero uno on both my TBR and my Chunkster challenge list. Very entertaining novel. I'm not a Dickens fan (maybe I just haven't met the right novel yet?) so I was relieved that Thackeray was so different in tone. As always, when I read 19th century fiction, the authorial intrusion required some mental adjustment.

This had to have been Margaret Mitchell's favorite novel of all time -- I was bowled over by the huge number of similarities between Vanity Fair and Gone With The Wind. I don't mark in my books, but I wanted to this time. I'm not going to say she "copied" VF, but there's an unusually strong influence in GWTW, stronger than I'm used to seeing.

Except for the writing style, Vanity Fair is a novel that a modern reader can readily relate to. This is mostly because of Thackeray's cynical mocking tone; after all, we do live in an age where wiseasses abound and are prized for their prickly observations.

Speaking of wiseasses, I thought I was going to have to gag Manfred, Jr. several times while I was reading Vanity Fair! He read a spoiler about Becky Sharp on Wikipedia, and keep threatening to reveal it to me. I was in a state, turning pages as fast as I could while trying to clap my hands over my ears to tune him out.

Now that I'm finished, I can understand why he was fairly bursting. Although I really did enjoy the novel, I feel as if Thackeray not only likes to toy with his characters (he admits this readily in the Preface with his "puppet" analogy) but with his readers as well. He's quite scornful of human nature. It was a little weird and disconcerting. Between the startling and disturbing end development and the GWTW similarities, I was turning VF over in my mind days after I finished it.

3. Malcolm X - Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke (graphic biography) 102 pages. This is one of Manfred, Jr.'s books. The artwork is really good; especially when DuBurke is rendering Malcolm's younger years on the streets.

4. Murder In Coweta County -Margaret Anne Barnes (non-fiction, true crime) 281 pages.
I saw the excellent TV movie that this book was based on, and had heard the book was even better, so I ordered it as part of a group of books I bought for my birthday. Usually, movies add things in to make the action more dramatic. There were so many bizzarre developments in this murder case that took place in 1948 rural Georgia, that they couldn't all be included in the movie! Barnes won an award for this book, which she definitely deserved. It's several cuts above the usual true crime fare. This was part of my "extra credit" reading on my TBR challenge list.

5. Agnes Grey -Anne Bronte (fiction) 203 pages
A couple of years ago, after I read Wuthering Heights, I also read somewhere that Charlotte considered herself "the talented one" regarding the Bronte sisters' novels. I don't know if this is just one of those stories that get passed around, or if Charlotte really did say that, but my hackles immediately rose: Oh yeah? We'll see about that!

I vowed, right then and there, that I would read each novel the Brontes wrote and I'd decide for myself which sister owned the other two in the literary sweepstakes. It took me a couple of years to get into gear, but formally making the Bronte canon part of my Chunkster challenge helped me to get started.

So, three down and four more to go! I really liked Agnes Grey. The tone is much quieter; it's not as stormy as WH or JE. I could have lived without that one chapter that's stuffed almost to bursting with Bible verses, but I like Agnes' quiet intelligence and her flashes of sharp wit, and nobody characterizes bratty children and their equally bratty parents quite as well as Anne Bronte!

So much for January's reading. Right now, I'm reading Shirley by Charlotte Bronte. It's a definite Chunkster-within-a-Chunkster. The page count is 666 pages. That number doesn't bother me, but I could stand for this edition to be a little longer. It's a Penguin Classics edition and it hasn't got any end notes, which plagues me when the half-French characters decide to drift from English into French for large blocks of dialog and there's no helpful translation. Oh well. If all else fails, I can call CanadaBoy. His father was born in Quebec.

(My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm taunts me. She says I'm being a literary wimp. Wrong, T&CIB. I'm being a linguistic wimp.)

Another thing about Shirley that's got me puzzled is that I'm 130 pages into the novel and so far, there's no one named Shirley! No one's even talking about a person named Shirley! Did she get kidnapped from the novel? Usually, the title characters appear fairly early. Jane Eyre. Robinson Crusoe. Sister Carrie. Even Madame Bovary, who showed up a little late, was on the scene by page 100!

Bafflement keeps me turning the pages, but I gotta say that in my own little version of "Bronte Idol", Charlotte's getting points taken away for delaying the title character's entrance (unless Shirley turns out to be a real doozy, a force of nature unleashed on the page) and points taken away for (maybe) bragging on herself in the first place.

OK. February's a short month. Gotta go read.


Literary Feline said...

I have Vanity Fair among my TBR collection. I almost chose it for the Chunkster Challenge, but other books won out. Your review makes me wish I had included it among my chunksters!

Catherine said...

I read Villette in its entirety, slightly confused during the French interludes. It wasn't until I'd finished that I realized there were translations in the back of my copy. Did Charlotte Bronte assume her readers would know French?

Bybee said...

Literary Feline,
I wish VF had been one of your Chunksters. I'm dying to discuss it! I thought my review was a little half-assed though, but I was afraid of posting any spoilers!

Oh no! Villette's got French in it, too? Thanks for the heads-up. I'll look for an edition that has notes with translation.
Thackeray had quite a bit of French in VF...I guess back then, it was just part of being an educated person. But Charlotte still gets points taken away!

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Bybee, so glad you're doing well on the Chunkster Challenge. I haven't started on any yet, well, I lie, I started on Naguib Mahfouz's "Palace Walk" but for some reason I am finding it incredibly hard to read. So I'm moving on the next one and hopefully will return to it later.

I agree with what you said about "The Good Earth" and Pearl Buck's superb writing. She was the first American to truly shed light on 20th-century China and what a great job she did. Something I wasn't aware of - she has also written extensively on India ( am going hunting for those books soon!)

I saw the movie "Vanity Fair" but have never read it. You make me want to.

MissMiller said...

You definitely need to mix up the books with light and heavy reads. Hope Gilgamesh does the job! I love Dickens, but haven't read any Thackeray. With Dickens, I think because most of his works were published in episodic form in mags and papers, they must be read slowly and with careful attention to get all the detail and humour. Many of my bookish friends share your dislike of Dickens!