Friday, July 8, 2016

Interesting pairs or paired titles

I believe I mentioned previously how on my long list of books to be read, I do try to get interesting pairings and groupings, that have some thematic coherence.  So for instance three books about Soviet/communist "excesses": Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Danilo Kis's A Tomb for Boris Davidovitch and Victor Serge's The Case of Comrade Tulayev.  In this particular case, I've read the one in the middle way out of sequence, but I'll probably read the remaining books as a pair.

In my mind at least J.L. Carr A Month in the Country is the flip side of what would more normally occur when marital infidelity is discovered, while Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier is very much the exception.  So I'd like to read the two in quick succession, since it has been far, far too long since I've read The Good Soldier.

Curiously, at the same point in the list, I am tackling Philip Roth's The Great American Novel and Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, which may only be linked through their titles.  I guess I'll find out next year at some point...

I'll go ahead and read Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea right after I re-reread Bronte's Jane Eyre, since the two are so closely intertwined.

In some cases, critics have pointed out a clear influence between two books, such as Fontane's Effi Briest is cited in some way in Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, which I'd never known until recently, so I'd like to read the two together.

Also, several critics have said that Conrad's Under Western Eyes is a response of sorts to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.  I'll certainly take an opportunity to reread Crime and Punishment, which was pretty influential reading in my youth.

At the moment, I have just wrapped up Doris Lessing's The Habit of Love, where perhaps a third of the stories are set in Africa (mostly Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe).  She is clearly quite critical of the colonists, particularly the males, though she writes very little about the native population, at least in this collection.  I'm about to launch into Dinesen's Out of Africa, which is much harder to appreciate on its own terms, since it basically reeks of (unacknowledged) white privilege.

Somewhat along the same lines, I am closing in on Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle.  I've gotten through the Galapagos Islands chapter, probably the single most important part of the voyage, and they have crossed the Pacific and are about to explore New Zealand.  Darwin seems fairly open minded for his time and often has positive things to say about the various Indian tribes he encounters (at least the men -- the women are largely pitiful, near slaves in his view).  But he is clearly writing as a western white man, that is from a position of unquestioned authority.  So it has been interesting to read George Bowering's Burning Water, which is a post-modern take on George Vancouver and his expedition to the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Island.  Bowering gives more voice to the First Nations observers who watch Vancouver turn up in his enormous boats, and one says to the other not to think of the Europeans as gods, since what god has got hair on his face i.e. a beard.  Captain Vancouver seems to have a much more fraught relationship with his naturalist than Captain FitzRoy (captain of the Beagle) had with Darwin.  Anyway, it is an interest contrast reading the original documents, as it were, and then a post-modern take on exploration that inverts most of the reader's expectations.

At any rate, I can't go into all the pairings, but I have put a bit of thought into my list and hopefully it will continue to pay off.  If nothing else, I tend to remember books more when I fit them into some kind of a system.

Before I go, I will mention that I won a pair of tickets to Scenes from Plays I Never Wrote, and I can make one ticket available (not the pair).  It is for today (July 8) at 4pm at Theatre Passe Muraille.  Some information here.  There is no point in responding in the comments, as I won't see it. 


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