Monday, November 03, 2003

Book Notes and a Top Five

All that being said, I wanted to bring up some interesting books I've discovered recently.

First, I read "The Turn of the Screw" over the weekend, which I found interesting, but uneven. (What gall I have, to call Henry James uneven. However...uh, there it is.) James begins this ghost story with a narrative frame: the sharing of ghost stories during a Christmas evening by the fire. One of the guests in attendance sends to his home for a manuscript that he begins reading to the group, and this ushers in the main narrative of the story. However, this frame is never closed. I probably wouldn't have noticed this as glaringly if I hadn't recently read House of Leaves, with it's frame within a frame within a frame structure.

While the main narrative of the novel was interesting, it just seemed rushed and incomplete at the end.

This is the only time I would ever say this, but if you want a good old-school scare, leave "Turn of the Screw" on the shelf, and watch "The Others" with Nicole Kidman. It uses a similar (BUT NOT IDENTICAL) set of circumstances to carry off the effect. If you try to watch this movie instead of reading Turn of the Screw, you are stupid stupid stupid and will fail your exam. They are completely different works, but I was associating the desired effect of the one with the other.

So there's that.

I'm currently reading How to be Alone, a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen. Which I recommend to English majors, because there are a few essays on the state of the modern novel and the transition from a print culture to a digital one, which provide a lot of food for thought.

Next up on the ol' bookshelf: Delillo's Underworld, then The Poisonwood Bible, Empire Falls, and finally Infinite Jest. Wish me luck.

And now the top five...


If I were a freshman English Major, and I found a grad who earned a degree in my field (like myself), I would ask him(me) what are five novels I shouldn't miss while I'm in college. And he(I) would respond: "Why that's a very perceptive and well-put question, my brilliant young friend. You are quite a sharp lad, aren't you? And quite handsome, to boot! Why, I'd wager the ladies are clamoring to gain the attentions and affections of a dashing young genius such as yourself, and if they're not, well, they're fools. But to address your question, here are five books that I would recommend. Understand that there are many I'd recommend, but these five come to mind.

--Generation X by Douglas Coupland, besides coining the eponymous term, was a breakthrough debut novel for Coupland, and can really be called a true novel of its time. However, that makes it no less relevant to today's audience. The characters are entertaining and empathetic.
--White Noise by Don Delillo, arguably Delillo's best work, is a beautifully written narrative that, while odd at times, is certainly enjoyable. The first two pages melt like Hershey's chocolate on the tongue, when read aloud.
--Six Characters in Search of an Author is a fascinating play that examines the line between the literal and the literary. Do characters really live when written down? What is the relationship between author and character? A very entertaining dramatic work.
--If on a Winters Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino challenges the notion of what makes a story and its structure. This experimental novel defies the reader to consider the concept of narrative the same way ever again.

"That's four," the Freshman English major would say. "What about the fifth?"

"That's for you to find," says the graduate (me) with a wink.

The freshman then grabs the graduate by the throat and begins to strangle him(me) until the grad throws up his(my) hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. My my, aren't we(you) high strung? Very well, the fifth work. It's hard to say really. If you haven't read Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, you owe it to yourself as a reader to read that vital work. I really like "The Wasteland" by T.S. Eliot. That may just be because of my intense love of footnotes and esoteric poetry. I loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by the smug but justifiably so Dave Eggers. There are several I could suggest."

The freshman begins walking toward him(me) with a blood-thirsty look in his eye. "Tell me what I should read."

The graduate, back-pedalling, begins to sputter. "But there are so many--"

"Say it."

"I couldn't just pick one--"

"Say it."

"After all, each has--"

"SAY IT!!!!"

In a fit of exasperation, the graduate cries out, "FINE, READ BEOWULF!!!!" and then turns and sprints off, knocking over a TA laden down with exams and vanishing behind the explosion of fluttering blue books filling the air.

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