Wednesday, August 8, 2007

On the Nightstand

Well, I don't have a nightstand, but if I did I'm sure the books I'm reading at present would be on it at night. I had 4 books on hold at various times the past couple months thru Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (excellent service, this requesting of books on the Internet to pick up at whichever branch one desires). They came up at different times, so there are three separate due dates for four separate books, which would be a bit of a hassle except that the Library also offers an e-mail reminder service for due dates (good thing or I'd be paying a lot more late fees). In any case, the four books I got from the Library, of which I am really only reading 3 at a time, but give me some time and I might get all four going are as follows, with my initial impressions. In order that I received the books:
  • Book of Blues, by Jack Kerouac: I am alternatately awestruck and stupefied. At times I find the writing brilliant and full of such clarity and true vision. At other times I am not sure what I'm supposed to be getting out of it. Sometimes I am struck by the accuracy of the unexpected metaphors and imagery, other times I am baffled. I guess that's Kerouac until reading more Kerouac hopefully trains me in how to read Kerouac. This is my first real forray into Kerouac's poetry outside of anthologized material. My favorites so far are the 27th chorus in "San Francisco Blues" (the city as muttering bum), the 38th, and the first half of the 30th chorus in the same:
    Old Age is an Indian
    With gray hair
    And a cane
    In and old coat
    Tapping along
    The rainy street
    To see the pretty oranges
    ... (p. 31)
  • White Teeth, by Zadie Smith: I was just rereading the jacket of this book to try to give you a more concise summary of it than trying to recount everything I've read so far. I'm a little annoyed that Zadie Smith was 24 when she wrote this. I guess I should be happy that she's so brilliant at 24. Anyways, this is a very compelling book so far. It does, as the jacket states, take on "the big themes-- faith, race, gender, history, and culture-- and triumphs" The stories and characters are strong. There is some jumping back in forth through time, but it's structured so that it's manageable. My only issue with it has been the voice of this omnicient narrator who isn't always there jumping in from time to time. At first it pulled me a bit out of the flow of the story, but then I started liking the humor and cynicism it brought to parts of the story that might otherwise have come off as cliche or overdramatic. I am not sure WHO this all-knowing-eye is, perhaps the writer herself, but it helps keep perspective. Current status: p. 201/448pp.
  • Bushido: The Way of the Samurai, based on The Hagakure by Tsunetomo Yamamoto, edited by Justin F. Stone, original translation by Minoru Tanaka: I was first turned on to The Hagakure by watching the movie Ghost Dog, mentioned in the previous post. In this movie, Forrest Whittaker plays a modern day Samurai, and the movie is interrpted with quotes from The Hagakure, some of which I found quite intriguing. I put this one on hold a while back, but there's apparently only one copy and others had it for a while before it got to me. I'm now on page 30 of 98. Some of the words strike me as very apt and wise. Others strike me as being the ideal, but hard to achieve. Yet others are too superficial for my liking, and at tension in my mind with the more philosophical and intrinsic entries in the same book. I have greatly devoured the sections thus far on thinking and self-discipline and achievement and perception of oneself. However, the portions on not yawning, on not doing arts and crafts, on how to behave at parties strike me as less useful. I suppose how others perceive you does have an effect on an outcome you may be trying to achieve, but I hate playing a game.
  • Disappearing Acts, by Terry McMillan: This is a book that is on Rhoda Mills Sommer's list of suggested reading (as was White Teeth). I have not started on it yet, so I'll quote her blurb here:
    "This is one of her first three books. These were more substantive than the books that followed afterwards. She beautifully captures men who don't follow
    through" ~ Rhoda Mills Sommer

Well, that's a long enough break from the reading. I want to be finished with all four by the time my Fall university classes start!


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