Tag: Modern Library 100 Best Novels

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Posted June 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 5 Comments

Naked Lunch by William S. BurroughsTitle: Naked Lunch (Goodreads)
Author: William S. Burroughs
Published: Grove Press, 1959
Pages: 289
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

In a complex and disturbing string of events, William Lee finds himself fleeing from the police. While on the run, this drug addict finds himself journeying across the United States and into Mexico. His travels lead him into the underground world of both drug and homosexual culture. The coun
ter story revolves around the use of mind control by the government and psychiatrists to manipulate and direct the public.

Considered one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is a bizarre cut up narrative protesting the death penalty. You got that the book was trying to do that from the synopsis right? Naked Lunch is a non-linear narrative that does make it really difficult to summarise the plot. Burroughs is famously known for his cut-up narrative; which is a literary technique that can be traced back to the Dadaists in the 1920s. For more information about Burroughs and cut-up check out my post called William S. Burroughs & Surrealist Writing Methods.

The book looks into two key groups; the drug and homosexual subcultures. The two unite early in the novel by the narrator but are never mutually exclusive. At the start of the book William Lee believes he will be punished more harshly for his involvement in homosexual activities than using and selling illegal drugs, which is really sad to think that people are being still victimised over their sexuality and drugs have just become socially acceptable.

Then the subplot largely focuses on the way in which psychotherapy combines with the government to institute mind control. Dr Benway experiments on ways to manipulate the minds of his patients in order to further his research. With no ethical consideration, he often changes his patient’s sexual identity and then tries to cure them. He also creates a mental controlling device for the towns as a way to use the population for his sadistic experiments and put them through psychological torture. Many of these experimental towns are based on the utopian idea and Burroughs like to explore the problems with the idea in a rather sinister way.

So how is this novel a protest to the death penalty? Well that would be in the same way Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal ideals with economics. William S. Burroughs uses Juvenalian satire to highlight the barbaric, disgusting and anachronism of capital punishment. While the sex in Naked Lunch can be considered as mutual satisfaction sometimes, it is also used as a metaphor (especially in the more violent sexual acts) for defeating an enemy, self serving idol worshipping and capital punishment. The results of these metaphors are often confusing, shocking, taboo and sickening. Sex is a powerful tool with this novel and while it does look at sex and relationships in a positive way (rarely), the majority is used to symbolise the dark and cynical themes within the book.

William Lee is obviously William S. Burroughs alter ego and the book can be read as a semi-autobiographical novel through a serious drug addiction but like Infinite Jest there is so much more going on. This book did remind me a lot of Infinite Jest; not just with how it dealt with drug addiction but the way it used very dark themes to look at other social issues. William S. Burroughs had a similar experience to the narrator, taking trips around the world in order to avoid being arrested. Even the addition and sexual experimentation is similar to the authors own experiences, as part of his attempts to separate himself from mainstream culture. William S. Burroughs is a fascinating man and I’m interested to learn/blog more about him.

I’m not sure what the difference between the original and restored text but I did read the restored edition. While this was a really weird and somewhat difficult book to get though there is so many interesting themes to explore that I feel very satisfied by completing this novel. It is disturbing and some of it will make you feel sick to your stomach and I can understand why people hate this book. This is a really intense novel that will drain you emotionally and mentally. The book is full of violent and graphic sex, so it will never be for everyone but I can see why it is an important novel, not just because of the obscenity trial but also for all the themes.

I’ve not read many Beat novels in my life, I think On the Road was the only other one but I do like the gritty and surreal approach both books take. I’m not sure if this is a major theme for all beat novels but if so, I will have to read more. I doubt I’ll ever return to Naked Lunch simply because of how disturbing some of the scenes are but I know I can be completely satisfied with having read this one and judging by this review, I can also take comfort in the fact I was able to pick it apart and understand some of the themes.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted May 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldTitle: The Great Gatsby (Goodreads)
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published: Scribner, 1925
Pages: 180
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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

Nick Carraway moves in next door to the young and mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby. Nick is soon following the dramas of Gatsby’s quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. Often hailed as the “Great American Novel”, F Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus is a portrait of the Jazz Age and the great American dream.

We all know the story, we’ve either been forced to read it in school or we’ve seen the movie, I wanted to reread this in the lead up the terrifying new adaptation by Baz Luhrmann. I remember reading it when I first started become a serious reader and I thought I would look at what I originally wrote and try and dissect and expand on it now that I think I’ve improved in reading critically.

First of all “One of the most interesting aspects of The Great Gatsby is the Point of View”, while this has probably been covered many times by people I will just cover this off again. Carraway tells the story of a group of destructive personalities but first you have to understand Nick before trying to understand the others.

Without going into anything controversial by claiming Nick Carraway was bisexual and in love with Jay Gatsby, let’s just say he idolised him. A Yale graduate, World War I veteran and relatively well off (inherited money), Carraway moves in next door to the charismatic and much talked about Jay Gatsby. But this leads to the question of just what is the relationship between Nick and Gatsby; is Jay using Carraway to get closer to Daisy? I think there friendship was real, Nick envied the person Jay was and he in return grew fond of Carraway.

The book does a decent job at shedding light on the egotistical, desire driven tendencies of human nature.” While this is true I think to expand on this you really need to look at what F Scott Fitzgerald was trying to do with this book, and to do that we must first look at the colour scheme (weird I know). There are two primary colours that play an essential role in this book. Firstly, green, the light over the river on the East Egg dock. The representation of Gatsby’s hopes and dreams, the green light represents the American dream. This would be considered objectification, that Gatsby believes that his American dream is to have Daisy.

The other major colour in this book is Gold or Yellow, the symbol of wealth and beauty. I think Yellow and Gold play as much of a significant role as the green light. This is true American goal; wealth and beauty, to be able to live without a care in the world. This is what I think Fitzgerald was trying to show us; like I said in my original review of this novel, these people are egotistical and desire driven and I think the author wanted us to see that. The problem with a carefree life is the fact that you don’t care about anything other than yourself and you don’t realise just how destructive that can be.

Carraway starts out starry eyed towards high society but slowly becomes more and more uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that comes with it.” I think that Carraway found himself sucked into high society and captivated by the presence of Gatsby. While in some respects he remains an outsider, he tries desperately to fit in and pursue the idea of the American Dream. The Great Gatsby tries to highlight the decline of this so called American dream, which originally was about discovery, uniqueness, and the pursuit of happiness but in the 1920s it seemed to decline and represent easy money and a social of leisure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald paints a unique literary picture of the time and life style, with interesting, snooty and slightly annoying characters.” I will admit that I sigh every time I read this sentence. Why was I the type of person that wanted likeable characters? Just because I hate these people, doesn’t mean that the book isn’t great and that they don’t have anything significant to teach. These people are supposed to be unlikeable, Fitzgerald isn’t trying to show us how great high society is; he wants to point out the flaws and what he sees as the decline of the American dream.

Everyone seems so self-absorbed and never think of each other; which helped drive the story beautifully.” We can probably argue if this really is the great American novel or even the great Jazz age novel. I know a lot of people hated this novel but I think there is so much this book can teach us and it’s less than 200 pages. F Scott Fitzgerald did a brilliant job of layering everything on top of each other that I feel the need to read this book again (already) just to see what I might pull out of it this time.

Someday I would like to do a post about motifs because there are so many recurring themes in the book, I think this would be a perfect novel to explore the idea of what a motif is. I read all the reviews from people that hate this book and I feel like I want to use that dreaded saying, “I don’t think you got what this book is trying to do”. But I hope this helps understand what this book really is about; while pointing out what you think I got wrong.

I reread this novel in anticipation of the new adaptation, which I’m scared about; I remember the old movie and think it failed to capture the true essence of this novel. This leads to two questions I want to ask the readers; “Is The Great Gatsby unfilmable?” and “Was Gatsby truly great?”.  I know my answers, so I’ll be interested to see what others think. I’m surprised how much fun I had dissecting my original thoughts and expanding on them.


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Posted March 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 9 Comments

Lolita by Vladimir NabokovTitle: Lolita (Goodreads)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: Penguin, 1955
Pages: 390
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Hardcover

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

Lolita is the highly controversial novel of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged literature professor and his obsession with twelve year-old Dolores Haze. Of whom he becomes a step father as well as being sexually involved. Considered one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century, Lolita is known not just for the disturbing nature but for the unreliable narration and sophisticated writing style.

Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, Lolita, is one of those books that are worth reading even if it makes you very uncomfortable. The protagonist is the villain who tries so hard to gain the readers sympathy through his sincerity and melancholy. But as the story progress you can even see that he has lost of sympathy for himself and starts referring to himself as maniac who deprived Dolores of her childhood. The novel provides a remarkable perspective into the mind of a man you just want to hate and I will admit it can be a little exciting to watch him go through hell. Nabokov writes a hated character in the hope to knock him around and give him some humility and the reader is left wondering if he will learn from his mistakes.

This has often been described as an erotic novel, even the Great Soviet Encyclopedia called Lolita “an experiment in combining an erotic novel with an instructive novel of manners”. Personally I think of this book as a satirical tragedy with elements of eroticism and remorse. The narrator spends a fair chunk of the book begging the reader to understand that he is not proud of his actions and he is often stricken with guilt at the awareness of robbing Lolita of her childhood. But there is a case to be made at the fact that this is just an exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child but this can be problematic and not something I wish to go into great deal about.

The novel as a whole is a very one sided argument, we know how Humbert feels about the entire situation; we hear this to a very sickening degree. He has remorse but his obsession keeps him from ever changing, but one has to wonder what was really going through the mind of Dolores. I have to wonder how she sees the situation or even what she was thinking or feeling throughout the novel. We, as readers, can only surmise since we are forced to absorb Humbert’s feelings.

It is interesting to point out just how two dimensional all the characters are; all except himself and Dolores (Lolita), which he goes into great detail.  It reminds me of life; people tend to describe each other in a two dimensional manner unless we are obsessed with or interested in the person. This technique of writing really added to the realistic feeling of this book.

Lolita was a really awkward and sickening novel to read, there aren’t many books out there that have made me sick to my stomach. Lolita pulls off that feeling that horror novels try to achieve yet often get wrong – that feeling of uneasiness for the reader. This is my second read of this novel, so I knew what to expect and I was able to look past the controversial elements and focus on what this book can offer to the literary world.

Apart from the elements of oppression and an authority figure trying to assert their dominance this book explores tragicomedy, unreliable narration, irony and because Vladimir Nabokov is a Russian it could be a metaphor for totalitarianism. There are many themes you can explore within the novel but the one that will stick in most people’s minds is the lasting damage created by child sexual abuse.

Interestingly enough Vladimir Nabokov is a surrealist often linked to Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Kafka which make you wonder about some of the elements of this book even more. With a love of intricate word play and synesthetic detail Lolita turns into a wry observation of western culture. The novel is full of cleaver word play, double entendres, multilingual puns and in the end when you boil done to why people love it, it is just  a beautifully written novel.

You may not enjoy reading this book but you might enjoy having read it. I have to admit that I enjoyed this book more the second time around; there is great beauty to be found in this book and while content makes this book difficult to get through it is well worth the effort. I remember one of my first blog posts on literature was called “What Would You Read in an Introduction to Fiction Course” where I listed the books I’d include if I was to create an introduction to Fiction course and Lolita was one of my choices. Having now reread this book, it just validates my choice even more, there is so much to explore in this book that it has been put back on my list of books to reread.

Confessions of a Reader

Posted May 4, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 6 Comments

While most people know my story, I wasn’t much of a reader until a few years ago when something clicked and I started reading and wanting to read almost everything in sight. I’ve been playing catch up with everyone else for the past few years. While I claim to be a bibliophile, I’ve still got a lot to catch up on. My name is Michael and these are by reading confessions:

I haven’t borrowed a book from the library in about a year While I love libraries and my local librarians are awesome people, I think I like books too much to borrow them. I don’t think I would want to return them. Plus I’m now more of an e-reader and still waiting for a digital local library.

Short story collections often bore me: While it’s great to read some quick stories, when reading a whole book full of short stories – especially on the one topic – it often gets boring and becomes a struggle. I think the fact that I read it straight through instead of a little at a time is my main problem.

I still groan at the thought of reading some genres: While I do try to keep an open mind to new and recommended book, I tend to avoid or put off reading some genres. I’m not sure if this is simply because I haven’t experienced enough good books in these genres but fantasy, magic realism, romance and paranormal romance novels never seem appealing.

Large books often scare me:  I will try to read them but I don’t like the idea of investing in a long story when I can read two or three books instead. I’ve written a post previously about this same issue.

I’ve never read Jane Austin:  I probably should. I know she is one of the most famous writers but I have so many other books to read and none of her books really interest me.

I read literary books with the hope to look cool: Even though I’ve realised that I’ve enjoyed most of them. My main motivations for reading books like 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx in an effort to look more like a literary elitist.

I rarely complete a book series: I can only think of two book series that I’ve read completely through, most of the time I read one of the books just to test the series out and move onto more interesting novels. I haven’t finished The Hunger Game series and I only read the first two books from the Song of Ice and Fire series to keep in front of the Game of Thrones TV series.

Audiobooks have replaced my music in the car and while I do work or exercise. I like being able to listen through a novel during those times where I’m doing mundane tasks. I often have an audiobook and an ebook on the go at the same time. It’s surprisingly easy to read two books at the same times if one of them is an audiobook.

I’m addicted to Goodreads: This is an effect of my reading and a need to keep a record of all the books I’ve read and want to read. I’m now part of a few groups on Goodreads and spend most of my work day on the site.

I own multiple copies of Frankenstein and even a few other books. I love Frankenstein and I need more copies of it, so I can have a copy of the book in every part of the house. Most multiple copies of books are by accident but when it comes to Frankenstein it was intentional.

I’m sure I can keep going with my confessions but I think I will stop with those ten. I would love to know what you would confess about your reading habits.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted July 21, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldTitle: The Great Gatsby (Goodreads)
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published: Scribner, 1925
Pages: 184
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

One of the most interesting aspects of The Great Gatsby is the Point of View. I don’t think I’ve read a book in the point of view of an onlooker, which was written as well as this F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. The book does a decent job at shedding light on the egotistical, desire driven tendencies of human nature. Nick Carraway tells the story of a group of destructive personalities. Carraway starts out starry eyed towards high society but slowly becomes more and more uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that comes with it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald paints a unique literary picture of the time and life style, with interesting, snooty and slightly annoying characters. Everyone seems so self absorbed and never think of each other; which helped drive the story beautifully. The book is very familiar to the movie, though the book is far superior. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Posted May 29, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Animal Farm by George OrwellTitle: Animal Farm (Goodreads)
Author: George Orwell
Published: Penguin, 1945
Pages: 112
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

‘Animal Farm’ is truly an interesting story; we all know what the story represents but George Orwell portrayed communists Russia in World War II really well. The book was short and I was able to read it in one day, almost in one sitting. I think we could spend a long time discussing which animal represents which Russian and working out which battle was The Battle of the Cowshed or The Battle of the Windmill. I did especially enjoy the flag (The Horn and Hoof Flag reminiscent of the hammer and sickle), Squealer (propaganda pig) and Moses the Raven (the Russian Orthodox Church). It is definitely one of those books you need to read at least once in your lifetime. I think I enjoyed it more than ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’.

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

Posted March 2, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. SalingerTitle: The Catcher In The Rye (Goodreads)
Author: J.D. Salinger
Published: Penguin, 1951
Pages: 241
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

On one hand The Catcher In The Rye was an impressive insight of teenage life. I identified with many of those feelings when I was in high school. I remember feeling alone, annoyed all the time and never feeling like doing anything. In this aspect J. D. Salinger was a master at capturing the feelings of my youth. But on the other hand, Holden Caulfield is the most annoying character I’ve ever read; I’ve wanted to punch him in the face so many times. He just infuriated me and I struggled to read this book because of that fact. On the upside there is a scene where Holden is having a conversation with an old school teacher, Mr. Antolini. The teacher told him that one day, he will discover what he is meant to do with his life, and on that day he will wish he paid attention in school. This is probably the most identifiable scene in the book; I know the feeling of wishing I paid attention and discovering a passion later in life.

Despite all the Controversy I really want to know why this book is always assigned to students in school. A book about teenage angst and dropping out of school; is that something you want students to learn about? High School Teacher who was involved in the controversy in America Shelley Keller-Gage stated; “[They] are being just like Holden . . . They are trying to be catchers in the rye.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Posted January 7, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Brave New World by Aldous HuxleyTitle: Brave New World (Goodreads)
Author: Aldous Huxley
Published: Vintage, 1932
Pages: 288
Genres: Classic, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Aldous Huxley got it right when he wrote Brave New World, he wrote about a society were everyone lived for themselves, only considered about the pleasure they would receive out of life. This was written as a Utopian society but it does seem to reflect our society as well. The novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

2009 Wrap Up

Posted December 31, 2009 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

I set myself the goal to read 12 books in the year, seemed like a perfect place to start. Especially for someone that is trying to convert into an avid reader. I achieved my goal, and I found some beautiful treasures. Also for those people that don’t count graphic novels, novellas or short stories in the 12, I did read 12 novels as well as a graphic novel, novella & short story.

You must be away that I never really was a reader in my childhood so this is probably as many books as I’ve read in my life previously. Biggest highlight of the year was Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, it is now my security blanket (so to speak); I carry it with me where ever I go, in one form or another. I also know own a beautiful leather-bound copy of the book as well as a paperback (for reading) copy of the book. It is now my measuring stick to every other book I read. In Non Fiction I can’t go past Hey! Nietzsche! Leave them kids alone!: The Romantic Movement, Rock & Roll, And The End Of Civilisation As We Know It, this has started a new found passion in all things Culture and Romantic which lead to this blog.

As for my life time reading goals by completing all the books on the 1001 books to read before you die & Modern Library 100 Best Novels list, I have now read 8 of the 1001 and 2 of the 100. Some extremely interesting books on these lists like; Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death & Nineteen Eighty-Four. Out of all the books on the list of 1001 books to read before you die I was only disappointed in one (American Psycho) but that was possibly due to the fact that the movie is very similar and the book offered nothing new to the story. If I read the book before seeing the movie I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Watchmen took a lot of effort to really get into, it was a great story I just felt I struggled at times. Another book that I struggled to get through was Dracula, the story was good but it seemed to drag on and on at times, it could have cut a few sections and still worked.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Posted May 30, 2009 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Science Fiction / 0 Comments

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutTitle: Slaughterhouse-Five (Goodreads)
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Published: Vintage, 1969
Pages: 186
Genres: Classic, Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death is an unusual story with many layers to it. The book itself is a post-modern, anti-war, science fiction metafiction novel. The Narrator starts off telling people about the book he is writing on the subject of Dresden and being in a POW camp (The Slaughterhouse) during the War. Trying to remember what happened in Dresden, the narrator goes on to tell the story of some of the other people in the Slaughterhouse with him. Billy Pilgram is the main character in the book, an optometrist who has become unstuck in time and randomly travels through time and is abducted by the “four-dimensional” aliens from planet Tralfamadore. Being POW in Dresden has had a lasting effect on Billy’s post-war life, and combined with the abductions and time travel, he has become fatalistic.

The whole story just has so many layers to try to explain, but it makes for an interesting read. Since Billy keeps randomly traveling to the Past, Future and Tralfamadore there just seems to be a lot going on and can get a little confusing. The book really highlights the effects of war on the survivors and what could be considered schizophrenia.

…And So It Goes