Here is my one word, highly academic, response to Their Eyes Were Watching God:
Five years from now, if you ask me about some of the books I’ve read from the Time list, I’m sure there will be many that I’ve forgotten about. That’s what the blog is for—to help me remember.
But this is one of those novels that I won’t forget. Everything about Their Eyes Were Watching God is memorable—the story, the characters, the settings, the writing—oh, the writing.
Zora Neale Hurston’s writing is so ridiculously good, and the story itself is so strong, I wonder how this woman hasn’t been given more praise than she has. How did she not get “rediscovered” until the 1970s? What’s wrong with us?
Money is one of the wildest novels I’ve ever read. Pardon the literary cliché, but it’s a roller coaster ride from start to finish.
The novel is such a romp that I don’t even know where to start reviewing it.
Let’s just say that Money is told from the point of view of the classic unreliable narrator. John Self is a raging alcoholic. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of line to say that he is drunk through probably 90% of the novel.
He battles other addictions, like sex and cigarettes. At one point, Self even says, “Unless I specifically inform you otherwise, assume I am always smoking another cigarette.”
The man is a narcissistic basket case. He’s a jerk, a man of terrible morals, but Martin Amis almost, almost, almost makes you like him because of his sense of humor and self-awareness.
I’m tired of reading books about depressed, alcoholic, hopeless twenty-somethings.
I’m just tired of it, man.
I get it. I really do. Your 20s is probably the most volatile, unpredictable decade of your life. It’s a time period that’s easy to write about because it connects with so many people.
We’ve all been there trying to figure out what to do with our lives, trying to figure out what that girl we like is thinking, trying to figure out if we really hate our job enough to quit and pursue something new. For some people, trying not to be drunk all the time.
So I understand why authors like Nathanael West feel led to write about this time period. And I understand why Hemingway wrote about it in The Sun Also Rises or Malcolm Lowry in Under The Volcano or Jack Kerouac in On The Road. But when you put all these books on a list and read them relatively close to each other, the reading gets cumbersome.
Call It Sleep is a tale of two novels.
The first 75% of the novel is fabulous. It’s emotionally draining and depressing–but fabulous nonetheless.
Henry Roth tells the story of an immigrant Jewish family who moves to New York in the early 20th century. The family, which consists of eight-year-old David, his overly protective mother, and his verbally and physically abusive father, lives in some Jewish slums.
But back to the percentages.
The novel really drew me in until the last 100 pages, then I felt like it got cumbersome. David and his friends speak in Yiddish, which is almost as difficult to follow as nadsat from A Clockwork Orange. And there’s a lot of Yiddish late in the novel. Once I got to the last 50 pages, I was just ready for the story to end. And that was disappointing because I really enjoyed the book to that point.
So what makes Call It Sleep such an emotional novel?
You’ve gone and done it, Philip K. Dick.
You’ve gone and made me write a review in which I can’t ramble about how much I dislike science fiction.
You see, I hated Neuromancer. Snow Crash had its moments but left me feeling like I was reading a the script for a cheesy 1980s Schwarzanegger movie.
But Ubik? Not that bad.
I enjoyed Ubik because of two reasons.
That was one of the strangest books I’ve ever read.
The Sot-Weed Factor is simultaneously entertaining and exhausting. It’s incredibly funny while also being incredibly frustrating.
The book seems to have countless obstacles to work through just to enjoy it.
Here’s a great way to spend time when you’re bored.
First, head on over to Amazon, pick a book, any book (maybe start with a classic), then click on the one-star reviews.
Second, read said one-star reviews.
Third, be entertained.
Some of these reviewers are hilarious. Other reviewers, well, it’s surprising that they can read at all. Still, others, they’re just weird.
To have a little fun, I looked through some of the one-star reviews of some well-known literary novels, and here’s what I found (HT to Johann at Book Riot for the inspiration.)
This one reviewer took issue with Harper Lee’s large font choices. This poor person doesn’t mean to be funny, but she’s funny nonetheless.
Terry Southern once called Henry Green, author of Loving, a “writer’s writer’s writer.”
I’m not really sure what that means. But, basically, Southern—like many of his peers—thought Green was pretty awesome. Among authors, he’s almost universally loved, though he’s not always that familiar to readers like me.
So the moment you pick up Loving, you can expect to read some beautiful writing and engaging dialogue. He’s very poetic.
But as I’ve said before, I’m a story guy. I like a good plot. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy, detailed plot, but there has to be some meat there.
That’s why I hated A Dance To The Music Of Time. It was 3,000 pages of nothing.
And as much as I like Henry Green and his writing, Loving left me underwhelmed. A little romance, a little drama between the “downstairs” British servants and “upstairs” Irish residents of a sprawling Irish country house, but there’s not much else there.
I expected to like this book more than I did.
I love the idea behind it. In the middle of the British occupation of India during the early 20th century, an Indian doctor is wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a British woman.
All hell breaks loose when the doctor goes on trial and the woman begins doubting her story. It’s a powerful novel that deals with issues of racism, class, and groupthink. Forster is a superb writer.
All of these things made me think I would, more than likely, love A Passage To India by the time I finished with it. But I don’t.
If I rated these novels on a scale of 1 to 10, then I would probably put it somewhere in the 5 to 6 range. At times, it moved me. At other times, I drifted off into wondering if I had set my fantasy football rosters yet.
The problem with A Passage To India, as I see it: It’s painfully slow. The pacing of the novel is brutal.
So, by the time I finished the book, I felt like I had read a 500 page novel that should have been 300 pages but felt like it was about 700 pages.
That’s my main beef with this novel.
Just when I thought I had read it all.
I’ve read about little kids being created and harvested as organ donors in Never Let Me Go. I’ve read about an alcoholic mom who accidentally drowns her infant in the bathtub in Rabbit, Run.
I’ve read about a farming family who loses their farm, their income, and many of their lives in The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read about a poor, young girl who gets pushed over a boat and drowned by her fiancé in An American Tragedy. I’ve read about the crappiest marriage in the history of marriages in Revolutionary Road.
I’ve read about some depressing stuff while reading through this list. But A Death In The Family takes the cake, and that’s saying something.