Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray, the only novel published by Oscar Wilde, is the second work of Wilde's that I have read this year. As with most of these books, this author and title was recommended by a friend of mine and, again, failed to disappoint.

The plot follows a young, dashing fellow (Dorian Gray) and his relationship with artist Basil Hallward and socialite Lord Henry Wotton. Basil becomes infatuated with Gray as a art subject for his youth and beauty and credits Dorian for inspiring Basil's greatest work of art, a portrait of Gray. Lord Henry introduces Dorian to a hedonistic worldview promoting beauty and the enjoyment of life, saying that it should be enjoyed while available as it is fleeting.

The portrait of Gray shows the young man's incredible beauty and causes himself to become in love with himself and his looks, and he makes the remark how he wish the picture would age rather his true self. As he adopts Lord Henry's life perspective, his innocence and virtue decays through a number of horrific acts. His wish for the painting so happens to come true and serves as a constant reminder his depravity.

Not since Crime and Punishment have I read a book or author that speaks so clearly and accurately of human nature. Thanks to Wilde's clever and witty writing, the book is filled with familiar quotes and one-liners about love, women, art, and the human race. The layout of the story, the themes, natures of the characters, and writing style make it a classic in every way imaginable. Hope you enjoy!

This will most likely be the last post of 2010 and it is unclear if I'll continue into the new year. Thanks so much to those who have read this periodically. Remember Mark Twain: "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over those who don't"!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris

You simply must read this guy... I enjoyed Squirrel Meets Chipmunk so much and have recently come across several articles, interviews, and podcasts he is involved in that I picked this up, upon the recommendation of a friend. I think his pointed writing and humorous writing is as good as it gets. This book is a compilation of short stories and essays recounting his childhood and family and experiences living in New York and Paris.. I read this on a couple of flights and spent most of my time covering my mouth to avoid stares from the guy next to me. If you read this and don't like it, please don't tell me because I'd like to think I don't know anyone who wouldn't choke on their coffee reading this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sedaris, Nicholson, Godin

Welcome back! It has been a while and, although I haven't written in a while, I have continued reading. I am fortunate enough to have some really well-read, intelligent friends who suggested a couple of great reads.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris

This immediately became one of my favorite books that I have read this year. Sedaris is a mastermind storyteller and in this book he takes ordinary life situations and tells them with animals as the main characters in several short stories. The writing is amazingly clever and approachable and, at times, hilariously crude. The author purposefully chooses certain animals that we have existing associations and pre-conceived notions of, which drives home the point of his stories all the more. Definitely check out this book!

The Elephant Keeper - Christopher Nicholson

I didn't love this book when I started it, while I was reading it, or even when I finished it, but a couple weeks after finishing, I like it the more I think about it. The story follows the relationship of a boy who looks after and takes care of two elephants in England set in the 18th century. Even when on the last page of the book, I wasn't sure what the point of the past 300 pages had been although the story is legitimately enjoyable to read. By the end of the book, the author does a impressive job of making you question everything you read, assumed, and believed about the story and implants a lot of doubt about the entire book - which I really like. It reminded me a lot of Life of Pi, although I think Yann Martel did a better job of storytelling and getting a similar point across.

Linchpins by Seth Godin

In a previous blog, I mentioned how I don't like self-help, motivational books that much, but I've had good luck with the past couple I have read so maybe my opinion is changing. This book talks about the importance of being irreplaceable in a job, organization, etc, changing your approach on how and where you look for a job, and re-inventing the idea of employment. I wish I had read this book a year ago coming out of graduate school, but believe the timing right now couldn't be better as I make the transition to Washington, DC and, hopefully, Denver within the next year. Several "sound bites" and catch phrases from the book are memorable and practical in any job you are in now and helping you transition to where you would really like to be. It is one of the better motivational books I have read and has certainly changed my thinking on my career. Thanks Fief!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hersey and McCarthy

Hiroshima by John Hersey

It doesn't quite feel right to describe this as a "good book" because of the subject that it deals with in harsh details, but it certainly is captivating. Hersey's journalistic approach presents the stories of five people who were in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. He recounts where they were, their struggle in the days, weeks, and months following the attack, and, in an updated version of the book, revisits his characters forty years after to summarize how the rest of their lives played out.

It is a sobering account of the lives of people who lived through certain hell and told with such vivid description. Some of the characters lives are truly ruined by the event while others show an unprecedented triumph of the human spirit. It is an incredibly up-close, ugly picture of that kind of war, but one that should be understood.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

This is probably one of the strangest books I've read, but it has a great hook at the beginning and finishes well at the end, the middle was a little sluggish - perhaps intentionally.

The story follows a man who was injured in a mysterious accident and receives a huge financial settlement as compensation. As he deliberates on what to spend this money on, he has this lightbulb-above-the-head moment, a certain clarity of what he wants to do with his money. He begins to re-enact places and events in his life. For example, his first re-enactment is this apartment complex with a lady below him who cooks liver and a pianist practicing a piece of music over and over. He re-creates this using actors and props to simulate the smell of the liver wafting through his window and the sound of the piano up through the floor boards. He goes on to re-enact an event in a tire shop, murders on the street, and a bank robbery. The attention to detail and small seemingly insignificant things is obsessive.

The writing and commentary is sharp and biting, but I didn't find it quite as smart as, say, Chuck Palahniuk in Fight Club or Survivor - but it has that sort of tone. I really enjoyed this and, if nothing else, it's certainly different than anything else you are likely to read. I think it has really interesting things to say about happiness and the memory of happiness.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway

I'm really not sure what to write to convince you to read this book. I absolutely adore Hemingway and this book is right behind Farewell to Arms as my favorite one of his books. The story begins in France and features Jake Barnes, as the protagonist, with his friends on their experience of the fiestas, running of the bulls, and bullfighting in Spain.

To me, it might be the quintessential Hemingway novel, capturing everything that immediately comes to mind when I think of his stories - likable but tortured main characters, unrequited love, wine, and bullfighting. I find Lady Ashley one of the most memorable female characters in his books--although I despising her throughout most of it. She is very alive and Hemingway does such a good job of creating characters that the reader knows and identifies with. It's almost as if you could put people you know in the cast to play out the story. The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby were both written around the same time and attempt to capture the essence of the "Lost Generation" following WWI.

Someone told me this week that they were afraid that I had an inclination to melancholy art -- depressing songs, sad books, heartbreaking movies. I started thinking about that and why that might be true. I remember having such a strong connection with Farewell to Arms, which is the saddest story I've read, but I was so invested in the story that I specifically recall the feeling I had when I finished it. Timing is everything when it comes to those things - sometimes you read a book, watch a movie, or listed to a song at the right time, and no matter how dark it is, you are still able to take comfort in identifying with it and are able to find some joy in it.

I had read The Sun Also Rises before and I remember not connecting with it or loving it. This second time around was really good timing.

Read this book. Read it every year. It really is that good - I'll name it as my favorite of 2010 thus far.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

A dystopian novel inspired on the Russian revolutions in 1905 and 1917 with similar themes in other such books like 1984, Brave New World, and Anthem. I felt like this books rings a bit more true than those books since the author lived in a repressive society, but who knows.

It follows the story of a mathematician named D-503 and his girlfriend, O-90, and a woman he becomes infatuated with, I-330. I-330 is completely counter-cultural to The One State and D-503 discovers her plan to overthrow the totalitarian society. D-503 begins to have dreams and explore his imagination - both of which The One State portrays as mental illnesses, which can be fixed by "The Great Operation" - a lobotomy.

I found the book pretty difficult to read and follow in certain parts and had to re-read chapters a few times to make sure I was keeping up with the story. As far as the writing goes, it's pretty clever. D-503, as a mathematician, describes everything he experiences - sex, food, objects - in mathematical terms, showing how his job and duty to The One State is the most important facet of his life. As he interacts more with I-330, he begins to describe experiences less quantitatively and more subjectively and romantically, which I thought was a really well-written part of the book in order to show D-503's change in thinking and the influence of I-330 on D-503's psychology. I really enjoy these dystopian novels, but I think I enjoyed the ending of this one the most.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm assuming most of you are familiar with this book as it is a staple in high school and college literature classes. That being true, I don't feel the need to recount much of the story or plot.

The book is of my favorites I've read. I love the books that come out of this era from Fitzgerald, Hemingway, etc. The writing is perfect.