Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Book Masochism Progress! (Of Sorts!)

I have nearly pieced together my 900 squares. I am on the last batch. I am taking a break from it before I go mad to update you all on the other undoable thing I am doing, i.e. the Book Masochist Challenge 2011.
Taken at a recent book fair in Cambridge. I was almost knocked over in the rush. I couldn't take it, I had to leave
So, if you remember, I am trying to read thirty of the books on this list of Top Books that I have not read already. Well, readers, I have stalled a little on Ulysses and I suspect the reason goes right to the heart of why I did not in fact manage to do a PhD in English, which would have enabled me to be sitting in a nice book-lined room at Newnham now, sounding off about something or other with doe-eyed undergraduates looking at me admiringly, rather than piecing together 900 patchwork squares in a desperate and cross-eyed fashion. (Because obviously the Newnham fellowship and undergraduate admiration would have been a given).

It is unquestionably a great book, I have skim-read it before, I love Dubliners and I love Portrait of the Artist. But, if you do not have exactly the same cultural references as JJ had when he was writing it, it is not an easy read. I hesitate to say, unreadable. But, bits of it are. Now, I do not expect everything I read to be easy (900 squares, people, doggedness), but (lecture begins. Feel free to skip): modernist literature’s use of intertextuality I think is sometimes specifically designed to alienate the reader. I think it is elitist. I think it is saying, if you do not have a working knowledge of Greek, Latin, contemporary Irish politics and many other things, then I do not care if you understand this book or not because you are not my sort of reader. To which, I say, OK. That is fine, I am not. So I have put down Ulysses until I feel less belligerent and I have moved on.
Books at the Book Fair. I took this photograph secretly like a Ninja in case I was apprehended by men in flat hats
This unhelpful kind of thinking is absolutely why I did not do a PhD, come to think of it, and it is either depressing or marvellously consistent that I appear to have made no progress in however many years it is since then. (Many). So you see what a wonderful thing this is to do, it is forcing me to Confront Issues and I may come out the other side a better person! (Perhaps not! ;-) ).

Anyway, after that I had a bit of a break from the list, and I read Steppenwolf (this is not on the list, it was cheap in Oxfam. I have excellent literary selection criteria, excellent). I don’t think anyone reads this any more but I think it was popular in the 60s. It is about a man who thinks (on a metaphorical level, natch) that he is half wolf. It is a comment on Society. It is interesting because there are lots of narratives within narratives and quite a fun theatre thing going on, but (I know I sound a misery, I am not!) I do feel the stance of just being too delicate for society is very much dependent on someone else doing the housework and looking after the children. Partner says he feels Herman Hesse might have felt particularly as if he was morphing into Steppenwolf right at the moment the dinner needed cooking. ‘Go away! Don’t bother me about peeling potatoes! I’m oppressed by a need for Primitivism!’. However, this was an interesting read and I shall lend my copy to my brother Dan when I see him next and see what he thinks.
And thus the sun set on Steppenwolf and rose on The Trial. Can you see my tree sanctuary? I know they need trimming
I am now reading Kafka’s The Trial. It is short and it is not bothering me with its intertextuality (although possibly I am just missing it), so we are going great so far, I am about half way through. I am enjoying it very much. I don’t know what I will move onto next, but Partner has a copy of Catch-22 hanging about so that may be the one.

What is everyone else reading? Any fellow book masochists out there? How are you getting on?


Maria S said...


I've never managed Ulysses. I do like Steppenwolf very much, but if we're going for Hesse then I think The Glass Bead Game is my favourite. I have read The Trial, but it was so long ago that I can't remember a thing about it. This is actually a common feature with books I've read! It makes for cheap living - I can read the same books again and again and always feel as though they're new... Apart from Catch-22 of course. I studied that for A Level, so that's etched into my mind (and a wonderful book it is too).
At the moment I'm reading a biography of Margot Fonteyn, which is proving rather an eye-opener. She was a bit of a raver, apparently.

Moomin Mamma said...

:O Oh my look at all those books! :D
I'm afraid I'm terribly uncultured and just start singing 'Born to be Wild' when I hear the word 'Steppenwolf' (though I do know it means 'wolf of the steppes).
I would say go with Catch-22 next, the half I've read was brilliant.
Kafka just confused me terribly, but he is one I will go back to once I've cleared my list. I wont be beaten!
I'm still on The Feminine Mystique (just had to renew it!) and for lighter reading I've started a series of books by Lillian Beckwith about her adventures as an Englishwoman living on the Scottish Islands in the 40's.

resa said...

I'm always reading but I'm not what people considered 'well-read' because I skipped over all of those so called great books when most people read them. Because, frankly, what meaning could a bunch of dead white dude's Very Important Feelings have to me? I'm a little more lenient with dead white ladies, but not much.

But, I did just read Gissing's The Odd Women and found the proto-feminism to be quite well written even if from a male perspective. Which makes me wonder if I ought to try to give the dead white dudes another go.

Also, I lovelovelove Catch-22, it had me laughing out loud. So, I guess my votes for that one,

CraftyCripple said...

I can't read "challenging" books anymore. The drugs won't let me focus long enough to finish the sentence. I read distracting books with good plots and short sentences. I shall admire your endeavours from afar while reading my urban fantasy.

Susie said...

I once had wine and called the professor of something or other a Dead White Male and he was very confused. He said, 'but I'm not dead!', which he was right, he wasn't, but that was not the point.

This is all looking very good for Catch-22! I am very excited that I might enjoy it.

Marushka C. said...

I read Steppenwolf in high school but am completely unable to recall any of it now. I'm afraid that is the case for most of the great literature I read back then and on through my twenties. Then I had children and my reading tastes changed to books with fast-moving plots and guaranteed happy endings.