Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Life of Samuel Johnson - James Boswell
A great book, an instructive book. It contains much wisdom about life, it concerns itself with lofty matters; it’s intelligent, it’s dignified. All these qualities are aspects of the character of Samuel Johnson. Boswell built the book around that man talking. Just his words! Johnson lives: frank and more honest than most humans dare to be; prejudiced, humorous, vulnerable, argumentative, bullying, tender – the descriptive terms can go on and on. But I love the man – as, clearly, did Boswell. *

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
There’s talent galore in these pages, but it was untempered. The book was, in the beginning, bright and new. But a pattern set in: Franzen would embark on a section with one of the characters – and it would be good at first, really good – but it would go on too long; first satiation would set in, then it would turn tedious; then I felt a kind of repulsion, because the characters are all weird, unhappy, sick. It’s as if I had been served a wonderful appetizer, a good soup, then wound up eating a long, fatty sausage. It reached a point where something inside me rebelled and I simply could not bear to take another bite.

The Feast of Love - Charles Baxter
I liked the first three chapters – the clarity, the originality – but the problem lay in the characters. As time went by I came to dislike all of them and didn’t want to hear about their miserable relationships. (Yes, the feast of love produces a lot of bellyaches.) There’s something pretentious in writing overtly about love; one takes the stance of having some special wisdom. And sex scenes turn me off – all this banging around. When a particularly ugly-spirited woman, Diane, has her epiphany about love, I had enough.

Voss - Patrick White
I nearly finished this. White is a difficult writer. Reading him is labor. The question remains, is it still worthwhile? Well, yes. He offers up unique virtues, and I believe he writes out of conviction. What failed for me is that his conviction – a belief in a transcendent, spiritual significance permeating the world – is something I don’t believe in. He could have convinced me, at least on his terms, but he didn’t. Mainly because White’s prose confuses most when trying to describe that transcendent state.

No comments: