venturing forth

I’m now about 150 pages into Ulysses, so I figured it might be a good time for an update. I think with a book like this, it would be too much to wait until the very end to write about it. Also might be interesting to note down my thoughts on it progressively, and see if my understanding, perspectives and opinions on the story change or develop.

So far, I find that Ulysses has a very staccato rhythm. It’s very “stream of consciousness”, which I suppose is basically what it is, as we are immersed in the innermost thoughts of the two protagonists. It’s very much the most raw and unedited version of thought, intended only for the thinker — no context or subtext explained (since it’s already known and understood by the thinker), and no need to round out each thought as a fully formed, grammatically correct sentence.

The style of writing — with all the short, sharp sentences — seem to give the novel a faster pace. At times, I’ll be reading Ulysses, and find that I’m breezing through it, but then I’ll suddenly realise that I’ve been reading without really understanding or absorbing what I’ve just read. Yes, sometimes that happens with other novels, but it seems to happen more with Ulysses, and actually it feels easier to go faster and further before I realise I should probably slow down and think about what I’m actually reading.

But that’s the nature of thought, isn’t it? There is a lot of conscious thought, but also a lot of subconscious thought, and it all happens so fast. It’s possible for the mind to jump from one thought to another so rapidly, and so seamlessly, no matter how unrelated each subsequent thought happens to be.

Overall, reading Ulysses is more enjoyable than what I expected. But to be fair, I’m not entirely sure that I expected to enjoy it at the start. Maybe I was afraid I wasn’t going to understand it, and I’d just be stumbling through until I got to a point where I was forced to admit defeat. So expectations were probably low.

I mentioned in the previous post that I’m using a reading guide that I found online. However, I’m now at a point where I’m actually considering abandoning the reading guide. This is not because I think I don’t need it anymore, but because it actually has some spoilers. The guide is divided into chapters, and does a pretty good job of explaining what’s happening, but the writer seems unable to refrain from pointing out the foreshadowing of, or connection to, future events. Useful, interesting and insightful, but spoilers always feel like they detract from the pure immersive experience.

Anyway, perhaps I’ll stop consulting the reading guide for a while, and we’ll see if it affects my understanding and enjoyment of Ulysses. Up until now, I would basically read a chapter, and then check the reading guide to see if I missed any important details, or misunderstood what I read. I think I’ve done ok with grasping the general gist of things, but there are events or scenes that the guide has definitely clarified for me. Is 150 pages enough “experience” for me to venture forth on my own now? I guess we’ll find out…

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learn, reflect, improve

In recent times, I have been doing daily language study, daily piano practice, and almost daily reading. Having a routine, to me, feels good. Seeing progress from one day to another is encouraging. But it got me wondering… Is the basic structure of life just a series of repetitions?

In the morning: wake up, have breakfast, drink coffee, go to work.

At work: emails, orders, checks, data entry, stock control.

On the week-end: cook, clean, socialise, relax.

In the garden: sow, tend, prune, harvest. 

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crime & punishment

I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It feels like I’ve been reading it for a long time, but I think that’s because I’ve only been reading it in short bouts, and not very frequently. It’s a bit mentally “heavy”, for want of a better word. Reading it for a long stretch without a break just seemed to weigh down on my brain.

But now that it’s done, it feels weird to not be reading it anymore. I guess it’s like the weight was lifted, and I’m still pushing but not finding the familiar resistance there.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Crime and Punishment. At least, I like it better than The Idiot, which I don’t think I really understood. This one had me thinking a lot, but I feel like I understood it better. But I did read The Idiot quite a long time ago, so maybe I’m just more mature and wise or something. Having said that, though, I still feel like I need to reread it one day in order to get a better grasp of everything. 

Did I truly understand it, or did I actually miss the point?

And there is something else that compels me to reread it, even though it’s not as beautifully written as certain other classics I’ve read. Well, that could also be the translation/version I read. I got it second-hand, so it’s quite an old copy. There were several parts that sounded very dramatic and exaggerated, like literary convulsions. But sometimes I feel like that was all intentional, because the whole thing is full of feeling and torment and anguish.

Anyway, with classics like this, I always feel like there’s no real need to go into much detail about the story and meaning and implications, etc, etc. So much has already been written about these classics, and there are so many interpretations and analyses in existence.

I only wish to add that I didn’t particularly like the epilogue. Most of it was fine, until the last few pages, which felt like too much of a backflip, and left a strange aftertaste. If/when I ever reread Crime and Punishment, I’ll have to try to remember to avoid the epilogue, or at least stop before I get to the very end.

hope you’ve been well

I feel like this has become a common opener in emails in recent times. Hello, hope you’ve been well… Usually it’s work emails to/from other companies, and usually it’s a supplier that I need to ask about something, and I haven’t corresponded with them in a while. Sometimes the supplier is interstate, in a state that has recently had severe weather or a wave of virus, or some other event that has made the headlines.

It just seems polite to show some concern. My usual contacts also use it when starting a new correspondence with me, so it goes two ways. But I’m pretty sure people didn’t always do this. Or maybe they did, but it didn’t mean as much as it does now. Maybe the pandemic made people more compassionate or something.

For the record, yes, I have been well. I have been very absent from this blog, and I’ve been keeping busy with other things, but I always intended to come back.

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The Cider House Rules

I believe The Cider House Rules is the third John Irving novel I have read, and although the story is quite different to what I remember of The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire, there is something about it that is still very classically Irving. I think the best word for it is “unapologetic”. He really lays the story out — guts and all — and doesn’t sugarcoat or censor anything.

The other very Irving thing about TCHR and the other novels is that although the events seem rather bizarre and absurd at times, the characters feel so real, and so the events surrounding and involving them also feel real. I think it also has something to do with how fluid his writing is. The story flows effortlessly so that I’m turning the page before I have time to question the plausibility of what is happening. All I want is to keep reading.

[Spoilers ahead — you have been warned]

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post-war peace

It’s been about a month since I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (by Stieg Larsson), and I still don’t really feel like writing or saying much about it. It wasn’t a bad book — I went in with zero expectations because I’d heard various mixed reviews about it back when it was super popular, so it couldn’t really disappoint — but it wasn’t amazing either.

It had some very strong (and graphic) points about sexual abuse and domestic violence, and it did well to highlight these issues, but it sort of left me wondering whether it actually had any significant impact on reducing the incidence of this kind of abuse. I’m generalising here, but I don’t think perpetrators are going to read this book and think, “This is wrong. I should stop doing this and get help.”

***Spoiler ahead*** [Do not proceed unless you don’t care about spoilers]

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