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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , gravity's rainbow, herman melville, , , , , , reading resolutions, , , the gulag archipelago, the name of the rose, , , , , ,   

    10 Books You Should Finally Read in 2015 

    Umberto Eco's The Name of the RoseLife’s not getting any easier—and neither are these books. While there’s nothing wrong with reading a brisk spy novel or a weepy romance or a horror novel you have to put in your freezer at night in order to be able to sleep, you know you’ve been avoiding certain novels your whole life. Time to put on your grownup pants and tackle these tomes—and here’s how to do it.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce

    Relax. Ulysses is challenging, but it’s not nearly as challenging as some of Joyce’s other works (did I hear someone scream “Finnegan’s Wake!” in the distance before bursting into tears?). The trick here is to stop trying to comprehend every specific reference to Dublin in 1904 and just get into the rhythm of it. In other words, don’t study Ulyssesread it.

    The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

    The opening chapter of this novel is one of the hardest to crack in fiction, but the secret to The Sound and the Fury is in the fact that all the information you need to figure it out is right there in the story. The trick? Remember that if you take away the technical virtuosity and literary technique, what you have left is a rip-roaring soap opera about a family destroying itself.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

    The real challenge of Infinite Jest may be its gonzo science-fiction universe. With wheelchair-bound Québécois assassins, years named after consumer products, and women too beautiful to view safely in full daylight, Infinite Jest takes a while to acclimate to. The secret here is to view the book not as a heavy work of literary genius, but as a roiling comedy that uses its ridiculous setting and details to craft a series of darkly hilarious set pieces.

    Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

    Moby-Dick has the distinction of being perhaps the most well-known novel no one has read. Its reputation for 19th-century density and complex language makes it fearsome. The trick to Moby-Dick? It is hilarious. There are more dirty jokes in this book than you can shake your peg-leg at (see what we did there), and the whaling stuff? Absolutely thrilling, once you get used to the rhythm of the language.

    In Search of Lost Time (aka, Remembrance of Things Past), by Marcel Proust

    Yes, In Search of Lost Time is easily the longest thing you’ve ever declined to read. What’s remarkable about it is the depth of the personal—you do get the sense of accompanying someone on a sense-memory exploration. The key here is simple: This book is about many things, but chief among them is sex. Start looking for the dirty bits, and before you know it you’ll be in the middle of volume three.

    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Rambling, complex, and filled with lengthy philosophical detours, this novel is pretty daunting. But rather than being a dour, endless novel, The Brothers Karamazov is a raucous tale of drunkenness, murder, and lust. The trick here is to stop trying to catch every detail and just enjoy the main stories: Mitya’s and Lyosha’s. If you understand what happens to them, everything else falls into place.

    Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

    It’s time. You’ve been avoiding Gravity’s Rainbow since you were a kid. You’ve been avoiding the endless symbolism, the encyclopedic puns, and the faint sense that Pynchon is pulling our legs. But this is a book you can’t dismiss unless you’ve read it, and it’s time. The trick—as with all of Pynchon’s work—is to stop thinking of the book as an awesome piece of serious literature and just enjoy it as a silly farce. This is, after all, a book that includes a bit about a man whose erections may predict rocket attacks on wartime London.

    The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    The language of this book even in translation isn’t complex, and the story it tells isn’t symbolic. The difficulty lies in the subject matter; it’s difficult to imagine that anyone could experience—and survive—what Solzhenitsyn and his fellow prisoners did. The trick here? Every time you finish a page, wiggle your toes inside your slippers and sip something nice and simply be happy it’s a book.

    The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

    When approaching this book nervously, from an angle, you’ll hear some fairly alarming terms, like semiotics or deliberate mistranslation. Fear not! The trick with this admittedly dense and fascinating novel is simple: It’s a murder mystery. Let everything else hit you subliminally, and just concentrate on enjoying the story at its most primal level.

    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

    Cloud Atlas has the difficult novel trifecta: A shattered timeline, an invented patois, and a story involving several sets of characters in completely different time periods. The trick with Cloud Atlas is that it’s like reading seven novels all at once. There is a theme, and a point, but ultimately what this means is that if you’re confused or bored or mildly alarmed by what you’re reading, just muddle through—a new story will begin shortly.

  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 5:00 pm on 2014/09/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , herman melville, , office politics, , ,   

    5 Fictional Workplaces More Dysfunctional Than Yours 

    The CircleA select (lucky) few of us aside, most employees tend to think that the offices we work in are uniquely crazy hotbeds of chaos, dysfunction, and coworkers who will leave a coffee pot with less than 1 millimeter of coffee in it for the next person. But take heart, fellow drones! At least your workplace isn’t quite as aggravating as the following fictional places of employment:

    Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl)
    Yes, we’d all like a workplace with a chocolate waterfall in it (I’ve heard they have one at Google; just saying)—but at what cost? If you worked for Willy Wonka, sure you’d be able to go around licking the wallpaper, and you’d probably get an Everlasting Gobstopper with your welcome packet from HR, but remember—all of your coworkers would be from Loompaland, which would leave you feeling like an outsider, especially if you weren’t into impromptu yet perfectly executed song and dance numbers. Plus, no dental plan in the world is going to be comprehensive enough for this job, trust me.

    The Circle (The Circle, by Dave Eggers)
    With its stunning, state-of-the-art playground of an office—or rather, “campus”—and nonstop perks and parties, the Circle, a fictional (yet *wink wink* strangely familiar) blockbuster internet company in CA, is the kind of enviable workplace most plebes can only dream of joining. But applicant beware—soon after you’re hired, you’ll watch in horror as the Circle gradually but inexorably infiltrates every aspect of your personal and professional life until you feel like a bug under a microscope. Part thriller, part creepy, prescient prediction of the dangers of decreased privacy through ever more encroaching social media platforms, The Circle is nearly impossible to put down—but trust me, you wouldn’t want to work there (even for the parties).

    Bartleby’s Law Office (Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville)
    You know that frustrating coworker who doesn’t ever seem to do anything? Well that guy’s got nothing on Bartleby, the peculiar new hire at a Manhattan law office in Melville’s memorable story. While at first Bartleby does exemplary work, before long his efforts begin to peter out, and by the end of the story he’s even stopped going home at the end of the day and is actually living at the office. He still won’t work, though, and responds to requests of any kind with his now-infamous phrase, “I would prefer not to.” On the plus side, though, at least he won’t eat your clearly marked yogurt out of the break room fridge, or bug you incessantly to join his fantasy football league. Maybe Bartleby wouldn’t make such a bad coworker after all.

    The Office of Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens)
    Your manager may be frustrating, miserly, and diametrically opposed to the concept of Casual Fridays, but would it take being visited by the ghost of a former business associate as well as the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future for him to be shown the error of his ways? If you answered “yes,” it might be a good time to buy a new interview suit and update your LinkedIn profile, because this kind of dramatic, spirit-induced transformation is unlikely to happen to a boss in real life.

    The Ministry of Magic (The Harry Potter Series, by J. K. Rowling)
    Sure, it seems like it would be fun to work at the Ministry of Magic, but remember, a job is still a job—working at the Ministry isn’t all hanging with hippogriffs and bopping around on the Floo Network. You’re bound to find yourself wading through reams of paperwork—whether you’re working in the Department of Magical Transportation or the Improper Use of Magic Office—since the Ministry is a spider’s nest of confusing (and occasionally malicious) bureaucracy. Plus, how many organizations have to worry about being hijacked by Death Eaters? Just this one and the DMV, I’m pretty sure.

    Which fictional workplaces would you prefer not to be employed by?

  • Maurie Backman 7:30 pm on 2014/08/18 Permalink
    Tags: 20000 leagues under the sea, , , , , herman melville, , , , literary vacations, , , ,   

    6 Books That Should Have Inspired Their Own Theme Parks 

    Gullivers TravelsFirst there was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which continues to draw countless visitors to Universal Orlando, and this week, we learned that Disney is building a Star Wars theme park for fans who have been longing to immerse themselves in George Lucas’s fictional universe. Given the popularity of theme parks nowadays, we thought we’d suggest some of our own based on our favorite books. Though we don’t expect to see these built anytime soon, we know we’d sure pay good money for a chance to escape to any one of them.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s World of Candy Delights
    (Based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl)
    Imagine a theme park where you can swim in a chocolate river, munch on samples from a gumdrop tree, and pick edible flowers to nibble. All you need to get in is a golden ticket—which you wouldn’t have to win, but rather just purchase at the gate—to explore this magical world of sugary goodness.

    Moby Dick’s Water World
    (Based on Moby Dick, by Herman Melville)
    At this exciting, interactive waterpark, you’ll get a chance to swim with and chase after (mechanical) whales in the expansive open ocean pool. Experience the thrills of rides such as Captain Ahab’s Wave Chaser and the winding, twisting Harpoon Slide. And don’t worry about getting hungry or thirsty; there’s a good chance you’ll find a Starbucks on the premises.

    The Magical World of Oz
    (Based on The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum)
    Gather up some friends and get ready to follow the yellow brick road through its many twists and turns. Wear your walking shoes, because you’ll need to explore this theme park completely on foot. Along the way, you may face a run-in with a disgruntled witch, but if you manage to find the wizard, you’ll be entered into a daily drawing where one lucky winner scores an all-expenses-paid trip to Kansas. Best of all, this park is dog-friendly, so you can bring your favorite canine friend along for the journey.

    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Adventure
    (Based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne)
    At this underwater theme park, you’ll get to visit a series of submarines and explore their inner workings while observing a host of aquatic wildlife with the occasional sea monster thrown in. Scuba-certified visitors can also take advantage of the park’s deep sea dive feature, where they can witness wonders such as breathtaking corals and exotic marine creatures.

    The Time Machine Time Travel Experience
    (Based on The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells)
    This theme park is a little unique in that there’s only one ride to go on, and you never really know where it’ll take you. Perhaps you’ll be sent back to Victorian times, or be propelled millions of years into the future to a world that’s hardly recognizable. No matter where the time machine takes you, rest assured—you’ll be able to purchase a souvenir print of your unique journey as you exit through the gift shop.

    Gulliver’s World of Wonders
    (Based on Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift)
    At this theme park, you can travel to a series of different worlds and expand your horizons like never before. Experience the thrills of towering over the locals, or walking among giants, or seeing live talking horses in action. One low-cost fee buys you a ticket to the adventure of a lifetime.

    Which of your favorite books do you think could inspire its own dedicated theme park? 

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