Lately I've been on a reading streak and I put a few away over Thanksgiving break.
The first was Dr. Zhivago. I hadn't set out in particular to read it but I got it cheap at the local library's book sale a couple of months ago. After I learned that the author won the Nobel Prize shortly after writing it, it jumped to the front of the line. I saw the movie a very long time ago so I could only remember a few bits of it. What stands out about the movie is snow/snowing, forest, and how long the movie was (just under 3 hours).
The novel was enjoyable. In one phrase: a quirky guy during the Russian revolution. It ended up being the kind of story where you hate to turn the page because you're one closer to the end. It was also well written. A neat point in the story is that the same characters keep meeting in huge coincidences. Maybe when I get time, I'll make a map of the characters interactions--it'd look like a subway map.
This was the second Russian novel I've read and I like the group--last year I read Crime and Punishment. (I liked that one overall. I was surprised that reading the crime part could get my heart pounding. Unfortunately the ending was a fizzle.) The style of writing used by those two authors seems to be especially good at making it seem like you're peering into the characters' world. As with the previous one, initially the book was hard until I learned all of the characters' names enough to recognize them and their variations.
I wonder how much stuff like word play is lost from the stories as they're taken out of their native Russian. For one thing, all the names of the characters seem to be built off of actual words.
In the future, reading some non-fiction about Russia in the lead up to their revolution is an area I'd like to explore. The two novels seem to paint a less bleak and miserable picture of Czarist Russia than the little background info I have led me to believe, although I would estimate that only the well-to-do people of that society would have had the luxury of dabbling in writing literature which would help to skew the perspective.
The next book I read was O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. Back in high school, we read a different novel of hers so I was interested in this one especially since it seemed to be an American colleague of the Icelandic Independent People, previously.
It was a short and enjoyable read about immigrant farmers in Nebraska. Given the region I'm in in Illinois, I felt like I could directly relate to the novel. Moreover, the introduction said that Cather wrote that she intended the novel to be about the land. In my opinion, she succeeded. So it goes. People grow up, live, farm, and die. The land is ever there, timeless.
Speaking of which, it was really great up until the last 20-30 pages where the deaths happen. Like with Dr. Zhivago, the deaths cut. I need to find some less unhappy stuff to read. I think it's a sign that I need to put all my effort into reading research papers. Characters seldom die in refrigeration literature.
I like the spirit in O Pioneers! Simply put, it feels very American. The edition of the book also included the namesake poem, the first two stanzas of which are especially stirring. I wonder what the people, like say Thomas Jefferson, who put into motion the things from which our country and tradition developed imagined as the results of what they were doing. I wonder what he'd think.
I've got three books on the docket. Two are literature from the same purchase as O Pioneers which were the result of browsing the discount classics rack at the bookstore. One is a book of Checkov's short stories.
I have heard of him before. If the back cover paragraph is to be trusted, his are great. I can only hope he doesn't turn out to be the Russian Edgar Allen Poe. (Not that I don't like Poe; it's just that I'm not in the mood for that right now.)
The other is Les Miserables. I figured since I've been reading about Rome and Russia and North Korea and refrigerators and the past, I might as well spend some time with a book about a place I've actually been to and have some actual background with. Also I only saw a few bits of the movie so I can't remember much about it. It's a big book and glancing at a page, the type is very dense. Between Hugo, Dumas, and Proust it seems the French have a thing for being verbose.
Lastly, I've got a few still waiting on deck: there's Nostromo which I started to read a year or two ago, but it just didn't catch so I put it down. The appeal was having read and enjoyed the Heart of Darkness in high school. I've also got Ulysses, the seminal modern novel. And finally, I've got a gigantic book of Herman Melville's seven novels. The goal is to read Moby Dick which is #6. In two years so far I've finished the first two. I wish I had this book a long time ago. The first two are exactly the kind of stuff you'd imagine as boy literature--tropical maritime adventures in the second quarter of the 19th century.
I suppose my target is become well read. Also this last year I've been able to start to change my habits to directing spare time into reading instead of internet browsing which is a step forward. A distant goal I have is if I ever get some good ideas, to be able to contribute something worthwhile to the body of literature.
I also read some philosophy which'll come in the next post.