I mentioned science fiction in the P.S. of the previous post, which brings me along to a New Year's topic.
I've been racking my brain, but I believe I have read only one or only three science fiction books in my entire life. It was a thing called The Foundation Trilogy and I read it when I was 13. I read an omnibus version in one volume (like this one) but it was originally three novels, which is why the number confusion.
Somehow, all of these images came up in an image search for "Isaac Asimov." From left to right, Arthur C. Clarke, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, Frankenstein's monster, Hana Rahil Berman, Borges, Poe, the Duke of Windsor, Harold Pinter, an etching of Fermat, and a pencil drawing of Carlos Santana. Don't ask me.
The author, Isaac Asimov, was quite famous at the time (1970), and might still be. I had read an admiring interview of him and wanted to read one of his books. (The thing I remember about the interview now is that Prof. Asimov, who was very prolific, had six IBM Selectric electric typewriters, and when one of them broke and had to go in for repair, he fretted about it until it came back.) I remember enjoying The Foundation Trilogy a lot; I have good memories of the experience, and a high opinion of the book(s), and I'm glad I read it(them); and although I remember what the volume looked like and the picture on its cover and where I was when I finished it and all my impressions about it at the time, I do not recall a thing about the plot or action. And, after reading it, without conscious intention at the time, I set science fiction aside, without prejudice. I bear the genre no ill-will and no disrespect whatsoever. It just didn't seem like my cup of tea. Tea is not my cup of tea either, come to that. I say that also with no animus at all. One can't like everything.
Or at least, one doesn't.
New Year's 2017
2016 was a terrible year for me. I'm glad it's ending. My annus horribilis, with apologies to Her Majesty. It marks the start of my old age I'm sure, emotionally, if not technically.
(Technically old age begins at 65, according to the DSM IV. I'm 59 for a few more months yet.)
For one thing, I like to read, but I read only 30 or so books in 2016, my lowest total in a long time. And because I read mostly nonfiction, my tradition is to read at least one famous or celebrated novel every year, and this past year I read no novels at all. Not even that ceremonial single one.
This seems a mistake. I like nonfiction, but it needs a little leavening.
But 2016 is over now, and I mean to move on. I intend to think positively, keep moving forward, hold my head up, and meet the future with fortitude and resilience. With cheer, even. For one thing, I have a whole list of resolutions this year, and some of them I am damn well going to damn well keep [sic].
...Beginning with that novel. I'm not going to let 2017 go by without observing my old tradition.
Past "annual novels" have included Jane Eyre (loved it), Treasure Island (surprisingly thin, I thought, although perhaps I was just out of sync with it), In Cold Blood, David Copperfield, and Native Son (excellent, retaining its power to shock). I attempted Moby Dick one year but foundered on its rocky shoals. I tend to like to "read around" the book I choose, too—reading criticism, ancillary works, and watching film adaptations if there are any (I watched three film versions of Jane Eyre). My question is, any suggestions? Perhaps something fat and grand and a page-turner. And nothing that will be too hard on me.
Nothing by Kafka(!).
There is usually only one "Open Mike," but I didn't want to let that grammar post just hang there.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
John Camp: "Shame! Good nonfiction gives you only facts, which you already probably have enough of, while good novels attempt to get at truth, which nobody ever has enough of. Maybe you should assign one of your minions to search the Internet for a credible list of the 100 greatest novels of all time, and TOP could sponsor a great novels club, read one novel at a time. We'd have all 100 read in eight years or so. Persistence is your friend in almost everything (except murder, burglary, etc.) and the reading of great novels would not be an exception."
Nigel: "Dickens...Bleak House. Fat and grand, and a page turner (for me, at least). Your difficulties with Moby Dick and science fiction reminded me of this wonderful interview with Ray Bradbury."
Mike replies: That is wonderful. I always liked Ray Bradbury, because of Dandelion Wine. And come to think of it I did read Fahrenheit 451, which I'm pretty sure counts as science fiction—raising my lifetime total.
Rip Smith: "Go back and read The Foundation Trilogy again. I read it when I was in high school and then again some time after I passed the 59-year-old mark. It was even better the second time around."
MarkR: "Books? If you need your literature fix just put some Dylan on the turntable."
Mike replies: Oh dear. As Ctein used to say, put down that can opener and step away from the can of worms....
RubyT: "Since I don't see it mentioned here, I'd like to put in a good word for Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, in the Tiina Nunnally translation. I did not discover it until about 10 years ago—it's actually a trilogy and won the Nobel Prize in literature. It gives such a vivid picture of life in 14th-century Norway and mixes the small details with the great questions of life in a delightful manner. Even though it is long, I am planning to read it for a third time in the coming year.
"In my youth I probably read 300 books a year, and even now I try to read at least 50, so I do not call this my favorite book lightly."
Mike replies: Thanks. I just downloaded that.
Yvonne: "Michel Houellebecq is the one of the most interesting authors I've read of late.
"I didn't think I would like him (especially because of the crass way he writes about sex and women), but about a year and half ago, I read all of his books in a very short time. I got kind of obsessed.
"If you like your authors politically correct, stay away, but if you enjoy subversion and satire, which can be laugh-out-loud funny, you will have come to the right place.
"The central theme is his work is the decline of western civilization, and while his characters revel in hedonism and sex (if they can get it—the sexually frustrated male is a common character) they find little joy or satisfaction there, but they know they can't go back to traditional values, which are finished for any number of logical reasons.
"Perhaps the best book to start with is Map and Territory. The protagonist is French photographic artist, who becomes a commercial success creating works based on Michelin tourist maps. It was the first one I read.
"The Possibility of an Island is a sort of Si-Fi look at the human predicament—a Scientology-like cult finds a way out of the dictates of normal biology and creates a race of pseudo-people. I really enjoyed it, even though I'm not normally into Sci-Fi.
"I read Submission (France elects a Muslim president in the 2020s), and I'm looking forward to whatever he does next.
"And Whatever is his first book, which is also very funny, but veers off into craziness at the end. However, his descriptions of the modern day work-place make for great satire rooted the mundane lives of a couple of IT drudges who work for the French Ministry of Agriculture.
What I think, fundamentally, is that you can’t do anything about major societal changes. It may be regrettable that the family unit is disappearing. You could argue that it increases human suffering. But regrettable or not, there’s nothing we can do. That’s the difference between me and a reactionary. I don’t have any interest in turning back the clock because I don’t believe it can be done. You can only observe and describe. I’ve always liked Balzac’s very insulting statement that the only purpose of the novel is to show the disasters produced by the changing of values. He’s exaggerating in an amusing way. But that’s what I do: I show the disasters produced by the liberalization of values.
"This quote from Houellebecq goes some way toward summing up the general themes of his work."