Reading list for May-Jun, 2007, pt. I: The books

I should do this monthly or at least bi-monthly but I kind of got carried away doing other stuff, as usual, so here goes nothing anyway.

But so as to make it up to you, here’s the list with added extra comments by Mr. T as the A-Team’s B.A.!

Title: Faust, part one
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Year: 1808
Publisher: Jesus, were there publishers back in 1808? Like, Dinosaur Books instead of Penguin Books?
What: A play that’s part tragedy and part comedy about this scholarly guy whom, in his quest for the ultimate knowledge, bargains with the devil and sells his soul to him. As expected, things don’t go so well after that. Come on, everybody’s heard of Goethe’s Faust, gee…
My comments: Now this is good. This is amazing, it really is. First of all, keyword is accessible, because that’s what it ultimately is. Academic people rant on about Goethe’s Faust up to the point they erect this nigh-impenetrable wall of non-accessibility around the text, and when a regular mortal like you and I gets to read it for real… it’s simply put, extremely accessible! The vocabulary is not really hard, the situations are nothing too different from our present reality, and so on.
It’s also very funny. Very funny. You’d expect those Sturm & Drang stuff to be so full of… well, sturm & drang, you barely believe you’re actually laughing out loud with Mephistopheles’ antics- and a funny fellow he is: The critique is heavy on greed, lust, the whole existential brouhaha, etc.
Oh, there’s one bit in near the end with is sheer amazing, which is Faust’s visit to a witches’ ceremony during Walpurgis Night, which must have influenced to some extent the Night in Bald Mountain segment in Disney’s Fantasia.
All in all… Absolutely recommended!

Mr. T says: "I ain't no fool for dealing with no devil! This sucker deserves even worse than he got and I'm more than willing to teach him a lesson!"

Title: Breakfast of Champions (or, Goodbye Blue Monday)
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year: 1973
Publisher: Dunno.
What: One of Vonnegut’s most famous novels, about the lives of two men intertwining with one another’s as theirs both border (and surpass) pure nonsense.
Kilgore Trout, a recurring character of Vonnegut’s, is a deadbeat science fiction author who writes for p*rn magazines. He hitchhikes across America to receive the first award of his career, while Dwayne Hoover, who owns a Pontiac dealership and also half the town Trout’s going to, starts to go crazy, to the point he reads one of Trout’s pulp tales and starts believing in them (one about all mankind being robots except for the narrator). When they meet, chaos ensues.
My comments: Vonnegut’s plots are basically vehicles of thinly-veiled and not-so-thinly-veiled introspective studies of the human condition: I guess the main aspect would indeed be that the questioning of the meaning of life, but not only that. With lots of humor, Vonnegut dabbles with his customary acid wit towards tricky subjects like racism, mass consumption, sexu*lity and environmental causes too.
I’d also like to point out the unusual manner the author digresses the narrative towards minor characters every now and then, creating a truly three-dee atmosphere that draws the reader right in.
Vonnegut is a true genius who passed away only a few months ago. If you’ve never read any of his stuff, then it’s about damn time to start: It’s like Douglas Adams in a way, but written strictly for adults.

Mr. T says: "This crazy fool gets on the jazz, he's even worse 'an Hannibal! This is dangerous stuff, man! I'm telling ya: This is dangerous stuff!"

Title: Down & Out in Paris and London
Author: George Orwell
Year: 1933
Publisher: No idea.
What: One of the author’s earliest works, a biographical account of his mis-adventures living below the poverty line both in Paris and London: Living out of old decadent pensions, sleeping on the streets, scrounging for cigarette butts, washing dishes and sweeping floors, befriending homeless people, and so on.
My comments: This is a very interesting book, it really is, because it captures the zeitgeist perfectly: Orwell’s a master at descriptions and he paints a canvas before the reader with his words: You are there with him, you know what it’s like, and so on.
Negative bit is, it gets awfully repetitive. I mean, guy gets hungry, he doesn’t have any money left, can’t find jobs, etc. It’s pretty much a succession of those things… but it’s a fun, interesting book nevertheless, especially the part in which he vividly describes the routine of working at the bowels of a large Parisian hotel.

Mr. T says: "The sucker thinks he's been through some rough times? Ya wanna see bad, real bad, then try growing up in the ghetto for a change!"

Title: Smoke & Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions
Author: Neil Gaiman
Year: 1998
Publisher: Don’t care.
What: A collection of short stories and poems by one of the modern masters of horror fiction, ranging from harmless magical fantasy to gritty reality, and halfway between both. It’s actually an anthology of past works by the author.
My comments: General consensus will probably tell you Gaiman’s good. What I think? I think he’s way under-rated: He’s amazing, that’s what he is!
I think this book proves why Gaiman is an almost unsurpassable champion of his craft, which is storytelling: this guy can write about anything! I mean, he starts out with a wedding present-themed variation on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, then goes on to tell of an old lady who just happened to buy the Holy Grail at a neighborhood antique store, but also writes very down-to-earth stories such as the hardships of a young couple dealing with an ab*rtion, and so on.
Bottom line is, Gaiman is a professional storyteller, period, and you should be reading his stuff.

Mr. T says: "I ain't readin' no dumb fairy tales! This is crazy talk for fools like Murdock an' his imaginary friends!"