Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thin Books Fat Books Red Books Blue Books

So I finished God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater on the way to Boston and I have to say that I generally rescind my previous statements.

I do still maintain that much of the book--especially the beginning--is overly didactic. There are some very ugly passages, which do contain some kernels of truth, but ultimately have an overgeneralising and constantly self-referential tendency that threatens the honesty of the text. They are channeling the thoughts of their creator, also the author of A Man Without a Country, of which one reviewer states:
"...The pessimistic wisecracks may be wearing thin...the schtick works fine most of the time...[but] some essays suffer from authorial self-indulgence...like taking a dull story about mailing a manuscript and stretching it to interminable lengths. Of course, [this is] exactly the sort of misanthropy hardcore Vonnegut fans will lap up."
But more and more I found myself grinning at some turn of phrase or another as the narrative advanced. Vonnegut seems to get more comfortable within his own prose--here's an example:
"The point I'm trying to make," he said, "is--we are somebody. I am sick and I am tired of pretending that we just aren't anybody."
"I never pretended we weren't anybody."
"You've pretended I wasn't anybody." This was daringly true, and said almost accidentally. The truth of it stunned them both. "You know what I mean," said Fred. He pressed on, did so gropingly, since he was in the unfamiliar condition of having poignant things to say, of being by no means at the end of them." (p. 144)
I am particularly in love with that last sentence.

And so as I found more moments like these peppered throughout and as the buffoonery of Vonnegut's bureaucrats and plebeians sunk in through conversations like these, I discovered that lo and behold--I enjoyed this book. It also closed nicely, even evoking Vonnegut's pet scene of the Dresden firestorms from his service in the army.

Ultimately it is short and sweet and contains so many little quips swimming in its depths that I know (like Tristessa) I'll return to it again in the future.

Currently Reading

As I said in the last post: I needed a new tiny paperback book for work, so I chose The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer. Unfortunately, I couldn't wait to get back to work to start reading it, so I knocked down about 2/3rds of it on the train on the way home. Some very good stuff. Though I wish Hoffer would ground his argument in real-world examples a little more, since the book is largely abstract theoretics. This "groundless" nature also means that in making new points, Hoffer will often repeat old ones so as not to lose the reader in the book's density.

Actually, one of the most amusing things about reading this book is its main real-world point of comparison. Hoffer, writing then in the 50s, constantly refers to the Soviet Union in the present tense, which causes a kind of cognitive dissonance in the modern reader. Nonetheless, Hoffer's cautious and suspicious attitude is revealing of the times.

Besides, I'm sure I will make up for what The True Believer lacks in tangible content with Imagined Communities, which is forthcoming. And of course this study of nationalism is closely related to my two other main syllabi--Middle Eastern history and Abrahamic religions. And soon all three of these parallel tracks will join in holy matrimony with The Battle for God and God's Terrorists! It makes my skin tingle, really.

I've also started Modern Arabic Short Stories, selected and translated by Denys Johnson-Davies. And by 'started" I mean picked it up in bed, read the preface, and fell fast asleep. But the pages have been opened and now I am personally obligated to continue.

This book was a little hard to find (I discovered it by chance through this article in the Guardian), because it's old and there are many new editions, but I managed to score it on Amazon used a little while back for relatively cheap. I'm excited to get started.

Money Wasting/Bookbuying:

While in Boston, I couldn't resist the impulse to buy some books. Almost as soon as I arrived I wondered into the The Coop, a store in Harvard Square. I was rarin' for an ambitious purchase but I ended up compromising on one expensive hardcover that I've been wanting for awhile: Islam and the Secular State. $33! What was I thinking? At least I have it within my grasp, finally.

I also happened by another bookstore later on when meeting a friend's parents for breakfast, which I cannot remember the name of. Regardless: they had an overstock section, so of course I bit and settled on Carl Sagan's The Varieties of Scientific Experience, for $6. This will be my first Sagan, so I'm excited (and of course I will be talking about it on here).

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