Books and books

Books to catch up on:

I don’t remember if I wrote about Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, and I’m too lazy to check. I love Waugh, and this book really solidified for me why. Taking Brideshead Revisited out of the picture, which I think is a different kind of book entirely, his books capture an interesting aspect of life that I’ve never seen anyone quite capture before. His characters are often gliding through life, heading in the direction expected of them, when they’re set upon by very random, disruptive, and often damaging events. A wife reveals that she’s leaving for a previously unsuspected lover. A man is kicked out of university for public indecency after having his clothes stolen during a mugging by drunken revelers. A man loses the money he was using to prove he was solvent to his future fiance when, even though he wins a bet, he can’t find the man he made the bet with. Completely unexpected, horrible things, happening to perfectly good people. And he presents them as so commonplace, and with so much wit and good humor, that you end up laughing with his characters rather than feeling sorry for them. Because there really is a feeling throughout that life is good and that it’s a privilege to be alive in this strange world we live in. And I think it’s good to be reminded that going through this earthly experience doesn’t mean that things will always be easy, there will be bad and good, joy and pain, and sometimes, all of them all mixed in together.

This book is about the 2nd scenario above- a young man is mugged by drunken miscreants, and then is kicked out of university for the resultant public indecency of running back to his dorm naked. He loses his allowance, is forced to work as a teacher at a bizarre private school teaching lessons in subjects he knows nothing about, courts the mother of one of his students and is about to marry her when he is arrested for the business he helped her with out of the country, which just happened to be white slavery (which he was completely unaware of), goes to jail in her place, is broken out and his death is faked, and he ends up right where he started, at the university that kicked him out, pretending to be his own cousin. But that’s just the plot. Like every book I’ve read of Waugh’s, every word is absolutely perfectly placed. The characters are hilarious, the timing brilliant. I don’t have enough good things to say about it.

How I wish that were true about Resurrection Club by Christopher Wallace. I picked it up at the library because the back looked interesting, and I wasn’t paying attention and thought it was by Daniel Wallace, who wrote Big Fish. BIG difference. It wasn’t until 5/6ths of the way through the book that I realized that, and the main reason I kept reading that far was because I figured that with the Big Fish guy writing it, there had to be a point to it all. The premise is promising enough- a guy builds a mechanism that holds a heart, a brain, and wants the third chamber to hold a soul. And people are possibly faking their own deaths. But after that it just goes off the rails. There’s a story in present time Edinburgh about a strange exhibition promising to feature a resurrection, and three or four intertwining stories– and because of those you get sucked in and want to find out what in the world is going on, but it never quite comes together. The end kind of ties back into the beginning, but only kind of- Wallace never actually establishes that the mechanism actually does what the characters are claiming it does, and the whole thing just kind of jumbles around. By the time I got to the end I just wanted there to be a point- it didn’t have to be a good one, any point would do- but there really wasn’t one. Which was quite frustrating, because it wasn’t even an enjoyable read for me. It was decent as horror books go, but I like my horror a little less gratuitous.

Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe also had a promising premise, but I ended up just skimming through it to find out the end. It’s about Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and his relationship with Alice Liddell, the child for and about whom he wrote Alice in Wonderland. He and her family had a dramatic falling out, and this book covers the time leading up to that and the theoretical cause of it. It was written well enough, I just wasn’t in the mood for the wordiness. And honestly I just wanted to know what tack she was taking, and I pretty much guessed it accurately- suspected sexuality being at the core. That being known, I didn’t really care enough to go back and read the whole thing.

I’m pages away from finishing You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down by Alice Walker. It’s a collection of short stories, some of which are stunningly insightful. And not in that it’s stunning that Alice Walker is insightful, because there’s not a question of that, but rather the insights themselves stunned me. Two in particular, one about the effects of porn and the other about rape and its effect on people’s perceptions of interracial relationships, were especially eye opening. The first because it was expressed in a way I hadn’t thought of before, and the second because it pulled on Walker’s history with the early Civil Rights movement, and explained how that history shaped her thoughts on interracial relationships, and thus, how events of that time period would have shaped everyone’s perspective. Luckily I have grown up in a different world (at least I hope so- I hope I’m not just that naive), and so this context really helped explain some ideas that previously made no sense to me. Anyway, this was an excellent book, not that that came as any surprise to me.

I’m also almost done with Black Mischief, also by Evelyn Waugh- again, wickedly funny and, in comparison to some of his others, fairly cynical. I’ll write more when I finish it.

And… I’m also reading The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf, which I’ve been reading for months now. It’s lovely and sweeping and I’d finish it far faster if I wasn’t reading it on my phone. 🙂

So I’m at 20 for the year so far, I should be at 24, so I’m not too far behind.

What are you reading? What do you think I should be reading?

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