I ended up finishing four out of the five books I hoped to read before 2007. I could have read them all, but really, I was setting myself up for failure by including Saul Bellow, and I knew it at the time. The Adventures of Augie March? Really, what was I thinking? I will read it someday, but it is exactly the sort of thing I am not hungry for right now. I would have finished it out of sheer disgruntled stubbornness if I hadn't been sidetracked by a reading and rereading of every Faulkner book in our house.
Because I wrote about the other two books, here are a few late-night comments on the last two of the project:
Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
--I have read several of Murakami's books (well, two) and I think this one is by far the most successful as a coherent novel. Murakami is good but never excellent because he so often seems incapable of tying his -- admittedly charming and unexpected -- concepts into a large piece. His endings are especially terrible, I think. He is the sort of author who should probably stick to short stories; that medium would at least allow his absurd and lovely ideas to shine like the gems they are, undisrupted by the clutter of attempted overarching plot. Wonderland seems to be an exception. At the same time, I was never once as charmed by anything in this book as I was by several parts of Kafka on the Shore. Still, it was a decent read.
And it prompted the realization that I will probably fall in love with the first decent man who gifts me with a pair of excellent nail clippers during a multi-course meal in an upscale restaurant.
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
I was expecting more. Of course, what I was expecting was based on no actual knowledge of the book itself, but was instead formed from a combination of good reviews and an incorrect assumption of the plot. You see, I thought the book was going to be some sort of macabre postmodern surrealist story about a serial killer. I had no idea it was about mail! I thought that it was probably about 49 murdered prostitutes buried in an abandoned lot or something. All I can say is that I clearly spend too much time watching Law & Order and not enough time reading newspapers.
The book wasn't great but wasn't bad. I would read more Pynchon, but wouldn't buy him. This was the last book of 2006: I read it in one sitting on New Year's Eve.
The first book of 2007 looks to be Absalom, Absalom. I love it, and not just because I have a latent obsession with the American Civil War. I have mixed and turbulent emotions about Faulkner as a person and as an artist, but there is simply no denying his brilliance. I actually started to weep at one point last night just because the wording of one sentence was so perfectly sonorous, so much like music, and I cried at its beauty and at the certain knowledge that I will never be able to construct anything so perfect.
I would post the sentence if I could find it in the book. Oh well. The content wasn't remarkable anyway; I probably wouldn't have realized its glory if I hadn't been mouthing the words as I read them -- something I often do with Faulkner just to keep the structure of his sentences clear in my mind. Full display of the music of language is one convincing argument for books on tape. I suspect that certain parts of The Sound and the Fury would be just magical if read aloud in entirety.