Tag: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Distracted by Other Books

Posted June 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in May 2018

When I first came to reading I was not sure what I liked and I turned to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list to help me. I saw myself as a literary explorer (hence my previous blog name) and I was willing to try anything and everything. With this in mind I joined a real life book club as a way to explore and practice talking about literature. Fast forward to now, and I have found my niche and I know what I like, so now sometimes book club feels like a chore more than a joy. Having to read The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland for May and The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman for June have been challenging. It feels like they are picking pretty covers but the content has not been that desirable, for me anyway. I want more from my literature than what is provided in these novels. I feel like The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was too similar to so many other stories, like The Choke, Nest and Deep Water; all three were novels read because of the book club. I do love being the one that dislikes the books but at what point does it stop being worth attending? I do not plan to quit, but I have been thinking about this since I have not enjoyed a pick in a very long time.

Besides my contemplations on book clubs, I have been thinking about the Man Booker International prize as well. I am very pleased to see Flights win; I thought it was an amazing book. I was able to complete the entire longlist except two books which I might read later but I feel a little burnt out by the experience. While I loved being part of a community reading these books and it really sparked my passion for blogging again I felt very restricted by the task. I am very much a mood reader and to have assigned books can put me in a reading slump. This is not to say I would not attempt to read the longlist again in the future. I just hope to have read some of the books on the list next time. Out of all the books on the list Die, My Love was the one I still think about but I also loved The 7th Function of Language and Frankenstein in Baghdad.

Mexican literature seems to be the flavour of the month having read both Like Water for Chocolate and Faces in the Crowd. There is something about Latin American magical realism that seems to work for me, something that I have not found in other forms of magical realism. I have not been able to put my finger on why I enjoy it more but I will keep exploring. I absolutely adored Faces in the Crowd, which is a book you might hear me talk about in the near future. I think Valeria Luiselli might be one of those authors I will be watching closely in the future. I did read The Story of My Teeth but it was not until I read Faces in the Crowd that I realised just how brilliant she is.

Also this month I read Cop Hater, an old school police procedural and Lullaby, a novel that felt like the author was letting her own fears play out on the page. The final book I want to talk about is Packing My Library. I loved The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel and I expected that Packing My Library would bring me the same amount of joy. Though one book was able to blend his personal narrative eloquently with the history of the library, the other just felt more like digressions from his topic. To be fair the subtitle to Packing My Library is An Elegy and Ten Digressions, so maybe I should have expected this. I love reading books about books but I tend to enjoy the ones that are able to blend the personal with something more which is normal literary criticism.

I went a little overboard with my book buying this month and I told myself it was mainly for my podcast. I do not know how this works but I will defend myself by saying that yes, some are for my podcast and most of them have been read now as well. I do not think I was distracted by other books this month. This might be because I am currently housesitting and only have a handful of books to choose from. I thought it was a rather slow reading month for me as well, but this turned out to be untrue. I was sure I spent too much time watching Netflix instead of reading but the statistics prove otherwise.

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Understanding my Fascination on Russian Literature

Posted January 31, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

I am not entirely sure where my interest in Russian literature came from. I think it started with a fascination with the Cold War, which lead to a desire to understand the complex nature of the Soviet Union, both its politics and the people. The first Russian novel I read was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, however my obsession with Russian literature came soon after. When I first became a reader I was using the 1001 Books You Must Read before You Die list as a guide to work out what to read. While I would love to complete the full list, it has served its purpose, which was to expose me to good literature in all genres, allowing me to find where my literary tastes lie.

My Russian literature obsession grew from my interest in satire, beginning with Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, which is a dystopian tale of globalisation. However under all that, it is an autobiographical novel of a Russian immigrant. I loved discovering the story underneath the plot, and I quickly discovered that Russian literature was a treasure trove for that. Russia has a very complex history; this is often reflected in its literature and makes it a big part of Russian culture.

Just a brief history on Russian literature, which has its roots in Chivalric romance, epics and chronicles on the Russian life. It is here at its roots where we establish the importance of irony and satire in the literature. It was Peter the Great’s efforts to modernise Russia that gave way to Russian literature in the 18th century. While I have not read any of these authors from this time, authors like Antiokh Kantemir and Vasily Trediakovsky were notable contributors to its literature. The 19th century is the golden age for Russian literature with Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekov, Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy creating some of Russia’s greatest pieces of literature. It was also where the literary movement Russian Romanticism was established, which explores metaphysical discontent with society and self, from notable authors like Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. The silver age in the beginning of the 20th century was focused around poetry and the avant-garde. Poets often associated with the silver age include Marina Tsvetaeva and Boris Pasternak.

This was then followed by the Soviet era, which was the rise of Socialist realism, Russian formalism and futurism. While the Soviet era was an extremely complex period for literature, and covers so many different literary styles, it is easier to put all of the work from the Soviet Era together. If you want to break out the soviet era, you could do that by Samizdat, Tamizdat and Gosizdat. Samizdat ‘self-published’ is the distribution of literature illegally published (often by carbon copies of typescripts) and distributed among other Russians. This is similar to a method used in the Tsarist era, and allowed uncensored literature by authors like Mikhail Bulgakov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to reach an audience. Tamizdat ‘over there’ is when a soviet writer has their works published in the West because they could not publish in Russia. Most Soviet authors had to rely on this method to have their works published, most notable example of Tamizdat is Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Gosizdat ‘State publisher’ was the term used for officially sanctioned publications. In all honesty, I cannot think of a single modern classic from the Soviet Era that was published originally by the state. Although the Russian literature magazines where many works were first published would have been state run.

The post-Soviet era covers all literature published after the collapse of the USSR. Although the censorship of the soviet era was officially lifted, writers still approached sensitive subjects in a similar fashion. In part by the political/economic chaos of the post-Soviet era and partly to follow the traditions of great Russian literature. Although authors like Boris Akunin enjoy huge success in popular fiction, writing a historical detective series. This does not include the authors that fled Russia or the Soviet Union and became authors after gaining citizenship elsewhere, such as Ayn Rand, Isaac Asimov, and Vladimir Nabokov.

While there is a rich history of Russian literature, often there are common themes that appear throughout the ages. Most notably is the struggle for stability; Russian history has been a whirlwind of war and tyranny. This struggle often translates as redemption through suffering. This could be a struggle with religion, philosophy, society or even one’s self. That struggle can be seen in novels ranging from the likes of The Brothers Karamazov to Vladimir Sorokin’s 2006 science fiction novel Day of the Oprichnik. Although my wife might agree with Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky, who said “Russian literature is devoted to the description of unsuccessful love affairs.”

Authors within Russia often fall into the social class (I don’t think I need to explain the role class plays in Russia) known as the intelligentsia. This class of intellects are tasked to guide or critique society’s culture and politics. This is why Russian literature plays such a huge role in Russian culture, and also explains why literature was so controlled in the Soviet era. Union of Soviet Writers was formed by Stalin to control the field of literature in the USSR. Membership was not mandatory but if an author was not a member, they would have very limited opportunities for publication. Despite their best efforts, thankfully we still have a rich selection of Soviet literature critiquing the culture and politics of the time.

In both Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, authors had to be careful of what they said, many were exiled to a labour camp for what they wrote. So literary devices were often deployed to say what needed to be said in a more creative way. Literary devices often found in Russian literature include metaphors, allegories, irony, satire and even propaganda to express the author’s views. Which is why many Russian classics are very philosophical or political in nature. It is the dangerous writing that seems to have stood the test of time.

There is so much to offer in Russian literature, I know I have so much I need to learn and read but I am excited about the prospects. I find it sad when I see “Russian novel” used as shorthand for lengthy or turgid; I never understood that. While War and Peace is often considered a challenging book due to its length, there is a reason why it is considered a masterpiece. I would love to gain some recommendations on Russian literature I should check out. My personal favourites include Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and for something really weird, Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin.


On My Bookish Existential Crisis

Posted May 31, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Project 5000 / 8 Comments

lots-of-booksHave you ever stopped to think about just how many books you may read in your lifetime? I have, and I had an existential crisis thinking about it. It all happened when a BookTube friend (time to read!) was talking to me about the amount of books she will read in her lifetime. I was sitting in a church thinking about the numbers and I began to freak out. My wife got really worried and obviously asked me what was wrong. I said that if I read a hundred books for fifty years I will only read five thousand books and this is not enough books.

I freaked out about the numbers for a few days and while I do not recommend having an existential crisis, I think it is very valuable to think about your reading in terms of numbers. Think about the books you want to read and the books you have read. Does your reading history reflect the type of books you want to read, or are you willing to try everything. I am of the believe that there is literary merit in all genres but that does not mean I want to spend my time reading books in those genres trying to find something great.

I have a reading goal of reading the entire 1001 Books you must Read Before you Die list, which would be a fifth of my reading journey. But then you think about the changes that are made in each update (why has there not been an update recently?), this list might end up consuming a quarter of your reading journey if you pay attention to all the books that were on the list.  The 1001 books list has served me well in the past, especially when I started my reading journey. This list gives me a way to close reading gaps and the chance to try different genres and styles to see what I like. I know now what my reading tastes are, so I often wonder if this list still has a purpose in my reading journey.

Having thought about the amount of books I will or will not read in my life, I decided I needed to focus on what I want to read. I have a limited amount of time, so I should be reading what I want to read. I began a reading project which I called Project 5000, to remind myself to be more focused. My plan is to read what interests me and remind myself not to waste time on books that do not instantly grab my attention. I talk a lot about Project 5000 a lot on BookTube and on Twitter, because I was looking at ways to remind myself to be more focused in my reading.

The suggestion I was given was to pick ten books and put it on my nightstand, and only allow myself to read from those choices. This still gives me a little variety and allows me to pick books that are interesting me at the time. It also means that I can feel like I am accomplishing something as I watch the ten books dwindle down to nothing. I want to be reading what interest me but I also need to find a balance between my main literary interests and trying other books that sound great.

I know I am interested particularly with post-war literature. By this I mean post-World War 2 till the end of the cold war. There are so many changes happening in the world that fascinate me. From the birth of pulp literature, counter-culture, punk rock, dirty realism and post modernism. There are so many interesting socio-political event and technological advances that helped shaped the world. The idea of impending doom allowed for some interesting changes in people and literature. While my reading extends to other topics, like transgressive and translated literature, I am just fascinated by the world before the internet closed the gaps in globalisation.

My first ten picks

  1. City on Fire by Garth Risk
  2. Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos (translated by Liz Szasz)
  3. Chess by Stefan Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell)
  4. The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov (translated by Andrew Bromfield)
  5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (translated by Christopher Moncrieff)
  6. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  7. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (translated by Edith Grossman)
  8. Ask the Dust by John Fante
  9. When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen (translated by Lola Rogers)
  10. Solzhenitsyn : A Soul in Exile by Joseph Pearce

I was very happy with the choices I made, I thought it was an accurate representation of what I wanted to read and I had found a solution that would work for me. However this was not the case, first of all I had a huge pile of books from the library waiting for me to pick up. This threw a small spanner in the works of my reading but ultimately I did not want it to take away from my focus. While I did detour with the library books, I am up to my last two books from the list, When the Doves Disappeared and Solzhenitsyn : A Soul in Exile.

I learnt that organisation is impossible when it comes to reading, I need to allow for library books, book-club and other random mishaps to take me on a detour but I will always end up getting back to the books on my nightstand. I have no idea how to fit re-reading into Project 5000; that is another complex question that I need to answer. It is a struggle to focus on the books I have picked and not get distracted by other books but I think I am better off in the long run. I have picked my next ten books to put on my nightstand and I do hope this solution continues to work for me. Allowing me to plan my reading and still give me the freedom I desire.


The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Posted April 28, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 0 Comments

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins GilmanTitle: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories (Goodreads)
Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Published: Dover Thrift, 1892
Pages: 70
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the title story “The Yellow Wallpaper” Charlotte Perkins Gilman tells the story of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A specialist recommends that she takes rest cure; a treatment in which has her lying in bed all day and only allowed two house of intellectual activities a day. After a few months of staring at the walls, things are far from improving.

While this is a collection of short stories, I am focusing on the title story simple because it gives you a sense of what to expect when reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “The Yellow Wallpaper” explores the decline of the protagonist’s health, both physically and mentally. Written in a series of diary entries, the story not only looks at depression but, on a deeper level, gender roles. The doctor and her husband are portrayed as repressors; while their intentions are to help her heal they never take into account her own opinion.

This in turn critiques that position of the woman, especially when it comes to the institution of marriage. Gilman looks at marriage as a hierarchy; the male is actively working and knows what is best for the house, while the wife is put in charge of the domestic jobs (cooking, cleaning and so on). The wife becomes a second class citizen; a servant only there to serve her husband. When the protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” gets sick she is demoted further and her role becomes similar to a petulant child.

While I have focused on the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, these similar themes are found throughout this collection. What I found so satisfying is the way Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses irony to express her opinions. The use of both verbal and dramatic irony is found in all her stories but I enjoyed the sarcasm the most. There is a lot of symbolism and motifs within the stories well worth exploring that really empathises her point.

I loved this collection of short stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, there are so many interesting topics worth exploring and I used “The Yellow Wallpaper” to emphases and provide a glimpse into what you can expect. I am determined to read a whole lot more of Gilman’s works, I fell in love with her writing style and got so much pleasure out of reading these stories. The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories is a collection of stories well worth picking up and adding to your personal library.


Middlemarch by George Eliot

Posted December 17, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

Middlemarch by George EliotTitle: Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (Goodreads)
Author: George Eliot
Published: Penguin, 1872
Pages: 880
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life was George Eliot’s seventh novel and was originally published in a serial from 1871-72. Set in a fictional town, this novel follows a wide range of characters in interlocking narratives that really do allow the reader to study the provincial life of Middlemarch. As this is broken into eight “books” it would be difficult to summarise the plot and even write a review that could do this book justice. Instead I am going to write down some thoughts and observations I found while reading Middlemarch.

First of all, I think it is beneficial to know a little about George Eliot; an understanding of her life helps put a lot of this novel into perspective. Most people know George Eliot is a pen name for Mary Ann Evans, she used the pseudonym to keep her private life from public scrutiny, as she was in a relationship with a married man, George Henry Lewes with whom she was living with. She picked a male nom de plume to escape the stereotypes placed on woman writers, this allowed her to offer a social critic without being judged on her gender. Raised as an Anglican, Mary Ann struggled with religious doubts and eventually became an atheist. As a young woman (before her relationship with George Henry Lewes), her father threatened to throw her out of the house due to her non-belief, but they seemed to come to a compromise. Mary Ann continued to attend church with her father until he passed away to keep him happy, even if she didn’t believe in a God anymore.

This is a very tiny glimpse at Mary Ann Evans but I wanted to share that information about her as it ties into common themes found throughout Middlemarch. The themes I am talking about here are gossip, marriage, femininity and religion. Living in Victorian England may not be too different to now (people like to gossip), Mary Ann would have been the subject of plenty of gossip and in a small town like Middlemarch it feels like the primary source of information. Throughout this novel, information is continuously being conveyed from an indirect party. George Eliot satirises the idea of gossip by continuously having other characters speak on someone else’s behalf to avoid direct communication. While others will avoid conversations believing that any relevant information will eventually make its way to them. These ideas of gossip feel like Eliot is poking fun at how gossip is used, however as a social commentary it is spot on.

I love what George Eliot has to say on the ideas of courtship and marriage and this is one of the most important parts of the novel. In Middlemarch marriage is never an end result, the happily ever after ending literary trope. While some people do end up being happy, there are plenty of unhappy marriages within the novel. Mary Ann’s lover George Henry Lewes was trapped in an unhappy marriage which he couldn’t get out of and this seems to be the basis of relationships within Middlemarch. There is this exploration of the idea of courtship, and it begs the reader to question these ideas. There are a lot of thoughts on how well we can really know someone before marriage; playing with ideas on being an outsider, deception and even intimacy. Each marriage within Middlemarch is different and it allows the reader to explore these unions as part of a social construct.

While there was a huge focus on marriage within Middlemarch there still were a few unwed woman within the novel. There are well educated women with the book that sometimes appear to be happier than the woman trapped in marriage. Eliot wanted to depict woman as strong individuals who have something to offer the world other than just being wives and mothers. The women in the book are often great and complex personalities but then Eliot plays with the ideas of suppressing themselves for men and the role they play in society. There is some social conditioning within the book but ultimately I kept seeing this idea of women having the ability to make social change.

Finally I want to talk about religion and spirituality; this is an interesting theme that steams from Mary Ann’s own life. I suspect sitting in a church listening to someone talk about a God she didn’t believe in made her think a lot about spirituality and organised religion. I haven’t used any examples but in this case I want to compare Dorothea with Mr Bulstrode. Dorothea has this internal and private spiritual life, the depiction of this is somewhat vague in the novel. This is because as an outsider she doesn’t come across as a spiritual person but internally it is an intimate part of her life. While Mr Bulstrode is portrayed as someone who is more public about his religious beliefs. While not always hypocritical he has a warped opinion; he believes his previous transgressions are part of the providential plan but will openly condemn others for their past misdeeds. Throughout Middlemarch, religion and spirituality is explored in different way and it is interesting to compare it with the ideas of morality within the novel.

There are so many different themes I can talk about, including money, education, vocations, social classes and even self-delusion but that would drag this on too much. I read Middlemarch with the aid of a reading guide called Eliot’s Middlemarch by Josie Billington and I did this because there is so much to offer within this novel I wanted to get as much as I could from the book. This is a smart and intelligent social commentary and I got the sense that there was no wasted moments within the book despite the fact it was 880 pages long. I dipped in and out of this novel for six months and I am glad I choose to read it in this way; it allowed me to ponder what I read before moving on. It is the type of book you need to spend a lot of time with and written in a way that allows you to dip in and out.

I haven’t even talked about the writing or style of Middlemarch and that is probably the most important part. There is a slight detachment within the style, this is probably because the novel is a form of social criticism; a study of provincial life. Having said that, I found Middlemarch very funny; the satirical irony and wit played a big part for me, but you could also say this is a morbid book. The style of the book is psychological, erudite and extremely elegant; I often felt myself being swept away with the writing but still fascinated by the insightfulness.

It is hard to explain how much I loved this book; this a realistic depiction of Victorian life and George Eliot displays a real mastery on human nature. However, even though it sounds like it is nothing but a psychological look at society, Eliot is able to make you feel like you are a part of the story. I am sure you can read this book as just a beautiful Victorian classic but I picked up this book for the social criticism. If you do want to get more out of this book then I recommend Josie Billington’s reading guide Eliot’s Middlemarch. This is the type of book I will need to frequently return to throughout my life and see what I get out of it with a re-read.


ArmchairBEA 2014: Introduction and Literature

Posted May 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 30 Comments

abea

This is my third year participating in the Armchair BEA event. While I am not an American I do like the opportunity to join with book bloggers around the world and talk about our favourite subject, books. I am sure most people know already but just in case; BEA is the Book Expo of America, held in New York, where people in the book industry of America get to be enticed with new books from publishers. There is an event now known as BookCon where book lovers can experience the same enticement, however they won’t get any diversity. Putting aside the problems with BookCon, I’m pleased to join all the fun with Armchair BEA. This is a virtual conference for the book bloggers that can’t make it to BEA. Over the next few days I will be joining in with this event and their daily blog post topic suggestions.

For the past two years I’ve been enjoying this event, it is a great way to meet new bloggers and show off your own book blog. As this is the first day of Armchair BEA I probably should move on to the topics for the day. Today we are introducing ourselves and talking about my favourite topic…literature. As a way of introduction Armchair BEA has provided ten questions and asks everyone to pick their favourite five and answer them.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from?

My name is Michael, I hail from North Queensland in Australia and I only became a reader in 2009. I started blogging not long after that over at Knowledge Lost as a way to sort my thoughts and explain what I had learnt along the way. I know I need to spend more time on that blog and I’m hoping to get back into it now that I’m forcing myself to write every day. I started Literary Exploration as a way to document my book journey and soon discovered I’m very passionate about books and book blogging. There is one thing I hate about book blogging but for the most part I really enjoy the whole experience.

Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online.

Literary Exploration is documentation of my bookish journey as I explore literature in all its forms.

You can normally find me on twitter: @knowledgelost or my blog @litexploration as well as Facebook, Instagram, sometimes Tumblr and Pinterest. I’m also very active on Goodreads (also check out the Literary Exploration Book Club), Literally and Booklikes.

What was your favourite book read last year? What’s your favourite book so far this year?

Highlights of 2013 include;

For more books check out my best of 2013 post

Highlights of 2014 (so far) include;

What is your favourite blogging resource?

One of the best investments I’ve made for my blog is the Ultimate Book Blogging Plugin. This one plugin has saved me a lot of time and makes my life so much easier. I can collect a lot of relevant information thanks to this plugin and it automatically updates my review index. It has a lot of cool features and I highly recommend it to all book bloggers. Of course you’ll all have to move to a self-hosted WordPress platform but that is a good idea anyway.

Spread the love by naming your favourite book blogs:

I’m always happy to recommend some great book blogs; here are some that I’m always happy to see updates from;

Time now to look at that all important topic of Literature: I’m a bit of a pretentious reader, so I’m always interested in reading books that are considered high literature. I’ve even set myself a life goal of reading the entire 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List, I might even try to review them all too. I find myself drawn to literary more as I become a better reader; there is something about the prose and structure that stands out. As a literary explorer I try not to entrench myself in just one genre, but luckily there is plenty of great literary genre novels out there. I don’t have to sacrifice quality in order to read genre fiction.

However there are so many classics out there that I still have to read and I feel bad for not having read books like Middlemarch, The Brothers Karamazov, The Woman in White, The House of Mirth and so on. I want to catch up on all these great novels and I think classics are an essential part of the reading journey. I recommend every reader try to read more classics and to help you along, I suggest joining something like The Classics Club is a great way to challenge yourself to more classics. I want to take to the conversation to the comments but I’d like to ask some questions of the readers to help the conversation along;

  • What is your favourite literary novel (in any genre)?
  • Which classic would you like to read but are dreading?
  • What genre do you spend most of you time reading?
  • What genres tend to scare you?
  • Finally, are there classics that just seem too hard and why?

ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots


What I Hate about Book Blogging

Posted April 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 12 Comments

As much as I love book blogging and have no desire to slow down anytime soon, there is one thing that annoys me. It is not exactly a huge problem and I think this falls under the category ‘First World Problems’ but it has been coming an increasing annoyance for me. I’m not talking about the lack of commenting (I know I’m guilty of this) or the struggle to be part of the crowd of first readers, who boost about all the wonderful ARC’s they read. I’m even not complaining about the lack of male book bloggers or the excess of blogs talking about the exact same thing, this is something completely different.

I started book blogging in April 2012 as a way to track my reading journal. I have an autodidactic blog where I previously discussed literature, but I found myself losing focus on what that blog was all about. I transferred most of my literary posts onto this blog and started blogging passionately about the books I’ve read, loved and hated. I love the way this blog documents my reading journey but the problem is the fact that it only covers my journey from 2012 onwards.

I started reading in 2009 when the reading bug hit me hard; in that time I read some fantastic books but they don’t show up on my blog. I’m at a point in blogging were I want to make reference to books I read before I started blogging but I have no post to link it to. This isn’t a huge problem but it is something that has become increasingly annoying.

I’m now at a stage in my book blogging where I want to go back and re-read a lot of those great or interesting books just so I can blog about them. This also means if I ever want to write a blog post on every book that is on the ‘1001 Books you must Read Before you Die’ list (a life goal of mine) then I will have to re-read over 50 of the books on the list. I was just wondering if I’m the only one who feels this way or if anyone has gone to the extreme of re-reading most of the books from their past just to blog about them?


The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Posted April 24, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 1 Comment

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von GoetheTitle: The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goodreads)
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Translator: David Constantine
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1771
Pages: 160
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel that has influenced the Romantic Movement. Often known as the original ‘emo’, a term that I hate, this novel is a semi-autobiographical novel that brought huge success to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The novel is a collection of letters written by Werther to his friend Wilhelm. These letters are an intimate account of his attraction towards the beautiful Lotte; a young woman he meets in the village of Wahlheim. Despite knowing that she is already engaged to a man 11 years her senior, Werther falls for her and attempts to develop a friendship between the two in an effort to get closer to Lotte.

You can probably guess how this story goes; Werther, an artist of highly sensitive and passionate nature heading down a road that can only lead to heartbreak. I’m not one to enjoy a novel that revolves around a love triangle but when it is done properly it can be an effective plot device; I’m thinking of books like those mentioned in this post. There is no denying the cultural impact The Sorrows of Young Werther has had on the world; unfortunately the ‘Werther effect’ is the most common reference to the novel nowadays.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to read this novel because Frankenstein’s monster finds this book in a leather portmanteau along with Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost which gives you an interesting insight into FrankensteinLives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of biographies of famous men to illustrate their common moral virtues or failings, while Paradise Lost is an epic poem on creationism and the fall of man. The Sorrows of Young Werther embodies the Romantic ideals; Werther being a sensitive intellect with an obsession of nature and values emotion over reasoning. All three novels represent different themes that Shelley wants the reader to explore when reading Frankenstein.

While this may sound like a morbid and depressing novel, Goethe shows the beauty behind the tragedy. One thing I loved about this book is the wording, and permit me to post a few quotes from the book to just show you the beauty in the novel.

 “Sometimes I don’t understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!” 

The major theme obviously is love; a look in how it can defy all logic. Werther can’t stop his heart from falling for Lotte, even if he knew it would lead to pain. The idea that the heart has more control over someone’s actions than their head is often evident in life and The Sorrows of Young Werther captures it perfectly. For me, that is what makes this novel spectacular and significant.

“I am proud of my heart alone, it is the sole source of everything, all our strength, happiness & misery. All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own” 

However, you can look at this novel as something other than love; the idea that Goethe is portraying the decline in Werther’s mental health is also a vital angle that needs to be considered. The reason I hate the term ‘emo’ I won’t go into at this time but Werther’s overly emotional journey could also be symptoms of a bi-polar depression, though not a known diagnosis of the time. We have to consider the idea that his joy and sorrow is not just unrequited love but a deeper issue. The love triangle would have added fuel to his depression and we cannot ignore that this could be the root cause of Werther’s sorrow.

For such a small novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther packs a huge punch. This is the type of book I can see myself reading again and again, not just because of the Romantic ideas but what it has to say about love and mental illness. I can’t help but think that The Sorrows of Young Werther is just a better version of The Catcher in the Ryein the sense that is a journey of a self-absorbed protagonist, but maybe too difficult for high-school student. The Sorrows of Young Werther is an important book, not only did it influence the greatest literary movement we’ve seen but it still relevant today, almost 250 years later.


The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen

Posted April 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The New York Trilogy by Paul AustenTitle: The New York Trilogy (Goodreads)
Author: Paul Auster
Published: Penguin, 1987
Pages: 308
Genres: Crime, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

If you want to try a metafictional detective novel, then look no further than The New York Trilogy by Paul Austen. Originally published sequentially as City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room, these three interconnecting stories have been since collected into a single volume. Heavily influenced by the post-modernist movement, this novel blends elements of neo-realism, soft-boiled fiction and of course, metafiction. Even the pulp style cover (illustrated by Art Spiegelman) has a metafictional style to it.

I really wish I had a better grasp on post-modernism; there is a lot of literary theory that must go into fully understanding a novel like The New York Trilogy. My level of understanding of post-modernism might hinder this review but I will do my best to add something valuable here. Starting with a look at any example of one of the narrators; such as the one known as Peter Stillman, or is he? Maybe his name is something entirely different; maybe it is Paul Auster. This gives you an idea of just how you have to read this book; continuously questioning everything and assuming things are not as they have been told. This does make the novel difficult to read, I had to take my time with it and reread almost everything.

The first story City of Glass follows a detective fiction writer that becomes a private investigator. This unnamed narrator explores layers of identity and reality; often to Paul Auster (the author), Paul Auster (the writer), Peter Stillman (the mark), the other Peter Stillman (the son) and finally Daniel Quinn (the protagonist). The story follows this narrator as he descends into madness as the reader follows close behind. This is story that explores the relationship between the author, characters and the reader in a twisted kind of way. Essentially asking us to consider who has the real power in this relationship?

Ghosts follows the story of a private eye called Blue who is hired to follow Black; he has been hired by White to write down everything Black does. Only problem is that Black doesn’t do too much apart from sit and write all day, which means Blue spends all day sitting and writing. This is a story that explores the issue of who has the real power, the author or their characters. Paul Auster is showing us his views towards writing (sitting and watching what the character does).

Finally in The Locked Room, the title suggests that the story is referencing the locked room mystery archetype. It tells the story of a writer that doesn’t have the creativity to produce any fiction. When a childhood friend disappears, he has been hired to write his works and determine if they should be published. While one this job he finds himself taking the place of his friend and becoming husband and father to his family. This final story looks at the relationship between character and reader and asks us to consider if we are under the control of the author or do we interpret what is happening for ourselves.

It is interesting that a novel like The New York Trilogy can leave you perplexed and confused but when you try to articulate what happened and slowly dissect the novel into its three parts it all makes sense. I’m often surprised with how much I get out of a post-modern novel, especially since I often freak out and feel like I have not understood it. Then it all makes sense and I often wonder how I did not pick up on this while reading or after reading the novel. I hope I’ve made enough sense out of The New York Trilogy, a bizarre novel that requires very close attention but I’ve conquered it and I feel proud.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Posted April 3, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman CapoteTitle: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Goodreads)
Author: Truman Capote
Narrator: Michael C Hall
Published: Penguin, 1958
Pages: 157
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn that the Library of Congress has recently deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It was a cheesy and mildly offensive (Mickey Rooney’s character) adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella of the same name. I recently had a chance to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s before rewatching the classic film and as I expected, another Hollywood butchering.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s tells the story of the unnamed narrator and Holly Golightly who are tenants in the same Upper East Side brownstone. The novella follows the narrator’s observations the life of this Manhattan café society girl. Holly has no job, but she survives by socialising with wealthy men who in turn give her money and expensive gifts.

It is important to note that Truman Capote has stated that Holly Golightly is not a prostitute; this is a popular misconception that I believe is debunked in the novel (but doesn’t mean it’s wrong). There is a conversation about three thirds of the way through this novella where Holly says she could never be a prostitute, she can’t separate love and sex. Even Capote came out and say that she wasn’t a prostitute, saying in an interview that “[Holly] was the prototype of today’s liberated female and representative of a whole breed of girls who live off men but are not prostitutes. They’re our version of the geisha girl.”

It is hard not to compare Breakfast at Tiffany’s the novella with the movie, everyone has seen the movie but I wish the book was celebrated for its brilliance. The movie has a focus on romance but that’s way off. What I found in the novel was friendship, isolation and on a very basic level hopes and dreams. There was an element of love in the novella but less traditional love, more of a focus on unrequited love (the wealthy men’s towards Holly) and love between friends.

I do have to wonder if the unnamed narrator has an autobiographical element to him. Both the narrator and Truman Capote share the same birthday, (the same birthday as me, 30th of September). I don’t know much more about Capote’s life but sharing a birthday makes me wonder. Holly was modelled after multiple women in Capote’s life, women he considered friends. I might find a biography of Truman Capote to learn more about it.

I listened to the audiobook of this novella read by Michael C. Hall and all I can think of was Dexter Morgan. The unnamed narrator in Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a similar narration style to that of Dexter and I kept waiting for something slightly sinister to happen. None of the characters were sociopaths like Dexter but I do think it enhanced my experience.

I loved this novella and highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it. I didn’t remember reading much from the movie when I picked up this book; luckily, I think that might have tainted the experience. Capote’s writing was incredible and I feel like I need to read more of his, In Cold Blood is obviously a priority, although a biography might be beneficial first.