General Reading in 2017

Discussion in 'Other Literature' started by Boreas, Jan 1, 2017.

  1. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member


    Last year I read Two Years Before the Mast by Henry Dana, Jr. Written in the 1830s, it's about as authentic as you can get on sailing a clipper ship around the Horn from Boston to California. Because it's factual (written by one of the sailors who took time off from Harvard to see the world), it's dense on sailing terminology but remarkably well written for what it is.

    I read the Hornblower books years ago (my dad had a boxed first edition), but didn't read Master and Commander (loved the movie though).
     
  2. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I remember seeing the film and liking it, too, but I think the film was supposed to be an adaptation of a much later volume in the Aubrey-Maturin series. They just decided to retain the title of the first book. The Horatio Hornblower novels are immense fun! Did you ever watch the ITV adaptation? They adapted eight of the novels in chronological order into feature length episodes. It was top notch production, excellent acting and very faithful. Pity they didn't do anymore. They should be available on Youtube.
     
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I finished Austen's Mansfield Park a little while ago. For some reason, I didn't expect to like it much because it comes up low on most people's rankings of Austen's novels. Well, I had the opposite reaction. I found it to be her most mature novel I've read. I think one of the reasons why it ranks low for people is that the main character, Frances Price or 'Fanny', does not actually take centre stage for most of the narrative. While she is the main character, the focus of two-thirds of the novel is actually on a group of characters around her, and whose actions and manners she sagaciously observes with a very refined sense of moral delicacy. Out of all of Austen's characters I've read so far, she has the sharpest sense of discernment, and she is surprisingly just in appraisals, both negative and positive, even to characters she dislikes for personal reasons. She is, however, shy, physically weaker, and a massive introvert with a strong sense of social inferiority, an understanding regularly affirmed through one of Austen's most despicable & quite vividly wrought side-characters. These are all elements not at all conducive to creating the kind of vivacious heroine that people find entertaining, i.e. Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Marianne Dashwood.

    In many ways, the leading protagonist of the story is actually the 'villain', who is probably the most complex and self-aware villain of all of Austen's narratives so far. Meaning, he's not only aware of his all his deficiencies, but displays a keener intelligence than most. But despite knowing where he wants in character, there is no motivation at self-correction, and he's completely tied to his life of luxury, a point high up from where his actions and manipulations have very little consequences for himself, yet prove disastrous to others. It's his doings and his sister's that actually propels the action of the novel.

    This is also the first of Austen's novels I've read that delves deeper into examining the life and manners of the lower social stratum outside of the gentry when Fanny spends some months with her estranged family after eight years in the naval town of Portsmouth. Technically, her family is also genteel, but barely, and very poor all things considered. Yet it's not the relative poverty that is important, but the examination of manners, habits, decorum and attitudes that Austen contrasts between the social strata. A similar comparison is made throughout the novel between city and pastoral life, and the accompanying differences in moral behaviour & attitudes. Austen herself preferred country life. Her novels are always set within the society of country gentry, but all her novels also have portions taking place in town, invariably London but also Bath, both places familiar to her, especially Bath. The advantage to country life is its proximity to nature, which is seen by her as necessary nourishment that grounds the soul and is conducive in promoting more virtuous and moral lifestyles. The city distracts and leads astray with its fashion. I suppose this motif is stronger in this novel because it seems to have been influenced by the ongoing Anglican revival of the time, and another main character in the novel is a pastor to be, a genteel profession looked down upon by the sophisticates of the city who prefer the more dashing professions with opportunities for advancement and stature, i.e. the army, the navy, law and government (meaning parliament). All of this is evident throughout most of her novels, but the comparisons are strongest in Mansfield Park.

    All things considered, I enjoyed reading this novel much more than I anticipated, and as a novel, I think it easily beats out Northanger Abby, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. I found it to be her most nuanced work of satire on individual behaviour and the general social conventions of the day.
     
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  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I'm currently reading Neal Stephenson's Reamde, which is not science fiction. I've learned more about the real-world economics for 'resource farming' in massively multiplayer online role playing games than I ever expected to in just the first chapter, and it was damn fun. Stephenson, in his typical way, is combining history (general & more eccentric tidbits), economics and some very funny anecdotes to set the stage for what I think is going to be an entertaining thriller about gaming. The prevailing sense I've gotten from the very early stages of the story is that it is going to be about value (of trade, money, currency, exchange), a motif that Stephenson deals with in some form or another in almost all his stories. There's already been a first mention of the "Apostropocalypse", and I can't wait to find out how he's going to explain this. Already chuckled or smiled broadly at a number of things Stephenson's said.
     
  5. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I’m not very well read in English romanticism, although I suppose, despite the different variations across Europe, it basically defends some common ideas such as fantasy, imagination and the untameable force of the soul. By Austen I have only read Pride and Prejudice and really liked it but I tend to enjoy very much the branch of Costumbrism within every genre.
     
  6. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I think Austen has some elements of romanticism in her celebration of nature and country life, but I tend to think of her has a proper realist writer. I think some of those features are there because she tends to satirise the romantic novels of the eighteenth century with their extremely high levels of sensibility. Sense and Sensibility is a perfect such example. Also Northanger Abbey, which is a proper, full-on parody of Gothic romanticism. I didn't know the word costumbrism, but yeah, I like novels of manners, too.
     
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I also read the first chapter of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat last night. That was both funny and silly. The description of the main characters' hypochondriacal neurosis was fun, and especially the deliberate, exculpatory conflation of extreme laziness to the symptom of a disease. I wonder if this book influenced P. G. Wodehouse, because the tone feels a little similar.
     
  8. Safari Bob

    Safari Bob Well-Known Member

    Monday I bought a copy of The Liar's Gospel by Alderman.
     
  9. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    This is a great example of how the same literary genre takes a different direction and can even contra-program itself.
    I have studied to some detail the late arrival of the Romanticism to Spain, which was quite contradictory in many aspects. In our Traditional Romanticism, what prevails is the return of old values after the fall of Bonaparte. What W. Scott was in England or Chateaubriand in France, Duque de Rivas and José Zorrilla were in Spain.
    On the other hand, during the same period, the Revolutionary or Liberal Romanticism took root. It defended the irrational knowledge, the fight against the established order in religion, arts and politics: Lord Byron in England, Victor Hugo in France José de Espronceda in Spain.

    Not an English word although sometimes one can find it anglicised…
    https://www.britannica.com/art/costumbrismo
     
  10. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I have been given a few books recently and just finished reading Live Girls by Ray Garton. I like horror stories. I don’t like them because they scare me (they rarely do) but because good horror books can evoke, with the right atmosphere, the feeling of dread we might feel when our lives are out of our control, and Live Girls achieves just that.
    Garton writes with a very pulpy style that just fits perfectly the plot and setting: Very nasty and disgustingly ugly vampires living in the seedy underworld of New York Time Square.
     
  11. JamceWilliam

    JamceWilliam Full Member

    Is the You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds is the nice book? I am planning to read this. If anyone reads this please tell me is it the nice book or not?
     
  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've taken a detour with my reading. Having picked up Austen's final novel to just read the introduction and perhaps a little bit of the first chapter on Sunday, I've now been picking it up every evening instead of the two books I was already well into.
     
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Detours can be fun and exciting as much as they are unavoidable... Enjoy Austen!
     
  14. Kanly

    Kanly Well-Known Member

    The last general fiction book I read was Bonfire of the Vanities nearly two months ago.

    Right now, every so often I pick up The Grammar Bible and read sections from it. I never thought I'd enjoy it, but I am. Best thing about it is that reading 5-10 minutes can be enough. Already started catching some of the small mistakes I make when I type.

    There's some real gems in there. On the section concerning split infinitives: "When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it stays split." —Raymond Chandler, in a letter to his publisher.
     
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  15. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Love grammar. I know it is a bit weird... My only pet hate was learning phrasal and prepositional verbs in English and German. They still can confuse the hell out of me if I’m not feeling sharp enough.
     
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  16. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I'm a little over half-way past Persuasion, and I just need to say that I love this book so far. And I really mean love. While I've grown to appreciate Austen's razor sharp sense of irony and an almost superhuman ability to subtly delineate between the hypocrisy of outward manners and inner character, I have not loved a book of hers like I currently do Persuasion. And it's not even a comedy with her usual one or two characters offering any kind of comedic relief. This is almost a proper serious novel and with her oldest protagonists yet. I didn't even know why it was called Persuasion until one sentence came out of nowhere and just hit me on the head. Also my favourite Austen heroine so far: Anne Elliot is right at the end of her marriageable prospects at 28, has lost all her good looks, and has silently suffered regret for nearly ten years. It's a novel of passion strangulated. The mood and tone of the work makes me think of a melancholy, yet wise autumn.
     
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  17. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Finished Persuasion some days ago, and I confirm that it is by far my favourite Austen novel. It is almost wholly narrated with very little dialogue, is very short compared to her other novels aside from Northanger Abbey, has no comedy, and is far the most emotional yet subdued work of them all. While the hero and heroine have a happy ending like in all of Austen’s stories, Persuasion is not romantic (although it is infused with some elements of romanticism). I suppose it's a proper love story, a slow yet measured re-kindling of hope, and where the heroine, through wisdom acquired with years of self-denial, self-restraint and keen, rational observation, is finally able to achieve happiness. She is the ideal woman, finely balancing sensibility with judicious and rational self-awareness, even moderating an almost wild happiness shortly after the climax of the novel so as to think things through with steadfast calm, as any uncontrollable emotion, even happiness, is an undesirable trait without a thoughtful mind tempering it and placing it within a context of self-reflection. I think this is the most subtle of all of Austen’s novels. One reason is that the majority of characters are good people with open, honest hearts. Her previous works contained some truly foolish, terrible and extremely selfish characters, which made analysing their concomitant actions and behaviour springing from such deficiencies relatively easy. So much harder to take essentially good people, and still clearly, very sharply expose their inadequacies without compromising their more generous attributes. And Austen does this beautifully, with her delineation of temper, mind and manners being better than ever.

    Not to say that there aren’t a few despicable characters, mostly Anne’s own family, but they are so beyond the pale as to trespass into caricature. They certainly serve their purpose, a major portion of which is to have made Anne’s existence miserable for most of her years through ill treatment, i.e. familial neglect, and a condescension that often metamorphoses into outright disrespect. As the title signifies, the major theme of this novel is the power of persuasion, and the potential consequences of being unduly persuadable. And because a number of elements bestow the novel a melancholy air, the wonderfully poetic climax is all the more affecting. What makes the novel even more poignant is that Austen wrote Persuasion whilst suffering ill health, and she eventually passed away shortly after its completion. If I had to recommend one Austen novel, it would be this one. And yet, I wonder if it would be as meaningful if one hadn’t already experienced some of Austen’s earlier works first. I'm very glad I read Persuasion last, and it will surely remain a re-read.

    Edit: Anne Elliot is my favourite Austen heroine, and she has actually supplanted the wonderfully arch Eliza, which I had previously not thought possible. Anne's wisdom and acute self-reflection speaks to me. Some other Austen characters are also highly observant and almost always correct in their judgement, most noticeably Elinor from Sense and Sensibility and 'Fanny' in Mansfield Park. Fanny is an oddity for being abnormally superhuman in her discernment given her youth. What makes Anne special is the emotional maturity stemming from her older age, her intellect, and a deeper wisdom acquired through mental hardship which has made her mind formidably centred. At the same time she retains her soft, caring and truly good temper, not having succumbed to bitterness over the years. I say again, the mood and tone of Persuasion makes me think of a melancholy yet wise autumn, where the changing colours highlight a different beauty past spring's vibrant bloom.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
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  18. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I have finished my reread of The Man who went up in Smoke by Jöwall-Wahlöö
    Superb! Even better than I remembered, which makes me really excited to think about the rest of the Inspector Martin Beck books I still have to reread.
    Jöwall-Wahlöö write intelligence plots with a beautiful simplicity that some might take for an unsophisticated, boring and plain style. Far from it. I believe talented writers do not need to resort to complicated syntax nor to intricate character development in order to deliver a great story.

    I have also started an historical fiction book , The Visigoth (La Visigoda) The story of one members of the Astur clan set in the 8th century Spain during the Muslim invasion.
    It has been highly recommended as a historically accurate novel, extremely well researched as well as nicely written. I shall see.
     
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  19. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    I got distracted and started reading short story collections of Louis L'Amour and I can't stop. He's my go to author for a break and a palette cleanser but new stories (for me) are just too good to resist. Old west/cowboy stuff. I used to saddle a horse every morning when I worked on a ranch and moved cattle and branded cattle so it appeals to me. But it would anyway because he was such a good author. He was a real western man and lived the life that he writes about.
     
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  20. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Damn, I really need to pick up some westerns to read soon! I'm wondering whether I should start from the very beginning with a book each by Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour, or pick up something more contemporary?
     

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