Monday, January 28, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Looking back, choosing to forego regularly reading fiction was a bad choice. And after I finished taking the CA Bar Exam, I promised myself that I would start reading again. After a few months of sticking with it, I feel curiously re-engaged to all of the same philosophical and political discourses that were second nature to me just a few years ago. Here are a few recent books I've read with some rambling, gut reactions about each.
The more urgent problem I had with John is that he represents a far too simplistic binary vision of modernity. John, the token outsider in both of his cultures, feels torn between these TWO worlds. In fact, a number of characters are pulled between two extremes. At times I wonder if this is my hindsight bias, but a lot of art and literature of the time managed to tackle this subject matter in a much more complex way by problematizing modernity. This story shouldn't be about modernity with a capital "M" -- but multiple modernities with several, conflicting, lower-case "m's."
The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925): When I started this novel, I knew that it wasn't a complete novel. Kafka never finished it, giving it to his editor/friend Max Brod in 1920. The Trial was published posthumously in 1925 after it was organized as coherently as possible. But despite the somewhat meandering, unfinished feel of the book, I think its abrupt, disjointed timeline really help in the long run because they reflect the legal process itself.
Generally, the novel is about Josef K, who wakes up to find two policemen arresting him. Josef K is not charged or told why he is being arrested. The novel follows Josef K as he is pushed through a cold, dehumanizing legal system, which offer process, but little information. Obviously, the subject matter is grim -- but it is tame by Kafka standards.
I consider this a must-read for anybody starting a legal career. It is really easy to lose sight of how mysterious and anxiety-inducing the legal process can be for the actual people who have cases and controversies. And the lasting effect of this novel is its ability to force me to think about the underlying realities WHO this process is happening for.
I found one thing in the "Publisher's Note" amusing. Kafka wrote to his friend Max Brod: "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me . . . in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread. . . . Your's Franz Kafka." And the publisher to the edition responds, "We will never know if Kafka really meant for Brod to do what he asked . . . ." I'm not quite sure how I would feel if Kafka's last request had been honored, but there sure is something beautiful in finality (and, consequently, something empty in publishers).
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980): While I mentioned that the previous novel was published posthumously, the background to John Kennedy Toole's novel is really another character in the story. This was Toole's first novel and nobody gave it an honest read. He shopped it around unsuccessfully and later committed suicide in 1969. His mother shopped the book for years and brought it past Walker Percy (who wrote a fantastic foreword to my edition), who gave it a chance. And since then all we can wonder is what kind of literary career Toole would have had if he was still around. This dark background gives even greater depth to this dark comedy, which won the Pulitzer in 1981.
The other interesting thing about this book is that it is set in New Orleans, so you can't help but read the book while thinking about all that's happened there in recent years. A Confederacy of Dunces does not paint a glowing picture of New Orleans, however. In fact, when it was published, the book was not well received by many in New Orleans.
The book revolves around Ignatius J. Reilly, who I can only describe as a mix between the comic-book store owner from The Simpson's and Don Quixote. He's slothful, 30, and still living with his mother. She puts up with his delusional fantasies of history, politics, and morality, at least for the most part. Ignatius feels that the modern world lacks "theology and geometry," and prefers Middle Age philosophy. Ignatius, who up until now has found a way to avoid manual labor and maintain his sense of intellectual superiority, finds himself forced to find a job to repay a debt from an auto collision. Each job, of course, is a disaster and Ignatius blames a fate-like power ("Fortuna") instead of himself for his bad luck.
This book has brilliantly written dialogue and the tension generated by Ignatius' complete lack of reality made me enjoy the impending train wreck. I suppose my only (very, very minor) criticism is that Ignatius was so much of a farce that I couldn't put up with him. This is definitely a character you end up hating -- like that weenie in Saving Private Ryan, Upham.
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940): This is the first book I've read by Arthur Koestler and I admit that I never heard of the book until I found it on the Modern Library's reading list. In fact, it was only a few weeks after I finished the book when I realized it was part of a trilogy.
In contrast to Brave New World, this novel seemed to have so much going on behind the story itself. The novel focuses on Rubashov, a Bolshevik who helped create the Stalinist regime. But by 1938, Rubashov finds himself falling victim to one of the public trials/purges in Moscow.
The novel has a slow pace, and Koestler does a masterful job of speeding up, slowing down, and breaking time. It is extremely effective and puts more of a burden on the reader to understand the implications of what's happening at any given point. The chapters about Rubashov's interrogation are riveting. In particular we see two characters who could be brothers, but find themselves at opposite ends of the interrogation table. The real sadness is that Rubashov knows that his interrogator will soon be in Rubashov's seat.
By A.H. Rajani at 1/22/2008 11:33:00 PM
Saturday, January 12, 2008
You can listen to the song for free here. The Wicked Messenger
By A.H. Rajani at 1/12/2008 12:53:00 AM
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
By A.H. Rajani at 1/09/2008 08:17:00 PM
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
- Initiate 10-year campaign to finish the Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.
- No more soda; substitute with more cowbell.
- Measure sleep in increments of 1/10 of the hour.
- Watch one listworthy movie a week.
- Feel bad about not flossing daily; use Listerine for the full 30 seconds.
- Exercise daily between 6:30am-7:00am.
- Grow gray hair.
- Take one daily picture of myself for a year and animate it.
- Wear sweaters.
- Remove "Two and a Half Men" and "King of Queens" from PVR.
By A.H. Rajani at 1/02/2008 09:44:00 AM