Jun 6 - Jun 14, 2012
The Last Unicorn
Peter S. Beagle
A unicorn, having spent many years alone, begins to believe she is the last of her kind. Taking on an epic quest to find others like herself, or at least discover what became of them all, she finds herself besotted by danger in many forms. Whether hunted by friend or foe, human or creature, magic or love, she must eventually confront a choice no unicorn was ever meant to make...
One of the most beautiful books ever written, The Last Unicorn contains everything a great fantasy story should; mystical creatures, bumbling magicians, cursed towns and towers, and heartbreaking love. This is one of very few books that make my cynical, black, gore-loving heart pound in my very chest:
I've probably read this book more than half a dozen times since I got it as an adolescent (read: stole it from my mom who stole it from my aunt who stole it from a lodge in Campbell River) and I've always ALWAYS loved it. Loved it as a little girl, loved it as a grown woman - few books can make the leap from children to adult audiences with as much grace. But then again, who doesn't want to believe there are still unicorns and talking cats, drunk skulls:
And butterflies (who I suspect my indulge in LSD on occasion):
And cursed towns and castles? This book is an opportunity to go somewhere beautiful, if only for a short time, and get away from all the ridiculousness that we call everyday life. Though The Last Unicorn is filled with fantastic creatures and impossible quests, the real magic lies in the writing. Beagle has such a way with words - I cried to myself at work (seriously, if you come into my work there's a chance that you'll find me crying over a book) and re-read passages for the sheer cleverness. It put me in a mind to recall Nabokov in his more whimsical moods. The whole story had a dreamy, otherworldly sort of air, without resorting to confusion and names with never ending consonants
(I'm looking at you, every other Fantasy book ever written). Really, I can't drive home enough how beautiful I found this book. Now, you know me. Normally I'm not a sap. You know nothing pleases me more than horror and adrenaline and sheer racing terror. And also copious amounts of sex helps. But when a book is amazing, wonderful, enchanting, fantastic... well, you just can't argue with good reading. ...Well, you could, but then you would be arguing with, at best, a concept (and at worst, a verb) which is even more difficult than arguing with an inanimate object. At least if the inanimate object is reflective, you can see yourself yelling and it kind of looks like someone is yelling back. And then you get dragged to the looney bin, and EVERYONE is yelling:
But I digress.
The Last Unicorn is a wonderful life-changing book. Read it. Love it. And then hunt for unicorns.
Jan 6 - Jan 11, 2011
In the future, the population is made up of mindless zombies (check) giant TVs that stupefy the nation (check) a nation as a whole that refuses to question authority (check) and firemen that set things on fire (they're called arsonists in our current time).
Do teachers made you read certain books in High School English class just to feel clever? "Now that we've finished the novel, boys and girls, I'd like to let you in on a little secret... This is no Science Fiction future; this is a metaphor for US!" And as a collective gasp and stunning round of applause fills the Headmaster's mind, in reality, there is nothing but crickets. I never read this in school (we read "Deathwatch" which I thought was terrific) but I figured it out pretty easily. I mean, really, the theme seems to be that not reading makes you complacent sheeple (sheep + people = sheeple) and ultimately, easier to destroy.
To be fair, this theme has proved timeless, as it is applied still, as it applied 60-some-odd years ago, when this came out. The bit between Montag and Beatty especially, regarding how everything had to be condensed, brightened up, filled with noise, and animated to keep anyone's attention at all holds particularly true. From Nursery to University and back to Nursery, and all that jazz. We do live in a society where we absorb info in lightning quick bytes, and glowing screens are slowly turning us into mindless, showerless zombies. Fair enough, Bradbury, point taken.
I have a few problems with this book though; mainly that it's not believable. The characters and actions all seem so flat, so one-dimensional... Beatty is the only one with any true passion (he also seems to be the most well-read out of the lot of them, to boot... connection? I think so). And the scenario of books being outlawed? Pshaw. That is so last century, and far be it from modern society to equate itself with the Fuhrer. It seems far more likely that books would just... fade away; eschewed in favor of more glowing screens (Kindle, anyone?) like TV, computers, and phones. Books would become passe and the government wouldn't have to do shit about them. Of course, twenty years later, they'd become trendy again... Seriously, neon Ray-Bans and scrunchies are here... again.
This story had so many important threads - the evolution of Montag, society's downfall, the war, the secret uprising, but nothing was really focused on adequately enough for me to care much. It just went pew! pew! pew! from one thing to the next (which was something that I think Bradbury was trying to make a negative point about... I don't know if that's supposed to be ironic or what...).
It was a great idea, but I'm just not a fan of the writing style. It just seemed to have no heart. Or it was too British. One of the two.
Oct 11 - Oct 27, 2010
The Annotated Lolita
Originally Published 1955/Annotated Version Published 1991
Obsession and love are two mirrors reflecting one another.
When starting a book club, you might as well go big or go home. And I think we've certainly stepped up to the challenge; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is not only my favorite piece of literature ever created, but it's a damn fantastic book in general. Interesting subject matter, intellectually stimulating, and witty as hell... you know, if you get french asides, lepidoptera allusions, and classic literature motifs. Which I generally don't. In fact, Lolita is really one of the only classics I've ever read, if you count the rad stuff they assign you in High School (which I absolutely do). So, hence, the annotated versions. And can I just say: the introduction by Alfred Appel Jr is dry as fuck. Seriously, it took me three hours to get through, and I've already read it once before. The thing is, you can't skim it. It literally tells speed-readers to take a hike (eloquently, of course). So it's just page after page of... literary stuff. Don't get me wrong, it's fascinating, and I'm grateful for it so as to pick up on all the multiple layers that would have otherwise gone right over my head; it's just tough to get through when all you want to do is get to the book itself. And it is such an AMAZING book - reading it makes me feel more intelligent, just for the fact that I'm reading words that I've literally never seen before in everyday reading. Well, my everyday reading, anyways. I'll admit, I've got a penchant for cheesy Leisure horror. But I digress.
I first heard of the book when I was in my early teens, and it immediately caught my attention based on the subject matter alone. A handsome older gentleman, in love with a girl not much younger than myself? I was into it. I finally got it as a gift for my 16th birthday, and read it immediately.
And had, really, no idea what the fuck was going on.
Oh, I understood it on a basic level - but I knew there were things occurring that I couldn't possibly comprehend. I thought (and still think) I had a pretty advanced vocabulary at that age. But I was coming across words that I couldn't even find in my dictionary. All the same, I loved it. It was beautiful, lyrical; a pleasure to read out loud simply because of how the words were strung together, the way I imagined poetry should be, instead of weird-ass allusions and disjointed imagery that poetry generally is, at least in my opinion. I read Lolita over and over again, loving it more each time, but knowing I wasn't getting the whole story.
And then I got the annotated version. For all my bitching about the intro, and flipping to the notes and back making for a bit of a jerky read, and the reliable friend that is my dictionary (I just write the definition in the book now if I come across an unfamiliar word) it's been a GOD-SEND. I finally get all these sneaky little references, and confirmation that yes, this thing IS connected to that thing, and these parallels ARE real. Ah, utter and complete satisfaction.
I've found that after having read Lolita more than a dozen times over the course of nearly ten years, my opinions of the characters has changed somewhat. The story has evolved for me.
When I was younger, I had a clear cut idea of this book: Humbert is a poor lonely soul just looking for his lost love, and Dolores is a sneaky, tempestuous, brat of a girl who leaves poor Hum a broken shell of a man. Quilty is some asshole that little Lo falls for because she's got some weird-ass transference issues going on. Simple, simple, simple. I suppose that, as a teenager just out of the nymphet's parameter age, I couldn't understand why a man wouldn't be attracted to me (lofty, I know, but teenagers are like that). Lolita was a only a few years my junior, and so it wasn't that shocking of an idea. Yes, I felt for our pedophile protagonist. Maybe because I knew what I was like at that age, and really saw myself in young Haze (my God, there's some terrifically awful and tasteless wordplay at work here). Now, it's not such a cut and dried opinion. I'm no longer a rebellious teen.
Maybe it's because I'm older and have conformed to society's standards for adults, but I'm slightly more creeped out by Humbert Humbert. Now, even with how kids act in this day and age (I know I'm old when a book review degenerates into a "Kids these days" monologue) it just seems so... wrong. At least to begin with. Humbert's predatory ways really stand out to me now; his scheming is so creepy. And yet none of his specific schemes really come to fruition per se; his scheme just seems to unfold for him, with little or no effort on his part (which, I suspect, may be the work of a Mr. Nabokov). Lolita is no longer the unfeeling beastly brat, but a more complicated, emotionally disturbed mess of a child. At least, this is where I find myself standing for Part One of the book. Scheming Hum takes advantage of vulnerable Lo. End scene.
Part Two is where it gets really awkward. Because while it should become all the more morally reprehensible, we find that Humbert Humbert, while still taking advantage of his underage charge's charms, is becoming more and more charmed by her in turn. Instead of his feelings waning with her steadily advancing age, he's growing more and more obsessed with his Lolita, and the shadow that stalks his paradise, in the form of his doppelganger Quilty.
He's still an asshole, although I thoroughly enjoy the cat-and-mouse hide-and-seek we get to play with him. As for Lolita, she goes from being a child that's being taken advantage of to the one taking the advantage. She's found her captor's weakness, and preys upon it, all the while working with her Que to escape her love-crazed tormentor. Is this evolution because of her circumstances? Or is this just a manifestation of her truly wicked nymphet ways? I'd like to think that, had the circumstances been slightly different, she and Hum could have found happiness together (as trite at that may sound). Of course, to be a great piece of literature, all has to end in tragedy.
Lolita is a complicated book, both physically and emotionally. The former because the annotated version requires constant tedious flipping to the notes and back to check references, as well as the same in regards to Lolita's constant traveling companion - the dictionary. Amazingly, Lolita makes one feel supremely smart and degradingly idiotic in tandem; somehow Vladimir Nabokov thrusts those qualities upon the reader (my GOD reading him in Russian must be an absolute mind-fuck). It can be frustrating at times but absolutely worth the trouble - even if Appell's notes are as dry as an octogenarian's orifice. It's all worth it. The prose is beautiful. BEAUTIFUL! Everything blends into one, gorgeous, shifting swirl of depravity and art. Which brings us to our latter complication.
Lolita is not just one thing. It is many. It's a multi-layered story of obsession for a young girl, evolving love, and ultimately sacrifice, insanity, and defeat. It's a book clearly presented as artful storytelling, but so artfully masked as to appear real. One begins with dirty, depraved Humbert. You mourn his initial loss, and then you are quickly faced with the musings of someone who is... not a gentleman. One is then introduced to Dolores AKA Lolita. Not the innocuous dear of big eyes and vapid smiles, she is found to be somewhat depraved in her own right; and so they would be a perfect match, if not for... you know, EVERYTHING. And so we are conditioned to know that Humbert is at fault, and Dolly is an innocent poor child (greedy, thoughtless, rash, fickle, passionate, beautiful, impulsive) yet somehow, by the time we've reached the end of the book, the roles have reversed, and I find myself feeling for poor put-out Hum, and hoping Lolita realizes the error of her ways... or at least the pain she is causing. I always wind up rooting for Humbert in the end, and somehow, somewhere, it would be so beautiful for them to finally come together. Maybe in another life (is there such a thing as soul-mates, or reincarnation for literary characters?) Humbert is a madman, a poet, a dastardly fiend with a broken heart. And Lolita? Lolita is a nymphet. In the end, I find that Humbert's love is the most pure of all - it transcends everything; age, circumstance, time, and space. Somehow this book is the greatest love story ever told.