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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , gravity's rainbow, , , , , , , reading resolutions, , the brothers karamazov, 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.

  • Kate Willsky 3:30 pm on 2014/10/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , matchmaking, , , the brothers karamazov, , , ,   

    Perfect Celebrity Love Matches for Our Favorite Fictional Characters 

    Gustave Flaubert's Madame BovaryIn third grade, I was in love with JTT (who wasn’t?) but I also dreamed of running away with the Artful Dodger. For readers, there’s little distinction between speculating on the love lives of famous actors and of famous literary characters. But since characters’ romances are sealed within the pages of their books, they aren’t subject to Bey and Jay level scrutiny. But nothing can prevent us from wondering who, for example, Walter Berglund would pair off with at the Golden Globes after party, or who Katniss Everdeen might take to the Teen Choice Awards. Here are 12 iconic literary characters and who we think they’d date on the celebrity scene:

    Emma Bovary (Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert)
    Poor Emma Bovary serves as a tragic example of why fairy tale romances are just that—fairy tales. She needs a man who can indulge her Prince Charming fantasy but also help her focus on the more meaningful and substantive things in life. Only Brad Pitt, with his classic good looks and world-saving ways, can reign in this fickle beauty.

    Dmitri Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
    This passionate and impulsive antihero is tricky to match. He’s guilt-riddled, a philanderer, and maybe a murderer, but he’s looking for a simple, goodhearted gal who will stand by him if he gets locked up forever. Oh, and she also needs to have major sex appeal (Grushenka sets a pretty high bar). Only one wholesome-at-heart sex kitten with humble beginnings fits the bill: Katy Perry. If she can handle Russell Brand, Dmitri’s brooding and baggage will be a breeze.

    Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger)
    Introspective, jaded Holden needs a partner who has shaken off the yoke of angsty adolescence, but still has substance beneath the smiles. Enter Maisie Williams, whose curiosity and intelligence make her a good foil to his dark outlook. She’s also a world traveler, and knows enough about winter to tell Holden what the heck happens to the ducks when it comes.

    Jo March (Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott)
    Tomboyish and quick to anger, Jo needs someone playful enough to indulge her goofy side, patient enough to tolerate her temper, and smart enough to engage her intellect. I see down-to-earth goofball—and Brown grad—John Krasinski being the real-life Jim to her Pam.

    George (Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck)
    He’s a bit of an impatient hothead, but George has unshakable loyalty and will always be true to the one he loves. He’s a blue-collar guy, seeking an unpretentious lady who can help soften his rough edges, and there’s no better match for him than Carey Mulligan. She’s proven her ability to handle a man with a temper, and her sunny outlook provides a perfect counterpoint to George’s grumbling.

    Catherine Linton (Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë)
    The passionate, status-conscious, selfish Catherine requires not only all-consuming love with a man as intense as she is, but also money and prestige, and lots of it. As the son of a business mogul and model, Julian Casablancas, the grungy, ponderous frontman of The Strokes, marries the depth of Heathcliff with the moola and stature of Edgar.

    Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey)
    As the machinelike enforcer at an Oregon psychiatric hospital, Nurse Ratched is cold, controlling, and immune to human appeals. She won’t be charmed easily, nor will she be quick to let down her guard and be vulnerable with a man. It’ll take something stronger than electroshock treatments to break her cold exterior: this smile. George, she’s all yours.

    Meursault (The Stranger, by Albert Camus)
    Only a woman who has thought through all the big questions—and believes in the answers she’s come to—can handle the misanthrope who narrates Camus’ iconic existential tale. One look at Helena Bonham Carter’s hats tells you she’s seen the absurdity of existence, and rather than take it as a sign that All Must End, she uses it as a free pass to treat life as a playful-if-meaningless adventure. I see many long walks on the beach in this couple’s future.

    Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
    While she may harbor some childhood affection for her buddy Ron, let’s be real, Hermione needs somebody a bit more sophisticated. A renaissance man, one with an insatiable desire to learn, as well as an ability to laugh at himself when she inevitably corrects him. Accio: James Franco!

    Leopold Bloom (Ulysses, by James Joyce)
    This sensitive, neurotic, intellectually curious man needs a partner who can answer his questions and indulge his interest in science and how things work. Natalie Portman, having been published twice in scientific journals and being as interested in learning as she is in being a movie star, could be more than just a rebound after Leopold ends things with unfaithful Ms. Molly.

    Which modern-day celebrity would your favorite fictional character pair off with?

  • Becky Ferreira 7:00 pm on 2014/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , antigone, , federico garcia lorca, , , , , , , , , , the brothers karamazov, , the house of bernarda alba, ,   

    The 8 Best Siblings in Fiction 

    Little Women

    Whether you love them or want to throw them out the window, there’s no denying siblings are a nonstop story parade. In multi-child families, siblings are our formative rivals, allies, bosses, confidantes, and defenders, so it’s hardly a surprise that brothers and sisters play such a central role in storytelling, dating all the way back to the earliest recorded myths. Here are some of our favorite sibling dynamics in literature, which run the gamut from lifelong friends to bitter enemies.

    8. The Weasleys (Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
    Despite the whole family being big into the wizarding business, the 7 Weasley siblings manage to keep their rivalry friendly. On top of that, they don’t believe their pureblood status makes them superior to Muggles, unlike some purebloods we can think of (looking at you, Malfoy). Oh, and then there’s Percy. By putting conformity and duty above all, he becomes the black sheep of his amazing, quirky family…but he comes out all right in the end.

    7. Scout and Jem Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)
    There are few fictional families more beloved than the Finches of Maycomb. Scout and Jem are shaken up by the events of the book, but with the help of their morally upright father, Atticus, the siblings emerge wiser and tougher for having the courage of their convictions.

    6. The Alba Sisters (The House of Bernarda Alba, by Federico Garcia Lorca)
    If you think you have a dysfunctional family, you should check out this play—you’ll either relate to it, or realize you don’t have it half bad. After the death of her husband, Bernarda Alba imposes an insane 8-year period of mourning on her family of five sexually repressed daughters. The result is every bit as messed up as you’d imagine, and a great introduction to Lorca’s fiery imagination.

    5. The Starks and Lannisters (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin)
    The five children of Ned and Catelyn Stark, plus their outsider half-brother Jon Snow, have had a rough ride in this blockbuster saga. The very qualities that make them so admirable spell their downfall, because honor can be a real handicap in Westeros. The Lannister brood, meanwhile, are known for pyrotechnic rivalries and a penchant for breaking taboos, providing an effective foil to the loyal Starks. And let’s not even get into the Targaryens, those crazy weirdos.

    4. The March Sisters (Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott)
    The lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March have inspired a century of readers—especially women—to make their own path in life. Though Jo is undeniably the focus of the novel, her three sisters face their own battles with wit, bravery, and, in Amy’s case, some pretty impressive manipulation.

    3. The Antipholus and Dromio Twins (The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare)
    Shakespeare loved using identical twins as a plot device so much that he threw two sets of them into this play. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.

    2. The Oedipal Siblings (Antigone, by Sophocles)
    When your father is also your half-brother, and your mother is also your grandmother, things are bound to get a little messed up. In the final play of his legendary trilogy, Sophocles chronicles the plight of the four children born to Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. The brother Polyneices and Eteocles kill each other, Antigone condemns herself to death, and Ismene is left to mourn them all. Don’t mess with Greek gods—they play for keeps!

    1. The Brothers Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky)
    It’s hard to think of a set of literary siblings with more sharply drawn philosophical differences. Dmitri, the eldest, is a pleasure hound just like his old man. The middle child, Ivan, is a Spock-level logician, and the youngest, Alexei, is deeply spiritual and well-liked. Though it is never confirmed, it’s implied that sociopath Pavel is the illegitimate fourth Karamazov brother. Only Dostoevsky could write a novel with such dark themes, and somehow leave us with a sliver of hope at the end.

    Who are your favorite siblings in fiction?

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