By Thomas Pynchon

This may be the best book I've ever read that I didn't like. Thomas Pynchon is described by some as the one of the world's greatest contemporary writers, which piqued my interest. And his reputation for dense prose didn't scare me too much, after all, I adore Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gene Wolfe. So, I figured, what the hell? Well, over five months passed before I was done with V, and despite the fact that the book was beautifully written, it was a real slog. I just didn't connect with it. Most of the time I didn't even really know what was going on. Individual lines or even entire scenes would be great, but seemed to have only the most tenuous connection to the rest of the book. Things just happened, for no apparent reason and with no apparent direction. I think that was likely the point--after all, life is, for the most part, aimless and random. But by the end of this book I didn't feel like it was really a worthwhile trek--rather than feeling entertained or enlightened or otherwise enriched, I felt like the author had been messing with me. Maybe I'm too much of a philistine to be able to appreciate a book like this, but if that's the case, I can live with it.

Started: 2/1/2008 | Finished: 7/11/2008

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Post Captain

By Patrick O'Brian

I am coming to like this series pretty well. I think I still do prefer the Hornblower novels, but these books do have a lot to offer. For one thing, the characters seem a bit more three-dimensional than Forester's. In Post Captain, for example, a fair amount of the beginning of the book has to do with events on shore while Jack Aubrey is waiting for a new command. It seems like that might detract from the story, being primarily a naval adventure, but watching Jack and Stephen as they meet the women they fall in love with, for example, or following Jack's attempts to avoid debtor's prison really serves to round out the characters. And, like the previous episode, there is plenty of action to go around, both at sea and ashore. My only complaint is that there wasn't much in the way of denouement. It's a minor flaw, though, given the structure of the book, and really all it did was make me jump right into the next one.

Started: 11/6/2007 | Finished: 11/18/2007

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Love in the Time of Cholera

By Gabriel García Márquez

Having previously read García Márquez's most recent novel, Memories of my Melancholy Whores, it was interesting to go back in his career with this one and see the similarities. Both novels explore old age, but where Memories is more concerned with nostalgia, this one is about love. We follow two characters from youth to old age: Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza. The latter declares his eternal love for Fermina Daza at a young age and eventually waits most of his life to pursue it after she marries another man. Sort of--in the intervening years he goes on to have 622 affairs. It's this kind of dichotomy that makes the novel--such is García Márquez's skill that we are lured into sympathizing with Florentino Ariza despite all of his flaws. The novel expertly blends the comic and the profound, commenting on the progression of age, the struggle between progress and tradition, the relationships between men and women. And, as always, García Márquez delivers a strong sense of place, managing to be both critical and reverent of the city and country in which the story takes place. An excellent read that I highly recommend.

Started: 9/4/2007 | Finished: 11/5/2007

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Philip K. Dick

It was interesting to see the differences between this story and it's movie adaptation, Blade Runner. If anything, the future painted in the novel is even more bleak and unfamiliar than the one in the film. That makes it, to me, both more difficult and more compelling. I'm not sure that I'll be rushing out to get my hands on Philip K. Dick's complete works--his style and vision are a little too harsh and discomfiting for me, but I'd still say that this one was well worth the read.

Started: 8/20/2007 | Finished: 8/30/2007

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By J. K. Rowling

I'm not sure that any book could really live up to the kind of expectations that some people put on this one but, personally, I really liked it. In fact, I might even go so far as to say it was the best one of the series. Maybe not. Inevitably, some of the sense of wonder that you had in the early books has been lost along the way. But by now it's been replaced with familiarity, which really mirrors the development of the central characters as they progress from childhood to adulthood. I can't say how you'll feel about this book, but as far as I'm concerned, it did everything I wanted it to, weaving in parts that were appropriately epic with parts that were more intimate, and tying it all up in a way that I found very satisfying.

Started: 7/21/2007 | Finished: 7/23/2007

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Master and Commander

By Patrick O'Brian

There's an obvious comparison between this series and C. S. Forester's Hornblower series. Both follow the career of a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic wars. Still, they are separate works. For one thing, O'Brian's Jack Aubrey is a very different sort of person from Forester's Horatio Hornblower. Where Hornblower is reserved and intellectual, Aubrey is much more rough around the edges, rambunctious and appreciative of wine and song. I suppose that in some ways Aubrey is the anti-Hornblower. I think I prefer Forester's series, in part because of the characters but also in part because, oddly enough, O'Brian's prose seems more stilted and archaic, despite having been written some thirty-odd years later. Still, I did enjoy this book overall and will be continuing the series, at the very least until I run through the ones I already have.

Started: 7/17/2007 | Finished: 8/18/2007

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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

By Susanna Clarke

I was a little apprehensive about this one, both because of an inherent distrust of popularity and because I'd gotten a somewhat bad review from a friend, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The first two parts of the novel were witty and fun--somewhat like what I imagine a Jane Austen novel would be if I had ever been able to laugh at a Jane Austen novel. (Mind you, I haven't read any Austen since high school--maybe I'd like her work better if I revisited it today.) The third part was darker but no less engaging. I think it's quite an accomplishment that Clarke was able to write a novel in over a thousand pages that never felt slow or boring to me. In fairness, though, I must admit the possibility of some bias--since I first started the Hornblower series I've been becoming more and more enamored of fiction set in Napoleonic-era England.

Started: 6/18/2007 | Finished: 7/11/2007

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The Virgin Suicides

By Jeffrey Eugenides

I think that what I love about Jeffrey Eugenides is the way he can so perfectly evoke the feeling of being a young person. My own childhood was rural instead of suburban, but there's a certain feeling to youth that I think must be universal, and Eugenides really knows how to capture that feeling. He did it in Middlesex and he did it in this book. What's different about this one, though, is that the narrator remains faceless. Despite that, or maybe because of it, we get a very good sense of the narrator--the story is told in such a personal way that you get the feeling that you're being told a story by a real adult looking back on real events from his past. I connected very strongly with the story, which of course made it all the more depressing in the end. In that respect it was perhaps not the best book for my current frame of mind, but it was nonetheless a beautiful, haunting story.

Started: 6/4/2007 | Finished: 6/17/2007

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Sons and Lovers

By D. H. Lawrence

I think I'd say that I liked this book more than I enjoyed it. I found the characters and their relationships intriguing and I loved the descriptions of the working-class towns in the English Midlands of the 1900's. Still, the prose style made things kind of difficult for me--I had a particularly hard time keeping up with the changes in perspective and the passage of time. All in all, though, I can see why this is the sort of book that is so often taught in lit classes and I'm glad I read it.

Started: 3/26/2007 | Finished: 6/3/2007

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Watership Down

By Richard Adams

I first read this book the summer before my freshman year of high school--it was our summer reading assignment. I ended up waiting until the last week before school started because, well, it was summer and I wanted to have fun, not do homework. Fortunately, I liked it so much that I tore through the book in about two days and was prepared for the test when I got to class on the first day. Coming back to it as an adult, I have to say that it holds up pretty well, although it does now feel strongly like a children's book. That's what it is, of course--the only reason I bring it up is that Watership Down is so often compared to The Lord of the Rings and while I can see the similarities, The Lord of the Rings brings me something new every time I read it, whereas this one is appealing more for the childlike point of view and the associated feelings of nostalgia.

Started: 2/3/2007 | Finished: 3/12/2007

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