July 10, 2007

CCLaP files its 50th book review

For those who don't know, I maintain accounts for CCLaP at three of the more popular literary social networks out there -- LibraryThing.com, Shelfari.com and GoodReads.com -- because of it being not only a great way to recruit new readers for this site but also finding out about great small-press books I would've normally never heard of. And as part of supporting those networks, I'm also on a regular basis filing "thumbnail" reviews of every book I end up listing there in my "library;" the hope, then, is to pull a Roger Ebert of sorts over the long haul, and have capsule reviews for several hundred books ready by the time a year rolls around, ready to be published in a digest form next summer either in paper or as a standalone online project.

Anyway, I just added another 15 or so of these thumbnail reviews yesterday, bringing my grand total of reviews at these networks to just over 50; you can go to any of my profiles to check them out (LibraryThing, Shelfari, GoodReads), in that they each contain the same content. Just thought I'd let people know, for those who are curious to see my takes on some more classic books than the ones featured here; I've also reprinted three of the funnier ones below, for give people a sampling of what my capsule reviews are like. Enjoy!

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
I never got around to reading the classic Lolita until my mid-thirties, and I'm glad it took so long, because it let me appreciate the novel more for what it actually is -- not just a salacious tale of underage love (although it's that too), but also a darkly funny look at the then-new world of the American highway, and of all the soulless look-alike businesses found along all of its exit ramps. In the original story, our hopeless anti-hero Humbert Humbert is more of a caricature than a real person, in love with our underage anti-villain more for the idea of what she represents, not for her herself; only half the book, in fact, is dedicated to their meeting, relationship and decision to flee together, while the other half is a bleak tale of life on the road, Humbert's day becoming as dully ritualized as he was trying to escape in the first place, punctuated with semi-imaginary posses that may or may not exist. Surprisingly subversive still, even in our modern age, this one gets a big recommendation from me.

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Dune, by Frank Herbert
Like many, my relationship with this science-fiction classic has changed as my life has progressed: too dense for me when first attempted as a young teen, by the time I was an undergraduate it was one of my all-time favorite novels; but then while reading it again near the age of 40, found a lot more problems with it than I had before, and more parts that made me roll my eyes and quietly laugh. Maybe this is why so many people over history have enjoyed the first novel but never read any of the rest of the saga? It's definitely a great book, for those who have never read it before: a combination of elaborate cultural backstory (ala JRR Tolkien), the far-flung future of humanity (ala Asimov's Foundation series), and a grand Eastern-influenced vision that evokes "Lawrence of Arabia," the original novel combines a Shakespearean tale of family intrigue with the trippy '60s elements of alternate realities and messiah-figure destiny. But yeah, let's face it; the older you are, the faster you'll be skipping over the pages upon pages of ponderous purple prose on display here, muttering to yourself the whole time, "Okay, okay, I get it, Paul senses something wrong. Now what happens next?"

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
Would you like to hear the only joke I've ever written? Q: "How many Objectivists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" A: (Pause, then disdainfully) "Uh...one!" And thus it is that so many of us have such a complicated relationship with the work of Ayn Rand; unabashed admirers at the age of 19, unabashedly horrified by 25, after hanging out with some actual Objectivists and witnessing what a--holes they actually are, and also realizing that Rand and her cronies were one of the guiltiest parties when it came to the 1950s "Red Scare" here in America. Here in Rand's second massive manifesto-slash-novel, we follow the stories of a number of Titans of the Industrial Age -- the big, powerful white males who built the railroad industry, the big, powerful white males who built the electrical utility companies -- as well as a thinly-veiled Roosevelt New Deal administration whose every attempt to regulate these Titans, according to Rand, is tantamount evil-wise to killing and eating babies, even when it's child labor laws they are ironically passing. Ultimately it's easy to see in novels like this one why Rand is so perfect for late teenagers, but why she elicits eye rolls by one's mid-twenties; because Objectivism is all about BEING RIGHT, and DROPPING OUT IF OTHERS CAN'T UNDERSTAND THAT, and LET 'EM ALL GO TO HELL AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED, without ever taking into account the unending amount of compromise and cooperation and sometimes sheer altruism that actually makes the world work. Recommended, but with a caveat; that you read it before you're old enough to know better.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:02 AM, July 10, 2007. Filed under: CCLaP news | Literature | Reviews |