Two memes

Via Kevin Drum, "books you’ve started and are embarassed not to have finished":

1) Ulysses

2) La Peste

3) Tom Jones

…actually, that’s it. I occasionally feel like I ought to finish Le Morte D’Arthur, but then remember that it’s boring childish wank (incidentally, I’ve lent Ulysses to this chap; I’m not sure what terrible consequences this will have for the literary world…)

Via me, more interestingly, "books you’re embarrassed to have read".

1) Riders

2) Rivals

3) Polo

4) Prudence

5) Harriet and Octavia (although I read it in the form of two separate books. "Harriet" was marginally worse).

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11 thoughts on “Two memes

  1. "books you’ve started and are embarassed not to have finished":
    Lord of the The Rings. I keep getting to the bit where they’re wandering through Mordor and find myself thinking "****ing HELL, this needs editing" and losing interest.

  2. Tom Jones? I started that, but didn’t manage to finish it, as did a friend of mine. It’s not unusual.

  3. Don’t worry about "Ulysses’, unreadable ‘Oirish’ tosh from beginning to end. And, yes, I did read it once, or to be truthful, skim-read it once, because I was directing "Travesties" and had to do the research. Total blarney!

  4. As far as I can recall the only reason I’ve "not finished a book" was because it was shit… so there’s never any ’embarrassment’ factor involved.

    Perhaps the most notable of these would be Great Expectations which – like the two Dickens novels that I actually got through – is badly written, pointless nonsense. And I’m far from embarrassed to have realised this fact by a third of the way through, thereby saving myself a precious few hours of life.

  5. I’m not going to argue the merits of Ulysses with you David. But I will suggest that to dismiss it as "unreadable Oirish tosh from beginning to end" suggests you know sweet fuck all about literature.

  6. No, no, I’m sorry – but it’s a subject close to my heart, and I simply can’t resist.

    David, you’re expressing a vehement opinion about one of the acknowledged literary masterpieces of this – or any age – based upon a skim reading…? What the hell is that all about?

    The true greatness of Ulysses is in the language… the ebb and flow of thoughts and ideas and meanings and descriptions and half-meanings; the inner-workings of the mind and how they are reflected in the world around us, and how we interact with that world… an exposé of the human psyche so thorough and so revolutionary that (in my view) it leaves Freud’s work in the shade…

    … and yet it’s art. It allows us a glimpse beyond even the deepest recesses of the unconscious into the very soul below. The soul of the city, and the soul of humanity. And even when he reveals to us the ugliness that can lurk within; Joyce does so with an understanding, an empathy and a tenderness which shows us that it’s never the whole story… that there is beauty, hope and ultimately even redemption to be found in this world.

    I mean, I’m just now thinking of the book’s ending and it’s given me a real rush and brought a tear to the eye. Think what you will David, but it isn’t possible to truly understand or appreciate Ulysses by ‘skim-reading’ it. And to imagine that it is; demonstrates a lack of understanding of literature in my view.

  7. Jim is becoming emotional – again, and I’m to blame – again, so I hardly dare write the following, but, of course, I will.

    Jim tells us that "[Ulysses] leaves Freud’s work in the shade", to which, alas, I can only reply that if Ulysses is ‘Oirish’ tosh, Freud’s theories are Jewish tosh; and both of which, I am delighted to say, are already rapidly fading from view, leaving several erstwhile fawning critics looking rather foolish.

    However, I concede and confess to Jim’s accusation that I do not understand literature – but I know a man who does! He wrote the following:

    "One effect of Ulysses is to show that [a man of the masses]matters, that he has an inner life as complex as an intellectual’s, that it is worthwhile to record his personal details on a prodigous scale. And yet it is also true that Bloom himself would never and could never have read Ulysses […] The complexity of the novel, its avante-garde technique, its obscurity, rigorously exclude people like Bloom […] More than almost any other 20th century novel, it is for intellectuals only. This means that there is a duplicity in Joyce’s masterpiece. The proliferation of sympathetic imagining, which creates the illusion of the reader’s solidarity with Bloom, operates in conjunction with a distancing, ironizing momentum which preserves the reader’s – and author’s – superiority to the created life. The novel embraces mass man but also rejects him. Mass man – Bloom – is expelled from the circle of the intelligentsia, who are incited to contemplate him, and judge him, in a fictional manifesto." (I’ll let you guess who wrote that!)

    Oh, and Virginia Woolf was very rude about the book – but that may be something in its favour!

  8. "The complexity of the novel, its avante-garde technique, its obscurity, rigorously exclude people like Bloom "

    Well, it might have done in 1922, but it’s not really avant-garde now,is it? Easily read by your bourgeoisie (e.g. me), who are now accustomed to reading books that come at you in multiple voices & styles.

  9. Sorry David, but I’m not sure what that quote is supposed to illustrate in the context of this discussion. And even were it relevant (and despite the fact that you’ll no doubt reveal it’s source to be someone I have respect for) I’m afraid I disagree with almost all of it. Sorry.

    Also, I’m not sure why you describe Freud’s work as particularly "Jewish". I understand the reference to Joyce’s "Oirishness" (though disagree profoundly), but describing Freud as "Jewish tosh" seems peculiar and gratuitous.

    Incidentally, I find a great deal of Freud’s work absurd and certainly outdated, but it’s downright silly to argue that he wasn’t revolutionary or that he wasn’t one of the most influential and important figures of the 20th century.

    Myself… I tend to see the 20th century as being symbolically "ushered in" – as it were – by Freud, Nietzsche and Einstein. Joyce was, in my view, the first person to truly fuse these major intellectual and cultural strands. He was – put simply – the starting point for modern literature. Quite aside from being a supremely gifted writer.

    And as for me "becoming emotional"? Well, I’m hardly going to dispute that, David, seeing as how I chose language aimed at expressing that fact. Though of course I see it more as being passionate about an issue, and discussing it because it actually means something to me.

  10. On the subject of Ulysses, I only got halfway through Homer’s Odyssey. I think it was the changes of pace that did it – load of old Greek tosh if you ask me.

  11. "He was – put simply – the starting point for modern literature"
    The book that had this epithet previously was Don Quixote and that too is a pile of pants.
    If you want pretty word read poetry. Intelligent people use their imaginations to fill in the atmosphere of a story. We don’t need to be told what the flowers smell like, we know already.
    Other "Embarresed to have read" include "The Da Vinci Code" and "Saturday" by Ian McEwan and Gullivers travells is rubbish apart from one page of scatology

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