Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Books Over Vacation

I seem to have fallen into a possibly unfortunate reading pattern lately. It seems that if something I'm reading has a sequel, or a prequel, or is in a sequence of any sort, assuming I do not despise whatever book it is it seems I must read all the other books in the sequence as soon as possible. This may just be a case of me being too lazy to figure out what else to read, but if I'm not careful I might get OCD.

The first thing I read over vacation was Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, which consists of All The Pretty Horses,The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain. Its trilogic structure is very loose--the first book is about one character, the second about another, and the third about both of them. The trilogy contains unity of theme more than story. I may have liked Horses the best: McCarthy's writing is certainly better in it than any of his other works I've read, and at his best McCarthy is very powerful. The Crossing is excellent too, but overlong at times. Cities contains probably the most powerful story, despite the fact that its climactic confrontation is a bit of a cliche. Its epilogue rivals the end of No Country For Old Men in dreaminess, thematic appropriateness, and surpasses it in sheer understated power.

Next I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, which was awesome. A few of the awesome things about it:
There is a cult of evil librarians ruling the world.
Monsters made out of old romance novels.
A grandpa figure who has exclamations based on sci-fi authors.
Works Plato's Metaphor of the Cave into a YA Fiction book, a feat which alone deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The author, Brandon Sanderson, has a potted plant named Count Duku.

Then I picked up The Portable Oscar Wilde, intending to merely read The Picture of Dorian Gray, and ending up reading all seven works included in it (see? OCD!). A quick overview:

Dorian Gray is amazing, a Faustian novel as only Oscar Wilde could write it. Also, it has a Preface regarding art and the artist, which is amazing if somewhat incomprehensible. My mom and brother were arguing about what makes good art, so I read it to them, and it effectively ended the argument because they were trying to figure out whose side Wilde supported.

"The Critic as Artist" is a long essay which, having read only once, I can only really review as Interesting. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in art of any kind, especially art criticism.

Salome is a once-act play, which has appropriately been called more of a prose poem, regarding the temptress who had John the Baptist's head on a silver platter. As far as theatre goes, The Importance of Being Earnest is then a nice counter balance (it is, of course, one of the wittiest pieces of literature in the English language).

De Profundis, Wilde's prison memoir, is probably my favorite. If I really talk about it here this post will get prohibitively long, so I'll give the teaser version: Wilde reveals here a greater depth of understanding of Christ's teachings than many of the "great Christian writers," living or dead. He's nothing to a Luther or a Walther, of course, and he professes no interest whatsoever in metaphysics-rather, he understands Christ artistically, and he seems to have hit a lot of nails right or almost right on the head that way. This would be an excellent tool for what Craig Parton calls apologetics for the "soft-minded," that is, apologetics through art, myth, etc.

(I intend, some day, to write an essay or at least a blog post about Wilde's understanding of Christ.)

I didn't think a whole lot of Wilde's poetry, as included in this volume, except for "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," which reads a lot like a poetic version of "De Profundis" (it was written at around the same time). It, too, shows a remarkably Christian influence, in a beautiful and wholly unhypocritical way (or as much so as humans can muster). I recommend reading De Profundis, the Ballad, then De Profundis again. Seriously.

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