PROGRESS REPORT: January 2011

January comes to a close today. So quick! It’s been a creatively productive month. I’ve picked up sketching again, and am also working on a story for The Fiction Project. Oh, and I’ve also been reading.

True to my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve chosen to read something outside of my literary comfort zone, with The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Progress is steady, but slow. This is my first foray into Russian literature and Russian novels, and I am still acclimating to the genre. This book is definitely a different beast from the American and English novels I grew up reading and adoring.  The prose in The Brothers Karamazov is spare, cut and dry, matter-of-factly. No wordy flourishes here. A smile is a smile, a dress a dress. Translation is also a factor, I think. There is a halting, awkward quality to the prose that I’ve noticed over and over in my reads, which I’ve contributed to the possibility of this translation being more literal than otherwise. (Although whether or not the translation is indeed more literal or not, I have yet to find out from a more official source than my own educated guesses.)

I didn’t like this book at first. I wrote in my reading journal that the pace is slow, and the philosophical themes too heavy-handed, to the point that entire chapters are devoted to a debate on the existence of God and various aspects of Christian doctrine. (I’m partial to subtlety.) But that dislike faded when I realized that this book is not so much a plot-driven story, but a novel-length study of the five core members of a dysfunctional family. Once that light bulb turned on in my head, I found reading to be more enjoyable, and the characters more interesting.

The Swan Thieves! Very bittersweet reading experience so far. I’m happy to finally read Elizabeth Kostova’s newest work (it’s been a while in the waiting), but the book is hard to get into. While The Historian exudes a warm, amber glow like afternoon sunlight off worn, wooden floorboards, The Swan Thieves has no discernible atmosphere. It is very structured, and a bit halting. And the characters are not very interesting to me. (I don’t care that Marlow lives alone, or that Oliver is stubbornly silent.) But I’m going to continue giving this book the benefit of the doubt. Just because it’s vastly different in style from its predecessor doesn’t mean it warrants a hasty damnation. Rather, I think it just needs to be approached with a different perspective. Kostova said in an interview that art, particularly painting, is a central theme of the novel. Knowing that, it makes sense, then, that the book is very heavy on the visual descriptions, and light on mental insight into the characters. Perhaps it’s meant to read like a painting, with words instead of oils on a canvas.

I first came across The Mysterious Benedict Society either on GoodReads or Amazon, as one of those If you loved [this], you may love [the following] suggestions that aren’t terribly accurate; then as a to read on Corrie’s GoodRead; then as a prominently displayed book in the Young Readers section of Moe’s Books, where I happily purchased a brand new copy for only $6.99. (Amazing, right? It’s very rare that a new, non-classic novel goes for anything lower than digits in the mid-10s, even for children’s books.) I bought it because the cover looked cool (yes, yes), because the plot sounded interesting, and because I wanted a new book to read to my little sister as her nightly bedtime story. The chapters are surprisingly long, and as a result I’ve only cleared the first chapter and a quarter since Saturday. The pace is slow-ish, and the prose somewhat lackluster. And I get why reviewers compare Stewart to Lemony Snicket (mysterious societies! orphans! oddball adults!), although I don’t think it’s an altogether fair comparison. Snicket is so much more lively in his deadpan, slightly absurd humor. Stewart is … well, flat. Restrained. His prose does hint of Snicket’s trademark humor, but only fleetingly, like a pencil smudge left on a sheet of paper from an eraser. But perhaps it’s too early to judge accurately.

Okay, Readers. Your turn! What have you been reading this month?

Images credit of books’ respective GoodReads page.

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4 thoughts on “PROGRESS REPORT: January 2011”

  1. hey~
    :)
    i’m reading kafka on the shore by murakami right now…enjoying it so far.
    i’ve also picked up les miserables again which should take me a while.

    i’m back in korea and started school again…so yay for meee

    what have you been up to??

    1. Hello you! I was beginning to think you had fallen off the face of the earth! It’s good “seeing” you again.

      Ah, Murakami. I’ve heard good stuff about his work. You’ll be happy to hear that after reading your post this morning, I’ve decided to add a couple of his books to my to-read list. Looking forward to reading them!

      How are you doing these days? And how is teaching? I’ll send you an e-mail soon, so that we can catch up. :)

  2. :) I got the update on my goodreads feed.
    teaching is weird right now bc it’s the end of the semester and we’re going on break…again. but i still have to come out and basically desk-warm. yay.

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