01 July 2010

Summer reading

So here's what I've been occupying my mind with lately, book-wise.

Ulysses. Oh, Ulysses. A foolhardy endeavour indeed, but, I felt, a necessary one given my interest in all things Beckett. Joyce was a mentor, a friend, and something of an inspiration for Beckett, and thus, he must be read. Well, by me, anyway.

For the uninitiated, Ulysses is 950 "thrilling" pages of stream of consciousness Irish weirdness meant to combine the basic storyline of Homer's Odyssey with the various intertwining lives of various characters over the course of one day in Dublin. It's so dense and filled with tangents and random sentences and musings that it's damn near impossible at times to even figure out who is doing or saying or thinking this particular thing.

Of course, given Joyce's obvious talent as a writer, even these tangents prove fascinating. Parts of Ulysses are great, exquisite even. In the 150 or so pages I've managed to slog through so far, there has arisen some moods and images that are downright evocative. But so far, the great parts aren't leading to a complete and satisfying whole. In fact, I'm finding it far more unreadable than Beckett's The Unnamable, to which a certain professor referred jokingly as "The Unreadable." The thing is, I understood what Beckett was going for: his bleak sense of humour in the novel trilogy was invigorating for me, and his attempts to match the style of the writing to the psyches of his characters were largely intriguing and successful.

I can't say I understand everything in Beckett, nor can I say I understand everything (or even most things) I've encountered so far in Ulysses. But so far, the overall effect of Beckett is proving much more gripping than that of Ulysses. Of course, I'm massively jumping the gun with this post, and I might (I hope) feel differently by the end of the book... whenever I finally finish it. Joyce is a master and worth reading, but fun, enjoyment, or emotional/intellectual stimulation are not necessarily guaranteed here.

I also picked up Falling Man from Don DeLillo the other day. Considering how wackily awesome I found his White Noise, and how intrigued I was by the premise of this guy taking on 9/11, it was a pretty irresistible find. The shifting points of view and the focal point (although in a looser sense here) on a particular (and more horrifying) day is actually reminding me of Ulysses, but it's certainly easier to read, and at least slightly less confusing (though still fairly perplexing at points). The novel basically jumps around from differing accounts of the World Trade Centre tragedy of different people who were involved in it that terrible day in different ways. Cool... and I look forward to finishing it.

I am also about 30 pages into the 1200+ page phone book that is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Yes, I actually bought it -- one of the most loved/respected/reviled/mentioned/mocked/shunned books in modern history. Given my love of Rush and the band's frequently espoused lyrical debt to this particular writer, I had to at least give it a try... although given what I've read of Rand's politics and philosophy, I've been reluctant. So far... the writing is a bit thick and overly elaborate, and the refrain of "Who is John Galt?" is already becoming a bit pretentious. But I can't say I hate it yet, either. The idea of a man in a high-up position just randomly quitting his post for seemingly no reason has me intrigued to find out more about this dude, and the train waiting helplessly before a red light (that seemingly will never change) in the middle of nowhere has echoes of existentialism and even Waiting for Godot, which I always tend to fall for hook, line, and sinker. Hopefully, Rand decides to take these images and ideas in interesting directions. Or, at least, crash and burn in an amusing way.

Happy reading!

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