Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Trouble with Being Born by Emil Cioran (5/5)

First published: 1973
Original title: De l'inconvénient d'être né
Original language: French
Translation to English by: Richard Howard, 1976

Page count: 224


The back says: In this volume, which reaffirms the uncompromising brilliance of his mind, Cioran strips the human condition down to its most basic components, birth and death, suggesting that disaster lies not in the prospect of death but in the fact of birth, "that laughable accident." In the lucid, aphoristic style that characterizes his work, Cioran writes of time and death, God and religion, suicide and suffering, and the temptation to silence. In all his writing, Cioran cuts to the heart of the human experience.

I say: This is basically a book of quotes that was on my reading list for a uni course entitled The Meaning of Life. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how to do it justice with a review and come to the conclusion that I can’t.

The synopsis says it all.

Therefore I shall simply post a few of my favourite quotes.

“It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.”

“What do you do from morning to night?"
"I endure myself.”
 
“Sometimes I wish I were a cannibal – less for the pleasure of eating someone than for the pleasure of vomiting him.”

“I do nothing, granted. But I see the hours pass — which is better than trying to fill them.”

The quotes may all seem extremely depressing and suicidal, but what I love about them is that they voice all the things I have been pondering my entire life. Cioran puts everything into words that I have ever felt and reminds me that there is beauty in thinking about life and death.


“I do not forgive myself for being born. It is as if, creeping into this world, I had profaned a mystery, betrayed some momentous pledge, committed a fault of nameless gravity. Yet in a less assured mood, birth seems a calamity I would be miserable not having known.”


5/5 because I’ll be re-reading this my entire life.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Fierce and Beautiful World by Andrei Platonov (5/5)

First published: 1970
Original title: -
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Joseph Barnes, 1970

Page count: 252


The back says: This collection of Platonov's short fiction brings together seven works drawn from the whole of his career. It includes the harrowing novella Dzahn ("Soul"), in which a young man returns to his Asian birthplace to find his people deprived not only of food and dwelling, but of memory and speech, and "The Potudan River," Platonov's most celebrated story.

I say: It took me over a month to finish this collection of 7 short stories because of the emotional turmoil and heartbreak I went through while reading. Each story is more touching and devastating than the next, and even though some of them do have somewhat happy endings, they still broke me entirely. I was literally gasping, clutching my heart and trying my hardest to blink the tears away.

To no avail.

The genius of this collection lies in the prose; the beautifully warm and tender prose that veered into poetry at almost every turn. Platonov lulled me into his Russia full of broken and destitute people that were all hanging on by a thread – some because they had no choice and others because they were trying to survive.

It was perfection.

5/5 and I look forward to reading more by Platonov and re-reading this when I have the strength.
 

Favourite Stories: Dzan (Soul), Homecoming and The Fierce and Beautiful World.

*The stories in this collection have been reprinted under the title Soul.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman (2.5/5)

First published: 2002
Page count: 181

The back says: In a Carmelite monastery on the outskirts of Los Angeles, life has continued virtually unchanged for centuries. Here, Sister John of the Cross lives in the service of God. She is the only nun who experiences visions and is regarded by the others as a spiritual master.

But Sister John is also plagued by powerful headaches and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice. Is this grace merely an illness and will a 'cure' mean the end of her illuminations and a soul dry and searching?

I say: I’m not quite sure what I think of this novel because parts of the prose were beautifully written, almost lyrical, while others were bulky and slightly mundane.

The same goes for the story itself.

On the one hand I was intrigued by the choice Sister John had to make, but on the other hand I was not so happy with the resolution of the story.

It felt forced.

It is a short novel that somehow didn’t leave as big an impact as I had hoped, so 2.5/5.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (3/5)

First published: 1604
Page count: 104

The back says: The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is a play by Christopher Marlowe, based on the Faust story, in which a man sells his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. Doctor Faustus was first published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe’s death and at least twelve years after the first performance of the play.

I say: I have been meaning to read this play for the longest time, and now that I have, I wish I had done it much earlier – before I read other interpretations of the same story, because this was very underwhelming. 

Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil in exchange for anything he wants for 24 years with Mephistophilis, one of the devil’s henchmen, as his servant. His wish is granted, but during that time he doesn’t really do anything of importance, just lecturing to people and visiting heads of state.

He does play a joke on the Pope that offered some comic relief.

[Spoilers – highlight to read] At the end of his 24 years, Faustus starts regretting eternity in hell and tries to repent in order that God will forgive him and allow him into heaven. This doesn’t happen and the play ends with Faustus being taken into hell.

What bothered me the most was the language – the play was written at the end of the 1500’s – which was archaic and cumbersome. It wasn’t hard to understand, just not what I am used to. Having said that, there are a few passages that were quite beautiful. Like when Faustus asks Mephistophilis how he is out of hell and he replies:
 

Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?

 
I must admit I found it rather surprising that Mephistophilis would try to talk Faustus out of entering the deal with the devil, but it gives the play a deeper meaning beyond the simple one I have always presumed.

Another thing that I didn’t care for was that whenever Faustus was questioning his faith or considering repentance, a good and a bad angel would appear and plead their cases. This felt contrived and, again, probably because I have seen it done so many times it merely annoyed me.

What is left are the play’s literary and philosophical merits, which I don’t want to get into on this blog. More than the play itself I gained more from reading about it and pondering the question of selling one’s soul to the devil.

So, 3/5 because of its literary importance (the play itself would otherwise get a 2).

Friday, 1 August 2014

On the Move

I've moved to Edinburgh, Scotland (from Sweden).

Hence the silence.

New job on Monday and soon after that I hope to get back to my reading.

*as you were*

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (2.5/5)

First published: 1956
Page count: 57

The back says: Allen Ginsberg's Howl & Other Poems was originally published by City Lights Books in the fall of 1956. Subsequently seized by U.S. Customs and the San Francisco police, it was the subject of a long court trial at which a series of poets and professors persuaded the court that the book was not obscene.

I say: I expected so much of this collection simply because of the beauty of the first four lines of Howl. These four iconic and classic lines:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

 

The rest of part one of Howl is about the things that these ‘minds’ are and do, and it is beautiful in that broken and deprived way. Ginsberg was a part of the Beat Generation and this poem personifies himself, his peers and their surroundings.

The rest of the poems were not my cup of tea, at all. Some of them bored me to tears, while others were tolerable.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland (3/5)

First published: 2001
Page count: 279

The back says: In a cheap motel an hour from Cape Canaveral, Janet Drummond takes her medication, and does a rapid tally of the whereabouts of her children. Wade has spent the night in jail; suicidal Bryan is due to arrive at any moment with his vowel-free girlfriend, Shw; and then there is Sarah, ‘a bolt of lightning frozen midflash’ – here in Orlando to be the star of Friday’s shuttle mission. With Janet’s ex-husband and his trophy wife also in town, Janet spends a moment contemplating her family and where it all went wrong. Or did it?

I say: I have been meaning to read more Coupland for years; buying his books and shelving them for another day. Well, today was finally that day and it wasn’t as grand as I had hoped.

In fact, it was rather meh.

There were only two elements of this novel that interested me; the first one being the reason Janet has to take medication and the family’s past. It was gritty and sad, and even though I don’t particularly savour stories of hardship, there was something about Janet and Wade’s perseverance that endeared them to me. Out of all the characters they seemed the most genuine, despite their flaws and repeated mistakes.

And there were many.

The main reason I didn’t enjoy this was that there were too much random nonsense and silly plot twists that turned the novel into a farce. Supposedly there is humour in here, but I never laughed once and, quite frankly, couldn’t pinpoint a single joke.

Maybe the irony of it all was meant to be funny?

Meh.

I don’t know if I like Coupland’s prose – it got the job done with little no offense. It had moments of present action mixed with flashbacks that revealed the steps that led the family where they were, and kudos a plenty for the exciting patchwork that made up this family drama.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Klangernas Bok: Dikter av Göran Sonnevi (3/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 1998
Antal sidor: 114

Baksidan säger:
Göran Sonnevis nya diktsamling Klangernas bok innehåller 102 orimmade sonetter i en sammanhållen diktsvit. Boken anknyter formellt till Göran Sonnevis tidigare bok Små klanger; en röst, men är öppnare och personligare i sin intensiva flätning av kärlekens och dödens teman.

Jag säger: Jag tyckte att den här samlingen var lite ojämn. Ibland var den otroligt vacker och intensiv, och ibland var den lite för alldaglig. Sonnevi talar om sin mor som är döende i cancer; sina funderingar över livet och döden; vad som gör oss människor och då och då smyger han in vardagen med sin älskade.


Trots att detta inte helt tilltalade mig så läser jag gärna mer av Sonnevi.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Diamonds Are Forever (James Bond, #4) by Ian Fleming (2.5/5)

First published: 1956
Page count: 235

The back says: An international diamond-smuggling pipeline has opened up and the British Treasury wants to know who's controlling it. Impersonating a captured courier named Peter Franks, Bond infiltrates the criminal ring and finds an unlikely ally in Tiffany Case, a gorgeous American with a dark past. As the ring's stateside go-between, she may be just another link in the chain, but Tiffany is also Bond's best shot at finding the elusive figure at the head of the operation - a syndicate boss known only by the initials ABC. But if Bond's cover gets blown, he’ll find that the only thing harder than a diamond is surviving the payback of a pair of murderous henchmen. With a sparkling trail of smuggled gems as bait, Diamonds Are Forever leads Bond on a globe-hopping mission where deadly assassins lurk behind every corner

I say: Just as I start praising Fleming and asserting that these novels are getting better, this comes along.

Oh deary me, what a mess.

The most interesting titbit was probably that this is the first time we find out that Bond likes his Martinis shaken, not stirred. He has been very specific about the amounts of spirits and lemon peel before, and I was wondering if the classic line was going to emerge or if it was a product of the film version.

Now I know.

Other than that we are treated to yet another boring assignment - that the synopsis outlines so well that I have nothing to add – with improbable escapes, a love interest, chauvinism, racism and derogatory remarks about homosexuals.

I really dislike Bond.

This instalment has also made me realise that I don’t care for Fleming’s prose. I find reading these novels trying because there is so much excess information and the remind me of watching CSI in that you know all will be concluded in the eleventh hour. Of course, I knew this from watching the films, but it is getting on my nerves.

Assignment. Sexual attraction to a woman. Boring facts and non-happenings. Locating the bad guys. Action. Capture – usually with the woman. Improbable escape. One paragraph conclusion.


Sigh.

There’s a huge probability that I won’t read all of Fleming’s novels about Bond and just stop this project after the next one, simply because it is part of my 100 Classics Challenge.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Moonraker (James Bond, #3) by Ian Fleming (3.5/5)

First published: 1955
Page count: 245

The back says: ”For several minutes he stood speechless, his eyes dazzled by the terrible beauty of the greatest weapon on earth”

He’s a self-made millionaire, head of the Moonraker rocket programme and loved by the press. So why is Sir Hugo Drax cheating at cards? Bond has just five days to uncover the sinister truth behind a national hero, in Ian Fleming’s third 007 adventure.

I say: Well, well, well, these novels are getting better as I go along.

Or am I merely getting used to it all?

As the synopsis says, Drax has made millions and yet cheats at cards at a private gentlemen’s club in London. A friend of Bond’s boss, M., asks if they can help him solve this puzzle. The situation is delicate because Drax is responsible for the building of the Moonraker, a missile that is meant to be able to target any major city, thus making England a big threat. In five days it is set for a test run and the entire nation will be watching.

As in Casino Royale, there is never any doubt that Bond is going to figure out how Drax is cheating; it is simple a plot device to get Bond somehow involved with the man responsible for the Moonraker. Another plot device is that the following day one of the security staff at the site gets shot and Bond is called in to investigate.

In this novel we find out that Bond isn’t permitted to work in England, but, of course, they make allowances for him to save the day.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the Drax’s elaborate background – more so than the main plot itself – and even though I had my suspicions, Fleming did a great job with this one. As always, there were improbable escapes mixed with blatant chauvinism and uncouth behaviour from Bond, and I’m finding the formula of the obligatory sexual tension with female co-star extremely wearisome.