Saturday, November 19, 2011

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (4 down, 96 to go)

"I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion." ~ Sal Paradise

This is the first time I’ve read On the Road or Jack Kerouac. The novel is the first-person narrative of Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s alter ego, as he takes several road trips across North America in the late 1940s. On the Road is the emblem of the Beat Generation, and Kerouac is one of three icons of Beat Generation writers.

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars


I didn’t dig this book at all….man I didn’t!

What a waste of time. OK, now I know I’ve disliked all four books so far, but I’m really not some sort of snob, trying to show how sophisticated I am by disliking what is popular…I’m really not. There are books coming up that I like, but this isn’t one of them. The line that I quoted at the top of this review is truly emblematic of the book. 

I probably have no right to critique Kerouac, as he is a published author and I am not, but this book seems to offer nothing but Kerouac’s confusion.

I'm willing to bet that somewhere, someone has described this as a book that defines a generation. But it's just hyperbole. At most, it defines a subset of a generation. And for those, who for a season of their lives took a similar road, I get it. I imagine On the Road is a romantic reminder of the era. Overly romantic in my opinion; the lifestyle depicted more often led to ruined or wasted lives than to best-selling novels.

I truly mean no disrespect to Mr. Kerouac. If some personal compulsion urged him to put his life down in writing (it’s semi-autobiographical), I hope it satisfied him. But to anyone that claims this is brilliant literature – it isn’t. I know very enlightened souls will scoff and insist that I just don’t get it, let them scoff. I get it; it’s the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Film Rendition: The 2012 film starring Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, is as pointless as the book.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3 down, 97 to go)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. ~ Opening line

This is the second time I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye and the only work I’ve read by J.D. Salinger. The book is a post-modernist novel and the first-person narrative of Holden Caulfield recalling a few days of his life, late December, 1949.

My Rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars

This book killed me if you want to know the truth; it really did. It reminded me of a book I read a long time ago, I can’t remember the name, but it was the sort of book that makes you feel like crying half the time, and laughing half the time, and then just sort of puking the rest of the time. I’m always reading these books that make me want to cry and laugh and puke. It’s depressing if you want to know the truth. It really is.

For the benefit of anyone who has not read The Catcher in the Rye, the previous paragraph was my attempt to mimic Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist. I read this the first time a few years ago and didn’t like it very much. I enjoyed it more the second time, but it still isn’t among my favorites. Holden is spoiled, whiny and self-absorbed. He is traveling home for the holidays, but also because he has flunked out of a prestigious boarding school – not the first time this has happened. His parents don’t know yet, and he makes several detours seemingly to avoid the confrontation.

Some readers have presumed Holden is telling his story to a psychiatrist, but that is not my understanding. He has been admitted to a medical facility, because he wandered around New York smoking and drinking, without a coat, little food, and little sleep.

He’s a pretty annoying poor little rich kid. He has a few good qualities though and the most endearing is his adoration of his little sister, ole Phoebe.

Quotations, that either made me cry or laugh or puke (all by Holden).

I told him I liked Ring Lardner and The Great Gatsby and all. I did too. I was crazy about The Great Gatsby. Old Gatsby, Old sport. That killed me.

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.

Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a *&*??@!! toilet seat.

Ernie’s a big fat colored guy that plays the piano. He’s a terrific snob and he won’t hardly even talk to you unless you’re a big shot or a celebrity or something, but he can really play the piano. He’s so good he’s almost corny, in fact. I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it. 

It isn’t important, I know, but I hate it when somebody has cheap suitcases. It sounds terrible to say it, but I can even get to hate somebody, just looking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them.

One quotation not by Holden: a character gives Holden advice by way of a quotation by Wilhelm Stekel (real person, real quotation): 
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

That one knocks me out; it really does.

Film Rendition: There is apparently a 2008 video entitled The Catcher in the Rye, but as I understand it, it is 75 minutes of blue screen, nothing else. Supposedly a tribute to Holden's anti-establishment ideology.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

1984 by George Orwell (2 down, 98 to go)

This is the second time I’ve read 1984, and the second work I’ve read by George Orwell. 1984 is a dystopian novel set in London in – you guessed it, 1984. Published in 1948, it was wildly futuristic at the time. It tells the tale of Winston Smith and his struggle against the oppressive and autocratic government.

My Rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars


I liked this much more on the second read, though I still didn’t love it. It was riveting, and almost prophetic, though Orwell missed the date by a few decades.

The protagonist, Winston Smith is a petty bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth, where he revises newspaper and magazine stories, to conform to the government’s ever changing version of the truth. Smith secretly hates the government and its leader Big Brother. Such hatred is a thought crime punishable by death, so Smith drudges on impotent to change anything. He becomes obsessed with Julia, a woman he initially loathes, as she appears to be an obedient party tool – until she slips him a note professing her love. The two begin a dangerous liaison and Smith learns he is not alone, as Julia is connected with an underground resistance.

The reader is thrilled for Smith – no longer an impotent drone, but also fears that each rendezvous only increases the risk of discovery.

It isn't meant to be cheery of course, it's meant to warn us of a future that could be. In that regard, it's quite brilliant. Orwell wrote it in the 40s, and though he was well off on dates and specific technologies, the bigger principles of revisionist history, government invasion of privacy, and thought crimes are not at all extraordinary. In that regard, the warning is still as poignant as ever.

I was very intrigued by Newspeak, the official language in Orwell's vision of the future. Newspeak eliminated countless redundancies of English. We have words such as: small, tiny, little, that mean essentially the same thing, and then multiple other words that mean the opposite such as: big, large, huge, etc. Newspeak eliminates all but one of these, and then with a prefix and two suffixes covers the entire range: small, smaller, smallest, unsmall, unsmaller, and unsmallest. The pragmatic in me thinks this is brilliant. But the romantic finds it to be the unbeautifulest language imaginable.

Film Rendition: Released in, you guessed it 1984, is true to the book, and possibly more depressing with the bleak imagery. I would never have considered John Hurt as Winston Smith, but he pulled it off quite convincingly.