Tuesday, May 29, 2007

a game, some books, a challenge

Dewey (whose very name invokes that lovely library scent of book dust) from over at The Hidden Side Of A Leaf has got a great new game going in which we can all get to know each other better as bloggers. As if that weren't enough incentive, there's bribes involved! As in prizes! As in the very finest kind of prizes -- BOOKS! As Baloo says: "I'm gone, man! Solid gone!"

After more than a month of bookish anxiety and glaring malevolently at the poor office worker when he didn't show up with exactly the right mail, my first edition of My Brother's Keeper finally arrived yesterday. It's gorgeous. I should look so good when I get to be 53.

The end of the month is almost here, and my reading totals are a little low. Looks like it's going to be only 3 books completed for May. Just in time, writer's block is once again rearing its ugly head and breathing its fetid breath upon me as I struggle to write these 3 reviews. I've got plans to vanquish it, but don't know exactly how at this point. I have a vision of myself as The Thing or the Juggernaut eventually breaking through in some crude but effective manner.

Here are some books that have recently wandered onto my bookshelves...somehow. Like I needed them. (Well, of course I NEEDED them! I just meant that I'm shamefully aware that I've gone off of my self-inflicted Bronte Challenge as well as abandoning Andersonville and losing A Distant Mirror which were both part of my Chunkster Challenge. Only my TBR Challenge still seems viable. But anyway, the books:)

A Rage To Live (novel) -John O'Hara.
Although I was a little disappointed with O'Hara's bloated 1958 effort, From The Terrace, I couldn't stop myself from buying this equally chunky novel, written 9 years earlier. Part of the reason is a slight addiction to the look of the Modern Library series. I love those copper-colored spines. Seeing them all lined up at the bookstore makes me a little funny in the head.

Notes On A Scandal (novel) -Zoe Heller.
This is my Mother's Day gift from Manfred, Jr.

The Custom Of The Country (novel) -Edith Wharton. Yes, it's also another luscious Modern Library selection, but I've also been circling this book for a couple of years now. It seems as if Edith Wharton and Henry James were trying to accomplish the same sorts of things in their fiction, and Wharton gets the job done admirably in a lot less words in a much more direct and robust manner.

I'll admit that I'm not being fair to James -- I haven't read very much of him -- but he's had the superior reputation all these years, so he can afford a knock or two from grubby little Bybee. The annoying thing is that I want to love his writing, but so far, he just seems prissy and claustrophobic to me. Here's a challenge: Help me out, someone! Help me find that elusive novel Henry James wrote that will finally turn me into a rabid Henry James fan.

On The Road (novel) -Jack Kerouac.
I'm in a restless phase right now -- not sure whether to do another degree online, look for a job at a more prestigious university here in Korea, try out another country or think about becoming repatriated by moving back to the United States. On The Road, the book I'm currently reading, seems to fit my strange mood with its intense and sometimes hypnotic jazzy, smoky rhythms. When I saw it at the bookstore, it seemed to saunter off the shelf into my hand. Some books require the proper music while you're reading them. I regret that I don't have any jazz or bebop CDs in my collection.

Tender Is The Night (novel) -F. Scott Fitzgerald

This, rather than The Great Gatsby, is the novel that Fitzgerald worked on the longest and worried about the most. Because of his wife's well-known mental problems, he had to stop work frequently, although he benefitted in a literary way by incorporating Zelda's struggles into the character of Nicole Diver. There are critics who say that Tender Is The Night is his masterpiece rather than Gatsby. I've meant to read this book for years, partly because I love the title,(which comes from Keats' Ode To a Nightingale) and partly because I'm eager to see how the famous rich expats, Sarah and Gerald Murphy are portrayed in the novel.

I read somewhere that there are two versions of Tender Is The Night. One uses a flashback, which is how Fitzgerald originally wrote it and how it was published in the early 1930s. The other version, (based on some notes Fitzgerald had saved) was re-ordered by his good friend, the famous critic Malcolm Cowley so that the events played out chronologically. This version was published posthumously. I'm guessing that I have the Cowley version.


Sarah said...

I couldn't put Notes on a Scandal down, so I'll be interested to hear what you think.

Whilst I love Edith Wharton's novels, I do think James is the better writer. I'd reccomend Daisy Miller, The Turn of the Screw or Washington Square. They're all brillant and fairly short, which I think helps you aprreciate (and not lament) his long sentences!

And I've had Tender is the Night on my TBR pile for ages- if you enjoy it, I might just start on it.

Anonymous said...

I am trying the blog hopping/getting to know people better too so it will be fun to check back to your blog and see what you have been reading. My May totals are down too having only read 4 books this month so far. I blame Don Quixote which I am still only half way through...

kookie said...

Even though I finished the chunkster challenge last month, my total for May was very low (only 6). Just reading doldrums, I guess.

I gotta read Notes on a Scandal myself, the movie looks interesting.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Bybee!

I took a quick look at the "blogroll" game and love it! I am going to have to take a longer look at it when I come home from soccer, but wanted to say thanks for letting us know about it.

Also, I can't wait to hear what you have to say about "Notes on A Scandal" I recently saw the movie and I felt the book held my interest more.

Bybee said...

Thanks for the James recommendations.

I'm on my way to visit your blog now. Don Quixote is a pretty good excuse for reading only 4 books this month. I don't have a good excuse!

I strongly recommend Notes On A Scandal. It's one of the 3 I read in May.

I watched the big fight scene between Barbara and Sheba on youtube. Barbara's character has lost a lot of the subtlety that makes her more sinister in this transformation from book to screen.

Sycorax Pine said...

I totally agree about James, Bybee - prissy and claustrophobic seems to be the perfect description of my limited exposure to his (most accessible) work. Wharton also writes oppression well, but without the dense and purposive imprecision of James.

My May was rather slow for reading as well (and posting to the blog, for that matter) - I am sure we will pick up now that it is summer!

MissMiller said...

Ahhh I know your restlesness...counting down the days until I head off backpacking. Need to get myself a copy of On The Road too. Are you feeling homesick? Which option are you leaning towards?

Bybee said...

pour of tor,
I'm glad it's not just me...but when I criticize a "master" like Henry James, there's the irrational fear that someone's going to break down my door in the middle of the night and take back my English BA degree.

My restlessness has been low-level for some months, but what made it go full flower is that Pablo has decided to give notice. He (and his totally kick-ass bookshelf) will still be here in town, but we won't be co-workers anymore. Wasn't it some 1970s Aussie group that sang a song with the refrain: "It's time for a cool change..." ?

Eva said...

I'm glad that you throw books against the wall when you're mad at them as well. :) Seriously, why do they make us read bad books in high school when there are so many good ones out there?

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I hope you enjoy Tender is the Night when you get to it. Its my favorite Fitzgerald book, but its not as easy to read as Gatsby. Its at the same time beautiful and haunting.