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Shin Reading Thread Gaiden
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seryogin
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 12:50 pm    Post subject: Shin Reading Thread Gaiden Reply with quote

I realize that weíve never had a reading thread in the TGQ forums.

Iím currently reading through Yukio Mishimaís Runaway Horses, which has proven to be as magnificent as Iíd imagined it would be. Itís pretty dense, and boring in places, still this book proves that Mishima is the greatest postwar Japanese author and will most likely not relinquish that role for the time being, even in this Heisei era.

Iíve also begun reading through the English translation of And Quiet Flows the Don, whose two volumes I picked up at the library a few days ago for fifty cents. I find that I enjoy the English translation more than the original Russian, as the original was written in the confusing dialect of the early 20th century Don Cossacks. Iím surprised this book hasnít become more popular around the world. Itís the only novel that can contend with War and Peace for the title of greatest Russian epic novel. In fact, itís even better than War and Peace, because Tolstoy was writing a historical novel about a time that he hadnít lived in, about a period in Russian history that had become, by that time, wildly distorted by a whole slew of propagandists. It also doesnít work, because Tolstoy had a whole set of ridiculously naÔve ideas about history and psychology, ideas which seem kind of trite if you take into account that Nietzsche and Dostoyevskii had already begun writing at that time. Reading through War and Peace is exciting in places, though it feels something like watching Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory: a few interesting characters, a few nice battle scenes, interspersed with scenes that are both boring and embarrassing. Itís not a bad experience, though youíre left wondering why you donít just watch Gundam instead.

And Quiet Flows the Don on the other hand is much more profound and has a much simpler, nobler goal. Sholokhov only wants to tell the story of the Don River Cossacks from the beginning of the 20th century through WWI and the Russian Civil War. Because Tolstoy was writing about a war of national liberation, he could get away with framing the whole thing in simplistic terms, contrasting the calm, trusting Kutuzov, who has undeniable faith in the ďforces of historyĒ and his people, with the calculating, cynical Napoleon, who cares nothing for his men. You just canít escape the feeling that this was probably good the first time around, as in 1880. Sholokhov, though is writing about WWI, an unimaginably brutal, corrupt war that Russia was dragged into by its utterly stupid, loathsome emperor Nikolai II. So you have plenty of pathos with that already; you know itís not going to be pretty and honorable in the least. As the novel slowly slides into the Civil War, youíre already itching with anticipation as you wonder which characters will join the Red Army and which will enlist in the Kornilov shock troops. And since the Civil War was even more brutal than WWI (WWI killed off six million Russian, while the Civil War led to the deaths of, ohh, roughly around fourteen million), you know youíre in for some good battle scenes. And both armies are crazily badass. To a Russian of the early 20th century attaching a red star to your cap was like wearing a mix of a Pentagram and a Star of David, in other words the majority of people were going to despise you on sight. The Red Army appeared as a demon army to most Russians; so right there youíve already got an army thatís more intense than anything youíve ever seen: a mix of tough-as-nails anarchist sailors from the Baltic fleet and fanatic coal miners. Facing them is the Kornilov Volunteer Corps, who were equally extreme. Their entire army was composed of former czarist officers, they wore all black uniforms, with peakless white caps with skull-and-crossbones badges, gold epaulettes with knot of silver braid running down their shoulder. They were entirely of aristocratic stock, which obviously means that they were coked up most of the time. Their slogan was ďFaith will save Russia,Ē a fine slogan for a bunch of decadent cokeheads liable to run a saber through anyone that seemed too poor and dirty. They were unimaginably arrogant, though well mannered, had a thorough loathing of anyone who wasnít a nobleman, and completely insane. So when these two armies meet; youíre not going to walk away with anything less than five digit body count.

Iíve never read a novel that had so many people cut down by sabers, executed unceremoniously, and killed without so much as a second thought. What impressed me the most, though, was that it was written at the height of the Stalinís ascension to the Soviet throne. And, oddly enough, it doesnít have a single positive Bolshevik character. This is made even weirder by the fact that Sholokhov was a Soviet loyalist, who joined the Bolsheviks during the Civil War, and didnít once in his life retreat from party orthodoxy. The Bolsheviks in the novel are all shown to be inept, at times cowardly, and annoyingly stubborn. Granted their enemies arenít always depicted much better. Still, I was expecting it to be a much different book.

In the end, though, itís the characters that stay with you: Gregorii Melekhov, the Cossack Hitokiri Batousai, going from battlefield to battlefield from one side to the next, Bolshevik machine gunner Bunchuk, whose utter faith in the party forces him to commit unspeakable acts in the name of revolution, Eugene Lisnitsky, whose arrogance and loyalty to Kornilov's cause lead him to ruin; all of them caught in a hellish vortex that none of them can possibly escape.

Edit: I've recently finished reading Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and I must say that now I can see where every single RPG other than Dragon Quest steals its structure, characters and main ideas from. It's the most exciting thing I've read in a long time. Volume 3 thoroughly shames every single other manga ever written. As it really is leagues ahead of everything else ever written in the field.


Last edited by seryogin on Mon Jan 02, 2006 4:23 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 4:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gundam has just been compared to War and Peace; what an exciting time to be alive. On the whole, that sounds like an excellent book. Damned shame I can't stay awake for historical fiction. Closest I've come of late is the Merlin trilogy by Mary Stewart. It's been entertaining and doesn't *feel* like complete bullshit thus far, despite being largely based on the complete bullshit of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

On the whole, though, I've found China Mieville's Perdido Street Station much more engaging in the past week. Set in an undisclosed place, time, and solar system, it's reminiscent of various English-speaking places at the height of their industrial revolution. Except with alchemy. And aliens. And cenobitic cyborgs. It's a dingy, lurid genrefuck and I'm loving every word.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 8:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My eBayed copy of Haruki Murakami's Hear The Wind Sing arrived in the mail today, so I'll probably dive into that pretty soon. I picked up Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle from the college library this summer and have been hooked on his works ever sense. I absolutely love the atmosphere of his stories, and the combination of wistful nostalgia and the surreal makes for some of the most engaging writing I've read in a long time. By the time you're finished with any of his books, you feel an awful lot like most of his protagonists - fairly lost and melancholy, faced with the task of starting over or rebuilding something untangible.

Currently, I'm reading Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country. It's a fast read overall, but the writing seems a little stilted in places, which I think might be the result of the translation rather than the original work. Who knows, though.
Also, I'm halfway through Hemingway's The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, which is unarguably awesome. But darned if it doesn't take a little while to get accustomed to his prose.

seryogin: If one wanted to familiarize oneself with Mishima's works, what would you suggest as a good starting book?
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I got a bunch of books for my birthday. As a (sort of) joke, my brother got me both Larry Niven's Ringworld and the Halo novel Fall of the Reach. He also bought me Snow Country. My mom bought my Crime and Punishment and a book of seasonal essays selected by Harold Bloom. I also got Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics".

Not a bad haul!
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mister Toups wrote:
Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics"


that's a really good book. i think comics are the only print books i read anymore.

the ringworld pair is clever.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm reading The Zombie Survival Guide right now. I quite enjoy the way it's written; completely deadpan and without a trace of irony. Occaisonally I get the feeling like it's a relic from an alternate universe where zombies are documented fact.

The recorded outbreaks section is particularly enjoyable.

Next on my list is Dictionary of the Khazars. I got a copy after Tablesaw mentioned it in the Ebert thread.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 11:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i'm currently reading:

"buddhism and society" by a dude named melford spiro - it's an ethnography focusing on the understanding of buddhism in rural burmese society.

"the system of the world" by neal stephenson. third in the baroque trillogy. a very enjoyable piece of fiction.

"mutualism" by kevin carson. anarchist down south tries to fuse benjamin tucker with modern individualism and makes a case for interpersonal mutualist economics.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 11:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ringworld is way better than Fall of Reach, Toups.

Just so you know, saves you the trouble of deciding which (if either) to read first.

The day before yesterday I read Emerson's Self-Reliance essay, which came collected in a thin paperback book with a few of his other essays for a sinlge buck. Not a bad buy, Emerson basically says "Fuck everybody else, just do that whole 'life thang' your way and follow your heart and things will work out like they should. Fear no evil!". I think it should be required reading in the schools but what do I know.

I have also been reading Henry Miller's The Books in my Life which is basically a book he wrote about the books he has read and that have affected him most as a person. It was going to be part of a larger group of books but I guess he died before he could ever finish them all. Some of the authors he has covered extensively so far are Blaise Cendrars and Rider Haggard, in the kind of manner of character study he did on Rimbaud in Time of the Assassins (a collection of essays he wrote on the man that I have yet to read though the book has been sitting in front of me for like two months).

I'm rather enjoying The Books in my Life though, Miller does a pretty good job of describing just what these authors and their books have meant to him. It's almost spiritual in a way, how Cendrars adventurous life shone through for Miller through the many books the man wrote or the journey's Haggard took the then-boy Miller on when he first read them as a child. Those authors and their books awakened something in him and spoke through him, I suspect, as is the purpose of all great books. Like Miller recounts in chapter one (They Were Alive and They Spoke to Me!): "A book lives through the passionate recommendations of one reader to another. Nothing can throttle this basic impulse in a human being. Despite the views of cynics and misanthropes, it is my belief that all men will always strive to share their deepest feelings."

Other great passages from that chapter include:"They were alive and they spoke to me! That is the simplest and most eloquent way in which I can refer to those authors who have remained with me over the years. Is this not a strange thing to say, considering that we are dealing in books, with signs and symbols? Just as no artist has ever succeeded in rendering nature on canvas, so no author has ever truly been able to give us his life and thoughts. Autobiography is the purest romance. Fiction is always closer to reality than fact. The fable is not the essence of worldy wisdom but the bitter shell. One might go on, through all the ranks and divisions of literature, unmasking history, exposing the myths of science, devaluating aesthetics. Nothing, on deep analysis, proves to be what it seems or purports to be. Man continues to hunger.

"They were alive and they spoke to me! Is it not strange to understand and enjoy what is incommunicable? Man is not communicating with man through words, he is communing with his fellow man and with his Maker. Over and over again one puts down a book and one is speechless. Sometimes it is because the author seems "to have said everything." But I am not thinking of this sort of reaction. I am thinking that this business of becoming mute corresponds to something much deeper. It is from the silence that words are drawn, and it is to the silence that they return, if properly used. In the interval something explicit takes place: a man who is dead, let us say, rescusitates himself, takes possession of you, and in departing leaves you thoroughly altered. He did this by means of signs and symbols. Was this not magic which he possessed--perhaps still possesses?"


And so on.

A book lying on the shelf unread is wasted ammunition, to paraphrase Miller, and books are like money in that both are best when kept in heavy circulation. When you read a good book you are enriched as a person, but when you pass it on to someone else you are enriched threefold. So borrow and give heavily in life, of books as well as money!

As an aside, I've ordered a few books by George Orwell: A book of essays, another title Homage to Catalonia, and another that I think was his first, or one of them, Down and Out in Paris and London. I'll comment more on those when I've had a chance to read them.

Sergei: I'm also reading your book, don't worry. Though I probably won't comment until I've finished it.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 1:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mr. Mechanical wrote:
Ringworld is way better than Fall of Reach, Toups.

Just so you know, saves you the trouble of deciding which (if either) to read first.


I uh. You're being facetious right?

I mean, the whole point of the gift was the ridiculous juxtaposition.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 1:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, I know.

I'm just manning up and admitting I've read both and I can tell you which is the preferable experience should you ever decide to take the plunge and give either book a spin. Ringworld is actually a really fun series of books to read. Spans four or five main books, if I remember correctly.

Yeah, I'm kind of a sci-fi nerd on the side when I'm not intellectually posturing as a smart person on the internet.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 5:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
seryogin: If one wanted to familiarize oneself with Mishima's works, what would you suggest as a good starting book?


The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is Mishimaís most accessible and representative work; at least for me. It has one of my favorite characters in all fiction: Ryuji Tsukizaki, a sailor in search of indefinable glory. It also has an erotic fixation on beauty and death, which is by far my favorite aspect of all of his novels. The first part ends with the best desription of a sunset I've ever read. Itís probably my favorite book, as Iíve read it dozens of times. Itís a pity I no longer have my copy, as I gave it to a girl who happened to be spending the night in my bed for what Tim Rogers once called ďan adult slumber party.Ē In the morning, I gave her the book, inscribing the words ďthis is my soul, take good care of it,Ē next to the title. I didnít particularly even like this girl; I gave her the book merely because Iíve always wanted to give my most beloved book to someone. For some reason I chose her; we never saw each other again.

Confessions of a Mask is very good as well, though I think that I enjoy it only because Mishimaís childhood outlook is very similar to mine. We both love beautiful death and love to linger over drawings of battlefields, corpses, exquisite male bodies and violent weapons. Mishima's a real esthete, an Oscar Wilde in a hachimaki, a kamikaze for beauty and death.

I love him like a man loves a nuclear missile, with awe, terror: and a deep-seated pride that humanity could produce such a freakish yet admirable creation.

Quote:
Sergei: I'm also reading your book, don't worry. Though I probably won't comment until I've finished it.


Take your time, James. I just hope it proves interesting.

It seems that a lot of people are reading Snow Country around here. Itís a fine, fine book. Great descriptions of mountains, melancholy, snow, and women, and not much else; though thatís still enough to make it one of my favorite books. My favorite scene is when Komako plays the samisen for Shimamura.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 6:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Yeah, I'm kind of a sci-fi nerd on the side when I'm not intellectually posturing as a smart person on the internet.


Oh, fuck you!

Donít you know that Science Fiction is the real literature? Itís those New Yorker ďliteraryĒ assholes thatíve been trying to catch up to Philip K. Dickís shadow for the past half-century. And not succeeding.


Quote:
As an aside, I've ordered a few books by George Orwell: A book of essays, another title Homage to Catalonia, and another that I think was his first, or one of them, Down and Out in Paris and London. I'll comment more on those when I've had a chance to read them.



Orwellís essays are filthy, rhetorically sound apologia for the British Empire. Theyíre skillfully written, yet evil nonetheless. Homage to Catalonia is a good memoir; the first chapters are the best. Down and Out in Paris and London is just fucking funny. Itís Orwellís hilarious adventures as a penniless vagrant. His descriptions of working in a restaurant are so accurate and funny that I felt a wave of nostalgia for the time I spent working as a busboy.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 6:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Itís those New Yorker ďliteraryĒ assholes thatíve been trying to catch up to Philip K. Dickís shadow for the past half-century. And not succeeding.


yeah, basically.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 12:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

seryogin wrote:
It seems that a lot of people are reading Snow Country around here. Itís a fine, fine book. Great descriptions of mountains, melancholy, snow, and women, and not much else; though thatís still enough to make it one of my favorite books. My favorite scene is when Komako plays the samisen for Shimamura.

I picked the book up on a complete whim, having heard nothing about it previously. It's rather odd - with most novels I like, I'm usually able to pinpoint what it is about the novel that's so compelling (the articulation of such qualities, however, is another matter). Snow Country doesn't have anything that I can put my finger on, but it's extremely likable nonetheless.

Dhex: How are Stepenson's Baroque Cycle books? I read Cryptonomicon for the first time this summer, and was completely blown away by the writing. I mean, I've read other smart authors like Crichton before, but it was Neal Stephenson that really made me feel emasculated as a writer. After Cryptonomicon, however, I read The DaVinci Code, and then I didn't feel so bad about myself. If Dan Brown can be a national bestseller, that puts me in the running for a goddamn Nobel Prize.

And speaking of 'cyberpunk' writers, I'm now embarking on my twice-yearly re-reading of William Gibson's Neuromancer, which is quite possibly the greatest book of all ever.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

Dhex: How are Stepenson's Baroque Cycle books?


i like them quite a bit. they're a more normal version of robert anton wilson's historical illuminatus trillogy (which i heartily recommend, though it seems mr. wilson will never finish the last two books, sadly)
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 10:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I got the latest Murakami yesterday (Kafka on the Shore), is anyone interested in doing a book club reading thingy?

-Wes
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 2:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tell me more, you have my interest.

I demand a review of Kafka when you finish it, though.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 3:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I liked it.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2006 1:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have tons o' books and not enough time usually. The last book I finished was After the Quake, which is not really a novel, but a collection of stories.

I really enjoy film more than books ... but not by much. I love to read, but usually just want to play a game before bed. I usually read a couple dozen books a year. This is not even including manga.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 11:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Been home with a miserable fever this week so I read a few things.

Finished Zombie Survival Guide, read Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut and Lucky Wander Boy by DB Weiss. Currently reading Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges.

However, I'm incapable of having a unique opinion on literature so I refrain from comment.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 12:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lackey wrote:
Currently reading Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges.


labyrinths is good stuff. the house of asterion is probably my favorite.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dhex wrote:
Quote:

Dhex: How are Stepenson's Baroque Cycle books?


i like them quite a bit. they're a more normal version of robert anton wilson's historical illuminatus trillogy (which i heartily recommend, though it seems mr. wilson will never finish the last two books, sadly)


I recommend them as well, but only if you have the stamina to read, what, about 2400 pages of writing? Actually it was not that bad.

I've been reading non-fiction since I finished System of the World-- 2 books by Lisa Jardine: The Curious Life of Robert Hooke and On a Grander Scale (a biography of Sir Christopher Wren). I got interested in the two after reading the Baroque Cycle.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 14, 2006 11:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Iím currently very much enjoying The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris on loan from the third bar in TGQís own illustrious editorial triforce Mike ďd ĎmotherfuckinííhexĒ OíConnor.

Itís quite interesting to me, a student and, some might say raburu, of Japanese popular culture, as it deals with tragic heroes in the legends of Japan. Reading the first few chapters has confirmed something that Iíve known instinctively ever since I saw the Kenshin movie seven years ago. Namely, that the Japanese love heroic, sincere losers; especially those who must be swept aside by history to make way for progress, yet earn a dogged respect from their enemies because of the valiant sincerity of their ideals.

The first thing I read was the kamikaze chapter at the end of the book. While itís more or less sound, I spotted one particularly egregious error regarding Lt. Yukio Seki, the flight leader of the first kamikaze mission. Morris makes Seki appear to be solemn, yet enthusiastic and happy to conduct his fatal mission. Iíd have gone along with this portrait if I hadnít read Albert Axellís magnificent Kamikaze: Japanís Suicide Gods a few years ago. There we have a much more ambiguous picture of Seki, whoís willing to throw his life away on a suicide mission, though he resents being chosen for the task. He intones to his friend that his skills could be put to better use, for crashing a plane into a ship is a lot simpler than accurately dropping a bomb and escaping. Axellís Seki comes off as being a bitter, resigned, loyal soldier, and appears much more complex than the simplistic nationalist that Morris draws in his book.

Perhaps, I am picking nits, though it makes me wonder what other things Morris got wrong.

SNK fans will be happy to know that this book contains an entire chapter concerning the real life Amakusa Shiro Tokisada.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 14, 2006 11:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been trying to post this for the past few weeks now:

I read another hundred pages of And Quiet Flows the Don today.

Two bits stand out in my mind. In the beginning of the novel Melekhov is helping his family cut wheat, while thinking of the woman that has caught his fancy:

ď ĎIll get to that bush, and then Iíll drop my scythe,Ē Gregor thought. At that moment he felt the scythe pass through something soft and yielding. He bent down: a little wild duckling went scurrying into the grass with a squawk. By the hole where the nest had been another was huddled, cut into two by the scythe. He laid the dead bird on his palm. It had evidently only come from the egg a few days previously; a living warmth was still to be felt in the down. With a sudden feeling of keen compassion he stared at the inert little ball in his hand.
ďWhat have you found, Grishka?Ē
Dunia came dancing along the mown alley, her pigtails tossing on her breast. Frowning, Gregor threw away the duckling and angrily renewed his mowing.Ē

This is all very symbolic if youíve read the book to the end.

The other part that I enjoyed very much was when Melekhov meets Alexei Uriupin, the Udoh Jin-e character (I donít know why I enjoy comparing this novel to Kenshin so much) on the Austrian front of WWI.

ďYouíve got a soft heart,Ē he added. ďDo you know this stroke? Watch!Ē He selected an old birch tree in the hedge and went straight towards it, measuring the distance with his eyes. His long, venous arms with their unusually broad wrists hung motionless.
ďWatch!Ē
He slowly raised his saber, and suddenly swung it slantwise with terrible force. Completely severed four feet from the ground, its branches scraping at the window and clawing the walls of the hut.
ďDid you see that? Iíll teach you the stroke. You could cut a horse in two like that.Ē
It took Gregor a ling time to master the technique of the new stroke. ďYouíre strong, but youíre a fool with your saber. This is the way!Ē Uriupin instructed him. ďCut a man down boldly! Man is as soft as butter! Donít think about the why and the wherefore. Youíre a Cossack, and itís your business to cut down without asking questions. To kill your enemy in battle is holy work. For every man you kill God will wipe out one of your sins, just as he does for killing a serpent. You mustnít kill an animal unless itís necessary, but destroy man! Heís a heathen, unclean; he poisons the earth; his life is like a toadstool!Ē
When Gregor raised objections he only frowned and lapsed into an obstinate silence.Ē
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 5:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do a book club with some friend and family members, but I don't think I'll be reading Clan of the Cave bear this month since school has dropped about 13 books in my lap this quarter. We did Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live last meeting though. That guy needs a psychiatrist and a blog stat.

But I can't say I didn't find it entertaining when he would do something like... some coke at the Great White shrine.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

i haven't finished quiet flows the don yet; i'm about halfway there (the revolution is well underway).

sholokhov takes a very bland view of everyone's politics thus far; all the characters are (semi) rational actors. is it true he joined the revolution at age 11 or something like that, or is that a bit of legend puffing?

regardless, it's a whole fucking lot better than war and peace.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 12:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

He joined the Don Revolutionary Council at sixteen. Which isn't that strange; in those days people could make great strides in the new social hierarchy quite quickly. Haidar, one of the Soviet Union's most beloved children's writers, led a regiment at the age of sixteen. Mikhail Frunze commanded an army group at twenty-two.

Let me know when you finish it, so I can hand you the second volume one of these days. It's a bit more boring ( the last three hundred pages really don't need to be there) and a bit more exciting as characters begin to die off as the Civil War begins to heat up.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 3:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i'm almost done, but the cover ripped off, so i owe you a new copy.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hell, that's quite alright. That paperback's forty years old and I got it for a quarter.

The only person I feel sorry for here is Mr. Mechanical, who will be forced to read it without the benefit of the nice cover.

Edit: So what do you think about the cahracters now? I'm a big fan of the last hundred pages, my favorite character there being Bolshevik machine gunner Ilia Bunchuk, whose terrible fate constantly reminds me of what I lost after I left my motherland.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

seryogin wrote:
The only person I feel sorry for here is Mr. Mechanical, who will be forced to read it without the benefit of the nice cover.


If it has one of those "If you purchased this book without a cover it is STOLEN" labels on the inside pages I'm going to laugh.

edit-Well, no it probably wouldn't, if it was that old. The label seems to be a recent thing, looking over the books where I first started seeing it just now.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 5:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

seryogin wrote:
I love him like a man loves a nuclear missile, with awe, terror: and a deep-seated pride that humanity could produce such a freakish yet admirable creation.


On that note, I'm attempting to re-read Gravity's Rainbow and doing much better than I expected, having made it past page 600 without putting the book down enough for long enough that I have trouble picking it up again.

I'm also reading Tor, by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, which follows Morbo, by Phil Ball. Both are writers for the excellent British fanzine When Saturday Comes and as such, both books are concentrated on the sociopolitical ramifications of football (soccer) in Germany and Spain respectively, with Morbo leaning more towards the anecdotal and Tor more towards analytical (as might be appropriate, given the countries involved).
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 7:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A book fetish thread! How'd I miss this one?

I'm currently shifting between reading Soldier in the Mist by Gene Wolfe (I'm a huge Wolfe fan...anyone else?) and Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before. I just finished Iain Banks The Algebraist, which while it had some good ideas, was a little disappointing in it's ultimate delivery.

Coming up...Viriconium (M. John Harrison) and Dying Earth (Vance), plus about two dozen others when I get the time to read them. I'm down with seryogin above: spec fic is at the top of my list of the really avant garde literature, and the so called 'literati' wouldn't know a good yarn if it bit them on the ass.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 3:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm also reading Tor, by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, which follows Morbo, by Phil Ball. Both are writers for the excellent British fanzine When Saturday Comes and as such, both books are concentrated on the sociopolitical ramifications of football (soccer) in Germany and Spain respectively, with Morbo leaning more towards the anecdotal and Tor more towards analytical (as might be appropriate, given the countries involved).


Do any of these books deal with hooliganism at any length, for any study of soccer without going into indepth anecdotes about those wacky hools bores me like a glass of water?

Though that's probably because I don't really like soccer that much. In fact, I don't know how it is anywhere else, but hools in Russia don't like soccer all that much either. They're there for the atmosphere, so to speak.


I read half of The Book of the New Sun at some point last year, though I haven't been able to get back into it. It's terribly dense, though the world that Wolfe invents is quite peculiar. I left off at the point where Severian enters The House Absolute. As a character Severian strikes me as somewhat bland. I certainly enjoy the whole image of a fuligin-cloaked figure wandering the land with his Terminus Est, though he doesn't seem like a very interesting narrator. My favorite moments of the book so far have been those that eclipse Severian and bring the secondary players into the foreground, Jonas being the most interesting character yet encountered. And Severian's conversation with the Green Man should speak for itself; one of the most depressing dialogue scenes I've ever read. I particularly liked it when he said,

"And to think I hoped in you. What a poor creature I am. I thought I had resigned myself to dying here among a people who are no more than walking dust..."

My biggest problem with the book has been its language. Wolfe's descriptions are way too Borgesian, meaning they lack vitality and emotion: the lifeblood of all good descriptive passages.

Though the Book of the New Sun remains one of the more impressive sf novels of the last few decades. Wolfe has a good imagination, I just wish he wouldn't cloud it with such dry and dense language.

Jack Vance, on the other hand, matches his impressive worlds with simple, clear, though very Baroque, language ( he's no Bradbury, thankfully). The Dragon Masters is one of the finer sf novellas...okay, scratch that, it's the finest sf novella I've ever read. In fact, I can't seem to escape the feeling that much of Vance's world creation and structure was stolen, indirectly perhaps, by videogames. The narrative of most of his works seems to match, scene for scene, the narrative of most modern RPGs.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 8:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What makes Severian interesting for me is that as an unreliable narrator, we are subject to all the flaws and foibles of his ability to communicate to us his journey. He seems, in the text, of presenting the material without coloring it in some way. This device works for me in the context of this work. Since he is a Christ figure, and the Book of the New Sun is basically his "I, Claudius" confessions of a ruler, we are treated to his moral and spiritual growth as he moves from a torturer (under the guise of a religious sect - The Order of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence) to basically the savior of mankind. There is a staggering amount of Christian and gnostic imagery in the books.

A far more interesting Wolfe character, IMO is Silk, especially in the Book of the Short Sun trilogy.

I would definitely agree that Borges is an influence, but stylisticly he reminds me more of the crazed love child of Chesterton and Dickens. He sites Vance as an influence as well. I don't think I could agree that there is a lack of emotion in the text - I certainly could not put the books down.

One of the finest bits for me in all of the four books is the self-referential (on SO many different levels) play Severian puts on with Dr. Talos, Baldanders, et al called Eschatology and Genesis, which sums up exactly whats going to happen in all of the series in one chapter. Brilliant.

I may be the only Wolfe fanboy around, though. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 9:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just started to read Brave New World last night. I did not make it through the forward before I was heavy eyed and retired for the eve.

I read the book quite a few years ago and remember that I only read it for an assignment. I did not retain any of it, I only remember a few names (you know, the famous anyways names) and over arching themes. Nothing specific. This edition also has additional essays and an epilouge of sorts by Huxley.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
One of the finest bits for me in all of the four books is the self-referential (on SO many different levels) play Severian puts on with Dr. Talos, Baldanders, et al called Eschatology and Genesis, which sums up exactly whats going to happen in all of the series in one chapter. Brilliant.


I am at exactly that point at the moment. I think I'll start reading it again now.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2006 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

seryogin wrote:
Quote:
One of the finest bits for me in all of the four books is the self-referential (on SO many different levels) play Severian puts on with Dr. Talos, Baldanders, et al called Eschatology and Genesis, which sums up exactly whats going to happen in all of the series in one chapter. Brilliant.


I am at exactly that point at the moment. I think I'll start reading it again now.


Okay, this part has changed my entire opinion of the series. It is amazingly good. It's good in that theological sense that most writers fail at. Problem is, it's been way too long since I've read what came before so I'm sure half of the allusions are going over my head.

Broken Fiction,

maybe you can elucidate the levels that this play works on, I'm sensing a lot of subtle things going on though I can't seem to know what it all means.

Wolfe's imagination has impressed me yet again.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 25, 2006 8:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm glad you're enjoying it again!

Without spoiling anything, you have to keep in mind that the story is of Severian narrating the events of his past, so when he writes down the transcript of the play, he has complete foreknowledge of everything that has happened afterwards. Additionally, regarding the theological elements - Wolfe is a converted Catholic, but brings in alot of gnostic myth and the stories of other religions. Meschiane and Meschia come from Zoroastrian creation myth, for example.

If we take what we know of the name of the series, the "New Sun", and knowing that there is a dying old sun overhead, it isn't giving too much away to suggest that in Severian's time there will be a new sun, and the play chronicles the last days and what might come afterward. A retelling of the Genesis story, plus establishing a new earth that parallels the second coming. Or third, or even fourth (sly hints there...) Wink

After you've read more and I'm not deathly afraid of spoiling it for you, I'd love to talk more about it. Smile
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 12:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've just finished with Hear the Wind Sing and South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. Wind was everything I hoped it would be, and I can definitively say (even with still having to read Dance, Dance, Dance) that Murakami's series starring the Rat, 'Boku' and J have to be my favorite works of his - after Wind-Up Bird, of course. South of the Border took me a while to get into, but the end was well worth it.
I'm now a good three-quarters through Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. With the exception of my current focus on contemporary and classical Japanese writers, I'm finding myself being drawn to detective novels, pulps, and obscure sci-fi as of late, possibly as some sort of subconscious backlash for being forced to take not one but two terms of literary criticism and theory as a major requirement. Needless to say, I hate every minute of it, and I giggle to myself as I read 'non-literary' works such as Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, imagining my professor's reaction were she to learn I was reading such drivel. But I'm also really enjoying the reading, which is reward enough in itself.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 12:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

chandler's a better writer than half the western canon.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Big Sleep is actually his first that I've gotten my hands on, but I would be very inclined to agree. It's an extremely fast read (at least for me) but the writing just oozes the sort of film noir atmosphere and bravado that we'd be tempted to call cliche these days - if it wasn't the real thing.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I giggle to myself as I read 'non-literary' works such as Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, imagining my professor's reaction were she to learn I was reading such drivel. But I'm also really enjoying the reading, which is reward enough in itself.


The problem with your revenge is that it isn't as sweet as you imagine. Hammett and Chandler have been a solid part of contemporaty literary criticism for god knows how long now. Especially, among critics who are into the whole "highbrow-lowbrow" thing, which has been really one of the more deplorable fads in modern criticism.

For what it's worth, I like Hammett more than Chandler. Hammett's metaphors were just more tough and memorable, like when he talked about the Chinaman "with eyes like watermelon seeds" than Chandler's, though Chandler was certainly good as well, though I can't, for the life of me, remember any of the stuff that I've read by him. That either says something about me or about Chandler. It makes no difference to me, either way. I haven't read either of them in years.

And, well, you'll be pleased to know that Murakami considers Chandler to be one of his chief influences and paid careful homage to him in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World in sentences like "silence floated up from the receiver like smoke from a the barrel of a gun" and so forth.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, the whole Chandler-Murakami link could possibly be one of the reasons I picked up Chandler as well, though as I said I'm certainly enjoying him in his own right.

Is Hard-Boiled Wonderland as... weird all throughout the book as the beginning is? I got it on inter-library loan back in December, then returned it a week later partially because I had enough other books to read, and partially because it was almost too bizarre for me. I think it was the unicorns or whatever they were.

seryogin wrote:
The problem with your revenge is that it isn't as sweet as you imagine. Hammett and Chandler have been a solid part of contemporaty literary criticism for god knows how long now. Especially, among critics who are into the whole "highbrow-lowbrow" thing, which has been really one of the more deplorable fads in modern criticism.

Curses! Ah well, now I can just have fun reading them and not worry about any ulterior motives.

But that professor will always know, deep within her subconscious, that one day I tried to spite her by reading a good book.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i like the term middlebrow, even though it's basically worthless.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dhex wrote:
i like the term middlebrow, even though it's basically worthless.


I find middlebrow to be quite useful actually. It's the only English word that can match "obyvatel," which is a Russian word literally means denizen, though it has much more sinister derogatory connotations.

Examples of middlebrows? See Ebert, Roger.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 1:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greatsaintlouis wrote:
Is Hard-Boiled Wonderland as... weird all throughout the book as the beginning is? I got it on inter-library loan back in December, then returned it a week later partially because I had enough other books to read, and partially because it was almost too bizarre for me. I think it was the unicorns or whatever they were.


That book is really odd. I read it for one of my Japanese literature courses and well, yeah it's pretty odd. A lot of it gets tied up in a single chapter that's near the way tail end of the book though. The book basically goes back and forth between two different stories in the even and odd chapters and certain events happen that subtly link the two stories together. It's a neat read, but because you're basically reading two stories at once it can be hard to follow a lot of the time. If I remember correctly, the translator tells one of the stories in first person perspective and the other one in third person. I wonder how this relates to the original Japanese version.

-Wes
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Iím going to ask a question here thatís going to have you Murakami fans in an uproar. If in the process of phrasing it, I reveal myself as the Toupsian, uncouth barbarian that I am then so much the better.

What exactly do you see in Murakami thatís so good?

Iíve read a good deal of his novels. I was impelled to do so because of the unanimous praise that heís received from people whose taste I usually admire. And every time Iíve picked up one of them, Iíve had this nervous sensation of doubt flowing through my hands, as if I was somehow missing something. His little jokes didnít please me, and his touches of ďweirdness,Ē of which he is so famous of, struck me as rather bland and derivative of Kobo Abe, who himself had stolen a good deal of his own ďweirdnessĒ from Kafka. And donít try accusing me of not knowing enough to appreciate him properly. Knowledge of Japanese literature past, present, and future is my forte.

Then, what about his poignancy, the emotional depth of his characters? you say. Well, what about them? Murakami, much like his characters, is a typical modern human being. Growing up in a generation thatís vilified and ultimately rejected every mass moment to extol the ďindividual,Ē who is about as individual as an overworked office slave, all his characters muddle through life without a clear idea of what they want and without any clear drive to want it if they did. His characters are weak, pathetically inoffensive, and devoid of any real passion. They donít fight, they donít declaim, in a word: they donít live. They just float around like the grotesque bottom-feeders of the black ocean depths (a milieu which, Iím quite surprised by own cleverness, apptly describes the atmosphere of a typical Murakami novel) waiting to die. No matter what circumstances they find themselves in, every single conversation they have, no matter how preposterous the situation, is meek, lacking in tension or humor, and annoyingly deadpan. The only emotion they seem capable of evoking is pity and a claustrophobic, cold sense of melancholy. Not the passionate, cursing, volcanic melancholy that most great writers have written about, but the cold, antiseptic sort that most people seem dredged in today. For describing that feeling correctly he has my praise, though Banana Yoshimoto writes similar books and they strike me as being a lot better, though thatís probably my own taste for adolescent pathos creeping in.

The only thing of Murakamiís that Iíve ever truly liked is his essay ďA Slow Boat to China,Ē published in The Elephant Vanishes. Now that is good. Itís filled with a fine, subtle yearning and demonstrates how much our little fantasy places can mean to us. For how many of us ďJapanĒ is, like the China in Murakamiís piece, an exciting heavenly place of adventure? A place we hear and read and like to imagine about.

I just donít understand it when people cite Murakami as great writer, yet try to denigrate Yukio Mishima and the Kuruda School. Mishimaís ďweirdness,Ē unlike Murakamiís, is actually weird, as in strange, unsettling, and unique. Whereas Murakami throws out cheap tricks like a vanishing elephant, Mishima writes of fantasizing about eating his classmates with a gruesome delight. Murakamiís protagonists seem resolved to the world, those who arenít disappear from view like that girl in South of the Border, West of the Sun, while Mishimaís have a bitter, impatient appreciation for life and a passionate hunger for something that eats through them like acid and brings about the shocking conclusions of most of his novels. They represent that opposite strain of Japanese literature, the one that's both appreciative and hostile to the Kawabata school of graceful longing and pale eroticism, understand that "stage blood is not enough."

To me, Murakami is the perfect novelist for the walking dead. If I am wrong then prove it. I am willing to listen, you know.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 5:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I read Hard Boiled Wonderland, I was waiting the whole time for it to get weird enough to satisfy me. I wanted it to be as over-the-top as possible. I didn't get that.

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is better, in that regard, but is written in such a manner that you can tell he's making it up as he goes along. Which I rather liked. It was nice and awkward.

(The real answer to your question is that I'm not well-read.)
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 7:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Seryogin, I am going to do my best here, but I am not an expert lit analisyst, and even futher from the field of Japanese lit. SO!

Murakami's work is not about the begining or the end. At all. After the Quake exemplifies this. It is about leaving the character as blank a slate as possible for you to project yourself onto. It is about the Journey, not the end. There is also something about his wit that I really like (and I like deadpan, so...). South of the Borader, West of the Sun is a book about how you deal with relationships. He goes to the extent of completly throwing out the begining and the end of the story and only really giving you the journey. I will frequently not finish books with only about one chapter left because I don't want to know how it ends.

He also has (as you state) an uncanny ability to get inside the head of someone who is very average in somewhat odd situations. I really like this. I would have to guess that he is the Chuck Palahniuk of Japan: putting fairly average into witty and silly situations that are almost dreamlike.

Honestly if you make the same points you made in a positive spin that is exactly why I like it. So, I guess you can roll you eyes or something. I have also not read a great deal of his work and did not really like where Wind Up Bird was going at the very end.

All that said, I am going to look into Yukio Mishima.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 2:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

seryogin wrote:
Do any of these books deal with hooliganism at any length, for any study of soccer without going into indepth anecdotes about those wacky hools bores me like a glass of water?


No, they're mentioned where they're appropriate and there's a bit of pushing and prodding; there's not much more than that, these are no Among the Thugs or anything.

And I guess I would say that I like Murakami because I do find it strangely optimistic and comforting in the sense that the books are centered around the beauty and strength of interpersonal relationships.
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