Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Holiday Reading

Holidays are the best time to read. Even though this has already been a fairly fruitful year for me for reading, I still think that my recent four-week sejour in Europe saw a bit of an increase. It didn't start with departure, though. A couple of weeks before leaving, emboldened by my reimmersion into francophonie, I started reading Le Comte de Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas Père. This is my second attempt at what is a pretty voluminous work, but my last only managed a couple of chapters, and those with great difficulty. This time around seems much better - I finished off the first of four tomes not long after arriving in Europe, and am a couple of chapters into the second. I hope to continue and perhaps finish the whole thing by the end of the year.

Having finished the first tome, I decided that I needed some diversity, and decided to allow myself the luxury of reading an English-language book in parallel with Le Comte. My first effort was a short one. Some time ago I decided that having read very little poetry represented a gap in my greater education, and grabbed a bunch of "big name" poetical works from project gutenberg. So, looking for something short to fill a gap, I read Lamia, by John Keats. I quite enjoyed it, too - there's something very nice about the carefully chosen words necessary for the form, and I enjoyed the occasional side-quest to fill in context regarding Greek gods or the layout of Corinth.

Satisfied by my expedition into poetry, I next picked up a copy of Animal Farm that Em had lying around. I think I've said in the past how much of a fan I am of the novella as a form, and I wolfed this one down in about a day. I always think of Animal Farm in the context of 1984 (also Orwell), and Brave New World (Huxley), both of which I've read (although 1984 not as an adult), so it was high time that I completed the set. Its a good little analogy, pretty transparent but still a good yarn. I won't pretend I can summarize it better than it has been analyzed elsewhere - just go read it for yourself :)

After Animal Farm, I browsed through my collection and settled on The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. I'd been vaguely familiar with Wilde's stuff through plays (The Importance of Being Ernest) and general witticisms, but I was keen to see what he did with a more weighty medium. The book starts out fairly lightly, a fairly loosely connected collection of witticisms around a couple of characters which seemed to represent the different aspects of Wilde's character. As the story develops, though, the trite sayings are fewer, and the subject matter gets darker. Wilde never actually reveals much of the depravity that he implies about Dorian (other than opium), but the drama builds nonetheless, and generally the thing works well as a narrative arc.

The last book I finished on the holiday was A Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens. I read my first Dickens, Great Expectations, a little while back, and enjoyed more than I had expected to, and AToTC had been recommended to me as perhaps his best book, so it was next on my list. Like Expectations, Dickens doesn't content himself with a study of a few characters - he makes a quite deliberate effort to paint the period as bigger than the characters of the story, to flesh out what is happening in the place and time in which the story takes place. I felt like he let himself explore his prose style more than Expectations too, with parts being quite ambitious. The story is good too, following the characters as they dodge across the channel between the titular towns, fighting off the threat of Madame Guillotine.

Although Cities was the last book I finished, it wasn't the last I started. I am presently about a third of the way through Moby Dick, by Melville. I'm not enjoying the prose style particularly, but following Orwell, Wilde and Dickens is a tough ask, I suppose.re

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