Friday, July 30, 2010

Grade A Prime Cut

Current book: The Jungle
Pages read: 1 - 53

So, basically what's happened so far is that Jurgis and Ona, a young Lithuanian couple, have immigrated with their family to Chicago and are trying to make a go of survival there. Jurgis has secured a job at the stockyards shoveling entrails off the slaughter floor, and as a result of his high wages of 35 cents an hour, the family has decided to buy a house. They were skeptical of the contract for the house, which seemed to agree only to rent it to them until the full price had been paid, but signed it anyway after consulting a couple of lawyers who assured them that it was a common technicality.

That's all we've got as far as plot goes, but there's also been a great deal of description of the awful working conditions of the Chicago stockyards and slaughterhouses, the treatment of new immigrants, and, of course, the unsanitary nature of large-scale meat production.

It's funny, this book. Sinclair clearly meant it to be a socialist treatise on the demoralizing and inhuman working conditions of the modern American city, and instead, everyone who read it just went, "Oh my God, sausage is so gross!" And so the USDA was born.

I'll give you more when I've got more to work with, but for now, just think about carcasses and blood. Is it gross? Then you're getting the gist.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slaughterhouse five. Million.

Current book: The Jungle
Pages read: 1 - 53

I don't have the energy to write about this tonight. There is a significant number of dead animals.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There she was.

Current book: Mrs. Dalloway
Pages read: 130 - 195 (end)

Ms. Kilman and Elizabeth have tea together, and we're treated to Ms. Kilman being melodramatic and obnoxious. At one point she even says, "I don't pity myself." (I mean, come on. Anyone who says she doesn't pity herself is clearly lying.) Anyway. Elizabeth leaves the tea and enjoys her afternoon in London by riding the omnibus to the Strand. (Did you, gentle readers, know that the word bus is short for omnibus? It's not a widely known fact, but it ought to be.) Meanwhile, Septimus and Rezia have a nice afternoon together during which they laugh and converse. At the end of it, Dr. Holmes (Septimus's first doctor, who claims nothing is wrong with him) barges in, and Septimus, in a frenzy to escape him, jumps out the window and lands on the railings below, killing himself.

Clarissa's party finally begins, and all the guests, including the Prime Minister, arrive and are introduced to one another. Clarissa sees Peter Walsh and Sally Seton conversing and promises to come speak with them later, but subsequently hears another guest discussing Septimus's suicide, and is bothered enough by it that she retreats to her bedroom for a considerable time. While she's gone, Peter and Sally discuss their early years together, and Peter confesses that the fact that he still loves Clarissa has made a mess of his life. Sally mostly talks about her husband, children, and gardening, and Peter reflects (to himself) on the fact that the lively spirit that characterized her youth has been swallowed by her adulthood. Sally leaves, having grown too impatient to wait for her hostess to return, and Peter's left alone. In that moment, he looks up to see Clarissa waiting for him. There Woolf leaves us.

Thematically, Woolf is expressing the idea that the tides of our own pasts always move us, whether we're able to see it or not. Sometimes, we are self-aware and have moments of clarity that allow us to understand truths about ourselves that stem from the events of our lives, but we are often following, unknowing, a pattern set forth for us by previously established emotional ties. Clarissa's moved this way in that she made her decision to marry Richard Dalloway and spurn Peter, but her existence is clouded by anxiety and fussiness that result from wondering whether her decision was correct. Peter's moved this way in that he cannot settle in one place or on one woman because of the fact that he never got to possess Clarissa in the way that he wanted, and is now driven to seek her, regardless of the fact that she's unattainable. Septimus is moved this way by the ghosts of the war, by the fact that he's seem humanity stripped down to its true brutal nature, and now he cannot cloak the world in the veil of civility that the rest of us do.

Septimus is interesting, too, in that he characterizes his doctors as representative of the beast that is human nature. He thinks, several times, that he just wants them to leave him alone, but that they are human nature, and so cannot. The characteristics of human nature that they represent, then, must be the inability to ignore what is different or strange and the impulse to change or destroy it. Difference is frightening to humanity, especially difference that's represented by social error and mental illness, both of which Septimus suffers from.

I believe it is worthy of the list because, if nothing else, it's stylistically revolutionary. It's more than that, though; it's also, somehow, captivating, regardless of the fact that very little happens and none of the characters are particularly compelling. The strong sense you get of that day in London, of the echoes of the past haunting the present and future, and of the intertwining, intricate, and sometimes beautiful and tragic nature of lives is what makes it great.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Save the clock tower!

Current book: Mrs. Dalloway
Pages read: 66 - 130

Not too much to report today. We've discovered that Peter has sort of wasted his life in India and is trying to get a divorce for his married mistress, which is why he's in England. Septimus and Rezia go to see a new doctor, who, instead of ignoring Septimus's clear mental illness, says that he needs to be committed to a rest home in the country. Richard Dalloway has lunch with Lady Bruton, a friend of the Dalloways, but Clarissa is not invited, and so feels rejected. Elizabeth and Ms. Kilman go off on an errand together, and the interaction between Ms. Kilman and Clarissa makes it clear that the two loathe each other: Clarissa because Ms. Kilman is stealing her daughter and is self-righteous about her religion and her causes, and Ms. Kilman because she think Clarissa is useless and represents the decadent and indolent rich, but is still unable to resist being jealous of her.

I'll save more style discussion until the end, but I do want to point out that as the day progresses, Woolf marks the passage of time by noting the chimes of Big Ben sounding across the city, and she consistently describes them as "leaden circles dissolving in the air." That is a perfect, illustrative, succinct description of clock bells ringing, and I love it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's not just a cigar.

Current book: Mrs. Dalloway
Pages read: 11 - 65

Stream-of-consciousness, this book, like lily pads in the water of a dark pond, like Monet's pond would be if you went to Giverny, all shadows and impressions in the greened sunlight of a French summer, reminding you of art but also of thinking at the same time, reproducing the echoes of memories in the memories of the story itself, like a painting and not like a painting, the way a day is like a painting and not like one, the way it can change and be something different from one moment to the next.

So, that's what the writing is like. Well, at least it's my attempt at approximating Woolf's style in the novel. Honestly, it's masterful prose; it does more to capture the way someone thinks than I would have thought possible. It's not surprising that Virginia Woolf is as remarked upon as she is, but it is surprising that more people don't like her. Sure, the prose has its moments of opacity, but it's so easy to read, most of the time, that I would expect it to be more popular than it is. It's so fluid and captivating, and it takes you along with the thought processes of the people you meet so completely, that it's almost impossible not to be drawn into their existences the way you're drawn into your own experience: it simply happens.

Anyway. Clarissa Dalloway is an older, well-off woman preparing for a party in London. She is insecure about being accepted by her society and is uncertain and almost regretful about the choices she's made in her life that have brought her to this day. She has a daughter, Elizabeth, with whom she feels very little kinship, and who is currently in the thrall of an older tutor, Ms. Kilman, who is a born-again Christian and activist. Clarissa once had a love affair with Peter Walsh, who now lives and works in India, and very nearly married him, though she chose Richard Dalloway instead. Peter visits her in London and asks her if she's happy, to which she gives no answer before they are interrupted by a servant coming into the room. She does, however, invite him to her party that evening. Clarissa also once had a love affair, or something very close to it, with a girlfriend named Sally Seton, a friend of Peter's.

Unconnected, as of yet, to this group is Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of the first world war who is suffering from a pretty intense case of post-traumatic stress disorder (referred to in the book, of course, as shell shock). Septimus has auditory and visual hallucinations and paranoid delusions, mostly revolving around parts of the world changing suddenly and people chasing and conspiring against him. Septimus is married to Lucrezia (Rezia), a young woman from Italy, who feels very alone in London, especially since the doctors keep insisting that her husband is really all right, but just needs attention and comfort.

There we are. The entire book takes place within the span of a day, so don't look for a lot of exciting plot action (though there is some). There's a scene in this part, which I'd forgotten since the last time I read it, in which Clarissa and Peter are discussing their past and the present and each is preoccupied with his or her own thoughts. Peter plays with a pocketknife constantly during the scene, and Clarissa keeps toying with a pair of sewing scissors. Oh, man, the overtly aggressive sexual imagery. I don't usually get into Freudian analysis, but seriously? The guy's handing a penetrative blade used for hunting and skinning, and the woman is handling a receptive pair of blades used for sewing and household duties, and they're discussing a love affair that they once had that might have been more but has since been subsumed by Clarissa's duty to society and Peter's to British colonialism. I mean, really.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a pastry chef!

Current book: None
Pages read: None

I haven't picked up Mrs. Dalloway yet, but I did make cupcakes this afternoon. I admit to using a box mix, though I added espresso power, vanilla, and dark cocoa powder. Doctoring is your friend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Handle with care

Current book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Pages read: 159 - 261 (end)

After Dorothy and the companions get themselves back together, they head to the Emerald City (I know I was all insistent before about it not being the Emerald City, but then it got inconsistent on me) to collect their rewards. There they discover that the wizard is just a little old man, though he grants them their wishes regardless. The Scarecrow gets brains made of bran and pins and needles, the Tin Woodsman gets a silk heart stuffed with sawdust, and the Cowardly Lion gets a bowl full of liquid courage. (And no, that's not a euphemism for alcohol. Probably.) The whole point of these gifts, of course, is that Dorothy's three companions have embodied these traits all along and don't actually need to be given that for which they've respectively asked.

The Wizard promises to take Dorothy back to Kansas in his hot air balloon, but the balloon escapes its tethers before she can get in, and she's left in Oz. The companions resolve to go see Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, who might help them. Along the way, they meet a forest full of animals that need to be defended from a horrible monster, which the Cowardly Lion does, and so becomes their king (after he's done helping Dorothy, of course). They also go through a small country made entirely of china - ground, people, houses, everything. They have to be very careful not to break anyone as they go through, and still end up smashing a church and breaking a cow's leg.

When they finally get to Glinda, she explains that Dorothy could have used the silver shoes all along to return home, and, after tearful goodbyes, she does so. When she comes running home across the fields, Aunt Em is surprised and delighted to see her.

You'll note that there's none of that "waking up from being knocked unconscious" nonsense that happened at the end of the movie. Dorothy was lost and she came home; it was all real. So, as far as the messages and themes of this book go, I mentioned there was some politics involved, and there is, but there are also just a lot of rather smoothly incorporated morals. The politics are mostly quite anti-dictator, what with the wicked witches keeping people as slaves. The Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, who end up ruling the Winkies (who were formally the Wicked Witch of the West's slaves), the Emerald City, and the beasts of the forest respectively, all earn their positions through merit, so that message ends up quite American in its sense of meritocracy.

As far as morals go, Baum carefully avoids having the characters moralize, but manages to work the morals in strongly regardless. It's nice because he avoids that old children's book syndrome of telling children what to do in a didactic, often annoying tone. (I'm looking at you, Louisa May Alcott.) The morals range from being kind to and protective of the weak, as the Tin Woodsman does by saving the Queen of the Mice, to caring for and being loyal to your friends, as the companions do throughout the story, to even, simply, making sure to keep yourself clean, as Dorothy does each morning before they set out. Never does Baum say, "And this, children, shows that you should..." He simply gives the example and lets children interpret it themselves.

Is it one of the greatest novels of all time? I don't know about that. It's a great children's book, and I loved it when I was little, so that says a lot. I also think about the country made of china a lot, because it's somehow captivating to me, especially the fact that the ground is made of china. I want to walk in the china country and see what it's like. How odd to be in a place where everything is beautiful and fragile at the same time. Then again, is it really that different?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Undivided attention

Current book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Pages read: 159 - 261 (end)

No time tonight to give this the attention it needs, so I'm begging off and will update tomorrow. It was an 11-hour day, front door to front door, and I'd like to do a nice post on Oz.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Emerald-coloured glasses

Current book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Pages read: 11 - 155

You might think that I'd be wasting my time by summarizing the plot, but if you haven't read the book, you'd be surprised by how different it is from the movie.

So, Dorothy, an orphan, lives in Kansas with her aunt and uncle, and, one day, is sucked up by a cyclone, along with her entire house and her dog Toto. She lands, much later, in Munchkinland, part of the land of Oz, where the Munchkins thank her for killing the Wicked Witch of the East, who had been holding them in bondage. Though she denies that she's done it, the Good Witch of the North kisses her on the forehead to thank and bless her, and gives her the Wicked Witch's silver shoes to protect her.

She goes to visit Oz, the Great and Terrible Wizard of Emerald City (yes, that's Emerald City, not the Emerald City) to ask him to return her to Kansas and her family. Along the way she meets the Scarecrow, who comes along because he wants to ask Oz for brains, and the Tin Woodsman, who comes to ask for a heart. (The Tin Woodsman, it turns out, is tin because he accidentally cut off all his limbs, one at a time, and had them replaced with tin. Which is creepy. Anyway.) Finally, they collect the Cowardly Lion, who wants courage so that he can be King of the Beasts.

On the way to the city, they get lost in a field of poppies, which put Dorothy and the Lion to sleep. While the Scarecrow and Woodsman can carry Dorothy out, the Lion is too heavy. Luckily, by a stroke of both his ax and good luck, the Tin Woodsman saves the Queen of the Mice from a wildcat and she agrees to have her subjects save the Lion from the poppies, after which they continue on their way.

When the get to the city, they find they are required to wear green glasses to enter the place in so that they won't be blinded by the dazzling materials from which it's constructed. They do so, and go to see Oz, but he refuses to grant them their desires unless they kill the Wicked Witch of the West for him. They go to do this, fighting off the witch's wolves, crows, and bees, which are killed in various gruesome ways. Finally, however, the companions are brought to the witch's castle by her flying monkeys. (The monkeys, it turns out, can only be controlled by any one person three times, via a magic hat, and this was the witch's last shot.) Eventually, Dorothy accidentally melts the witch, and the companions are free to go.

I have no commentary so far. It's cute. I've already read it. There's some political stuff going on, but I'm going to save it for tomorrow. I have a reprint of the original edition, also, and the illustrations are quirky and awesome two-colour plates with all sorts of great stuff in them, including Toto looking very skeptically at a Munchkin baby who wants to play with him, and the severed head of the wildcat that chased the Queen of the Mice. Severed heads in a children's book. Top notch.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Oh, yes, I'm reticent!

Current book: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Pages read: 346 - 457 (end)

While Connie is away in Venice she discovers that she's pregnant, much to her joy. At the same time, Mellors's estranged wife, Bertha, tries to come back to him, against his will, and causes a huge scandal in the area. Clifford hears about it, but doesn't believe the rumors about Mellors and Connie that Bertha spreads as a result of her rejection by Mellors. Connie decides to come back to England, however, and meets Mellors in London, where they decide that she should ask Clifford for a divorce. She does, and admits the truth to him, after which he's completely disgusted with her. He refuses, however, to give her a divorce, pretty much because he's a petulant child. As a result, Connie and Mellors run away, separately, but with the intent to be together, and the book ends with the two making plans for their future together, whether they each get their divorces or not.

I'm not really sure what I think. I didn't expect Connie and Mellors to stick to their mutual guns and give everything up to be lovers together, so I kind of liked that part. I don't know what to make of the fact that Clifford remained impotent and ridiculous the entire time, becoming more and more of a child until he was perversely, Oedipally attracted to Mrs. Bolton.

It seems as far as Connie and the gamekeeper go, the message was, in the end, that physical love is an act of beauty that transcends all social demands. The sex seemed to be enough for the two of them, since they had no real mental or social connection, and all signs at the end of the book point to a positive future for them, however scandalous. In his final words in the novel, in the form of a letter, the gamekeeper says this about their relationship:
"We fucked a flame into being. Even the flowers are fucked into being between the sun and the earth...We really trust in the flame, in the unnamed god that shields it from being blown out." (456)
So, sex is equated with an act of creation, yes, but the gamekeeper specifically says that he's not referring to the child they created together, but rather the spirit that exists between them. By having sex, then, they have created their relationship, their sense of future happiness, and even, perhaps, some kind of holiness.

It's sort of a nice idea, but I'm not sure I can quite agree. Sex can be beautiful and can certainly engender a sense of holiness in its participants; it can, in fact, bring them together to create something that is beyond the sum of its parts (and no, I'm not referring to a child). But I'm not sure it can serve as the foundation for a bright future in which they can live for each other and love deeply. I don't think there's enough there for that. Lawrence includes a great deal of discussion about the modern tragedy that is the separation of the intellectual from the physical, and that the emphasis of the intellectual over the physical is enfeebling (just look at Clifford), but I'm not sure he quite explains it away. He would probably argue that there is no real intellectual love in his society anyway, but I think that's a bit blind of him. Sure, society was a bit stifling in the 1920s, and can still be, but real love was and is possible, and it's based on more than sex, no matter how transcendent.

Worthy of the list? I suppose. It makes you think about the nature of sex quite a bit, and it was certainly groundbreaking, so I'll give it the nod for that reason, I suppose, but honestly, I'm a little reticent.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And subsist on fuzz

Current book: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Pages read: None

Does it count if I thought about the nature of sex? No? Well, I didn't really anyway, so I guess it's all right, then.

In other news, I'm reading a totally awesome book called The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. I can't explain why it's awesome, but it is. It's written from Dickinson's point of view and has both fictional and historical elements. The author's ability to match the glimpses of Dickinson's voice that are her poetry in long-form prose is astonishing. Maybe that's what I like it so much - it's something of a technical marvel. That makes it sound dull, though, which it's totally not.

I do love Emily Dickinson. Seriously, the woman called bees "Buccaneers of Buzz." How can you not love her?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Four-letter words

Current book: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Pages read: 205 - 345

Well, the thing is, nothing actually happened in these 140 pages. I mean, things did, but mostly it was just Connie and the gamekeeper having sex. I'm not even kidding. Oh, also, at one point, Clifford goes out in his motorized wheelchair and gets stuck on a hill, acts like a complete child about it, and Connie ends up despising him. We also find out that Connie's going to Venice very shortly, and Mellors, the gamekeeper, is going to try to get a divorce from his long-estranged wife. Other than that, though, sex.

There's a lot of discussion of the human condition, both sexual and economic. The gamekeeper thinks of sex as something that makes him whole, that makes him a man, and likes women who like sex. He considers Clifford to be unmanly, even inhuman, because of his inability to have sex. I have a difficult time telling what Connie thinks of sex. She likes it, but is also afraid of it sometimes, and disgusted by it other times. I suppose that makes sense, what with her negative experiences with Michaelis, and also simply with the complicated nature of sex in an age that views it as sinful.

The economic parts come in regards to the mining town that's nearby. Connie sees it as dirty and depressing - an example of the ruin mankind trails in its wake in pursuit of money and success. (Lawrence consistently refers to success as "the bitch-goddess," which frankly, I find incredibly misogynistic.) Clifford sees it as an opportunity to make money and as an example of the necessity and ingenuity of creating work. They both see the lower class as something to be taken care of, but also as something repugnant. Connie seems to regard the miners as animals, or even golems of a sort, powered by the coal that they dig from the earth. She even thinks of them having children as horrible and unnatural. I'm not sure if this is Lawrence trying to scold the aristocracy for being classist, or if he's trying to show that man is made animal by grinding industrial labor. A little of both, I expect.

I have no idea what's going to happen. Which is kind of awesome, actually. Also, as a side note, Lawrence has used the words fuck and cunt several times, which I didn't actually think people used in the 20s. Learn something every day here at Deus ex Libris.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not in front of the ladies!

Current book: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Pages read: 101 - 205

All this time, Connie has been nursemaid to Clifford, washing and dressing and shaving him in the mornings and attending to his needs. After a while, it starts to grind her down, not surprisingly, and her sister steps in and takes her to the doctor. The doctor basically orders her to stop taking care of Clifford's every whim, which proves he's not a complete quack, and so they hire a nurse from the local coal-mining village, Mrs. Bolton. Clifford feels betrayed because Connie will no longer take care of him like an infant. (He's kind of a dick. We hadn't really noticed yet, but now it's becoming clear.) Anyway, this frees Connie up to wander around the woods and run into the gamekeeper a lot. He's got a little hut out in the woods for raising pheasant chicks, and she starts to spend a lot of time there. Eventually, and sort of out of the blue, they have sex. (Or, I should say, he has sex with her while she lies there. It's very passive on her part, and she doesn't have an orgasm the first or second time they have sex. It's probably because, after Michaelis, she feels ashamed to try to achieve orgasm through her own efforts. (Have I mentioned that I hate Michaelis a lot? I hate him. A lot.)) They meet on several occasions, and finally, the third time, Connie reaches a slow and mind-blowing orgasm. (I'm not sensationalizing, I swear. In fact, I'm toning it down.)

Meanwhile, back at the estate, Clifford is becoming more and more enamored of Mrs. Bolton. He's not really interested in her romantically, but more as a mother figure, almost. She takes care of him more and more, spends all her time with him, and even plays cards with him and types manuscripts for him (jobs that used to be Connie's). She also tells him about the villagers and their petty squabbles and concerns about the poor output of the local mines. He subsequently takes an actual interest in his own property and begins working with the mine managers to improve production.

That's where we are right now. I'm a bit confused about what Lawrence is trying to say about sex and sexuality. It's clearly both important and complex, but the messages about it are so mixed and interpreted in so many different ways and by so many different characters that I'm having trouble sorting it out at this point. Lack of sex seems to have made Clifford into an infantile being who's consumed only with the idea of physical comfort and monetary success. Sex has driven Connie to sleep with two men outside of her marriage, one of whom was vicious to her and has made her afraid to take her own pleasure in sex, and the other of whom seems to be almost entirely a physical being to her, animal, even, and with whom she has achieved orgasm by sheer chemical arousal. So, is sex more important than physical fulfillment, or isn't it? I can't say right now, but will have to come to conclusions later when I know more about where all of this is leading.

Also, Lawrence talks about penises a lot. You're just reading along, and all of a sudden, in the midst of a description of walking through the woods or something, he'll go, "His penis began to stir like a live bird." I'm not saying it's a problem, but I have to admit it's a little surprising. I'm expecting it in the sex scenes, but not so much in the rest of the narrative. (What can I say? It's kind of like if you were having a conversation with someone and all of sudden he said, "I was walking through the woods on a nice day, the birds were singing, and my penis started to get erect..." It's just weird.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I read banned books.

Current book: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Pages read: 16 - 100

So, Lord and Lady Chatterley can't have sex, what with the paralysis and all, and the first part of the book pretty much consists of their friends talking about sex, them talking about sex, and Connie having sex with an itinerant playwright. (His name is Michaelis. Which makes him sound sort of like an angel. He's not. Really, really not.)

Clifford actually tells Connie to have sex with other men so that she can have a child, so she's really got a free pass for infidelity. Also, Clifford and his friends regard sex as something that's a physical reaction and a necessity for men (Though not women. Of course.), and therefore not to be weighed down with a great deal of emotional content. Connie sleeps with Michealis out of sexual interest, but doesn't really love him, and is dismayed when he expresses his frustration that women never acheive orgasm with him. He finds it annoying and blames it on the women, saying that he's insulted when a woman demands that he try to last longer than he's inclined to, and also when she masturbates herself to orgasm during sex. (What do you want, dude? You can't have it both ways, for the love of Christ! Seriously. The man is an ass.) Anyway, at the end of this section, Connie meets the estate's gamekeeper, Mr. Mellors, accidentally sees him stripped to the waist, washing himself, and is immediately attracted to and intrigued by him.

Man, seriously, Lawrence couldn't have been surprised that this book got banned. So far, it pretty much consists of the aristocracy sitting around having candid, scandalous, and cavalier discussions about sex. I mean, fun for the whole family and all, but not exactly likely to be well received in 1928.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The little death

Current book: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Pages read: 3 - 15

Twelve whole pages, ladies and gentlemen! I'm a marvel, aren't I?

Well, in the twelve pages, we meet Connie Chatterley, married to Lord Clifford Chatterley, a young WWI veteran paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his service. After his discharge from the army, he inherited his title and estate following his father's untimely death. Connie (Constance, really) married Clifford before he joined the army because he was a man she could talk to. She had had a long-term boyfriend prior to marriage, and, Lawrence makes quite clear, had slept with that boyfriend and was quite experienced with sex. That's all so far.

It's not often that you get a candid discussion of female orgasm in the first twelve pages of a book. And even if you do, it's not usually cited as a method by which a woman can garner power over a male, and it's very definitely never mentioned as something that makes a man into a tool for a woman's pleasure. So that was interesting.

No idea where we're going. Will read more pages tomorrow.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I don't need no drugs to calm me

Current book: A Clockwork Orange
Pages read: 76 -177 (end)

Ok, I'm finally finishing this. Things have been a combination of insane and unmotivating, and I also just didn't feel like writing about this book, really.

In the end, Alex gets enrolled in an experimental behavioral modification program in which he's physiologically conditioned to feel crippling nausea when he has a violent impulse. The only way to combat the feeling is to act completely the opposite way, to the point of cringing and groveling in front of whomever he was inclined to feel violence toward. He's released in this condition, and gets beaten up by the cops, a couple of whom are his former gangmates. He finds himself in the hands of some anti-reactionary political activists, who hold him up to the newspapers as a sign of the ills of the government. One of these activists, however, is a former victim of Alex's, whose wife was raped and killed by him and his gang. Discovering that Alex's reaction to violence is also triggered by the classical music that played during the conditioning films, he locks Alex in a room and plays Beethoven until Alex tries to commit suicide. Alex wakes up in the hospital, where he's been unconditioned after the whole scandal broke in the press, and is eventually released, violent once more.

Now, there's a publishing controversy about this book, because there's an additional chapter at this point, which, it seems, Burgess intended to be included in the original edition, but which was left out of the American version. In the last chapter, Alex sees the error of his ways and realizes that he can't live his entire life simply being violent - that, in fact, he has to grow up and become part of society.

I don't know what the American publishers were thinking trying to print it without the last chapter. Apparently they wanted it to enforce the bleak futuristic dystopia idea, but it makes a helluva lot more sense with the last chapter included, not to mention being far more realistic. It's not as though the last chapter means society's all ok and everything will be fine. It just means that Alex will pass into the next bleakly horrifying part of his future, and there will be a new generation of degenerate youth to take his place.

As far as the message goes, it's pretty clear: morality is invalid unless you make a choice to be moral. If there's no choice, we are no longer human. However, where it gets complex is in the fact that Alex was moved by society to become violent just as he was moved by society to become non-violent. So it seems that Burgess is saying that the flawed nature of modern society is just as brutal and morally bankrupt as the idea of chemical induction of morality. Also, the fact that Alex gets great violent joy out of high art (Beethoven) and that same art is the engine of his demise seems to be implying that art is not exempt from social ills, but rather can be bent into a tool for whatever means its consumer desires.

Cheery. I don't know if I think it's worthy of the list. I suppose, though, that my uncertainty probably means it is, since I sort of hated reading it and am still inclined to put it on. Can't argue with the fact that it makes you think.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who's surprised?

Current book: A Clockwork Orange
Pages read: 76 -177 (end)

Friday it is, then.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Excuses, excuses

Current book: A Clockwork Orange
Pages read: 76 -177 (end)

I'm a bad blogger, but I just don't have time this week. Something has to give, and since it can't be work and I won't let it be seeing my husband, my exercise routine, or my mental health, it's the blog. If you want, you can pretend it's because I'm sick. I'll probably update tomorrow, and if not then, definitely Friday. Back on track next week, I swear.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Appy polly loggies

Current book: A Clockwork Orange
Pages read: 76 -177 (end)

I am tired. It's late. I don't have it in me to write about this right now. Tomorrow.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lost in translation

Current book: A Clockwork Orange
Pages read: 1 - 75

Sloshy this merzky raskazz, O my brothers, of our young chelloveck Alex and his band of droogs. When we meet them, they're engaged in a bit of the old ultra-violence, goolying about and tolchoking innocent malchicks in the nochy. They get some in-out-in-out, as well, crast some cutter from a few doms, and make the devotchkas creech all gromky-like. Dim, a big, strong malchick, has a bit of drat with Alex, who's the leader of the gruppa, and Alex gives him a real horrorshow tolchok in front of his droogs, Pete and Georgie. Well, it seems like jeezny will itty on, but after a day of lubbilubbing with a couple of young ptitsas, Alex meets up with his droogs and finds that Dim is all bezoomy about the tolchok he got the previous nochy. Alex teaches him a lesson, spilling some of his krovvy in a bitva, but afterward, when Alex is trying to crast another dom, his droogs turn on him and give him up to the millicents. So there's our young Alex, clopped on the gulliver by the rozzes and waiting in the statja for whatever's next. It's not smotting real horrorshow, either, because it turns out that one of the babooshkas he tolchoked when he was crasting a dom has gone and snuffed it.

Shall we try it again in English?

Listen to this filthy story, readers, of our young fellow Alex and his band of friends. When we meet them, they're engaged in theft and vandalism, wandering around and hitting people all night. They commit quite a bit of rape, too, steal some money from a few houses, and make the women scream loudly. Dim, a big, strong boy, has a bit of a fight with Alex, who's the leader of the group, and Alex gives him a good smack in front of his friends, Pete and Georgie. Well, it seems like life will go on, but after a day of raping a couple of underage girls, Alex meets up with his friends and finds that Dim is angry about getting smacked the previous night. Alex teaches him a lesson, spilling some of his blood in a fight, but afterward, when Alex is trying to rob another house, his friends turn on him and give him up to the police. So there's our young Alex, knocked on the head by the cops and waiting in jail for whatever's next. It's not looking good, either, because it turns out that one of the old women he hit when he was robbing a house has died.

Well, there you have it, really. Burgess's use of invented slang is nothing short of masterful, and the voice he creates for the main character, Alex, is impressively detached and horrifying. The stories of Alex and his friends' exploits are disturbing and off-putting, of course, but you can't deny that Burgess captures the absolute horror of complete immorality. There's nothing that Alex and his friends won't do, and they get a great deal of joy out of raping, beating, and terrorizing their entire community. I've just finished "Book I", and Burgess saves the revelation of Alex's age for the very end of this part, and to good effect. It's not until he's sitting in jail after having committed all these terrible crimes that we discover that he's only 15. I'll discuss the implications of all of the violence when we've got a bit more of the plot to include, but obviously there is something deeply wrong with the society in which the story takes place.

The slang, though, to come back to it, is really very impressive. A lot of it is based on Russian, but some is just out of Burgess's head, as well, and some comes from cockney rhyming slang. There's something about it that's just absolutely and completely believable. It's decipherable, with effort and context clues, which makes it an entertaining mental exercise, but it's also internally consistent, well constructed, and ubiquitous without being forced. In other words, he uses it enough to seem realistic, but not so much that it seems like he's showing off.

I didn't notice, the first time I read this, that it takes place in a Soviet-state version of Britain. (Or I did notice but completely forgot.) I'm going to have to see just how much Burgess intends for the book to indict the Communist system. It certainly seems like he's painting the future of Communism as a hellish dystopia, but it's also possible that he's just painting the future in general as a hellish dystopia. Then again, the Soviet references are constant and blatant, so there's a strong argument in favor of the former. We'll see.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Books aren't patriotic.

Current book: None
Pages read: None

I still have no book. Monday, I hope, but the holiday weekend might present problems.


A Clockwork Orange (5) A Good Man Is Hard to Find (4) A Passage to India (6) A Room with a View (3) A Separate Peace (2) Absalom Absalom (6) Achebe (5) Adams (3) All the King's Men (8) An American Tragedy (17) Atlas Shrugged (16) Babbitt (8) back from hiatus (1) baking (11) Baldwin (4) Baum (3) Bonfire of the Vanities (6) borderline (12) Brideshead Revisited (9) Burgess (5) Burroughs (1) canon (1) Capote (6) Cat's Cradle (3) Cather (19) cheesecake (4) Chopin (4) Conrad (5) cooking (25) Death Comes for the Archbishop (6) DeLillo (6) Dreiser (17) du Maurier (2) Edith Wharton (1) emergency (2) Ethan Frome (1) excuses (141) Faulkner (9) Felicia DeSmith (3) Finnegan's Wake (1) Fitzgerald (24) For Whom the Bell Tolls (3) Forster (19) Fowles (7) Franny and Zooey (2) Go Tell It on the Mountain (4) Grahame (2) Guest post (3) Hammett (2) Hemingway (5) hiatus (4) holiday (5) horrible (4) Howards End (6) In Cold Blood (6) In Our Time (1) Irving (6) James (25) Jazz (1) Joyce (1) Keneally (7) Kerouac (5) Kim (7) Kipling (7) Knowles (2) Lady Chatterly's Lover (6) Lawrence (26) Lewis (13) Light in August (3) London (3) Look Homeward Angel (9) Lord Jim (5) Mailer (7) Main Street (5) Midnight's Children (9) Miller (6) Morrison (1) Mrs. Dalloway (3) My Antonia (6) not a novel (4) O Pioneers (7) O'Connor (4) On the Road (5) Orlando (4) other books (7) page updates (1) Rabbit Run (4) Rand (24) Rebecca (2) recap (1) Rhys (6) Rushdie (18) Salinger (2) Schindler's List (7) Sinclair (6) Sons And Lovers (12) Sophie's Choice (10) Star Trek (1) Stein (5) Styron (10) Tender is the Night (10) The Age of Innocence (4) The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (5) The Awakening (4) The Beautiful and the Damned (8) The Bostonians (9) The Call of the Wild (3) The Fellowship of the Ring (5) The Fountainhead (8) The French Lieutenant's Woman (7) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2) The Jungle (6) The Lord of the Rings (16) The Maltese Falcon (2) The Naked and the Dead (7) The Naked Lunch (1) The Old Man and the Sea (1) The Portrait of a Lady (10) The Return of the King (6) The Satanic Verses (9) The Two Towers (5) The War of the Worlds (4) The Wind in the Willows (2) The Wings of the Dove (6) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (3) The World According to Garp (6) Things Fall Apart (6) This Side of Paradise (6) Thomas Wolfe (9) To the Lighthouse (3) Tolkien (16) Tom Wolfe (6) Triv (2) Tropic of Cancer (6) unworthy (33) Updike (4) vacation (2) Vonnegut (3) Warren (8) Waugh (9) Wells (4) Wharton (4) Where Angels Fear to Tread (4) White Noise (6) Wide Sargasso Sea (6) Women In Love (8) Woolf (10) worthy (25)