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Offline Roundy

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #320 on: June 08, 2017, 02:23:54 AM »
I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with a shaggy dog story as long as it's well-written, which American Gods was, so I had no quibble with it. I'm sure it suggests something about the random nature of the universe, or something.

I just finished Small Gods from the Discworld series. As it dealt intelligently and often viciously with some of my own interests, like religion, mythology, and philosophy, and also had me laughing out loud several times, I think it's one of my favorite books in the series.

I am now reading V. by Thomas Pynchon. It's interesting.
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Offline Crudblud

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #321 on: June 08, 2017, 05:42:17 AM »
I am now reading V. by Thomas Pynchon. It's interesting.

I've found that to be his most difficult book, but I know quite a few people who think it is his best, too.

I just finished re-reading Pynchon's Mason & Dixon last night. It was even more enjoyable for me this time around, Pynchon's deep grasp of the historical setting (mostly America on the eve of revolution, plus some bits in the Dutch Cape Colony, St. Helena, and of course Britain) and 18th century astronomy, to say nothing of other technical fields, provides a rich environment in which to stage the great and believable friendship between the two main characters, as well as tons of smaller stories which occur within the main narrative. The last part is expected of Pynchon, most his novels unfold almost like CRPGs in that everywhere the story goes there are new characters to meet with their own stories to tell, but the central relationship between Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon is the engine that drives the novel, and to have this at its core is what makes it so special among a very special body of work.

Another point in its favour: Saddam hates it!

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Offline crutonius

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #322 on: June 11, 2017, 04:15:02 AM »
On tyranny, Timothy Snyder.

A little disappointing to be honest. Its much shorter than it should be. It can't decide whether it wants to be a scathing take down of Trump or a thorough exploration of fascism.

Think i'll either look for something on fascism that I can really sink my teeth into or just take a break from this and get back to work on les miserables.

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Offline Crudblud

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #323 on: June 12, 2017, 02:27:00 PM »
Nicholson Baker - The Fermata

A book which I guess would be the subject of much protest were it published for the first time today. It's basically a guy, Arnold Strine, who can stop time (the titular "fermata", also referred to as "the drop") telling you about how he uses it to undress or sometimes sexually violate women without them ever knowing about it. It's billed as a comedy, but I think it's more complicated than that. The main character and narrator is creepy as fuck, as you might imagine, displaying a kind of psychopathic disregard for other people, except for those he becomes obsessed with, in which case he may invade their lives in other ways, always using his ability to prevent them from finding out. He spends some time in the book (which is presented as a fictional autobiography) rationalising what he does, claiming that it is not rape or tantamount to rape, because he believes that his intentions are essentially good, and that the idea of other people being able to do what he does disgusts him.

Baker uses a lot of protologisms, puns, wordplay etc. in a deliberately obnoxious way to highlight how smug the Strine character is. The would-be casual, would-be affable way in which the narrator recounts his doings becomes very uncomfortable and slimy very quickly, and the voice the author has developed for the character is incredibly effective. It shares a stylistic base with The Mezzanine, an earlier novel by Baker (mentioned here because it's the only other one of his that I've read), but he has definitely added a much creepier tone, and without feeling at all forced. The narrator himself does feel like he is writing in a forced manner, because he is trying to impress you, sort of like a child who has found something gross and wants to show it to everyone. This subtle shading of the prose is an impressive display of ability on Baker's part, I'd say it might even be the most unnerving and brilliantly observed psychological portrait I've encountered in literature, but that's not the kind of statement I can easily commit to.

At some point during his life of "fermation", Strine begins to use it to take long stretches of time out of his day and write pornographic fiction, which is where most of the laugh-out-loud humour is, because it's just so ridiculously over the top. Of course, he also uses the ability to surreptitiously slip copies of his stories into the handbags and so forth of unsuspecting women, and then observe them reading. Baker never lets a laugh get far, he has a kind of contrapuntal way of maintaining the unpleasant atmosphere even in the book's most ridiculous passages. On a deeper level the stories within the story reveal what I think is the author's true intention: not to hold this vile character up and say "isn't raping women hilarious?" but to brutally satirise erotic fiction and the romance novel in general by turning the format on its head and making it as vulgar and uncomfortable as possible. It definitely succeeds, and I found it as engrossing as it was unpleasant—sometimes even infuriating. It definitely isn't the kind of finger wagging moralistic preaching that tends to pass for satire in common parlance today, but a heady and grotesque affair that doesn't pull any punches whatsoever. I'm still not entirely sure whether I liked it or not, but it is a brilliant piece of writing.

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Offline Roundy

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #324 on: June 24, 2017, 02:43:34 PM »
I am now reading V. by Thomas Pynchon. It's interesting.

I've found that to be his most difficult book, but I know quite a few people who think it is his best, too.

This is an interesting comment, as I originally had my sights on Gravity's Rainbow and chose to read this one first because a lot of people seem to consider that one particularly difficult and recommend reading something else by Pynchon first.

Certainly it's a dense and complicated writing style, but once I got past that I found the story surprisingly easy to follow (to be fair it wasn't quite as complicated as I was expecting). The story of Benny Profane and the Whole Sick Crew was entertaining enough, but what really stood out for me were Stencil's discoveries into the past. It's consistently gripping and sometimes shocking stuff. The chapter early on that tells its story from the perspectives of a series of outside observers was particularly inventive and amusing.

At some points while I was reading it I thought I might have to read it a second time for full comprehension but it all came together in the end (more or less... as much as I think it was supposed to at any rate). In all a very good book.
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Offline Crudblud

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #325 on: June 24, 2017, 03:58:49 PM »
I am now reading V. by Thomas Pynchon. It's interesting.

I've found that to be his most difficult book, but I know quite a few people who think it is his best, too.

This is an interesting comment, as I originally had my sights on Gravity's Rainbow and chose to read this one first because a lot of people seem to consider that one particularly difficult and recommend reading something else by Pynchon first.

Certainly it's a dense and complicated writing style, but once I got past that I found the story surprisingly easy to follow (to be fair it wasn't quite as complicated as I was expecting). The story of Benny Profane and the Whole Sick Crew was entertaining enough, but what really stood out for me were Stencil's discoveries into the past. It's consistently gripping and sometimes shocking stuff. The chapter early on that tells its story from the perspectives of a series of outside observers was particularly inventive and amusing.

At some points while I was reading it I thought I might have to read it a second time for full comprehension but it all came together in the end (more or less... as much as I think it was supposed to at any rate). In all a very good book.

Gravity's Rainbow probably is more difficult in terms of how complicated the plot is, but I think it's where his writing goes from "hmm, impressive" to "holy shit how do you even do that" level. I'd agree that it might not be the best intro to Pynchon, that honour most likely goes to Inherent Vice, but either way he's done a lot of different stuff and one book won't necessarily prepare you for another.

V. is easily better than anything I could ever write, but I think the reason it was difficult for me is that I found the prose style a little messy. Some of that is because he's riffing on the beats, at least in the '50s chapters, but overall I think it's just down to his being fairly young and inexperienced as a novelist. He was in his early-mid twenties when he wrote it, and he'd only written a handful of short stories (substantial in their own right, it should be noted) before that, and I think both of those things show through the ambitious structure. It might also be worth noting that I read Mason & Dixon first, which is pretty much Pynchon at the height of his powers, and maybe I was a little spoiled by both that and GR when I finally got around to V.. Still, I would like to re-read it soon, especially having now seen your positive reaction to it.

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Offline Crudblud

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Re: FES Book Club
« Reply #326 on: July 19, 2017, 07:14:56 AM »
Don DeLillo - Libra

DeLillo's psychological and blackly satirical take on the events leading up to the assassination of JFK. Split between an almost comical look at a group of CIA agents who are trying to plot a failed attempt on the President's life as a pretext for full blown war with Cuba, and the meticulously researched and convincingly dramatised biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, the plot alternates as the two stories converge, in a similar but not quite the same structure as the previously mentioned V.. Jack Ruby, who is the main character of a few sections, is also richly fleshed out. There is also a third story, arguably a frame narrative of sorts, though it first appears a good way into the novel rather than at the beginning, in which a CIA archivist is piecing together the events surrounding the assassination.

DeLillo's writing style, as usual, jumps deftly between poignant psychological insights, colloquial banter, and deadpan absurdism that can be both hilarious and depressing at the same time. His "biography" of Oswald shows off his rich characterisation abilities, and delivers a very complex character, neither a monster or a hero, a weird and insecure guy who doesn't really know what he's doing, but finds himself at odds with American society because of his communist political leanings. As he is drawn into an unfolding plot, the designers of which find him to be a near perfect match for their projected shooter/patsy, his ability to balance family and politics, which are ever in conflict, is steadily demolished. I won't go into detail about the book's depiction of the Oswald family, but the way DeLillo eschews sensationalist conspiracy theory fiction in favour of keenly observed domestic scenes to build the foundations of Oswald's character, his tether to the real world, is well worth mentioning as one of the book's strongest elements.

The book weaves its themes together convincingly. These are dense and multi-layered, but the idea of Libra, scales, balance between opposing forces, a mediating influence between them, is applied to almost everything. The book makes a great deal of coincidence, personal agency, and the ineluctable modality* of history. Oswald himself is presented as someone who is trying to escape history but is at the same time drawn to the romanticism of fate. He is taken in by the manic David Ferrie, who is obsessed with fate and astrology, and claims to find Oswald intriguing because of his star sign, Libra. It is never clear how much of Ferrie's interest in Oswald is guided by the personal vs. his involvement with the Kennedy plot, but this sort of ambiguity of motive is the book's bread and butter. It is a highly engaging and thoughtful book that is beautifully constructed, and I recommend it muchly.

*just started my second attempt at James Joyce's Ulysses