Saturday Review: A Quick Catch-up

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I’ve been rather busy. But not too busy to read, never too busy to read. In fact, my project of 52 books in a year feels as if it has prompted even more reading. I’m currently splitting my time between three books: Finishing off A Farewell to Arms, enjoying the lightness of The Consolations of Philosophy (Alain de Botton), and being pounded by History of Madness (Foucault).

I have remained on track though, and here is what I’ve read in the last few weeks:

The Great Gatsby: Apparently this wasn’t very popular when it first came out, though of course now there’s a movie about to be released, with good ol’ Leo as Gatsby. While I was reading it I certainly felt a contemporay correlation. The affluent lifestyle of the Jazz Age is redolent of our current situation (most definitely in America, though perhaps more and more so in Australia) of opulence and overindulgence.
Issues of privilege and wealth disparity are rife, mixed in among the damned love story and doomed redemption tale. From the Writer’s Devotional, Amy Peters says of The Great Gatsby, “Using a deft hand with language, Fitzgerald creates an allegorical reflection of an America on the verge of descent.” I’d say that’s close to what we face now.
On the subject of language, Fitzgerald does paint a very pretty and precise picture. He uses many adjectives and adverbs, but it isn’t superfluous–it is always purposeful prose. I really enjoyed it, even if the ending seemed to fall flat and wither out, and I’m looking forward to reading The Beautiful and the Damned now that the ebook seems to be working properly.

…it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.

The transition from libertine to prig was so complete.

The Kite Runner: At first I thought this book was a sort of memoir, fact folding into fiction. But as it went on it became more and more lurid, more unbelievable, and less and less likely. That said, it is definitely a book worth reading, particularly for writers.
Unlike The Great Gatsby, the use of adjectives and adverbs often feels overwrought, cliched at times. The themes are played too strongly, and quite often, letting melodrama slip in between the lines. But the heart of the book is true, and the messages worth nothing.
The Kite Runner gives a glimpse of Afghan life, and perhaps reasons as to why it was/is necessary to have our troops in Afghanistan. It is a story of redemption (at last) and of the stretch between cultures, the gap between rich and poor, and how we should all just get along already.
It is also a book for writers in that it is about the passion of writing. Our protagonist is a story teller from a young age, and of course this becomes his career. I do wonder if it’s necessary to have your characters be writers–that is, after all, what a writer knows best. Of course, our hero’s first book gets published straight away, which is, as we all know, virtually impossible. A big plot hole, that one.

Like so much else in Kabul, my father’s house was the picture of fallen splendor.

A Farewell to Arms: My first Hemingway. I once got told, many years ago, that my writing was “Hemingway-esque”. I think they were just being polite, or confusing my simple grasp of language with Ernest’s mastery of English.
Not a word goes out of place. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t particularly complex, but it is all meant to be there, all meant to be read and savoured.
Now, A Farewell to Arms is based on real events. It’s a very compelling look at war, even if there isn’t an ounce of fighting in it. Our protagonist is shelled before an offensive, sending him away to mend. He travels around in Italy, enjoying a newfound love. He heads back to the front where the Allies promptly retreat. He shoots one of his own sergeants, and his own side kills a friend.
Despite never touching on what you think a war is about–two sides attacking each other–it is a powerful commentary on the fruitlessness of war. It’s luminary in its images, particularly in the opening chapter, about the fall of nature and the destruction of the land by troops. Nothing good comes of war, nothing but idleness and waste.
If I were to choose a writer to be like, it would be Hemingway. His choice of language is delectable in its simplicity. And despite a sparsity of words, he is endlessly quotable.

That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start. Put him in power and see how wise he is.

Still nobody was whipping any one on the Western front. Perhaps wars weren’t won any more. Maybe they went on forever.

What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.

Doctors did things to you and then it was not your body any more.

I also finished up How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One, which is a book I would recommend for writers. The first half (the writing part) is definitely more informative and interesting, whereas the latter part about reading sentences rambles away. If you see it and want to know about the construction of sentences I’d definitely recommend picking it up.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. Until next week!

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