Friday, October 7, 2011

Ragtime, The Haunted Hotel, The Go-Between

A few more book clubs have gone by, two very good books, one very bad books:


Plot summary: Start of the 20th century in America, a glorious rambling tale through the various major figures of the age as well as two families who come together in unusual circumstances. Race, gender, class issues delved into, with some beautiful portraits of Houdini, J P Morgan, Ford and a few excellent fictional creations. Sweet sex scene also, "...great filamented spurts of jism that traced the air like bullets and then settled slowly over Evelyn in her bed like falling ticker tape."

PBC thoughts: One of the best books we've read so far. Maybe not "the Great American Novel" as the introduction suggests but captures a seminal period of history brilliantly while keeping a nice touch on a central driving plot. Perhaps the end a little bit too easy with the resolution at the end. Also watched Firefly during bookclub, a great TV show if there ever was one. Very easy read as well, short, declarative sentences, reminiscent of Tom Wolfe.

Average rating: 8.5/10

The Haunted Hotel

Plot summary: Woman and her brother kill husband in Italian hotel for insurance money. People figure it out. The woman eventually writes what she did in a play and dies.

PBC thoughts: An decent representation of the genre in the context of time. Personally I found it awful, a rambling, woeful excuse for a murder mystery, with such a blatant devise used for the communication of what actually happened, I am sure any detectives would have wept with joy. Loads of accused wracked with guilt must submit scripts with what actually happened on them. Most people did not have this level of issue.

Average rating: 6/10

The Go Between

Plot summary: Starts with "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Beautiful tale with themes of a loss of innocence and the end of a golden age. An elderly man looks back at a summer spent a rich families house, where he passes messages between two lovers after defeating bullies with a spell at school. All ends in tears. Really poignant exploration of the sexuality and world of early 20th century England.

PBC thoughts: I don't think there was universal agreement that this was a masterpiece, I can't remember why. Powerful themes, perhaps a little bit of ambiguous character development, with the two lovers pretty much adopting a straight line towards destruction and it all affecting the protagonist perhaps a little too significantly. I don't know, it is a glorious read.

Average rating: 8/10

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Years Go Real Fast These Days

So its been like a year since I posted on this thing, some books we have read, and some vague thoughts that I can remember (generally I disagree with the book club on most books because I am awesome):


Came a Hot Friday
Score: 7ish.
Quick Plot: Con-men in some New Zealand town try to rip off Bookies, get away with it with the help of crazy Western Maori "Kid"; all mostly a lesson for a young used car salesmen to listen to his dad.
Thoughts of the PBC: Good times mostly, but the crazy Kid is rather silly and this symbolises the general silly nature of proceedings kinda detracting from a reasonable plot, nice characters and fractured picture of a time in NZ post-colonial history.

Score: 5ish
Quick plot: Gentleman thief, plays cricket, steals diamonds, all gradually comes crashing down.
Thoughts of the PBC: Ambiguous morality, clearly saying "this is not good" but doing so haphazardly, rather silly really, nothing much to it, a lot of repetition but still funny and interesting in bits.

Score: 4ish.
Quick plot: Dystopia post-nuclear bomb, people gain powers but hunted down by autocratic evil overlords, except for sanctuary in the hills, story of girl who gets to sanctuary and beats evil people controlling sanctuary.
Thoughts of the CLUB: Very silly, not well written, kids story.

Farewell My Lovely
Score: 7ish
Quick Plot: Gum shoe detective, gets hopelessly messed up with a bunch of crazy characters and it turns out everything is linked together and he solves the day but its a bit of a bitter sweet thing with people dying and all that.
Thoughts of the PBC: Very enjoyable, great example of genre, a bit pointless but a certified good read.

Notes From Underground
[Not present at book club]

The Sheltering Sky
Score: 7ish
Quick Plot: Can't distinguish from really shit movie in my mind now. Couple touring round Africa, like a "worst case" travel novel, ending in crazy carnage with protagonist dying and wife raped.
Thoughts of the PBC: Quite profound in places, surprising in others, a very good read. Can't remember there being too much bad said - although the movie was woeful, truly woeful, the author is in it and everything and talks to the camera. Jesus. I can't say enough about how bad this movie really is. John Malkovich too.

Score: 6ish
Quick Plot: A kinda "man who knew too little" tale about the wrong family member sent to cover a war who ends up getting the "Scoop".
Thoughts of the PBC: Very different from first Evelyn Waugh we'd read (Brideshead), a riproaring adventure, exceedingly racist, a little silly employing a few rather ridiculous turning plot points but one expects reflective of a rather silly era, still highly enjoyable and very funny in places.

The History of Sexuality: Volume 1

[Not present at book club]

The Pit and the Pendulum (and other stories)
[Not present at book club]
Personal Thoughts: Some smegging fantastic stuff, although the whole Sherlok Holmes vibe gets a bit tired as it does in Connan Doyle. Some of the gothic horror stories though: Descent into the Maelstrom in particular, very evocative, amazingly before its time and pretty damn terrifying. Has a way of beautifully describing a little world and expressing it relatively briefly and capturing and creating profound emotions.

How We Are Hungry
[Not present at book club]

Getting further back in time now, quick description will do for each.

Lucky Jim
Hilarious, truly, gloriously hilarious, especially for the thesis student just finished. Captures the utter pointless back breaking drudgery of academia from the perspective of a lazy dickhead who gets lucky. I think book club found it a little tiresome, but remember, these people can't be trusted.

Therese Raquin
Relatively shit, moralisticish take on adultery. Suggests certain people mechanical and animalistic, just rather bleak in the end. I think generally people did not enjoy this.

SHIT. Like. really shit. like "ou lets be all post modern and do a modernist take on the whole idea of Robinson Crusoe. Quite like this quote, at the time seen as a bit of a shitty nothing piece by South African critics:

"In our knowledge of the human suffering on our own doorstep of thousands of detainees who are denied recourse to the rule of law, Foe does not so much speak to Africa as provide a kind of masturbatory release, in this country, for the Europeanising dreams of an intellectual coterie."

I think it goes without saying that Giles loved this book. BUuurrrnrnnnn. 

The end.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Books v Movies

So I just watched this really good movie, Toy Story 3, and immediately noticed that facebook announced bravely the two or three "friends" who had also seen it discussing how great it was. I had a post myself all ready to click.

Then it struck me, the other day I completed a book, unpenguiny - "A Fraction of a Whole" Man Booker Shortlisted Aussie tale by Steve Toltz or something, utterly brilliant. Like really enjoyable, a great story, brilliant self conscious style, memorable and gloriously twisted characters and nice binding philosophic dialogue and philosophy underpinning it all.

But I would have never contemplated posting on it. Why...why is it that it is ok to post on movies but not books.

Am I that convinced my friends are morons? My friend, the genius, Giles, posts all intellectual styles all the time. Rdoc and Johnny post on their artistic accomplishments. Everyone posts on work and thesis progress. As far as I can tell, strangely, books - which as us popular penguin enjoyers will testify to, can evoke more profound emotions than movies can ever hope to project - are a bit of a taboo topic.

What is the reason? You can post a quote happily, but I have rarely seen emotion expressed about how great a book is. I am genuinely interested. Tell me. What is the reason?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Choice of His Own

An illustration of why Virginnia Wolfe whining about her gender is powerful but lame

Being a rich, white male is sometimes frustrating.

Firstly, almost all the problems in the world are the fault of your choices.

Whether its for our incompetancies and evils in dealing with race, sex, religion, economics, politics, ethnicity, disability or music taste, white, rich males are usually at the head of every well meaning, tree hippies hit list. For good reason too, our forefathers fucked up.

Secondly, and closely related to firstly, you are given an awful lot of responsibility.

With the immense choice open to you as the elite of the world, you are expected, somehow to succeed on three fronts. 1. Find a Gorgeous Girl, Knock Her Up. 2. Become Financially Literate, Invest Wisely and 3. Become An Adaptable Expert.

Probably in exactly the opposite order but you get the picture. A lot is expected, fail on any of these accounts and society deems you as a failure, and trust me, there is no being more depressed than a failed rich male (except a failed rich male's wife).

It is therefore surprising and humbling that so many manage to pull out a number 4. Become Creative Enough to Write A Novel.

There are the odd few that divert their efforts from 3 to 4, and certainly 4 can come at the expense of any of 1 to 3 but it is nevertheless a profound achievement that deserves respect. Indeed, the mere attempt, often allocating an individual firmly into the failure bucket, is something worth celebrating.

It is perhaps a fruitless hope but I would like to live in a world where the pursuit and failure of 4 would not necessarily be deemed a failure. A world where a man can have a choice of his own.

Its almost like chicks have it easier, they can make the mistakes and fail but always have the option of marrying and leeching off a success. Its what comes with all this power, this immense responsibility.
It is hard being a super gender. But someone has to do it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Steinbeck is the king of books

So Cannery Row is one of the best books by far that we have read at book club!

But that was obvious right, I mean come on, Steinbeck for crying out loud. Once again he threads together a mix match of characters into a inconceivable story that comes out as a highly enjoyable read. His ability to construct novels from quirky events tied together with modern themes make Steinbeck the number one writer.

Favourite character has to be Doc, firstly he is a marine biologist, next his name is slightly like my name i'm posting this post with. But apart from that, he reflects what I think Steinbeck may be feeling about himself at times, well above the intellectual level of his neighbours yet frustrated at some parts of life, and able to pull babes like crazy. Except Doc is contempt with his mediocre surroundings which Steinbeck probably managed to escape seeing he put out many a popular novel and therefore getting him in to high society...

But really the best part of the book is that it is set in Cannery Row which you can go and visit any time, even on google maps in street view, which is amazing:

View Larger Map

Friday, March 19, 2010

Three Hundred Pages of Confusedness

Marquis' classic is by all accounts the best Spanish thing since Don Quixote. As I've only seen a poor ballet interpretation of the classic and a few vaguelly related movies, I can't comment on that comparison but 100 Years of Solitude is hardly what you'd expect near the top of a language's literature. Obviously, English speaking people are inherently superior to Spanish speaking people, proved decisively in the Spanish invasion of 1588, where Clive Owen single handedly defeated the Spanish Armada but you'd still hope for something better than this.

The book didn't exactly disappoint but it certainly wasn't the classic I'd expected. I am a great fan of Louis de Bernières, a self expressed "Marquis parasite" who produced a trilogy of novels in the style of 100 years of solitude. The similarities are powerful, but Bernières follows one generation and adopts an unambiguous underlying political message, in contrast to the weird, winding pathways in Marquis opus.

The good things
  • Its certainly not all bad, critics pose it as an exemplar of magical realism and that it is. Similar to Bernières who perfects the idea, the supernatural is deemed mundane. Tarot card reading, premonitions and ascensions to heaven are described in the same rambly style as the romantic involvements of the main characters, without even the characters involved noting any particular disbelief. Fantasy does itself a favour when it doesn't take the fantasy too seriously and focuses on the story, this (mostly) avoids the pitfalls of the post-Tolkein, pre-Gaimen era.
  • The characters, who make up the subject matter of the book, are ridiculously vivid and jump out of the page hitting you with a laugh out loud, gasp out loud and cry out loud moments.
  • One of the central themes is time, and Marquis manipulates, and dances on the concept of time with the expertise of a Star Trek writer. Never has a novel stated the rather obvious "history repeating itself" message in such an eloquent manner. However, it is its rather ambiguous treatment of time which makes for its greater failings.
The bad things
  • Its really, really confusing. Characters have the same name, you can be twenty pages through a particular little plotline and suddenly realise the author is talking about a different character. Although this plays neatly into the time theme, it also makes it incredibly frustrating read at times. 
  • Most of those vivid characters reside in a single dimension, as you'd expect from a novel which describes a families history, you only get fleeting glimpses, but as described in the novel, you tend to get quite polemic character traits, that although often exchanged between confusing names, remain pretty constant.
  • At times, you feel Marquis phones in a section. The peculiarity of magical realism appears to make ascending a character to heaven or having them disappear and reappear particularly easy, rather than explaining things. And just occasionally, there is a focus on the magicalness which loses touch with the plot.
  • It is very politically ambiguous. He seems to be trying so hard not to make a statement, yet the unthinking sexism/racist ideology seems to pervade everything slightly, ever so slightly. I don't know, but I don't like it.
It fails on some levels, but by no means on all. It is just surprising that this is given so much critical love. For its time, it probably was something completely different but its influence on post modernist writing means you have a million novels since which do it better without the negative aspects. Still, for you popular penguinites out there, a worthy and absorbing read, and probably worth it for the historical aspects.

New Directions

Warning: This is the first in a new trend for the blog, seeking to inject it with more life. From here on out, the thoughts of members on non-book club selected popular penguins will be permitted to be recorded on the wall of this hallowed temple. These have not been subjected to the rigid scrutiny of Popular Penguin Book Club and thus the opinions stated cannot truly be given with the type of excellent critical analysis hyou will have come to expect from the blog. Nevertheless, this provides an opportunity for wider discussion and anyone is welcome to contribute, reply with your blogger email and we will add you to the contributers.

For the record, here is the official constitution of Book Club, as declared by authoritarian proclamation by Leader Poms on 20 March 2010:

  1. Never discuss book club outside of book club.
  2. No books selected for official book club discussion will have been read by any book club member during the course of their natural lives before the selection of that book at an official book club.
  3. Each book club starts with a human sacrifice to the Penguin, God of the Books.
  4. After the sacrifice, each member gives their first thoughts, then discussion rages, followed by final thoughts and a ranking based on an integer scale between 0 and 10.
  5. Membership is open to all, except obviously Jews. (Just kidding, we are all Jewish at heart).