Posts Tagged ‘jonathan franzen’

Books – the longer, the better

March 21, 2011

Seen in a Chelsea gallery: sculpture by artist Teun Hocks

(Click on photo to see it larger)

I love peering into the cloistral swirl of a snow globe in much the way I love burying myself in a book. And, the longer the book, the better.

I’ve just finished reading, back-to-back, two semi-tomes (at 500+ pages each). One, non-fiction; the other fiction:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is the true story of Louie Zamperini, a nervy, contentious prankster as a kid-turned record-setting Olympic runner-turned fearless bombardier, whose plane is shot down over the Pacific in WWII.

For 47 harrowing days and nights, Louie and two fellow crew members drift on a small raft in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean. Withstanding machine gunfire from a Japanese fighter jet, a fierce typhoon, intense thirst and starvation that reduce them to near-skeletons, on day 47, they finally spot land. But little do they know they are paddling toward the most brutal prisoner of war camp in Japan.

Hillenbrand, a marvelous writer and scrupulous researcher, has written another thrilling page-turner (if you’ve read the unforgettable Seabiscuit, you’ll know what I mean). I admit, reading about the brutality inside that prison camp was difficult at times but those terrible scenes were outweighed by the stunning resilience of Zamperini — who, by the way, is still alive and kicking at 93 years old — and his honor and allegiance to his comrades.

Not long ago, I read the magnificent Mattahorn by Karl Marlantes, a novel about the Vietnam War. It’s not that I’m on a war kick, per se; but I am interested in reading a really fantastic book about the Civil War (recommendations, anyone?). I’d also like to read War and Peace (Anna Karenina more than sold me on the brilliance of Tolstoy).

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I’m a Franzen fan and I really enjoyed this book. I was amazed, after reading some of the reviews on Amazon, at how many readers hated this book. I had to wonder if they’d read it all the way through.

Yes, there were a few slightly draggy parts, as when Franzen spent a little too many paragraphs describing one of the main characters grassroots movement to save the Cerulean Warbler, or some such bird (not sure if it’s even a real bird) vs. promoting MTR – Mountain Top Removal in West Virginia to mine coal (hence, creating an inner conflict in this character).

But — those sections were punctuated with enough wit and irony, human insight, and funny description to keep me reading. For instance, I loved it when this particular character referred to cats as the “sociopaths of the animal world” because of their wanton penchant for killing birds.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy reading Franzen. Familiarity with his essays enhanced my reading experience because I could “sense” parts of Franzen in the characters and felt I’d learned a real lesson on shaping characters in fiction.

Why not put a little piece of yourself in each different character you create? In other words, it’s possible to create five characters from five different aspects of yourself. I loved discovering that.

At any rate, this novel is about “freedom” on many levels. Freedom to live your life with integrity, freedom of self-expression, freedom to not do what you do not want to do, how to find freedom, the meaning of freedom with respect to the war in Iraq…

If you like Franzen’s writing, then please read this book. If you don’t know Franzen, try reading his essay collection: How To Be Alone. Even if you read just one essay, try Books in Bed. It’s so good!

The next book I will read was an actual purchase (as opposed my usual habit of taking it from the library): Modigliani: A Life by Meryle Secrest.

I thumbed through it at Rizzoli’s bookstore on 57th St. and bought it on the spot. After the purchase, I discovered on Amazon the book has been highly praised by critics as being (finally) a true account of his incredible life and what led to his premature death at 35.

Amedeo Modigliani was one of my favorite painters during high school. I can’t wait to read it. Besides, I’ve been doing a lot of painting, myself (when I’m not reading or working at my soul-sucking day job). Art is what saves me.

Which seems a good time to mention, my website has been redesigned, with many thanks to J.C.

My newest paintings have been added and I hope to be adding more work soon.

Hitting the Books Meme

August 26, 2009


I thought I’d take a break from bubble-wrapping my paintings and try my hand at a meme. I’ve seen these posts on other blogs and always wondered where this particular device got its name.

My first instinct was to dip back into my two years of high school French. I thought of même, which rhymes with “hem” and means “same.” But, that made no sense.

Me being me, I googled around and found my answer at

“In science, a Meme (in this instance, it rhymes with “theme”) is a self-propagating unit of thought that is spread from one host to another. Richard Dawkins invented the term as a kind of idea-gene. Like genes, as Memes spread they mutate or die. Only the fittest Memes survive.”

King of cool, n’est pas?

Anyway, they’re fun — at least, I think they are. I’ve always been a sucker for memes whenever friends would send them to me by email.

Because I’ve been missing my books — all but a few stragglers are packed away in boxes, waiting to travel to New York — I’ve chosen them as the subject of the meme.

  1. Name the books you are reading now:   Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (Paul Theroux). He is one of my favorite authors. He’s smart, droll and curmudgeonly. Also, an unfailingly honest, witty, detail guy — the perfect travel companion — and one who frequently makes me chuckle or gasp. Next to it  on the nightstand is Man and His Symbols (Carl Jung, etal.) — still a fascinating book.
  2. Name the book(s) everyone else seemed to like, but you:   Okay, I’ll probably get some flak for this — but, in the interest of being honest, my selections are : The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen) — I adore his non-fiction and his writing style, but I read this book all the way through and then forgot about it, almost immediately. The same was true with White Teeth (Zadie Smith). Again, the author is a beautiful wordsmith with a seemingly preternatural insight into her characters — but, oddly, I didn’t grow to care about those characters. When I finished the book, they were gone for good. Nothing lingered…; The Great Gatsby (I was not nearly as enchanted as most people — Fitzgerald writes lovely prose, it’s true. But I read the novel at three different times during my life, just to be sure, and it still felt superficial).
  3. Name the book(s) that changed your life:   The Diary of Anne Frank. I read it when I was about the same age as the author. It shaped my journey into adulthood by altering the way I was perceiving the world. Frank helped me to see beauty in the parts of life I’d been taught to view as ugly.
  4. Name your favorite adaptation(s) of a book to a film:  1) Women in Love (a favorite book of mine and an exciting, expressionistic Ken Russell adaptation. His clever incorporation of Lawrence’s poem “Figs” into the film was one of the highlights: “The proper way to eat a fig, in society / Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump / And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower…”; 2) To Kill a Mockingbird — love both the book and the film to death;  3)  The French Lieutenant’s Woman — with a script by Harold Pinter adapted from John Fowles, how could you go wrong?
  5. Name a book that taught you something:  Independence Day (Richard Ford): Frank Bascombe, the protagonist, is a real estate agent. A female colleague of his is raped and murdered while presiding, all by herself, over an “open house.” Lesson: if you go into real estate and you are female, don’t do what she did.
  6. Name the one book you’d want on a desert island: The I Ching (Wilhelm translation). An endless source of contemplation and hidden treasure.
  7. Name a book that you were sorry to have read:  Loving Frank (Nancy Horan) — very disappointed with the author’s thin, uneven character development and, what appeared to be, cursory research. I enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s book about Frank Lloyd Wright, The Women, so much more for its vigorous writing, exhaustive research, and deft structure —  in spite of one noticeable flaw — his invention of an annoying Japanese narrator who insisted on referring to Frank Lloyd Wright, repeatedly throughout, as Write-o-san. Drove me crazy. Oh, and those unnecessary, self-indulgent footnotes…nevetheless, I admire the book a great deal and do recommend it.
  8. Name a book that was your guilty pleasure:  My guilty pleasure is a genre called “true crime.” I love reading about forensic investigation, detective work, unearthing the motive, the trial — all that fascinating stuff makes for an obsessive read.
  9. Name a book you’ve tried to read more than once, but abandoned: Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky) —  I’ve never gotten past the first few chapters, and not for lack of trying. I just could not get into it.
  10. Name a book you’ve read more than once: The Snow Leopard (Peter Matthiessen); Nausea (J.P. Sartre); As I Lay Dying (W. Faulkner). While I’m on the subject, I would like to give Madame Bovary another chance — I think, during the first reading, I’d allowed the way she’d dealt with her plight to make me judge her as weak (well, I was a teenager at the time, with overbearing, prudish parents) — which probably got in the way of Flaubert’s writing.

Anyway, I’m always in the market for book referrals from passionate readers…hint hint…