Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Short vs. long works

I've mentioned already that I am turning a bit away from fiction and have read a couple of books on relativity (one made me feel smarter and the other had the opposite effect...).  Along those same lines, I am currently much more drawn to shorter works (for reading on the subway).  That doesn't mean that I won't eventually get to longer books, and I have Wallace's The Pale King, Murakami's 1Q84 and Thackeray's Vanity Fair tentatively lined up for the second half of 2016.

Shorter doesn't always mean better of course.  I wasn't particularly taken by Kundera's The Festival of Insignificance, which is indeed an insignificant trifle.  But it was nice to finish a book in two days.  On the other hand, I just cracked open Edna O'Brien's Night and am enjoying it quite a bit.  It is sort of a mid-career lark (I don't believe she normally wrote this way), where she is taking on the trappings of high modernism, particularly Molly Bloom's soliloquy from Ulysses but also some of the exuberance of Nightwood's Matthew O'Connor.  This also looks like a book I should be able to read in a day or two, though I might slow down just a bit to savor the language.

In contrast, I was poking around trying to track down a book cover, and ran across the listings for Balzac's La Comédie Humaine, which I had been aware of but a bit too awed to do anything about, and Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart cycle, of which I only knew about a couple of the books.  I had no idea it was a more or less completed cycle of 20 novels!  Both of these series dwarf anything currently on my list of long works (read or unread).

I'm pretty sure I won't ever read or even attempt to read all of Balzac, though I will try to get to the highlights (by 2020?).  I'd start with the NYRB volume of stories and novellas, which concludes with The Duchess of Langeais (1834).  Then Père Goriot (1835), Eugénie Grandet (1834), maybe Sarrasine (1830) as Roland Barthes paid so much attention to it, Cousin Bette (1846), Cousin Pons (1847) and wrapping up with Lost Illusions (1837-43).  I'm sure there are other worthy books in the cycle, but I think that would be a decent selection.

As far as Zola, it is harder to say.  The two that intrigue me the most are Pot Luck and The Ladies Paradise, but these fall mid-way through the series.  I suppose I will just start with The Fortune of the Rougons and see if I want to try to get through the whole series or just pick and choose.  It is true that I am far better versed in German and arguably even Spanish and Italian literature than I am in French literature, though at one point I had read most of the key French poets (at least post 1850).  Anyway, something to work on down the road...

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