September 1st, 2015


Books that I read in August

Books that I read in August:

16. Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland, and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (365 p.)

17. Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange (192 p.)

18. Camus, Albert. The Stranger (123 p.)

August total: 680 pages
2015 YTD: 5,794 pages

Ah, that's better. And three surprisingly readable books this time, too. One might even argue that all are (very loosely) linked by a theme of "mental illness".

Wieland, and its unfinished prequel/companion, Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist are among the first "American" novels--written by an American, set in America, and featuring American sensibilities; Wieland (published in 1798) is also one of the origins of the American "gothic" genre later perfected by Edgar Allan Poe. In brief, in a time & place where ventriloquism is almost unknown, someone who has mastered the arts of both ventriloquism and vocal mimickry manages to throw other people's voices into places where they aren't, and thus cause a whole mess of trouble, including helping to convince the title character that he hears angels commanding him to do various tasks--and starts hearing them when the ventriloquist isn't around, too. Things go from bad to worse and several characters end up unjustly shamed, miserable, insane, dead, or any three of those four. Putting aside that ventriloquism generally doesn't work the way it's described here, I rather enjoyed this one and think it would make a dandy TV movie with just a few tweaks to cover over the worst narrative foibles. The Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, on the other hand, tell the tale of how our resident ventriloquist wasn't really such a bad guy at heart, at least at first, but fell in with bad influences. Because it was never finished, it doesn't have as much impact, but it does provide some key insights into the character and how he came to be able (and willing) to do what he does in Wieland. It has its warts, but Wieland is worth the read, especially if you also like Poe and Mary Shelley. (Carwin is less so, especially since it ends mid-action, but I still recommend it after one has read Wieland.)

I've seen Kubrick's movie of A Clockwork Orange, but hadn't read the book until now. Also of note is that this was an unabridged edtion, which includes the last chapter that was originally left out for American publication (and as a result was also left out of the movie). The Russian-Cockney slang is pretty much an impenetrable wall for basic comprehension in large parts, but with the help of a second copy that has a partial glossary, I could follow it just well enough most of the time to figure out what was going on. Kubrick stuck extremely close to the novel, so if you've seen the movie, you've pretty much read the book, except for the last chapter... which just happens to radically change the protagonist, by having him start to grow out of his chaotic, antisocial ways and grow up into a rational adult who might actually care for someone other than himself. (From the point of view of Piaget's theories of cognitive development, one could argue that at the end, our dear Alex started to achieve formal operations.) Marks off for invented slang that is worse than that of a bad fantasy novel, but otherwise highly, thoroughly recommended.

I never had to read The Stranger in school, but I knew people who did and weren't exactly fans of it. I wasn't either at first (as it's almost Joycean or Seinfeldian in being a book about nothing, and that sort of book usually bores me to tears), but then I concluded that the protagonist and the way he describes his actions and reactions makes significantly more sense if he's read as having undiagnosed autism, but on the highly functioning, highly verbal part of the spectrum--in any case he certainly doesn't process emotions the same way as "normal" people do--at which point the book became much more interesting to me and the protagonist much less of an unambitious slacker and much more sympathetic. It's not a long or particularly difficult read, so I recommend it, but also recommend that while reading it, you consider the possibility that the main character may have Asperger's Syndrome or a related condition--it throws the whole book into a new light, especially the protagonist's treatment at the hands of the French legal system.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf