Sep 9 2011
I’m not sure how often I’ll be contributing to this feature; I’m a slow reader who reads several books at once, and right now three of the four books I’m reading are LONG and dense. So unless folks want to read a chapter by chapter update, it might not be of much interest. Anyway…
Bleak House by Charles Dickens: I feel that I have been reading this since shortly after Dickens finished serializing it in 1853. In actuality, it’s only been since February, but that’s long enough. I downloaded this onto my iPhone because I thought I remembered reading that it was one of Dickens’ most humorous books. I tend to like Dickens’ sense of humor, particularly his absurd characters. Bleak House does contain a couple of those: Mr. Skimpole, for one, who manages to get away with (figurative) murder by calmly and openly declaring how irresponsible he is. Mr. Skimpole is funny, but he’s also infuriating at times; I’ve gotten to the point where I kind of want one of the other characters to slug him. Also amusing and irritating in turns is Mrs. Jellyby, who ignores her large and chaotic family in favor of writing endless letters having to do with an obscure African tribe she views as an essential charitable concern. Overall, though, Bleak House isn’t exactly a laugh riot. Mostly I’m finding it confusing and impenetrable, and I’m not sure what’s going on much of the time. There are a lot of characters, and lots of things happen which may or may not have anything to do with the central storyline, having to do with an endless court case, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which has dragged on for years and dragged many a person down with it. Bleak House isn’t bad, and I have the feeling I’ll be glad I read it when I finish it (I know I’ll be glad I finished it!). But I feel like I’m not quite “getting” it. Also, I’m only 60% into it, according to Stanza. Sigh.
London’s Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age by Dan Cruickshank: I like to be reading at least one non-fiction book at all times, and when I picked this one up I thought it would be both entertaining and informative. Unfortunately, it tends more towards the latter, and at times reads like it was written by an actuary. A very dull actuary. The book’s focus is actually prostitution in the Georgian age (a bit more narrow than I realized when I bought it), and the author devotes pages to analyses of data to determine, say, how many prostitutes were working in London during a particular period of the era. This does not interest me greatly – I was expecting more focus on anecdotes and profiles of notable people from the age. There is some of that, though even these parts are not told in a particularly compelling way, and the lack of solid evidence leads to a lot of speculation by the author. For instance, in discussing the woman thought to be the model for Fielding’s Moll Flanders, he follows several leads; she may have been a prostitute who was transported to America or she may have been a different prostitute who died at a young age. It’s just not that interesting, ultimately. An examination of men put on trial for homosexual activities is a bit more compelling, as well as very sad. But no sooner does that chapter end than the author goes back to estimating how many houses of prostitution existed, and how the local economy was affected by a building boom driven by the need for these houses. That sounds more interesting than it is, I swear. I still have hundreds of pages to go. I already sighed, didn’t I?
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: You know what you need when you’re already reading two long and difficult books? Did you say “a 19th century Russian novel?” Then, you’re right! Well, actually, you’re wrong – who thinks it’s a good idea to start a 1,000 page Russian classic in the midst of that other reading? I did, apparently. A few years ago, my sister and I began the mutual goal of reading a Russian novel each summer. The tradition has gone along in fits and starts, and we’ve only actually gotten two read: Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina. Much like these other two books, so far The Brothers Karamazov is challenging and occasionally thought-provoking, rather than strictly enjoyable to read. With a novel like this, there are so many things – the translation, the fact that it was written in a different era and a different culture, the metaphorical characterization and allusions – that add distance between the book and me as a reader. As a reader who really values connecting with the characters in a story, this distance can be frustrating. Sometimes I think the chief pleasure of such books is the brief moments of connection, of recognition, across all that divides me from the narrative. Sort of like suddenly understanding an entire sentence spoken in a foreign language. Anyway, I will persevere with The Brothers Karamazov, because it is Good For Me.
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson: Review to come. For now I’ll say that it was kind of a mixed bag for me, very compelling in parts and disappointing in others. It’s billed as sort of a take-off on Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.
A Bride Unveiled by Jillian Hunter: Review to come, maybe, unless someone else wants to review it and save me the trouble. It had an intriguing set-up, but managed to be somehow (much) less than the sum of its parts. I’m not even sure what to grade it, because it’s not *that* bad, but I found myself annoyed and disappointed with it for reasons I can’t quite articulate.
That’s it for now! I’ve just started The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville. So far, I’m not quite getting what the fuss is about. But there’s lots of book still to read.
Until next time,