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Finished: “Sophie’s Choice,” William Styron (#96)

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I hate unhappy endings. Holy shit. I feel like I got punched in the stomach. This was some heavy, heavy shit. A meandering intertemporal character study that brought me closer to the protagonist (Stingo, not Sophie) than any other so far. I felt everything he felt about Sophie. Jesus this book was tough. More Nazis, American South racism, sex, drugs, mental illness, death fixation and emotional and physical torture than I thought possible to cram into one book (560+ pages, though). The real deal. When I got to the first borderline pornographic part, I was pretty shocked. But between the frequent recurrence of these sections and the sheer weight of the book’s emotional payload, I was numb to them by the end. While Sophie does  make a notable, impossible choice, she is constantly choosing courses of action (mostly self-destructive) throughout the novel. I think her titular “choice” is not just the single choice, but her capacity to choose in general – as in, the freedom of choice. Either way I don’t really care though. The book was freakin’ awesome. I’m afraid that the next book on the list will be lukewarm at best no matter what, so long as it’s in Sophie’s shadow.

P.S., her choice is which one of her two children to send to the gas chamber in Auschwitz.

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Finished: “The Sheltering Sky,” Paul Bowles (#97)

Moving. At first I thought this was going to be about the value of going with the flow and letting go of irrational fears and inhibitions that prevent people from achieving their full potential and/or pursuing their passions. It was kind of about that. But it was also about not that at all. It was about how going with the flow can lead to complete and total beat-downs; punishments so brutal that you forget who you are and lose your identity.

The imagery of the sky and the power of the unknown that lies beyond our living perception was haunting. This book also made me want to go to old-timey northern Africa.

Oh, and the main character dies in the middle of the book. Very different and refreshing. I love unhappy endings! Really, I do.

Balancing act

OK, I have some momentum. It’s part of my daily habit. I don’t watch TV at night anymore. I sometimes used to take OTC sleep aids to help fall asleep. No more of that either. The behavior pattern feels good.

But I still have moments of flashback to the (bad) experience of reading assignments for school that damned my literary appetite so severely. It feels like a balancing act – I need to get far enough into a book so that the pull of the plot and characters overpowers the gravity of the mechanics of reading that I have historically been disenchanted by. But so far, the pull of the stories has been enough to keep me from getting bored or made uncomfortable by the act of reading. I actually think I’m starting to enjoy the act (see first paragraph), despite the occasional flashback.

Also, I have stopped reading the news. I don’t know what’s happening in the world.

Finished: “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” James M. Cain (#98)

More of a short story than a novel, really. Read it within a 24-hour period. Maybe I’m just getting faster and building momentum… Anyway, the quick tale reads like a tame action movie slash courtroom drama. More of a situation-based plot than a character study. I kind of get the postman metaphor, but the story itself wasn’t that colorful or full of metaphor, so it seems like a funny title. I might have titled it, “Murder is Hard to Pull Off”. Classic case of not getting away with bad stuff. Glad to be done with it.

Finished: “The Ginger Man,” J. P. Donleavy (#99)

Holy shit. I felt like I was literally drunk the whole time reading this. Donleavy made me read and think like I was as drunk and nasty as the main character. I felt embarrassed for him and his downward spiral. The shameless lust for unattainable money, however, keeps me from pitying him. Donleavy’s perspective largely confirmed my general sentiment that people suck.

Finished: “The Magnificent Ambersons,” Booth Tarkington (#100)

A bratty, old-monied kid watches the turn-of-the-century world pass him by as he looks down his nose at technology and hard work (and the wealth they create), and slowly but surely gets his economic and societal comeuppance. Filled me with joy; imagined a similar fate for many real world prodigal and petulant analogs in my life. Cute, easy read.

The goal

School pretty much ruined me for reading for pleasure. I’m roughly 30 years old and I’ve probably read fewer than 10 novels since college. I don’t think I like fiction. I can feel the language/reading part of my brain atrophying into a shriveled nodule just strong enough to labor through the WSJ and occasional marginally-better-than-total-drivel gems  from the blogosphere (how this word gets spelling-errored in WordPress is a total mindfuck). Also, fuck you, Twitter. I just sit back and mindlessly scan the schizophrenic global blather and somehow think I’m reading or learning.

I’m going to try to make reading for pleasure a permanent part of my life. I’m going to try to work my way through Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels. I will almost certainly quit. I will certainly forget the details of each book. So I’ll use this blog to capture my musings on the content and undertaking (until I quit). I’ll do my best not to wax philosophical, sound pretentious (maybe already violated this), be trite or anything else I’d find annoying.

I got a Kindle and an iPad for Christmas, and the only paper I’ll touch on this quest should be the TP while on my reading seat.