Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The never-ending story

So here I am, sheepishly coming forward to admit that, despite all my tough talk, I still have not finished the book. (Shocker.) I'm guessing some of you have finished the book by now. I'm moving the goalposts again: I'll try to finish by Sunday.

In other news, there's been only one vote for our next book. (See sidebar.) If you're interested in continuing to read super-long books that are difficult to finish, please take a moment to vote for our next book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Six Days to Glory

I'm guessing there are a few of you out there still reading this book and checking this blog. Greetings. We are in a lonely land now. But there's less than one week left. Wherever you are in the book, it's time to make the big push: finish the book by this Sunday. I think it can be done. I know it'll be difficult -- I'm still more than a hundred pages off pace myself -- but the end is in sight.

I'll also be setting up the voting for our next book this week. Spread the word about the book group. Perhaps our next book will be shorter and more manageable.

Anyway, we are here to PUMP YOU UP!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And now for something completely different

As I mentioned in my last post, it's my intention to push ahead with this online-book-club project -- participation and size of our membership be damned! I'm hoping to avoid the pattern I've observed with both our current book and the WAR AND PEACE reading over the summer: initial enthusiasm quickly turning into boredom, despair, resignation, etc. I guess one way to avoid that pattern would be to pick something, say, shorter, or less tedious. But what would be the fun in that? No one needs a reading group to get them to power through a book one would have no problem finishing over a lazy long weekend.

Also, I think part of the fun of this group (for me, at least -- and maybe exclusively) is that we are pushing ourselves to read these long, old, sometimes boring and tedious books at a time when everything is moving in a very opposite direction. That stark (and interesting?) contrast is lost if we start reading, say, those GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO books or even the latest David Eggers or Jonathan Franzen book or whatever. Or maybe it's just pure pretentiousness and snobbery that I'm giving in to by wanting to read a lot of Incredibly Long Important Classic Works of Literature. I'm not sure. Who cares?

Anyway, here are some of the ideas I've been thinking of for our next book. Some of these books are very long; some are pretty short. Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below. I'm thinking that, after Tolstoy and Cervantes, it's time we read a book that was originally written in English. We'll have a vote of some sort in the coming weeks.

  • Under the Volcano - Lowry

  • Sons and Lovers - Lawrence

  • Our Mutual Friend - Dickens

  • Sense and Sensibility - Austen

  • The House of the Seven Gables - Hawthorne

  • Finnegans Wake - Joyce

  • Mrs. Dalloway - Woolf

  • Ada or Ardor - Nabokov

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls - Hemingway

  • The Wings of the Dove - James

  • Bleak House - Dickens

  • Wuthering Heights - Brontë

  • Europe Central - Vollman

  • Herzog - Bellow

  • Bleak House - Dickens

  • Nostromo - Conrad

Again, happy to hear suggestions from the group . (And I recognize that "group" may be an optimistic term at this point.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The end is sort of close

Just about two weeks of reading left. I hope some of you are still reading the book (and maybe reading these words). I imagine that we've lost a lot of people who started out with us a few months ago, newly purchased copies of the books in their hands, visions of heady literary discussion in their eyes.

It's tough to try to get a lot of people to get through a long, sometimes boring and rambling book together. The project is a bit quixotic in its own way (in the dictionary sense of the word), especially today, when there are so many other (less time-intensive, more immediately entertaining) things one can do to pass the time.

I recognize that my initial hopes that there would be extended daily discussions about the books we're reading, with multiple participants, etc., were a bit unrealistic. Few people have that kind of time (or inclination). Still, it is gratifying that anyone is willing to participate -- even silently.

Even though my initial hopes have not been realized, I don't really feel all that let down. I feel like this online reading group, and the wholly imaginary responsibility I have taken on to keep posting on the blog, etc., are a useful way to force me to get through these books that I probably should read at some point. (That last bit about what books one "should read" leads to a different discussion.)

So I'll plug along in the face of certain failure with this project, imagining that it will ultimately lead to glory and immortal fame.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wherein your blogger fails you

I've fallen behind. Work got nuts and my daily reading got knocked off course. I'm catching back up.

But I did manage to watch Lost in La Mancha over the weekend. It's a documentary about Terry Gilliam's aborted attempt to make a movie called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The movie records the terrible bad luck that plagues Gilliam's Don Quixote film (which was to star French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote and Johnny Depp as a modern-day marketing executive who somehow ends up in seventeenth-century Spain with Don Quixote). Don Quixote mistakes Depp's character for Sancho Panza.

The movie is a little heavy handed in drawing parallels between Gilliam and Don Quixote, as it documents Gilliam's doomed attempt to create his vision of Don Quixote. Gilliam is frequently shot with diagrams of model windmills behind him; he's shown moving miniature model windmills on a tiny set. A member of the set observes that "there's a bit of Don Quixote in him" and in his impractical, romantic quest to bring Don Quixote to the screen. The unfolding disaster is sort of fascinating to watch: the film is doomed by a sudden storm and flash flood at a set in the Spanish desert, a nearby NATO air force training site, an inflammation of Rochefort's prostate that leaves him unable to ride a horse, and bad soundstages.

I learned for the first time in watching this movie that Orson Welles had also tried to adapt Don Quixote to the screen. Welles's version was never completed because his Don Quixote died while Welles was still shooting the film. In looking around, I came across this interesting segment from the unfinished Welles picture. In this scene, Don Quixote and Sancho are somehow in a 20th-century movie theater, watching some kind of adventure movie. Don Quixote reaction to the movie appears to be identical to his reaction to his books of chivalry: complete belief. He is moved and enraged by what he sees, so he attacks the screen.

The scene raises some interesting issues that we've discussed for some time here. In this scene, Welles shows Don Quixote as a viewer who believes too fully. When we watch a movie (or read a novel), we are expected to believe what we are watching or reading to a certain degree. Don Quixote's problem is that he goes beyond the appropriate level of belief and accepts the illusion as reality, and in fact engages the illusion as if it were reality. Don Quixote is the absurd end point of taking literature at its word, believing in it completely, and choosing to act on it as if it were reality, as if it were binding law.

But this again raises the question of choice in Don Quixote's actions. We all choose, in one way or another, what codes or laws we will follow or honor. Don Quixote's belief in the laws of chivalry, the importance of chivalric precedent, etc., is perhaps a matter of choice.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Too Busy to Really Post

This is a fake post. I'm in trial this week and don't have time to write a real post. Readers, please, take it away. I'll post something substantive once I'm able to resurface.