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10th-Feb-2010 10:48 pm
life is full of ferris wheels
Hello. Here are my top 15 as of today in no particular order.

1) Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
2) God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
3) The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of The Marquis de Sade by Peter Weiss
4) Land Without Justice by Milovan Djilas
5) Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
6) Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
7) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
8) The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus
9) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
10) Nadja by André Breton
11) Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
12) Dawn by Octavia Butler
13) Diary of a Writer by Fyodor Dosteovsky
14) Scenes from the Bathhouse by Mikhail Zoshchenko
15) Çalikuşu by Reşat Nuri Güntekin
11th-Feb-2010 02:57 pm (UTC) - yes
I can get behind this.

Did any of these make you think differently about the way a book should be written? If not, which of these would you recommend beyond a shadow of a doubt (can be up to three).
11th-Feb-2010 10:32 pm (UTC) - Re: yes
I would definitely recommend Nadja by Breton. Especially to people who have even a passing interest in art. I read it in about 4 hours, mostly while sitting outside and it gave an enormous appreciation for everything beautiful and strange. Breton is very careful in the details he chooses and makes the reader believe that it's this detail, rather than some greater meaning, that is the most important thing. His "real world" was so incredibly magical that completely ordinary things after I read this book seemed significant and beautiful.

Also Marat/Sade (The Assassination of...). This play is usually thrown in together with the likes of Godot and Ros and Guil are Dead and there are certainly some similarities. So on a purely superficial level, it's absurd and funny and strange, which always makes for interesting reading. On the other hand, it is a completely different kind of play and the main characters are not stand-ins or symbols, they have their own powerful personalities and histories. The play addresses the folly of idealism and the self-doubt we have all at some point experienced. There are no absolutes, nothing is set in stone, etc. (The filmed version of this play is amazing as well and very visually effective.)

Non-fiction is very difficult to recommend, since it's always a very personal choice. But I would have to say that Land Without Justice by Djilas is probably the most relevant in today's world. It's a story of... one family's love for their country (Montenegro), the character of the people, and what it is that ties people to their land. Fierce patriotism or nationalism is very difficult to understand for people who have never felt it and Djilas did a very good job of relating just where this feeling comes from and what consequences it has (both personal and national). There's an entirely different code of morality that Djilas struggles with and does a lot to show how arbitrary moral codes can be.
12th-Feb-2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
Survival in Auschwitz sounds interesting. Can you sell me on it?
15th-Feb-2010 08:41 am (UTC)
I think the thing that separates Survival in Auschwitz from other Holocaust accounts is that the focus isn't on the atrocities committed at the camp. Levi's main question in the book is "what does it mean to be human". In fact, the original title of the book (in Italian) is Se questo è un uomo (If this is man). All members of the camp, no matter what position they're in, are forced to give up a piece of their humanity until one wonders whether or not what remains can be called human. I think in many accounts Auschwitz exists outside of any moral or ethical bounds. Levi attempts to understand whether or not we are still human if we have no ethics or morals and think only of survival.

The book also made me realize the precariousness and resilience of human life. He emphasizes that whatever advantage certain prisoners got, their survival depended on luck above all else. Each survivor could have died at any point in their journey to the camp, during their time there, or even after the camp was abandoned by the Nazis and the planes overhead were bombing German military targets. And yet the fact that there are survivors shows that human beings are made of stronger stuff than we think.
17th-Feb-2010 03:11 am (UTC) - Yes
Not only was your reply nice and thorough, you've added something exciting to my reading list. Definite yes.
15th-Feb-2010 11:54 pm (UTC) - Yes!
Great Camus and Levi choices.

Will you tell me a little about Nadja by André Breton? I recognize the name from Surrealism, but I know nothing about it.
17th-Feb-2010 03:49 am (UTC) - Re: Yes!
Sorry for not answering your question sooner; it's the middle of midterm hell for us college students.

I read Nadja for one of my History classes and did not expect to like it as much as I did. I liked it a lot. One of the things that make the book special is the illustrations, which Breton provides as one would provide artifacts. He invites us to inhibit his Paris, his world, and to experience several months of his life as he experienced them. It is entirely subjective and mystical, with no real "why" or "so what" answer. As the author writes, it gives one a sense of "proportion". There are photographs of Parisian hotels and cafes that the narrator visits with Nadja and they make the story much more vivid.

Having said that, Nadja is a girl the narrator of the novel meets on the street one day. Her name is short for Nadezhda (meaning hope in Russian). The narrator feels a connection to her that he cannot explain and they continue to meet for several weeks. Nadja's understanding of the world is devoid of rationalism or logic. Everything she encounters holds hidden meaning and is full of magic. It doesn't really matter whether or not the things she believes are true or not; it is enough for us to know that they matter to her and that she believes in them deeply.

Just to give you a sense of what Breton attempts to do, here is a quote from the opening of the book:

"I should be privileged indeed to possess, in the face of each of the men I admire, a personal document of corresponding value. Lacking these, I should even be content with records of a lesser value, less-self contained from an emotional point of view."

- From Nadja by André Breton. Transl. by Richard Howard. Grove Press: 1960.
18th-Feb-2010 12:17 am (UTC)
Never fear, I'm feeling the brunt of college right now too.

I'm excited that the writing is complimented with illustrations. I've recently gotten interested in graphic novels, so I enjoy exploring the relationship between an author’s words and the presented visual elements. There are so many horrible examples where illustrations are thrown in as afterthoughts and do nothing to add to the story. I think I’ll have to pick this one up for myself and take a look.
22nd-Feb-2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
God of Small Things is a book I've always felt like I should read, but never really have the desire to. Sell me on it?
22nd-Feb-2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
I think God of Small Things is one of those books that either work for people or they don't. Roy has a unique style and uses language in a somewhat unusual manner. For me, that's what makes the book awesome. One of the reviews on the back of my copy says that Roy invents an entirely new language and I definitely think this is true. She makes the language do what she wants. As I was reading it, I was reminded strongly of T.S. Eliot - there was a kind of eloquence and simplicity throughout the book.

Roy speaks very plainly about tragedies that happen both in the lives of the family she writes about and on a national scale. The focus of the book is on the two kids (brother and sister) and their mother; how they interact with the rest of the family and how eventually the various relationships end in the death of the kids' young English cousin (this is described in the beginning of the book... so not really a spoiler). In the background, India is going through tremendous political, social, and economic upheavals. Wars are fought, rebellions suppressed. Compared to these huge tragedies, what happens to the family is a very small tragedy.

But maybe when the entire nation is going through such turmoil, the only way to measure one's life (which has no certainty or stability) is in "small things". The things that become the most important in the face of the whole are tiny details. It is through these details that we begin to make some sense of the chaos around us.

I don't know if any of this sounds appealing to you, but it was this philosophy (if I can call it that) that made the book amazing for me. Roy is very easy to read and has some amazing imagery and her straightforward look at life and human tragedy is incredibly refreshing. Do give it a try, if you are so inclined.
18th-May-2010 07:49 pm (UTC) - yes
If only for the fact that I have literally not read a thing on your top 15 list. I find that refreshing. Here's my list, is the same true for you?