What are you currently reading? (part 2)

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2016-12-30, 16:28

TheStrayCat wrote:The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I'll be interested to hear your take on it. I loved it when I read it in high school, but when I reread it a decade or so later, it hadn't held up as well as some other writers' work.

Yesterday I started The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, which is an alternative history where Yiddish-speaking refugees from WWII established a colony in Alaska. So far he's doing a good job of making his world feel lived-in. Not sure yet if the plot will be anything special, since so far he's cleaving pretty closely to the standard hard-boiled murder mystery template.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2016-12-30, 20:26

Just read Chapter 17 of Randidangazhi to my dad and have started reading/memorizing quatrains #33-34 of Mayura Sandesham. I'm sure I'll get to work on my grandfather's diary as well since it's only Friday today and I won't be back at work until New Year's Day.
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TheStrayCat wrote:The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I'll be interested to hear your take on it. I loved it when I read it in high school, but when I reread it a decade or so later, it hadn't held up as well as some other writers' work.

I don't expect this to be a popular opinion since I'm pretty sure at least two people have tried to convince me to no avail that I'm wrong to think this, but could I please just rant about it a bit first? I have been really hating this book ever since they made us read it in high school and need to get this off my chest. Of course, anyone should still read it if they like by all means since they certainly don't have to share my opinion about it. In any case, it's not the writing I take issue with so much as the fact that it was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald of all people, especially combined with the fact that we were forced to read stupid pieces of crap like this in school. :evil:

As I understand it, he was writing about the faults of the most extravagant, overprivileged people of his time despite being one of the most extravagant, overprivileged people of his time himself. To me, this is the height of hypocrisy, comparable to the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan writing about how horrible it was that black people in the Americas used to be slaves, or something. :? Like, hello, do you seriously feel like you can hide your faults behind some character you just made up - and make money off of it, and achieve fame for it - with no obligation at all to publicly admit that you personally have the exact same problems (or perhaps even worse)? And maybe should pay for them? This is the same problem I have with Animal Farm and Night, too. I find it a bit rich that the person writing all about the ills of communism in the first of these two cases was some Brit who used to serve in the Imperial Police (because that was just such a wonderful, democratic institution in contrast to evil communist regimes, right?!). In the second case, well, IMO Elie Wiesel certainly has every right to write about how horrible the Holocaust was in his personal experience, but that still doesn't mean he should just shit on everyone else who went through it, which I honestly feel he did in that book. He also seems to be a person who just likes shitting on people who are less privileged than him in general. :? I even have somewhat similar feelings about Casablanca.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby TheStrayCat » 2016-12-31, 15:12

I've read it up to the last chapter so far and it's quite enjoyable except that it contains way too many unnecessary descriptions, which I personally have hard time digesting - I'd be more content if it was about twice as short with the same plot. Just take that two-page-long list of notable people who attended Gatsby's parties and never appeared anywhere else in the story. Anyway, I'm yet to finish it, so please, no spoilers!

vijayjohn wrote:As I understand it, he was writing about the faults of the most extravagant, overprivileged people of his time despite being one of the most extravagant, overprivileged people of his time himself. To me, this is the height of hypocrisy, comparable to the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan writing about how horrible it was that black people in the Americas used to be slaves, or something.

I think the very fact that he wrote the book already suggests that he was not in favor of this superficially-arrogant lifestyle, especially considering that his being "privileged" led him into a lot of trouble (according to the Wikipedia article - I didn't dig deeper). It's really difficult to imagine almost any of the novel's characters as someone writing such a complete story exposing the egoism, misogyny, lack of compassion and racism so prevalent in their own society.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2016-12-31, 15:59

TheStrayCat wrote:I think the very fact that he wrote the book already suggests that he was not in favor of this superficially-arrogant lifestyle, especially considering that his being "privileged" led him into a lot of trouble (according to the Wikipedia article - I didn't dig deeper). It's really difficult to imagine almost any of the novel's characters as someone writing such a complete story exposing the egoism, misogyny, lack of compassion and racism so prevalent in their own society.

He suffered from alcoholism and financial difficulties. I can sympathize with the alcoholism part; the financial difficulties part, not so much. He clearly didn't think that his opulent lifestyle was a good thing. So I wonder, why did he keep living that way then? Could he not resolve his financial problems by selling off the things he couldn't afford anyway? :?

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby TheStrayCat » 2016-12-31, 16:17

vijayjohn wrote:He suffered from alcoholism and financial difficulties. I can sympathize with the alcoholism part; the financial difficulties part, not so much. He clearly didn't think that his opulent lifestyle was a good thing. So I wonder, why did he keep living that way then? Could he not resolve his financial problems by selling off the things he couldn't afford anyway? :?


He also had marital and other health issues. Perhaps at those times he wasn't being far-sighted enough to think about long-term consequences of his behavior - instead, he was using every opportunity he had to get instant gratification and a temporary relief.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2016-12-31, 19:42

TheStrayCat wrote:
vijayjohn wrote:He suffered from alcoholism and financial difficulties. I can sympathize with the alcoholism part; the financial difficulties part, not so much. He clearly didn't think that his opulent lifestyle was a good thing. So I wonder, why did he keep living that way then? Could he not resolve his financial problems by selling off the things he couldn't afford anyway? :?


He also had marital and other health issues. Perhaps at those times he wasn't being far-sighted enough to think about long-term consequences of his behavior - instead, he was using every opportunity he had to get instant gratification and a temporary relief.

I'm sorry, I don't understand. He wrote an entire novel about the long-term consequences of his behavior when he wasn't far-sighted enough to think about the long-term consequences of his behavior? :hmm:

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby TheStrayCat » 2016-12-31, 20:48

Well, I can assume that he had his "good" and "bad" times in his life, and maybe he just wasn't ready to change his lifestyle - which is often a courageous undertaking especially when you've already got yourself into a lot of trouble and don't know what else to expect from life.

It's like with recovering alcoholics: when you're in a remission, you can give a lecture about how alcoholism is bad, but it takes much more to recover. Quite possibly he felt this way about alcoholism as well as compulsive spending and his love life.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2016-12-31, 21:15

Yeah, see, to me, that's straight-up hypocrisy. Just because people have issues doesn't mean they get to be assholes.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2017-01-04, 17:48

vijayjohn wrote:As I understand it, he was writing about the faults of the most extravagant, overprivileged people of his time despite being one of the most extravagant, overprivileged people of his time himself.

Who better to expose these people's faults than one of their own?

I think you're being too harsh on someone who's problems you don't really understand. There's a big gap between knowing you have faults and overcoming those faults.

vijayjohn wrote:To me, this is the height of hypocrisy, comparable to the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan writing about how horrible it was that black people in the Americas used to be slaves, or something.

I don't really see that as comparable. It would be like a Grand Wizard[*] of the Ku Klux Klan speaking and writing about the deplorable behaviour of fellow Klan members.


[*] Or "Imperial Wizard", to use the title current in the 20th century.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-01-05, 0:42

linguoboy wrote:I think you're being too harsh on someone who's problems you don't really understand. There's a big gap between knowing you have faults and overcoming those faults.

Sorry, and thanks.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2017-01-09, 16:08

vijayjohn wrote:Sorry, and thanks.

No real reason to apologise. It's not like Fitzgerald will take offence.

At my New Year's party, one of the guests mentioned that his last conversation with my husband (on the day he died, no less) was about books. They talked about favourite novels, and while some of the titles were familiar (my man's thesis was on Faulkner, so no surprises at hearing that As I lay dying made the list), I was taken aback to find out Anna Karenina was mentioned. We talked about the Russians not terribly long ago and I have no memory of that coming up.

In any case, this prompted me to crack open the copy of the recent Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I picked up about a year ago. No one told me there'd be so much humour in it! I guess I'd developed a false sense of Tolstoy's style based on his rep and the short stories I've read. In any case, I'm almost finished with Book 1 and loving it.

Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying the Chabon though not making great progress. I brought it with yesterday when I met some friends at the bar and one practically started reading it in front of us. I think I'm going to try to make some real progress so I can hand it off to him.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-01-10, 2:24

I read Chapter 18 of Randidangazhi to my dad two days ago, which now brings me to Part Three of that book, which is also the last part. There are only nine chapters left. At this rate, I should be done reading it a day or two before Daylight Savings Time starts. I've started memorizing the next two quatrains of Mayura Sandesham, too, and translated a few paragraphs of my grandfather's diary since the last time I posted here.

I happened to mention that diary to a co-worker of mine just a few hours ago, and I also mentioned that I don't know how to go about finding an editor of this translation I've been working on, so he gave me a suggestion and also offered to be an editor himself. I think I'll start out by just going over it with my dad, though, because I'm sure he'd be able to catch any mistakes I made in interpreting my grandfather's Malayalam.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby TheStrayCat » 2017-01-14, 4:11

The Green Mile by Stephen King, and What Language Is by John McWhorter - this one for the second time. I read it almost two years ago, but it never gets boring. This is something I would recommend to everyone who wants to get the basics of linguistics.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-01-22, 2:15

Finally read Chapter 19 of Randidangazhi. It was pretty short. (In fact, all of the remaining chapters are going to be short except Chapter 24. Chapter 20 is probably the shortest). I also translated another paragraph of my grandfather's diary and more or less memorized two more verses of Mayura Sandesham, though I'm finding it kind of hard now to recite 34 quatrains all in one sitting!

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby linguoboy » 2017-01-24, 18:10

Hey, Vijay! I was at this store on Saturday, but ended up leaving without buying anything. I'm glad to see that they've expanded the selection in non-English languages, but they shrunk the English-language section somewhat to do it. I did find a translation of a Malayali novel (it was by a Nair, maybe M. T. Vasudevan?) but didn't buy it, since I've got enough on my plate still.

I finally finished both the The Yiddish Policeman's Union and Under the glacier. Good reads but nothing spectacular. I'm especially puzzled at some of the praise heaped on the Laxness for breaking novelistic conventions and so forth. He didn't seem to be doing anything radical by the standards of early Modernism.

I'm also not finding Tolstoy as engrossing as some of my friends, though I am enjoying it and making fine progress. I'm glad one of them warned me that the Karenina storyline is only about 40% of the novel, so I'm not as frustrated by cutaways to other characters as I would otherwise be. I do occasionally find myself jumping ahead several chapters to rejoin a storyline that's been cliffhangered.

I did pick up a couple new books lately, one of which was Czesław Miłosz' Zniewolony umysł (The captive mind in Jane Zielonko's English translation), which I started reading because it seems timely. My Bosnian friend who studies Joyce approved.
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-01-25, 5:28

linguoboy wrote:Hey, Vijay! I was at this store on Saturday, but ended up leaving without buying anything. I'm glad to see that they've expanded the selection in non-English languages, but they shrunk the English-language section somewhat to do it. I did find a translation of a Malayali novel (it was by a Nair, maybe M. T. Vasudevan?) but didn't buy it, since I've got enough on my plate still.

It wouldn't be Vadakkke Koottala Narayanankutty Nair (better known as VKN), would it? :o

I know this is OT btw, but other than that, all I can say is I have a carrom board a lot like the one in those pictures (except a bit older) right here at my house, complete with talcum powder to smooth the board out! I (used to) have an American-style one, too, but nobody ever did anything with it.

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Yasna » 2017-02-02, 4:43

I finished Samskara, which I enjoyed. Now I'm reading McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh.
Ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. - Kafka

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Varislintu » 2017-02-04, 8:02

Currently reading? Nothing. I don't think I've even held a book (that I'm reading) this year yet. :(
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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-02-05, 4:59

I haven't been making much progress lately with what I (initially) set out to read, either. I managed to translate two paragraphs of my grandfather's diary, but I've only managed to read one more chapter of Randidangazhi to my dad, and I'm forgetting some of Mayura Sandesham. FWIW, though, I did manage to read the first chapter of Practical Chinese Reader III even though I spread that out over two days (it's not a hard or even particularly long chapter to read) as well as the first story in this in Chinese (IIRC my dad bought this book from Chinatown in San Francisco).

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Re: What are you currently reading? (part 2)

Postby Yasna » 2017-02-09, 14:59

I finished reading McGlue. It was really well written, but I found it pretty much impossible to relate to the main character, who is an alcoholic disaster of a human being.

Now I'm reading In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-year Journey Through Romania and Beyond by Robert Kaplan.
Ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. - Kafka


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