Reading Kurt Vonnegut – May 2019

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to become more familiar with works by different authors by featuring a different author every month (see A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge). May was spent reading as many works by Kurt Vonnegut. My first experience with Vonnegut was reading Mother Night a few years back after my husband recommended it. I absolutely loved it! A little while later, I read Cat’s Cradle for an IRL book club, which I didn’t enjoy as much as Mother Night. 

9780385333849_p0_v1_s550x406Title: Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: March 31, 1969
Pages: 205 pages
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Husband’s book collection
Date finished reading: May 22, 2019

Goodreads Description: Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

4980Title: Breakfast of Champions
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: 1973
Pages: 303
Format Read: Audiobook/Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app & husband’s book collection
Date finished reading: May 28, 2019

Goodreads Description: In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s  most beloved characters, the aging writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦

Galapagos by  Kurt VonnegutTitle: Galapagos
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: 1985
Pages: 195
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library book sale in Maryland
Date finished reading: June 5, 2019

Goodreads Description: Galápagos takes the reader back one million years, to A.D. 1986. A simple vacation cruise suddenly becomes an evolutionary journey. Thanks to an apocalypse, a small group of survivors stranded on the Galápagos Islands are about to become the progenitors of a brave, new, and totally different human race. In this inimitable novel, America’s master satirist looks at our world and shows us all that is sadly, madly awry–and all that is worth saving.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My Review: When my husband convinced me 10 years ago to finally read Kurt Vonnegut. I did not know at all what to expect. Vonnegut was like nothing I had ever read before. I think you could make the argument that if you mixed Joseph Heller and Margaret Atwood together, you may get something that comes at least a little close to what reading a Vonnegut book is like. There is satire and there is darkness. If those elements were not enough, Vonnegut also throws in some science fiction. He created lines that would forever be used as catch phrases in regular conversation. An example of this is that my husband always says the phrase: “so it goes”. I have started to use that phrase as well and realized where that phrase came from when I picked up Slaughterhouse-Five a few weeks ago. Vonnegut covers dark topics (like war) with a bit of humor that makes the story engaging and entertaining. I also enjoy how Vonnegut recycles characters but without forcing the reader to read his stories in a particular order. For instance, Kilgore Trout is fleetingly mentioned in many of Vonnegut’s books, but in Breakfast of Champions, the reader finally gets to learn more about Kilgore Trout.

Vonnegut stories are almost in a genre by themselves. While I really enjoyed Mother Night (my first Vonnegut read many years ago) and Galapagos (my most recent Vonnegut read), I didn’t quite love his more popular books like Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. While they are still amazing, I just never can quite get into the science fiction parts that are a little out there. I fully admit that this issue is probably because I don’t tend to enjoy science fiction.

My Overall Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

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Book Club Review: The Moon and Sixpence

9781604595659Title: The Moon and Sixpence
Author: William Somerset Maugham
Genre: Classic Literature, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Aegypan
Publication Date: 1919
Pages: 192
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Amazon kindle
Date finished reading: April 30, 2019

Goodreads Description: Based on the life of Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence is W. Somerset Maugham’s ode to the powerful forces behind creative genius.

Charles Strickland is a staid banker, a man of wealth and privilege. He is also a man possessed of an unquenchable desire to create art. As Strickland pursues his artistic vision, he leaves London for Paris and Tahiti, and in his quest makes sacrifices that leaves the lives of those closest to him in tatters. Through Maugham’s sympathetic eye Strickland’s tortured and cruel soul becomes a symbol of the blessing and the curse of transcendent artistic genius, and the cost in humans lives it sometimes demands.

My Review: This book was picked for my IRL Great Books book club. Even though the Goodreads description says that this book is based on the life of Paul Gauguin, it is loosely based on his life – more like Paul Gauguin inspired the idea of The Moon and Sixpence.

This meetup was another good example of why I feel book clubs are valuable. I did not enjoy this book at all, but the book club still had an amazing discussion regarding it. The discussion often centered around the main themes we believed the book possessed:

  • What is art & what makes a work successful? What makes art art? It is discussed in the book that sometimes it just takes one critic to praise the work for it to be successful.
  • What drives an artist?
  • A great artist does not necessarily mean that he/she is a great person. There was a lot of discussion about beauty vs. goodness, as many of us did not find Strickland (the main character) or even the narrator redeemable characters.

I could not really see passed the fact that I disliked the main character, Strickland. At one point Strickland is talking to the narrator and says this about his wife: “My dear fellow, I only hope you’ll be able to make her see it. But women are very unintelligent.” Other times, there would be lines that were less insulting that made me laugh a bit, so I think there are many lines and interactions throughout the book that are supposed to be humorous.

The most interesting conversation during book club was how much the author may have put of himself in this story. In The Moon and Sixpence, the main character, Strickland, leaves his family, his source of income and his position in English society to move to Paris to pursue art. He didn’t care about anyone but himself and his art. We wondered if the narrator, who is fascinated by Strickland, was experiencing some self-hate and jealous of Strickland. That he may have been struggling with societal restraints just as the author was.

After this book club meeting, I do believe there is more depth to this book than I originally gave it credit for. However, I just could not see passed the horrible characters. I did not feel like there were any characters in the story to really like. I will admit that I am a bit more fascinated by William Somerset Maugham’s life than his literary works.

My Rating: ♦ ♦

Book Club Review: The Odyssey

wilson-odysseyTitle: The Odyssey
Author: Homer (tranlsated by Emily Wilson)
Genre: Classics, Greek Mythology
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Pages: 582
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Christmas gift
Date finished reading: March 7, 2019

Goodreads Description: The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty, and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

In this fresh, authoritative version–the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman–this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

Wilson’s Odyssey captures the beauty and enchantment of this ancient poem as well as the suspense and drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, from the cunning goddess Athena, whose interventions guide and protect the hero, to the awkward teenage son, Telemachus, who struggles to achieve adulthood and find his father; from the cautious, clever, and miserable Penelope, who somehow keeps clamoring suitors at bay during her husband’s long absence, to the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this translation as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

My Review: The Odyssey was one of the first additions to my Goodreads TBR list when I first joined Goodreads in 2010. I’ve been hesitant to dive into this one, because I am not familiar with Greek mythology at all. I read The Theban Plays in high school, many moons ago, and that has been the only Greek literature I have read. Luckily, my Great Books book club chose The Odyssey for their March read, so I was finally pushed to read it. Plus, my book club specifically wanted to focus on the newest translation by Emily Wilson, which I was excited about.

The first topic we covered in the book club discussion was the topic of translation. It was interesting to look at how just changing a word or two could change the image of a character. If you look at the Sirens, you will see that some of the older translations make Sirens to be something like seductive women and very beautiful, when really Sirens are not at all beautiful. They seduce with their voices not with their looks. Also, Sirens are not mermaids but winged creatures. (Some more modern art portrays them as mermaids for some reason).

We discussed what we learned about hospitality in ancient Greece. If a stranger knocks on your door, they are welcomed in – no questions asked. Once you have supplied the stranger with food and wine, then you can ask the necessary questions of who the stranger is and where he came from. Most often you supply the stranger with gifts for his next journey as well.

Here are some of my personal thoughts:

  • The gods seem to simply be an excuse for humans to not take responsibility for any actions. When something good has happened, the gods have blessed us. If something bad happens, it is the gods’ fault.
  • Very little of this story focuses on Odysseus’ time after fighting in Troy. Only a couple books are dedicated to Odysseus’ narration of his time encountering monsters (cyclops, sirens, etc) and gods (like being held by Circe). Way too much of the story is dedicated to the horrible suitors, but maybe that was just a method of getting the audience to dislike the suitors enough to justify Odysseus’ revenge.
  • Throughout The Odyssey, you hear about Odysseus’ family’s grief over his absence. While Odysseus also has grief over missing his home, I couldn’t help but feel that his grief does not stem from missing his wife, child and parents, but that he simply missed his wealth, status and position in his kingdom. This feeling may have been emphasized through the ending. The story does not conclude with Odysseus’ reuniting with his wife, Penelope, but instead ends with him being reinstated as this powerful warrior in the kingdom, who is facing another potential war.
  • I get pretty annoyed with repetition in stories. Phrases like “Telemachus, son of Odysseus” and “rosy-fingered Dawn” really started to get to me by the end. However, someone did remind me that this started as an oral story and repetition is an important characterization utilized in oral narration.

This was a great introduction to Greek literature, and I was happy to be part of such a lively conversation about it. I was intrigued enough that I am looking forward to reading others, like TheIliad, Beowulf, or other more modern stories/retellings. For those who want to listen to this translation of The Odyssey in audiobook, Claire Danes narrates it! Here is an additional article related to this translation as well: Emily Wilson’s translation of the ‘Odyssey’ replaces Lattimore’s on Literature Humanities syllabus.

Recommendations from my book club for those who enjoy The Odyssey:

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Love for Classic Fiction

booksIn 2007, I was working in Washington, DC when I heard some of my coworkers discussing an article that had recently been published. The article was a list of their version of the best 100 books of all time. The thesis of this article was that many individuals had not read these novels. As an avid reader, I thought for sure that I for one could disprove their thesis. Then I read the list and realized how very wrong I was. I was one of those individuals who hadn’t even read 10 of the novels on that list. Many people disagreed about what novels made it on that list, but I hadn’t even read the ones that they wanted to add to the list. I felt ashamed. How could I love reading so much and not have read at least half of these listed novels??!! That was when I viewed this article as a challenge. I was going to put down whatever new mystery had just come out and was going to start reading novels and short stories from all time periods. This decision opened a whole new world for me. This is when reading stopped being a task I enjoyed whenever I had free time and began to be part of who I am.

I mostly read classic fiction now. The word “classic” seems to be a word of contention amongst everyone I know. It is commonly agreed that “classics” are novels that have withstood the test of time. That to me is still a bit vague, so I personally classify “time” as 25 years. If a novel is still well known and read a quarter of a century after publication, I say that deserves the term “classic.”

Since 2007, reading has become a never-ending source of happiness, relaxation, and fulfillment for me like it never was before. What are your favorite novels (doesn’t have to be classic fiction)?