A Year of Big Books

one man, one year: one-thousand-page novels

Atlas Shrugged; So Did I

atlasshruggedBefore getting into my thoughts on Atlas Shrugged, let me state for the record that I do not easily give up on novels, no matter how much I may dislike or disagree with them — which is often not the point of fiction, anyway (that is, being ‘liked’ or ‘agreed with’). I generally hold as a principle of fiction that a novel must be fully read in order to be fully understood or appreciated, fully dismissed or criticized, even fully enjoyed or loved. Every writer has until the final page to convince you that what they are doing is worthwhile, that it all means something, all works together toward some end — some truth or beauty, some connection or conviction, some catharsis or calamity — that is worth arriving at, that has some depth or significance. Fiction has the power to enrage you for a thousand pages and then enrapture you in one.

All that being said, it is with great exhaustion and deep regret that I must report that I’ve abandoned my first book of the year. None of the books so far have been easy; each has challenged me in their own way, but Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is the first novel in the course of my project that I’ve found myself literally unable to finish. I gave up almost halfway through. (To any of Miss Rand’s notoriously rabid diehard fans who almost certainly view me as a lesser human simply for not being able to get through the novel: you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this post.) Read more…

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IQ: 84

1q84Writing a good novel is not easy, nor is it without obstacles or pitfalls. Writing a good novel that’s over a thousand pages and maintaining its goodness (its artistry, its cohesion, etc.) must be an indescribable challenge: obstacles and pitfalls surely increase exponentially with each chapter.

I say that to soften the blow I must deal to Haruki Murakami by saying that I was incredibly disappointed with 1Q84 overall. While I was on pace to finish the novel in 3 weeks (a week per book), I got so bored and (frankly) fed up with Book 3 that I ended up dragging the reading out to twice that length. Obviously Philip Gabriel’s translation of Book 3 (contrary to the hope of my previous post) did nothing to improve the issues I had with Books 1 and 2, which is to say that it was neither he nor Jay Rubin that disappointed me, but Murakami himself — which I am indeed grieved to admit. Read more…

Once in a New, Green, and Slightly Lopsided Moon

This is rare, folks: I’m writing a post within A WEEK of my previous one. You truly don’t see this very often. I hope it feels as much of a privilege on your end of the internet as it does on mine.

1q84Probably the main reason I’m able to write so soon on the heels of my last post is that, in addition to being a quick-paced and easy read, the printing of the novel which I’m reading has conveniently divided Books 1, 2, and 3 of the novel into three physically separate books. Perhaps the relative brevity of 380-some-odd pages increases my motivation because the end seems nearer (though I’m technically only a third of the way through the novel).

In any case, as the left-aligned image indicates, I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 — a novel which is easy to read, but the title of which is impossible to pronounce (I keep going back and forth between “one-cue-eight-four” and “cueteen-eighty-four“). Apparently the title is a translational play on words, because the number 9 in Japanese is pronounced “kew.”

Let me first say that I love Murakami.  Read more…

Black and White

momentinthsun

I’ve finished my third Big Book, A Moment in the Sun, by John Sayles. It was absolutely wonderful. Engrossingly detailed, epically sweeping, thematically honed, richly historical, culturally dynamic, and deeply human.

(Sorry, am I gushing?)

Despite my (possibly over)emphatic report of the novel, I won’t be writing too long of a post on it (partly because I’m already 150 pages through my fourth Big Book: 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami), suffice it to say that it has been my favorite read in the last six months, hands d0wn. Each novel has been (and will likely continue to be) drastically different from the ones previous, so it is a bit of apples & oranges, but A Moment in the Sun has still been the most enjoyable Big Book of my project, not to mention a beautifully conceived and skillfully executed novel. Read more…

A Gritty History

momentinthsunSo I’ve started reading A Moment in the Sun, by John Sayles — the third ‘big book’ on my list, and the first book on the list that’s technically under 1,000 pages (955, to be exact). I know, I know. I can hear your disillusioned and disgusted jeering now, but I will live with your disappointment.

I’m just shy of 200 pages through the novel so far, and I have to say it’s pretty incredible. This post may be a little premature — and may reveal more ignorance than insight — but A Moment in the Sun is developing into quite an incredible, and truly American, novel. It begins in 1897, just before the advent of the Spanish-American War, following a myriad of characters from all across North America (from the gold-crazy Alaskan Yukon to the pro-Confederate politics of Wilmington, North Carolina) to as far across the world as the Philippines (during the tense, transitionary period between Spanish and American occupations). Read more…

As Far as the East Is from the West

[Spoiler Alert: Maybe this goes without saying, but for those of you who know nothing about Gary Gilmore, the actual historical person upon which the novel is based, and “the activities” of which the novel (in the words of the author) “does its best to be a factual account,” this post will discuss some of those plot points. If you intend to read the novel ignorant of the facts (as I did), you might want to do so before reading this blog. You’ve been warned.]

normanmailerThe first thing I’ll say about The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (in fairness to Infinite Jest) is that it also took longer to get through than I expected. While Book One of the novel, entitled “Western Voices,” is a gritty, fast-paced, tension-filled sprint through roughly six months in the life of Gary Gilmore (from the time of his release from Marion Penitentiary in April 1975 to his arrest for the murders of Max Jensen and Benny Bushnell in October that same year), the second half of the book, “Eastern Voices,” though it spans only three months, slows down significantly in the congestion of the judicial back-and-forth leading up to his execution by firing squad on January 19, 1976. The difference in pace was astonishing, a near-whiplash effect. It was almost like reading two completely different books.

While reading the first half of the book, I even joked that if I wasn’t married and didn’t have a job, I could’ve easily ripped through the book in a week or two. Regardless of whether that statement was true, I found myself eating my words (and Mailer’s, slowly) reading the second half. Full of the inanity of legal tedium, the absurdity of the media circus, and a staggering increase of (mostly temporary) characters who fall in and out of the picture in just a handful of chapters — another journalist, another lawyer, another media mogul, another family member — many of these characters in some way involving themselves in Gilmore’s life (and death) in way that is profitable more to themselves than to Gilmore. Read more…

Breathing Room

normanmailerI started The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer on Sunday: what a change of pace. Literally.

Dave Eggers is not kidding when he writes that “it’s the fastest 1,000 pages you’ll ever know” in the novel’s foreword.

I’m over 120 pages into the novel in just 2 days of reading, and let me tell you, that in itself is such a relief. Infinite Jest was a brilliant novel, but reading it often felt like being suffocated by the words on the page. Wallace’s paragraphs can be, well, foreboding, and they have a tendency of being several-page-long blocks of black and mind-numbingly detailed text. Read more…

The Never-Ending Joke

As a quick aside, before I begin:

I’ve been struggling with the idea of this blog because I’m the type of person who would prefer not to say anything (at least in writing) unless I actually have something to say. And what is there to say about a novel until you’ve finished it? There’s a lot of nonsense on the internet and the blogosphere, and I’d prefer not to contribute to it if I can help it. However, I also realize that part of the appeal of following a blog is its regularity, its continuity. I admit that I overestimated my ability to read quickly and the time I had available to read, and I will do my best to post more often, even if I’ve not finished a novel. (Although, I will say that the reading is more important to me as a personal pursuit than the posting is, so if one thing falls through the cracks, I’m sorry to say: it’ll be this blog.)

infinite_jestI can only start this long-awaited post by saying: holy shit.

And then by promising to be more articulate for the remainder of the post.

But seriously, after almost two-and-a-half months (72 days, to be exact), I’ve finally completed the most challenging book I’ve ever read in my entire life, bar none: Infinite Jest. Over a thousand pages of  hyper-erudite, absurdly intellectual, and (needless to say) verbose work, including just shy of a hundred pages of “Notes and Errata” in the novel’s distant caboose — making this the first novel I’ve ever read which required me to use two bookmarks simultaneously — constantly flipping back and forth to endnotes that are (in typical Wallace fashion) sometimes longer than the chapters in which I’m already lost, making it impossible to know exactly how far I am in the novel, really, and how much more there is still to read. Read more…

A Meager Beginning

infinite_jestAnd so this massive project — my infinite jest — begins. Knowing myself, I’ll tire out of the blog before I tire out of the reading, but I’m excited to attempt to document this venture regardless.

I didn’t get a whole lot of time to read yesterday, just the first two chapters of Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Let me tell you, I’ve never seen 27 pages seem so miniscule in comparison to the remaining unread.

I did buy a new book, though, to add to The List (where you can track my progress in simple detail, as opposed to more complex story).

There’s more to come, I promise; I just didn’t want anyone to think I’d given up already ;).

Read on.

The Story

This all started because, as it turns out, I’m a sucker for well-written forewords.

infinite_jestI was in a Barnes & Noble (so sue me), and I glimpsed a copy of Sir David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a novel I’d caught wind of as an English-loving bachelor pursuing a Bachelor’s in English. But feelings of intimidation had caused me to place it on the back burner of my literary list, at least until after graduation. I’d graduated in December of 2011 (age 23). Nine months passed, and I’d gotten married in August of 2012 (still 23). Another nine gestational months passed before — no longer a bachelor and having obtained my bachelor’s — I reencountered Wallace’s Jest in a Barnes & Noble that fateful day in May of 2013 (now 24 years old).

So I picked up the novel and read the foreword, written by author Dave Eggers. Read more…

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