House of Mirth Edith Wharton 1905   01/01/05
Wharton reveals her characters' deepest motivations (which the characters themselves occasionally do and occasionally do not realize, in a very real-lifey way) with such skill that it's hard to analyze how she does it in order to copy it. When she's at her best, all sense of reading an antiquated tale about high society manners in the 19th and early 20th centuries falls away (while the books I've read by Wharton aren't really about manners, they are on the surface), and the lives of characters become real and tragic. This one wasn't as tightly constructed as Age of Innocence, but it possibly more affecting, in the end. Wish I hadn't read the Dover version.

Strait is the Gate Andre Gide 1909   01/08/05

Difficult to sympathize with characters. Narcissistic narrator, overwrought yet underdeveloped romance between main characters. The only parts that rang true for me were when the lovers, who were engaged in a long-distance romance, could hardly talk with each other (and could barely stand to be around each other) when they at last saw each other after so many months apart, when meanwhile they felt closer than they ever had in their world of letters.

The book's "message" seems to be that a life lived in self-sacrificing service to a mysterious God is hardly a life lived. Maybe I'm missing the point. Or maybe this was an unexplored and/or controversial idea in 1909.

The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov 1967    

Ray Barry Hannah 1980   2/18/05
This was very southern and made me think of words like "honest" and "real." Ray is a doctor (and a poet and a pilot) who's dealing with his womanizing and his drinking and his issues about having let his friends die when he flew planes in Vietnam. Like an old-fashioned crime detective, he lives by his own moral code. It's good writing, and it strangely reminds me of John Gardner (because it's from the same era? What else is the same, besides the approximate age of the men in the stories? Not much, on the surface). I liked it fine, but it didn't excite me.

The Time Traveler's Wife Audrey Niffenegger 2003 2/18/05 2/24/05

If this had been half as long, I might have been able to overlook its flaws and have allowed it to win me over. But it upset me, it was so bad -- possibly because it made me fear that my writing is like this woman's. Ugh. I couldn't wait to be done with it, so I skipped and skimmed through the last hundred pages. I think one of the big problems is that she never gave the reader enough to work with regarding her characters and their inner selves. So a lot of her scenes came off as extraneous and flat, though they seemed to want to be meaningful. There was a scene where they danced in a club, for instance, that was supposed to (I think) capture the way young people "let go" and "live in the moment," and I guess the author wanted us to derive something about the main character from the scene, but she wasn't able to direct the reader enough, to indicate why anyone should care about it and pay attention. Also, one dinner scene with her friends went on needlessly. That's it, I think -- I never knew what I should be paying attention to, because some of it seemed relevant to the emotional game it was playing and much of it did not.

One of its most annoying features was that it kept trying to make the reader think the characters were cool by bringing up how much they liked punk rock. Also, her characters were too witty; I think we were supposed to admire and envy their sharpness, but it only served to make them unlikeable and out of reach.

I honestly felt sick to my stomach after each session with this one.

Doctor Glas Hjalmar Soderberg 1905 1/05 2/05
I had already read this, but I wanted Andy to read something to me while I painted, and it's short, so I suggested this. It deals elegantly with the pain of being alive and alone, and it's very good, and I recommend it to everyone.