March Reads

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

During a recent trip to the bookstore (it’s kind of like an organic Amazon.com that also sells mochas), I found myself perusing the bargain table. One of the books that I saw there was Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.  I remembered how much I enjoyed this book and wondered if Martel had written any other novels.  To my elation, I discovered that he had.  The back of the book informed me that Beatrice and Virgil is “the story of a donkey and a howler monkey…and the epic journey they take together. My jaw almost dropped.  Since my wife and I call each other monkey and donkey (it’s not as dirty as it sounds), I felt it was a sign that I absolutely had to read this book.  How could I go wrong with a charming, heart-warming tale about the epic journey taken by donkey and a howler monkey?  Somehow, I never made it one inch further down the back of the book to read the review section: “One of the most moving books about the holocaust to date…”  Yep, it’s a holocaust book. Even when I’m not trying to, I end up reading books about the holocaust (funny story: the book I just started, The Book Thief, unbeknownst to me, is also a holocaust book).  Beatrice and Virgil starts off being just kind of quirky, with the feel of a Twilight Zone episode.  Throughout the majority of the book, you don’t really know where it’s going to go.  Then, in the last 50 pages or so, it takes a 180 degree turn to the dark side.  It is actually a very good read, and I do recommend checking it out.  However, go into it knowing that it will not be the light-hearted escape you need after finishing The Keep. It’s pretty graphic and depressing.   I do still prefer Life of Pi, and would recommend that be one’s first introduction into the beautifully strange mind of Yann Martel.

 

The Keep By Jennifer Egan

The Keep is my second dive into the bizarre waters that is Jennifer Egan, having read A Visit from the Goon Squad last month.  It is a very strange story, which is actually a story within a story.  Overall, I think The Keep has a more accessible plotline to it than does Goon Squad, but it is just as weird.  She has a wonderful voice in her writing and her techniques are interesting and innovative.  If you enjoy strange tales with plenty of twists, Egan is a great author for you to check out.

 

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Given the fact that I studied literature in college, I’m dumbfounded that I had not read this book until now.  To be honest, I started this book in the fall of last year, but had not finished it before it was due back to the library.  As I was enjoying it so much when I had to return it, I recently decided I should just buy my own copy and finish reading it.  I drove down to my local Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy.  As is usually the case, they did not have the book I was looking for (even though it’s an F’ing classic), though their selection of CDs, DVDs, coffee drinks and board games was ample.  So, alas, I was again forced to order it from Amazon.  This book is genius, and it instantly became my second favorite book I’ve read.  In Catch 22, Heller tells the tale of Yossarian’s quest  ” to live forever, or die in the attempt” during the Second World War.  Heller is hilarious in the way that he plays with words, logic and concepts.  His satire points a comical finger at the beurocracy of the military, while also mocking the basic fabric of modern society.  I can’t believe it took me this long to discover this book and it saddens me that I didn’t read it earlier.  When asked why he had never written another book as good as Catch 22, Heller replied:   “Who has?”  With the exception of the great Faulkner, I have to agree.

 

Everyman by Philip Roth

I am a pretty big Philip Roth fan, and I hate to slander him during the month in which he turned 79 years old, but this one was a miss for me.  He begins the novel at the funeral of the unnamed protagonist, and then chronicles the various life-mistakes and medical procedures that littered his path toward the grave.  It’s definitely a story that is heavy with the theme of the pains of aging.  Maybe I’m not old enough yet to truly relate to it.  It definitely wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t my favorite Roth novel.

 

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Yes, it was a bit of a Roth-filled March (give me a break, it’s his birthday month!).  Portnoy’s Complaint is one, continuous monologue for Alexander Portnoy, as he describes to his psychologist his struggles to rectify how his perverse sexuality clashes with his guilt-laden Jewish upbringing. The book is very funny, and it’s quite amazing to see an entire novel written as one, long, one-sided conversation.  I would definitely recommend reading this book; however, I do have one stern warning.  If you have a problem with the C-word (and I don’t mean cancer), I’d skip this one; he manages to use it on a VERY regular basis.

NOTE:

I have kind of always had a 100% geeky goal of reading all of Modern Libraries 100 Greatest Novels.  With the completion of Catch 22 and Portnoy’s Complaint, I have now finished seventeen of them.  Does anyone else have this nerdy ambition?  If so, how many have you read?

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/


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