Category: reading

Books I’ve Read in 2007

Inspired by this list, I’ve decided to keep a list of books I’ve read in 2007.  I’ll more than likely be doing less individual reviews and just updating this list as I finish books.  Anyway…enough of the rambling explanations, on to the list.

Last book finished:

30.  Atonement by Ian McEwan. (Finished 12 Dec 07)

 

See the Complete List below the cut (its starting to get long):

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NYT’s “Best American Fiction of the past 25 years”

The ones I’ve read are in Bold:

Beloved-Toni Morrison
Underworld-Don DeLillo
Blood Meridian-Cormac McCarthy
Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels-John Updike
– Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest
American Pastoral-Philip Roth
A Confederacy of Dunces-John Kennedy Toole
Housekeeping-Marilynne Robinson
Winter’s Tale-Mark Helprin
White Noise-Don DeLillo
The Counterlife-Philip Roth
Libra-Don DeLillo
Where I’m Calling From-Raymond Carver
The Things They Carried-Tim O’Brien
Mating-Norman Rush
Jesus’ Son-Denis Johnson
Operation Shylock-Philip Roth
Independence Day-Richard Ford
Sabbath’s Theater-Philip Roth
Border Trilogy-Cormac McCarthy
— All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain
The Human Stain-Philip Roth
The Known World-Edward P. Jones
The Plot Against America-Philip Roth

It seems I have some work to do on this list.  Though at least I did get the top 3. 

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Love in the Time of Cholera

It took me much longer than I expected to read this book.  I still enjoyed it a bunch, its an interesting take on unrequited love.  I think in the end, it was just my reading habits that changed over the course of the past month that made it take longer to finish the book.  I switched to working part-time at work, so I no longer had a lunch hour to read and I wasn’t reading as much on my commute as I had been.  As a result I really don’t have much to say about the book itself.  It became the thing I read right before bed or when I needed something to occupy my mind that wasn’t my life.  In these roles it succeeded.

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

It’s interesting reading Murakami’s short stories.  They are like individual dreams that you wake up with before you want to.  At least that’s how I often feel.  But then even his longer works tend to finish before I want them to.

This collection is interesting, because it has some of his earliest stories as well as his latest stories.  Most of the time it is easy to figure out which is which.  His later work is much more polished than the earlier work.

My favorite works in this collection are “Tony Takitani,” “Chance Traveler,” “The Kidney Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day” and “A Shinagawa Monkey.”

I’ve read through all of Murakami’s fiction that have been translated into English.  My favorite novels were Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore.

Now to figure out something new to read. 

 

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2006 Nobel Prize in Literature

As somewhat expected, Orhan Pamuk has won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature.  I’ve only read one of his books, Snow, but I did like it quite a bit.  (My Review)  I’m curious to read more of his works and will probably be picking more up soon at Powell’s.

In other literature prize news, Kiran Desai won the 2006 Man Booker Prize for her second novel The Inheritance of Loss, winning a prize her mother has been shortlisted for 3 times.

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Dance Dance Dance

I finished the “sequel” to The Wild Sheep Chase last Thursday (yup, two Murakami novels in one week).  Dance Dance Dance takes place four and a half years after the conclusion of The Wild Sheep Chase.  There is definitely more “meat” to this novel than the earlier one.  It also helped fulfill that desire I had after the earlier novel for more story.

Reading Murakami is like reading a dream.  Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it feels like reality and sometimes its so bizarre that it surprises even the wildest imaginations.  Time often disappears leaving only shadows of memory.  

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A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel

This was a quick easy read.  Murakami’s first book published in English, it is not near as complex as his current stuff.  However, there is still much to be had from this novel.  The style of this book foreshadows where his style will go in his later works.

All and all, I don’t have much to say about the novel itself.  While I still enjoyed it a lot, it is probably my least favorite of his novels (and the only one I have left to read, is the “sequel” to this one).  This would make a great traveling book. 

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Snow

I really enjoy novels that deal with the conflict between east and west.  One of my favorite contemporary novelists is Salman Rushdie, whose novels all deal with this conflict in one way or another.  Up to this point, the majority of my experience with this conflict has been from India/Pakistan/Afghanistan and the West. So when my boss let me borrow this book I was definitely intrigued.

The book is set in Northeast Turkey in essentially a border town.  This town has been part of Armenia, Russia and Turkey.  What for me was one of the most interesting things about this novel is the conflict with secular Turkey and those wanting a religious Turkey.  It was another layer to the East/West concept that isn’t touched to the same level of detail as Rushdie’s novels.

The novel is narrated by the eponymous novelist friend of the poet Ka.  Orhan (the narrator) is visiting both Kars and Frankfurt trying to make sense of Ka’s murder in Germany and find a lost collection of poetry written while Ka was in Kars.  In the early parts of the novel however, the narrator is only identified as a friend of Ka’s.  The story is told from Ka’s point of view with the narrator occasionally foreshadowing events before Ka would know them.  It isn’t until the later chapters of the book that the narrator really steps out as his own character in the book.

I really enjoyed this book.  While none of the poems actually are actually in the book, the inspiration for Ka’s poems is evident.  Pamuk’s description of Kars and the effect of the snow is beautiful (despite describing poverty and depression often).  I also think that looking at Turkey and its culture and society is a good place for westerners to begin to understand the conflict between Islam and the west.

On another note, Orhan Pamuk is often mentioned as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the near future.  British oddsmakers Ladbrokes has Pamuk as its favorite for the prize this year.  It was also speculated that he was under serious consideration for the Prize in 2005 (eventually awarded to British playwright Harold Pinter).

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The Seven Storey Mountain (pt 2)

For my review of Part 1 of The Seven Storey Mountain click here.

Parts 2 & 3 of The Seven Storey Mountain were much more enjoyable for me.  And as a result, I got a lot more out of these sections of the book.  I think in the end I had the expectation of the later Merton who was much more open to non-Catholics.  The harshness of the young Merton (and Father Louis) was a little unsettling for me.

The things that stuck most for me in this section were nuggets of wisdom about discernment and vocation.  Merton’s journey from conversion to the monastery was fascinating for me as well.  My reading of this book has been timely for me.  This was of course a purposeful reading on my part.  With the hiatus of my path to seminary it has been a time to rediscover aspects of my faith.  My faith hasn’t been something I’ve questioned, however I have let it coast somewhat recently.  Its time for me to get my hands a little dirty with my spiritual life again.

I’m going to take a weekend retreat at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey next month.  I’m really looking forward to this time to really focus on my faith life.  There are also a few sections of The Seven Storey Mountain that I plan to meditate over the next month or so.  I’ll probably post on a few of those later on this blog.

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The Seven Storey Mountain (Part 1)

This morning I completed the first part of The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.  The book is the story of his “search for faith and peace.” (according the back cover of the book)  This section of the book covers the time of his childhood through his college years at Columbia.  At this point in the book, I don’t really like Merton, though I suspect that Merton himself didn’t like Merton at this point in his life.  Perhaps, as the note to the reader suggests, this is just a matter of perception.  The Catholic church and the world at large were much different places in the years immediately following World War II.  This is surely part of it, however, there were numerous times that I was put off by the arrogance of “Father Louis” (Merton’s monastic name) and how it related to Thomas Merton the child and young adult.

Perhaps the most telling example of this occurs in a scene after his father has died:

First a scene from right before his father’s death:

    Of us all, Father was the only one who really had any kind of a faith.  And I do not doubt that he had very much of it, and that behind the walls of his isolation, his intelligence and his will, and not hampered in any essential way by the partial obstruction of some of his senses, were turned to God, and communed with God Who was with him and in him, and Who gave him, as I believe, light to understand and to make use of his suffering for his own good, and to perfect his soul.  It was a great soul, large, full of natural charity.  He was a man of exceptional intellectual honesty and sincerity and purity of understanding.  And this affliction, this terrible and frightening illness which was relentlessly pressing him down even into the jaws of the tomb, was not destroying him after all.

[…] We thought he was done for, but it was making him great.  And I think God was already weighing out to him the weight of reality that was to be his reward, for he certainly believed far more than any theologian would require of a man to hold explicitly as “necessity of means,” and so he was eligible for this reward, and his struggle was authentic, and not wasted or lost or thrown away.

However, just over a year after his fathers death, the young Merton (through the eyes of the monastic Merton) seems to have forgotten his earlier admiration of his father’s faith, during what could be considered the beginning of Merton’s conversion experience:

    Suddenly it seemed to me that Father, who had now been dead more than a year, was there with me.  The sense of his presence was as vivid and as real and as startling as if he had touched my arm or spoken to me.  The whole thing passed in a flash, but in that flash, instantly, I was overwhelmed with a sudden and profound insight into the misery and corruption of my own soul, and I was pierced deeply with a light that made me realize something of the condition I was in, and I was filled with horror at what I saw, and my whole being rose up in revolt against what was within me, and my soul desired escape and liberation and freedom from all this with an intensity and an urgency unlike anything I had ever known before.  And now I think for the first time in my whole life I really began to pray–praying not with my lips and with my intellect and my imagination, but praying out of the very roots of my life and of my being, and praying to the God I had never known, to reach down towards me out of His darkness and to help me to get free of the thousand terrible things that held my will in their slavery.

There were a lot of tears connected with this, and they did me good, and all the while, although I had lost that first vivid, agonizing sense of the presence of my father in the room, I had him in my mind, and I was talking to him as well as to God, as though he were a sort of intermediary.  I do not mean this in any way that might be interpreted that I thought he was among the saints.  I did not really know what that might mean then, and now that I do know I would hesitate to say that I thought he was in Heaven.  Judging by my memory of the experience I should say it was “as if” he had been sent to me out of Purgatory.  For after all, there is no reason why the souls in Purgatory should not help those on earth by their prayers and influence, just like those in Heaven: although usually they need our help more than we need theirs.  But in this case, assuming my guess has some truth in it, things were the other way ’round.

It really just amazes me that the “elder” Merton can look back on his father, a man who’s faith he could not question, and still think his father would not be in Heaven.  Is it just because his father was not a Catholic?  I can’t be completely sure, since this is my first real exposure to Merton’s works, but based on the way he speaks of the “Protestant” denominations elsewhere in the book, I suspect that is a large part of it.

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