Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Written Word Wed. - But I Have Read Moby Dick

Hey, guess who actually read a book!

Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire: I read this in preparation for seeing the play this upcoming weekend with a couple of fellow CAP’NS. Of course, your pal Cap’n Neurotic also moonlights as Cap’n Procrastination, so the show sold out before we got tickets. Which is a shame, because after reading the book and hearing the cast recording, I had some big questions about the changes between the two, since the album didn’t provide full context for the songs. Luckily I was able to find a copy of the libretto online to fill in some of the gaps in the play’s storyline. Both versions portray an altered view of the Wizard of Oz, in which the Wicked Witch of the West (christened Elphaba after L. Frank Baum) turns out to be a misunderstood revolutionary, Glinda is a pampered socialite, and the Wizard is a manipulative tyrant. The big difference comes in the depths of the alterations. The play adheres much more closely to the traditional visions of Oz than the novel, which is understandable, since in a 400 page novel you can explore the themes more methodically than you can in a 50 page play, the bulk of which is in song. The play’s Elphaba is much more outspoken, but also much more likeable; in the novel she is viewed mainly from the P.O.V. of other characters (her parents, her roommate, her lover) making her motivations more mysterious, which in turn served to alienate her from the reader more than draw the reader in. Another big difference is that the play is family friendly, while the book really isn’t. Foul words and sex scenes make the novel a little harder to recommend to the more sensitive among you. The play, however, remains good clean fun, with clever dialogue and catchy songs. I enjoyed reading both, and am planning on reading the novel’s sequel, Son of a Witch, as soon as I can get it through ILL, but I really have to give the play a higher over-all enjoyability rating (and not just because it has a song in it called “Popular”). Now, if only I could actually get to see it . . .

In other bookish news, Time Magazine has just compiled yet another highly subjective list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. I've read a depressingly small number of them, helping to maintain my standing as “world’s least well-read English major,” although I have seen most of the movies inspired by titles on the list, and that counts for something, right? Anyway, the titles which I've head the pleasure (or displeasure, in a couple of "why does everyone rave about this book?" cases) of reading are:

Animal Farm by George Orwell: A book that I enjoyed when I first read it in junior high just as an entertaining story, and that I enjoyed much more post-college when I was able to recognize all of the symbolism.

Beloved by Toni Morrison: Read this for the Honor's English class I took with Pooh-Bear (which incidentally is also where I wrote the "Of Prisms and Plotlines" essay and the "House" poem). Loved it, still my favorite of Morrison's novels.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: Answer to the trivia question "What's the only book Zinger Stoneheart read in high school and actually liked?" I read it post-college, loved it.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: Read this one after I found it for sale for a quarter at a garage sale right around the time I was going through my Kubrick phase. A book that can be a problem for some, since it's narrated in a heavy slang invented solely for the novel. If you can get into the flow of it, a worthwhile read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Top of my list of "Why the heck does everyone love this?" books.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: Lost track of how many times I've read this one since I was a little kid. Works just as well as straight fantasy as it does Christian allegory.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Read this back in high school in either freshman or sophomore English. Really enjoyed it at the time, have thought about re-reading it to see what subtleties I'd be able to pick up on now.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein: Do I even need to say anything about this one?

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs: Trippiest thing I have ever read.

Neuromancer by William Gibson: The original cyberpunk novel. I liked it all right, and can appreciate it for how influential it would be in the world of SF, but it's never been on my list of all-time favorites.

1984 by George Orwell: Read this around the same time I read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; keep meaning to read Huxley's Brave New World to finish up the classic dystopian novel trifecta, but never have gotten around to it.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: I book I wanted to read ever since I first heard it mentioned in a movie. Any guesses on what film that was? Anyone? Was not quite what I expected.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: How's this for synchronicity? No sooner had I finished my initial draft of this post, then I got a message from Clan Flunky, wondering if I'd ever read Snow Crash. When I replied that, yes, I had, and it was being mentioned today, the response was "looking forward to hearing what you have to say about." Thanks for the added pressure, Clan Flunky! My first draft said merely this: "If you're a SF fan, you have no excuse for not having read this book. None at all. And while I'm at it, be sure to read Stephenson's Cryptonomicon as well, excellent book." But will that be enough to satisfy Clan Flunky? I think not! For they are a demanding people, unsatisfied with half measures. Nope, I don’t think that will satisfy them at all. Not one whit. Nosireebob. Not at all.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Read this for an Honors Seminar on female American authors which I chose simply for its title: "Those Damn Scribbling Women." Well-written book, but not one that really captured my interest at the time; I much preferred the works of Amy Tan, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Maxine Hong Kingston, which is probably why my honors thesis was about Tan and my big paper for that class was about the other two.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: Read this for my World Lit. class, and was probably my favorite thing from that class, other than watching my professor writhe in agony at the horrendous grammar of an Engineering student who had wound up in there.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Performed a Dramatic Duet from this back in high school which I still find myself quoting to this day:

Are you mockin' me Mistuh Finch? Are you makin' funna me? All yo' "mammin" an' "Miss Mayellerin'." Ah don't have ta take yo' sass, ah ain't called upon ta take it!
Used my Young Adult Lit. class as an excuse to finally read this classic. Great book.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick: Been a long time since I've read this one and, to be honest, a lot of Dick's novels start to bleed together in my mind after a while, so while I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, I can’t say for certain.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons: The ultimate deconstructionist super-hero tale, and the one and only comic book on the list, its inclusion being the thing that directed me to the list in the first place. One of those series that I've read over and over, and wind up catching new details almost every time; the only other series to rival it in that respect is Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and that has the benefit of lasting 75 issues, to Watchmen's 12. Rorschach remains one of the coolest (and creepiest) characters in comics.


Zinger said...

Butterfly in the sky...

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Arrgghh! Curse your eyes, Zinger! That's going to be stuck in my head all morning! But you don't have to take my word for it.

Butterfly in the sky
I can fly twice as high
Take a look
It's in a book
A Reading Rainbow

Zinger said...

I can go ANY-where,
Friends to know,
And ways to grow,
A Reading Rainbow,

I can be ANY-thing,
Take a look, it's in a book,
A Reading Rainbow (Reading Rainbow),
A Reading RAINBOW! (Reading Rainbow, Reading Rainbow!)

Flunky lover said...

There are a lot of books on that list I've never even heard of. There are two books on the list that I have read that you haven't. Mrs. Dalloway and Are you there God... I honestly wouldn't recommend either to you although it would be funny if you read the Judy Blume book. Once you read it, you'll know why.
I did just finish Snow Crash. When I started it I thought it was an amazing book but aout 2/3 of the way through the book it just died for me. I think Flunky is having the same problem since he still has 100 pages to go. I ended up being very disappointed in this book. There is way better sci-fi out there.
It seems like the books on this list were chosen perhaps for their writing styles or groundbreaking work into some topic. I don't enjoy reading a novel just because it is a brain-burner or 80 years ago this topic wasn't discussed. It needs to be enjoyable as well to be great.

Flunky lover said...

I also agree with 1984. High school students shouldn't read the book. They just arent' ready. This book was completely different for me when I reread it a couple of years ago.

Flunky lover said...

Oops. I meant Animal Farm. Although a lot of those books probably have less meaning for teens. In high school you're worried about yourself and generally not interested in a social or political commentary.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Zinger: I'd just gotten it out of my head, darn you! Have you been taking lessons from G'ovich?

Flunky Lover: It's been a while since I read Snow Crash, so my recall isn't all that fresh. I think I also struggled through the ending a bit at the time, but it wasn't enough to ruin the book for me. I still highly recommend his Cryptonomicon, which I enjoyed much more than Snow Crash.

Flunky lover said...

We should come out with our own lists of the best books. I'm more likely to try a book that you, G'ovich or Zinger like as opposed to 2 old journalists.

greg said...

If it helps, I'm not particularly fond of Tolkien. While he definitely gets marks for the "groundbreaking" and set the formula everyone uses, I don't really like his writing that much.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Talking smack about Tolkien, huh? Are you trying to rile St. Flunky up?

To be honest, while I enjoyed the LotR novels, I've never had the slavish devotion of some.

A list of best books sounds like an interesting idea, sure to start controversy and debate if nothing else. I'll file that idea away for when the rambling well has run dry, which should be about this time next Tuesday.

Flunky lover said...

I enjoyed The Hobbit more than the Lord of the Ring series. The second book seemed a lot like the Old Testament. A long history of somebody begat somebody. Also, I generally don't care for stories that can't be told in a reasonable amount of pages.

Flunky wanted to know if anybody reads the songs or poems and all I could say was "There are songs?"

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Man, if you couldn't stand The Two Towers, then I hope you never tried to subject yourself to The Simarilion; it makes the Old Testament seem like Sesame Street in comparison.

And to answer St. Flunky's question, I think I generally skimmed the songs to see if they contained any plot-forwarding information; pretty sure the answer was always "no" in which case I would just skip them.