"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Semester Book Recap

Just thought I'd recap some of the books I read this semester for class, since it's often tempting to just look at a book in the context of a specific course without really considering it on it's own.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali
This takes the form of an old-fashioned novel, very long, spanning many decades, with a large cast of characters. Specifically, it's a variation on the adulterous wife plot of, for example, Anna Karenina or Middlemarch. But all of this in the context of Bangladeshi immigrants in London.
Not necessarily a book I'd pull off the shelf on a whim, although the cover is really beautiful, but I was pretty happy with it. It's a first novel and maybe drags on a bit too long, and it certainly lacked any of the insight on human nature that some of the classic long character novels achieve so beautifully. I also didn't really get attached to the heroine, Nazneen, which is a bit of a problem in this kind of book, I think. All in all, though, a good read and I'd recommend it for someone who likes a novel you can sink your teeth into but won't necessarily stay with you too long after you finish. A more substantial version of a summer book, I suppose.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was a second read, and I already really liked the book the first time around. This time, I got a better appreciation of some aspects of it, in particular the use of the travel metaphor and the weaving together of different times and places in the narrative. It's a really remarkable study in psychology and history and national culture, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Ishiguro's work. I have Never Let Me Go at home and plan to read it this summer, I think. I've been waiting to see the movie until after I read the book. Incidentally, the film of The Remains of the Day is very good, too, and as I was reading Miss Kenton's scenes, I was especially struck at how brilliant a casting Emma Thompson was for the role.

Dubliners by James Joyce
Didn't get to reading all of the stories, just the ones required for class, although I intended to take the opportunity to read the whole book. The stories I read, I liked. They're very short and need lots of unpacking, which makes them so fun to read for a class. In writing about them, I felt I could really indulge in reading between the lines. It's like Joyce was writing with an audience of literary scholars in mind. I suspect the overall impact of the book, with the arc of all the stories, is even more impressive, so someday I'll have to get back to it. I'm not really in the mood or state of mind for Joyce right now, though, so it'll have to wait.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
I always forget how amazing Woolf is, and then I read something of hers again and it always blows me away. She has in droves the insight that a book like Brick Lane lacks. This book was so exciting in the way that it expressed perfectly so many great ideas, and also very sobering in the way that it seemed to resonate very well with contemporary reality. Particulars aside, the issues she brings up didn't feel dated or obsolete at all. Things I read in this book earlier this semester have kept popping back up in my mind in relation to other texts and experiences. It's really a must for anyone interested in writing or feminist issues, and besides that it's just a beautiful book.

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