Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Devil and Miss Prym (Ulysses Survival Reading #4)

Author: Paulo Coelho
Narrator: Linda Emond
First Published: 2000
Source: Library
Challenge(s): From 1001 List

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

Only 16 pages left of Ulysses!!! I suppose I should just go on and finish, but I need a little break from Molly's "sentence". It reminds me of the 80's song "88 Lines About 44 Women" by The Nails, only it's probably 2,000 lines and (mostly) about men.  Molly has taken TMI to a whole new level in this novel, which I didn't think was possible.  I had no idea Joyce was holding out a little grossness to spring on me in the end.  

Thus I find myself wanting to share some thoughts on this short tale of Paulo Coelho's simply because it is quite the opposite of Ulysses.  Where Joyce's writing is earnestly complicated, and seems to avoid any inkling of a moral, Coelho's goal is simplicity, and to convey a message that will have some sort of uplifting effect upon the reader.  

In the case of The Devil and Miss Prym, the question explored is whether mankind is inherently good or evil.  A man with a tragic past comes to the small village of Visco, and promises a large amount of gold to the village if they will agree to murder just one person.  Discussions and justifications follow, as the people of the town decide if and who will be sacrificed for the future prosperity of Visco, or in some cases, for their own selfish gains.

In the end, the predictable message is that each individual chooses between good and evil within, rather than mankind as a whole being one or the other.  Our choices can be influenced by fears of loneliness, punishment, failure, or loss of reputation, but ultimately we are responsible for our own choices. Forgive me, but my main thought upon finishing this was "Duh!"   Am I taking it for granted that most people feel this way already, or do I live in a bubble?

Whatever the case, I found the story interesting even if it was not paradigm-shifting.  I find myself underwhelmed by Coelho, but it may just be a case of inflated expectations.  On the back flap of the book cover, it says "Paulo Coelho is one of the most beloved authors of our time.  With sales of more than 75 million copies worldwide, his books have been translated into 61 languages and published in 150 countries."  With all of that fanfare, I think I just expect more of something.  Not just a reinforcement of something I already believe, expressed through a story that I found somewhat unbelievable.

Did Joyce care about whether mankind was good or evil?  I've done such a superficial reading of Ulysses that I can't be sure, but the overall feeling I get is that mankind is what it is, and that's all there is to it.  We live, we think, we die.   At least that's what I've gotten from the first 917 pages...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Two by Jessica Day George (Ulysses Survival Reading #2-#3)

It's actually been a few weeks since I've read these, but right now I'm in the middle of Episode 15 of Ulysses, which involves prostitutes, a lucky potato, and a generous amount of nightmarish gibberish that I don't understand, all put together in the form of a play with a million characters.  It's time for an intermission.  Refreshments wouldn't hurt, either.

These two books allowed me to escape into a fantasy world much different than that of Stephen Dadelus or Leopold Bloom, thank goodness.  Jessica Day George is clearly first and foremost a storyteller.  From page one until the end, the story (in each book) is engaging, easy to read, and I was rooting for the good guys to win.  In both of these books, the "good guy" is a strong female lead who uses her wits to get the job done.  Not much time is spent on characterization or inner monologues (take that, Joyce!), which may sound like a weakness, but it contributes to the feel of sitting by a campfire riveted to a humorous and adventurous story that lets you escape into a different world.  Which is what I needed.

For more information on what these books are actually about, you can check out the information on the author's website.  I knew next to nothing about these stories before I picked them up, and I liked it that way. I will just let you know that one involves huge polar bears, trolls, and a nameless girl who can talk to animals, and the other includes dragons, a spoiled princess, and shoes that itch.  No lucky potatoes--hallelujah!

Sun, Moon, Ice and Snow
Published 2008
336 pages
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  3.5/5

Dragon Slippers
Published 2007
324 pages
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4/5

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thank you, Jeeves (Ulysses Survival Reading #1)

Author: P.G. Wodehouse
Originally Published: 1934
Length:  229 pages
Source: Library
Challenge(s): 1001+
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

About Bertie:
"Mr. Wooster, miss," he said, "is, perhaps mentally somewhat negligible, but he has a heart of gold."
About Jeeves:  
I must say I can't see why Jeeves shouldn't go down in legend and song.  Daniel did, on the strength of putting in half an hour or so in the lions' den and leaving the dumb chums in a condition of suavity and camaraderie; and if what Jeeves had just done wasn't entitled to rank well above a feat like that, I'm no judge of form.

One cannot be expected to read Ulysses exclusively, or else one might become mentally deranged.  Consequently,  I've picked up a few reading selections on the lighter side. It seemed a good time to discover the "comic genius" of Wodehouse.

Thank You, Jeeves fit the bill perfectly.  This is my first introduction in any format to Bertie Wooster, who has a knack for getting into sticky situations, and his valet, Jeeves, who inevitably shows up to save the day.  In this first full-length novel of the pair, Bertie's annoying banjolele playing has driven Jeeves into other employment, and Bertie must move into a cottage where he can develop his musical "talents" without the complaints of neighbors.  While there, Bertie encounters (and often creates) situations worthy of an I Love Lucy episode as he tries to bring two lovers together despite the obstacles.  And he wouldn't be able to pull it off without the help of the ever-resourceful Jeeves.

Did it make me laugh?  I found the first three-quarters of the book pleasantly, but mildly humorous.  During the last part, however, I had more than a few satisfying belly laughs, some involving one of my favorite foods--butter.  I immediately added Jeeves and Wooster to my Netflix queue, and I'm ready for more chuckles (and a break from Joyce's epic conundrum).  I would also love to go back and read the short stories that preceded this novel.  I have a feeling it's the kind of humor that builds as you go along.  I am left with only one question:  Where can I get my very own Jeeves?? I need, I need!