Tuesday, October 6, 2015

October Update

A List: Thomas Hardy--Far From the Madding Crowd........136/353
B List: Burton--Anatomy of Melancholy.............................758/1,132
C List: Gillian Flynn--Gone Girl...........................................418/419

This is the last of the three Hardy books on the A-List, and the only one that I had heard of previously. I suspect it is going to end up as the best of the three. The characters seem to more vitally represent the ideas they are meant to represent, and the depiction of the rural life also seems more intense and detailed, in the character of his most celebrated books. I say seemed because I know I am influenced by prevailing opinion and find it difficult to trust my own judgment in these matters anymore, though I hope I have read enough that if something strikes me as better than it is supposed to be that I can recognize the sense in myself--indeed I believe I did something of this sort with Dreiser, which played against the expectations I had going into it. These Hardy books are generally playing to form in that regard.

One of Hardy's great themes in this and other of his books is the way that the rhythms of rural life remain largely the same as they had been for centuries, though in London and other cities thirty years past is ancient history. Masterful shepherds and others skilled in the timeless knowledge of the village, malting, cider-making, and so on, are indispensable men, and the books (Far From the Madding Crowd was published in 1874) are written as if they always will be, though Hardy himself would live well past the time when this was true.

The sheep in this book are constantly at threat of dying from disease or bloating or stampeding off cliffs or otherwise being killed by one means or another, and it is no minor skill in itself to keep them alive long enough to even be able to exploit or slaughter them. I  always like to be cognizant of the reasons why our forefathers were so much less romantic about animals than we seem to be.

The Anatomy has grown by one page since last month. That is because my copy of the book is divided into 3 volumes, each of which begins on page 1, and I made an error in adding them the last time. While there are parts of it that I do like, on the whole I have to admit it really is a slog, and it could be considerably shortened. I pride myself on being able to still concentrate on blocks of dense 17th century prose with sentences that go on for half a page when I need to, but this book I find does test me. When Burton is making a list of the twenty-seven different varieties of lust, with accompanying examples and quotations from ancient and medieval authors, most of which are in Latin, there are times where I am overcome by the sense that, all right, the point has been made. But people--granted, mostly unmarried or at least childless men well into middle age--love this book. This is my second time reading it, and it is obvious that I am never going to be able to appreciate it at any very high or satisfying level.

I am almost done Gone Girl, obviously. Didn't care for the ending. Certainly didn't care for the main character, who was awful. There was a lot of emphasis on how brilliant she was, and how superior mentally to her husband and basically all of the men of her generation, but she certainly did not put this genius to any productive or admirable means. It was not clear to me how much the author sympathized with her plight, and the neurotic, endlessly dissatisfied type of intelligent woman whose ranks in our society seem to be ever growing, at least in the most socially competitive areas of it. People mistake male revulsion against this type of character as a revulsion against, or fear of feminine intelligence. I think it is more a revulsion against neuroticism, which in many instances seems to be a product of....

The update posts are subject to a strict time limit and I must stop now. Hence the (even more than usually) rough nature of the thoughts.

I did manage to read out on the porch today (66 degrees!). However it is getting cooler by the day, and I doubt I will make it to the end of the month, though that remains my goal.       

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