Wednesday, April 3, 2013

BTR - updates

Well, there are already some minor updates to my book pile, which I suspected would happen (well, knowing myself I knew for a fact the list would keep growing), but I haven't decided if I will actually add to the list in that post or just post the updated list every couple of months.  I am just wrapping up On the Road, and maybe 2/3 of the way through, Kerouac starts talking about Dean Moriarty (well, actually Neal Cassady in the original scroll version I am reading) as a kind of holy fool, which is similar to the way that Allen Ginsberg is also portrayed throughout (personally I would be slightly more inclined to give Ginsberg the benefit of a doubt, whereas Neal just seems like a totally selfish a-hole*).  His status had been sort of implied up 'til now, but Kerouac is really explicit about it on one of the later trips back East (they do indeed go back and forth across the country and not just head westward). This got me thinking of Doestovesky's The Idiot, where he basically riffs off the idea that anyone who truly tries to emulate Jesus would be considered a madman in contemporary society (even more true today than back when he was writing).  I clearly won't be able to read it in time for Easter, which has already come and gone, but I think it might fit nicely between Lolita and Anna Karenina, so I'll see if I can get to it and round out a bit of a Russian detour embedded in the pile.

One of the more tempting book buys is the Colour Your Library collection over at Chapters.  I saw a few of them and they seem to have expanded the series out to 25 or so volumes.

On the one hand, I don't like how they are so clearly pitching this at designers and not really at readers.  On the other, they are nice looking, if somewhat simply designed, books.  But I own a few of the titles already and I'm not really that interested some of the other selections.  And for sure, I would not stack them together -- they would go alphabetically like everything else, which really undermines the impact to be sure, particularly if you only see the spines!

Do you think the "colour" books might get a bit lost?

Nonetheless, I went down to Chapters to check them out and write down the titles of some interest.  It turns out that you can get them for $15 each or $25 for 2.  That is almost within reason for a new book.

Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart (I believe this was sold out at my local branch)
Margaret Atwood - Alias Grace
Shauna Singh Baldwin - The Tiger Claw
Julian Barnes - Arthur & George
Peter Carey - True History of the Kelly Gang
Camilla Gibb  - Sweetness in the Belly
Wayson Choy - All That Matters
Douglas Coupland - Eleanor Rigby
Jeff Eugenides - The Virgin Suicides
Mark Haddon - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Elizabeth Hay - A Student of Weather
John Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany
Kazuo Ishiguro - Never Let Me Go
Jhumpa Lahiri - Unaccustomed Earth
Vincent Lam - Bloodletting/Miraculous Cures (kind of a mustard instead of the more obvious red)
Lori Lansens - Rush Home Road
Anne Michaels - The Winter Vault
David Mitchell - Black Swan Green (one of the few to have the colour correspond to the book)
Michael Ondaatje - In the Skin of a Lion
Tom Rachman - The Imperfectionists
Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things
Salman Rushdie - The Satanic Verses
Shyam Selvadurai - Funny Boy
Diane Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale
Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger

I believe this is the entire list.  It's kind of an odd series.  In many cases, these are titles that didn't sell all that well and are sort of the less-regarded novels by these authors (Alias Grace, Black Swan Green), though the novels by Asian authors are generally chosen fairly well.  The problem is that I have many of these already (Satanic Verses, Reluctant Fundamentalist, Unaccustomed Earth, Things Fall Apart).  I was a bit underwhelmed by the offerings from Canadian authors.  I was probably most interested in Wayson Choy's All That Matters until I realized this was essentially a sequel to The Jade Peony, so it made little sense to get one version in this series and the other in a different binding.  Of course, there are plenty of copies of his novels in the Vancouver Library, and that makes more sense anyway.  It might almost be worth picking up The Satanic Verses in this binding for when I decide to reread the novel so as to avoid quite so many stares on the train.  I was sort of circling around to Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale and Rachman's The Imperfectionists when I went to look at reviews on Amazon and realized that 1) they could be picked up super cheap (another odd thing about this series is how long-in-the-tooth the books are) and 2) I liked the alternate covers much better (being such a bibliophile).

It would be possible to find another two books, but it would certainly be a stretch.  There are a handful that I would consider reading (Bloodletting and perhaps In the Skin of a Lion), but these aren't books that I feel compelled to own.  I think in the end, I may add a bit to my BTR pile using this as a jumping-off point (Wayson Choy for example), but that I won't buy any in the series proper.

I do remain on the lookout for Canadian books of interest.  I'll have to fit Hill's The Book of Negroes in there somewhere.  And I certainly will begin adding some novels set in Montreal to the list, both by Anglophones and Francophones.  Probably something by Dany LaFerriere fairly soon and Gabrielle Roy's The Cashier (assuming I like The Tin Flute).  Well, one thing is for certain, the BTR will keep changing and growing.  (I guess I'll stick this here as well as anywhere: I had run across some odd cult book probably through an Amazon linkage.  It was about a boy who sort of shadows this woman from the elite.  I'm not describing it well -- largely because it is a novel that supposedly defies easy categorization.  I wasn't quite gripped enough to seek it out, but recently decided I might as well still it in a list, so I wouldn't forget.  After poking around on some lists of cult novels, I was about to try to do some Amazon searching when the title just popped into my head -- Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz.  Memory is a funny thing and mine is still fairly good, knock wood...)

* I think I already mentioned this, but viewed from the outside, these Beats just seemed to be pretty unpleasant to interact with.  They felt the need to cut free from conventional society and not hold down any boring job, so of course they were always mooching off the more respectable people in their circles.  Kind of a drag when you think about it.  You always have to pay the piper somehow, and these folks really were a fairly substantial burden to their friends and relatives, but of course they didn't see it that way.  I guess I would try for more of a middle ground -- to not be hopelessly conventional and rule-bound (can't describe how much it irks me when somebody says you have to obey the law and if you disagree with a law, work on changing it -- as if obedience in and of itself was the highest moral principle and with no awareness or concern over how much is stacked against those who try to change bad laws) but not be a total slacker and a deadweight on my family.

Actually, let me follow up on this theme.  I am really struggling to finish On the Road because at roughly the 3/4 mark, Neal Cassidy switches from a ne'er-do-well to a psychotic scumbag: beating one of his girlfriends or ex-wives (hard to tell her status at this point), chasing after 16 year old girls, stealing cars, wrecking car after car because he drives them too far and too fast (including a nice Cadillac that they were hired to drive across the country).  And Kerouac basically comes across as a pathetic enabler, who actually is trying to glorify this criminal after the fact.  Both of them make terrible decision after terrible decision.  I just don't think "freedom" for its own sake is of any value when it leads to these horrible behaviors.  Sorry if that makes me square.  Kind of like the 60s, this book has overstayed its welcome and become a sorry shadow of its self.  I didn't react this badly when I read the book years ago, but I am sure I wouldn't have identified with Neal or Jack even back then.  I think from this point on, it is going to be really hard for me to ever want to crack open a book by Kerouac.

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