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100 Greatest Novels: The Naked and the Dead, Portnoy’s Complaint, & Pale Fire

So as we continue onwards we’re starting in the second half of the 100 greatest novels. It’s been a long and exciting adventure through some great literature and I’m looking forward to seeing what the back 50 has for us. Anyways, let’s get to it.

TheNakedAndTheDeadThe Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

It’s been a while since we’ve come across a war novel and this was a great one to get back into them. I have yet to read anything by Norman Mailer and I really enjoyed this novel. Based on his experiences in World War II, the novel follows a regiment during a campaign to control an island from the Japanese. The story jumps between a group of men making up the reconnaissance team and the high command on the island. This lets us see the events as they unfold from the men doing the fighting and from the men making the decisions and shows us how events affected each group of men. There’s not really any characters I really loved so none of the deaths had much emotional effect on the reader except for how the death affected the other characters. Other than that, the novel was a great war novel that had the right amount of humor, intensity, exasperation, and frustration you’d except from an event like that.

220px-Portnoy_s_ComplaintPortnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Now this was an interesting novel. As controversial as Tropic of Cancer, it was less crass and more hilarious. The older narrator tells the story of his childhood and growing up as Jewish in the 1940s and 50s and the sexual frustration and experimentation he dealt with because of his childhood. Most of his “complaints” are directed towards his parents and how he was raised. Through the novel, we come across some hilarious scenes. The whole second chapter is about masturbation and the different devices he used to aid himself. Yes, it’s as hilarious and disgusting and inappropriate as you’d expect it to be. The novel does present to us great examples of how there were still anti-Semitic feelings in American during and after World War II, no matter what events were taking place in Europe. Also, this novel does have some autobiographical elements even though the author never readily admitted to it. So take that as you wish.

Nabokov_Pale_FirePale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

I loved this novel and was ready for something like this. It’s been a while since there was a book on this list that was written differently, broke the rules of the standard novel structure. A good story is a good story, a good character is a good character, but an interestingly written novel (especially combined with the other two) can be life-changing. And we already know that Nabokov can write. Oh, can he write. So what was so interesting about this novel? Instead of a linear story told from some narrator, the story was laid out like this: a 999-line poem by a fictional poet John Shade with a forward and a lengthy notes section (the majority of the book) written and edited by Shade’s neighbor and academic colleague, Charles Kinbote. Throughout the notes to the poem, we get little insight into the poem but more of the story of Kinbote. Although the story is worth telling, using the notes to the poem to tell his own story comes across as fairly selfish. Which I think it’s supposed to. Anyways, this is just a lovely novel written in such a creative and inventive way. After reading this and Nabokov’s Lolita, I just want to sit down and read everything of his. And English wasn’t even his first language!!!

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Just keep going. Next is Light in August by William Faulkner.

 

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

100 Greatest Novels: The Rainbow, Women in Love, & Tropic of Cancer

These next three novels have much in common. The first two were written by D. H. Lawrence with Women in Love being somewhat of a sequel to The Rainbow. The first Lawrence novel and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were both banned and put on trial for obscenity. The Rainbow was prosecuted in 1915 which led to all copies being seized and burnt and the novel not being available in England for 11 years! Tropic of Cancer was originally published in France in 1934. The U.S. immediately banned the novel from being imported into the country. After numerous smuggling cases, the novel was declared obscene by multiple courts in the 50s. Finally being legally published in 1961, the novel was the subject of obscenity trials in 21 states. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Supreme Court overruled all the state court findings of the novel being obscene. What an impressive amount of censorship these three novels led to. But let’s get to what I thought of the content, not the controversy.

200px-RainbowcoverThe Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

This novel is a large book spanning multiple generations of the Brangwen family starting in the mid 1800s. The story starts with the farming family that has little knowledge of the world beyond their city. As the generations go by and England becomes more modern and industrialized, the members of the family become more worldly and experienced. The first few sections of the novel deals with the relationships between husband and wife and parent and children through the generations. Most of the Brangwen family are simple speakers so as readers we follow the struggles through the characters’ thoughts. Depending on the chapter and the section, we get different points of view from different characters. The last and longest section follows Ursula, the third generation of the family the novel deals with. We see her deal with growing up in a small town on the cusp of modernization because of the coalmines. She struggles with finding her passion, her understanding of love, and her position in life. While the novel can seem somewhat longwinded in places, all the characters and struggles are very interesting and makes you want to keep reading. Even with it’s controversial history, the novel deals with sex and sensuality incredibly tamely (at least to our modern senses) but does a beautiful job of describing the emotional war that can be waged inside a relationship: sexual, familial, or professional.

WomenInLoveWomen in Love by D. H. Lawrence

This novel is considered a sequel to The Rainbow but holds its own as a standalone novel. Following Ursula and her younger sister Gundrun, the story deals with a completely new set of characters (except for a few short appearances of the sisters’ parents). There are two main differences between this and the previous novel. First, unlike the internal dialogues of The Rainbow, the characters in this story spend a lot of time philosophizing and arguing with each other. Conversation plays a larger role so we see the struggles and emotions of the first novel actually played out in the events. Which brings us to the second difference, a plot. Women in Love actually has one. Numerous events happen in the coalmine-driven cities while we watch the relationship between the two sisters and their respective attractions, Birkin and Gerald. While the reader should enjoy the growth and conflicts of their relationship, what makes this novel great is the ever-changing backdrop of industrialized England. Gerald is a coalmine heir who controls a vast industry. There is one section that follows the history of Gerald’s family, their ownership of the coalmine, and their struggles with the coalminers themselves. This passage is beautiful and depressing and is a great depiction of labor issues from the viewpoints of the laborers and the owners. While I enjoyed the whole novel and would recommend it to many, this passage is what will keep with me.

220px-TropicOfCancerTropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

After reading this novel, it’s pretty laughable that the previous two novels were ever banned. Some of the events described among the pages make The Rainbow seem like a Disney movie. Here’s an example. Warning, very graphic language. But what made this novel such an enjoyable read is that Miller can go from minutely describing the anatomy of a prostitute to writing poetic passages that are “an immersive meditation on the human condition.” Here’s how Miller describes the book in the first few pages:

This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse. …

How can you argue with a description like that? Some believe that this novel’s challenge to censorship and free speech in art is why we have the freedom of artistic license in today’s literature. I don’t know how true this is but I can believe this novel push enough buttons to force a change, or a reflection in the art world.

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And now we are officially at the halfway mark!! 50 novels down, 50 to go. Can you believe it?

 

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100 Greatest Novels: The Sun Also Rises, The Secret Agent, & Nostromo

Another fairly large span of time between the last post and now. Sorry about that. I’ve been studying for my state exam working towards my teaching certificate. Anyways, let’s get to the novels. As we get closer to the halfway mark, here’s three more of the 100 greatest novels.

Hemingwaysun1The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Following a group of American and British citizens in Spain, this novel deals with numerous themes. Love and love lost plays heavy on the story. I really enjoyed the dry and direct writing which was very similar to the attitude and personality of the protagonist, Jake Barnes. Really, the whole novel is full of characters with strong and distinct flaws. From the promiscuity of Lady Brett Ashley, to the impotency of Jake, and the drunkenness of Mike Campbell, they’re all damaged by either the times or by their experiences in World War I. This novel also serves as a stark and interesting depiction of Spain in the early 1900s. Some Spanish citizens are friendly to foreigners and others aren’t but all of their reactions to the characters lend hilarious and sometimes dark scenes to the story.


SecretAgentThe Secret Agent 
by Joseph Conrad

The first of two books by Conrad next to each other in the list, The Secret Agent was an interesting departure from most of the novels on this list. This novel follows the protagonist’s dealings as a spy and how his job effects those around him. The novel is written in a way where not only do you get the point of view of each and every character, but the point of view moves from character to character each chapter and sometimes in the middle of the chapter. These switches makes for slow revealing of the plot but gives you a chance to see events and characters from numerous viewpoints. From chapter to chapter, a character can seem strong and resolute and then suddenly vapid and unimportant. The plot itself is actually very interesting but it almost becomes second place to the inner workings of each character. It really makes for an interesting read.

200px-Nostromo1stNostromo by Joseph Conrad

This novel took a while to get going for me but by the end, I really enjoyed it. I think the reason for the slow start was because during most of the first half, Nostromo is barely a named minor character. So much time is spent learning the histories of other characters and I was just thinking the book wasn’t named for them, let’s get to Nostromo. But beyond all that, the story was an interesting take on a fictional government in South America trying to find it’s way between colonialism and their own democracy. You learn of numerous coups and then the story goes into yet another one. Nostromo plays a major part in this revolution and the story follows him until the conclusion and beyond.

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Great! Let’s keep going. Currently, I’m on The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence. Thanks for keeping up with all this.

 

 

 

 

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Share the Sounds

From the beginning of its history, music always borrowed from itself. When travelers discovered new cultures, they borrowed their sounds. Christian hymnals borrowed melodies from drinking songs sung in the taverns and pubs of Europe. Jazz musicians borrowed sounds and melodies from pop music and vice versa. And most recently, hip-hop borrows pieces of recordings from any and all genres to combine and create something completely new and original. There’s nothing new to this practice and it’s really a beautiful thing.

I told you all that just because I wanted to share with you a collection of songs that led from one to another. The first is a song from 2009 by Lady Gaga, Poker Face. Fairly simple pop song, nothing too out there. If you’re not familiar, here’s the video:

Next, the same song covered by Lea Michele and Idina Menzel in the TV show Glee. Stripped down to just two singers and a piano, the song takes on a totally different atmosphere. Here’s the scene from the show:

Then with the oddest leap of genre, this song is by the rapper Kid Cudi. Produced by Kanye West and featuring Kanye and Common, Make Her Say uses parts of the above Glee cover of Poker Face for the music. It’s really a great sounding and unique hip-hop song. Warning, explicit lyrics.

Anyways, just wanted to share with you guys a few videos. Hope everything is going great.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Music

 

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100 Greatest Novels: A Dance to the Music of Time & Point Counter Point

First, let me sincerely apologize for not blogging in such a long time! It is inexcusable and I’ll try to not let it happen again. The first book is actually book one in a twelve book series. After reading the first book, I couldn’t decide to continue with the series or go on through the 100 great novels list. So instead, I read a few other books that I’ve been putting off. Then I decided it wasn’t economical to continue with the aforementioned series because each book was $8 a pop ($8×12=$96!!) so I moved on to the next novel in our list. With all the excuses out of the way, let’s get to the novels.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

9780226677347The first book in this series, A Question of Upbringing, introduces us to Nick Jenkins. He is the narrator of the story and this novel follows him from his last school days up until he starts at a university. As far as plot or conflict, not much happens. I think it’s mainly because this is the first novel in a 12 book series so it’s more setting up the characters than telling an engaging story. I would like to ultimately finish this series because the characters are interesting enough and the writing is very clear and simple so I wouldn’t mind finding out what happens to Nick. But other than that, there’s not much to say about this introductory novel.

Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

PointCounterPointComing from the same author that wrote A Brave New World, this novel and all his others are completely overshadowed. And while I love BNW, it’s sad that not many people (including myself until this list) know or have read this novel. Set in London in the during the 1920s, the novel follows numerous characters in the intellectual and artistic classes of England. Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works, the novel reads as an expose of the the excess and irreverence of the ’20s. Characters succumb to passion, allow decorum to override emotions, and argue about politics and religion and the importance of arguments about politics and religion. While an incredibly enjoyable read, the novel finishes with the biggest hypocrites being the happiest and well, you can probably guess the rest.

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Again, sorry about the wait. I hope to not do that to you again. Next up is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Onwards we go.

 
 

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Favorite Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year again! I love collecting my favorite albums of the year into a blog post every December. I always get a great response about what albums I missed or why I’m stupid for having a certain album on the list. Anyways, another great year for music. So here they are:

10. The Ash & Clay – The Milk Carton Kids

This duo has some of the most haunting and most beautiful folk music around. With an incredibly unique writing style, harmonies that are very reminiscent of traditional folk, and impressive guitar playing, everything these guys do is magic. Here’s one of their few upbeat songs, “Honey, Honey” featuring Amanda Seyfried driving a car:

9. The Great Gatsby (Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film) – Various Artist

Whether you love or hate this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, there’s no denying that this is a killer soundtrack. Produced by Jay-Z, the recordings perfectly blend 1920s jazz and todays pop and hip-hop. Some might be turned away by the modern music but I think the reasoning is to make comparisons between the excess and extravagance of the ’20s and of today using music to show the parallels. And it’s great. Here’s Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody.” Give it a shot:

8. Foreverly – Billie Joe + Norah

Now I just recently reviewed this record so there’s no need to go into too much detail. Quick overview: Jazz pianist Norah Jones and punk singer Billie Joe Armstrong team up to recreate an Everly Brothers album of traditional folk and country songs. Here’s “Long Time Gone:”

7. Bankrupt! – Phoenix

Every Phoenix record is full of great pop/rock music. Of course, this record is no different. From the Asian-sounding melody at the beginning all the way through, they never let up. Seeing them live at ACL this year was a great experience that gave me a new side to all the songs. Live, they put way more emphasis on the drums and guitars and it seemed way more of a rock show than their records ever do. I guess we’ll listen to “Entertainment,” the first track and single off the album:

6. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

This band is what happens if a folk band listens to too much U2 and lives in New York. And it’s great. I reviewed their record when it first came out and still love it now as much as I did then. Also, being front row at their ACL performance was an incredible experience. They were such humble performers and even had to play on borrowed instruments because an airline lost their luggage earlier that day. Anyways, here’s “Bleeding Out:”

5. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

One of the few bands deserving of their name. First, their music and lyrics have always been about conflict and dissonance. Then the two singers (Joy and John) are now so mad at each other that they aren’t on speaking terms. So we now have a real civil war inside the band. And this record exemplifies all of this perfectly. Dark, haunting, dissonant, and beautiful. “The One That Got Away:”

4. Reflektor – Arcade Fire

After winning Album of the Year at the Grammy’s a few years ago, everybody knows and loves Arcade Fire. And for good reason. They make great rock music. Thought-provoking, heavy, and complex. And danceable..

3. Yeezus – Kanye West

Well, let’s get kind of controversial now. Rap music with incredibly minimalistic production. Lyrics touching on fashion, racism, religion, and some of the most misogynistic lines ever. And of course, Kanye himself is a love him or hate him character. All that said, this record is beyond killer. It’s polarizing sounds draws me in over and over. I can barely go a week without having to spin this another time. There’s no video for my favorite song, “New Slaves,” but you can listen to it here:

2. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

Really, this was the surprise album of the year. I’ve always enjoyed Vampire Weekend’s stuff. Fun and simple rock music. Then they came out with this record and it’s pretty unbelievable. Boundary-pushing vocals, layered and deep lyrics, and some incredibly beautiful songwriting. The whole album is a great journey through their perception of New York and really, any city. I want to share two songs with you. First is their only “fun” song from the record, “Diane Young.” After that will be the track titled “Step” that has some great vocal melodies.

1. The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

Originally released in two parts, this has to be the perfect pop record. Containing everything about classic, modern, and future pop, there’s a little bit of everything. These songs are way more fleshed out than you would expect from a pop star. The track lengths range from 4:32 to 11:31 with most falling in around 7 to 8 minutes. And not all of these songs are dance tracks. JT proved that pop music can be art (as Lady Gaga weeps). The first single features Jay-Z and is a great track, “Suit & Tie:”

A few months later he announced part two with this disco-influenced single, “Take Back the Night:”

Then in October, he released his most recent video for the single “TKO.” This one sounds a little more modern then the last two videos:

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How about some honorable mentions? Here’s 10 artist in no particular order that almost made my list: Sara Bareilles, Janelle Monae, Portugal. The Man, Jack Johnson, Jay-Z, The Avett Brothers, Gavin DeGraw, Jamie Cullum, Paul McCartney, and Lorde.

Well, that wraps it up for this year. I guess we’ll meet back again next December.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Lists, Music, Music Review

 

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Punk/Jazz/Pop/Blues/Country…

Now this combination might sound strange. But don’t knock it until you give it a chance. Greater things have come from weirder combinations.

Let’s start off with the singer of the punk band Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong. He finds an old vinyl by the Everly Brothers of them covering traditional folk and countries song titled Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. He decides to recreate the album. Needing another singer (because the Everly Brothers are obviously known for their close harmonies), he tags jazz pianist Norah Jones. She has previously dabbled in country music on a few of her songs and numerous collaborations so it was a perfect fit.

Billie_Joe_Norah_Foreverly

Titled foreverly, this album is a beautiful homage to country, traditional music, the Everly Brothers, great singing, and everything else I can think of. Well, let me let you hear some of it before we go any farther. Here’s the first song they released in the form of a lyric video, Long Time Gone:

It reminds me of the album Robert Plant and Allison Krauss did a few years ago. Two voices, a few acoustic instruments, and heartbreaking lyrics. Honestly, I don’t think Norah Jones can do any wrong and as of yet, she hasn’t. Want to watch their second single, Silver Haired Daddy of Mine? Let’s do it:

Anyways, go buy it. Good stuff.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Music, Music Review

 

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