Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Update on My Literary Pursuits

I'm now onto my third book since I finished "Anna Karenina", so it'd probably be a good idea to keep everyone up to date on what I've been reading. At the very least, it would be good for me to keep complete records for the sake of posterity.

The first book I read was "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer. It was the first non-fiction book I have read it a while. "Into the Wild" chronicles the story of 22 year-old Chris McCandless, a middle class guy who decided to escape from everything he knew and life live on the road. His travels took his to Alaska, where he stayed out in the wilderness living off the land for almost four months before his untimely death by starvation. My parents bought this book as a Christmas present, partly to discourage me from trying to do the same thing myself!

"Into the Wild" is as much an psychological investigation of the forces that draw people to the wilderness as it is a narrative of the adventures of McCandless. Wilderness is depicted as a paradoxical place that offers peace and serenity, but also the primal attraction of the untamed exterior, where each day is a fight for survival. The book includes some fantastic quotes from David Thoreau and Jack London that will serve me well as a means of inspiration when I have writer's block.

The second book I read was the 2003 novel entitled "The Kite Runner" by Afghan author Khaled Housseini - some of you may have watched the recent adaptation at the cinemas. It was the first recently written novel I have read in a while and was the first novel written by someone who was originally from the Middle East region. I'm not entirely sure whether this made for a different writing style, but I loved the way that the book was written as well as the way that the characters were fleshed out. The narrator and protagonist of the story was incredibly complex, having to deal with issues of self doubt, a desire to win his father's affection, guilt and remorse. However the character of Hassan is the most attractive individual, a Christ-like individual whose servant attitude and loyalty seems to come as second nature. He also has an incredible capacity for empathy, refusing to retaliate against those who mistreat him because he believes that their bad behaviour is caused by their inner hurt and pain.

Perhaps Hosseini's greatest achievement in this novel is the way that none of the book seems extraneous - all the chapters seem vitally necessary and gel together in an economic fashion. The story also made me more aware of the history of Afghanistan and the forces that have served to define this oppressed but proud nation. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who was interested in getting an insight into the Afghani psyche. It shouldn't surprise me, but when things are stripped down to their basic elements, Westerners and Afghanis both seek the same fundamental things - a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and a sense of self-empowerment.

The book that I started today is the 1857 novel "Madame Bovary" by the French writer Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary was meant to be quite provocative when it was written and Flaubert even had to endure an obscenity trial for his efforts, which he eventually won. It has struck me recently that so many of the books that are now regarded as great classics today were once condemned for some allegedly unsavoury element. Perhaps this says that great art and literature must constantly be pushing boundaries to attain a sense of relevance.


Anonymous said...

I have read and studied "Madame Bovary" in depth (and i think i am the one who reccomended it to you). That being said...do you think that lust, adultary, suicide, deception, child abuse, and spousal abuse are not unsavoury acts? I hope for your sake and mine that you think they are. That being said, and as the Bible says, the world is becoming more evil with time (now that is a generalisation so forgive me). Today's society views so much of what is taken as unacceptable in the Bible to be fine and part of everyday life. Because of this sad fact, great literary works like Madame Bovary have become less shocking and less significant morally. Why do you think all of the characters suffer so terribly? Think about it for a few days. I would love to have a proper discussion with you about it. There is so much irony in that novel, probably my favorite novel of all time, so i would despair if you missed it. Anyways, that is enough of me rambling as i'm half asleep after a very trying and stressful day.

(Ebe - sorry, i can't get into my account)

David Castor said...

Hey Liz,

I'm only half way through the book at the moment, so make sure you keep your comments general! If you get a chance, read Oscar Wilde's introduction to "The Picture of Dorian Gray", which I've included somewhere on my blog. This was an addition written after the book was criticised as being immoral. I find his argument that simply because a book depicts immoral acts doesn't making it immoral to be quite compelling. Good thing too, since the Bible contains possibly more heinous acts (Read the book of Judges lately?) than any other piece of literature in existence!