Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reading List

I haven't been able to read much lately. A few bureaucratic distractions of real-life coupled with vague uncertainties about the future and I am finding it hard to pick-up a book and concentrate. I managed to find a few interesting books though...

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan: I thought after seeing the excellent film version the book would be redundant, specially given the fact that it was written by (shock! horror!!) an eighteen year old girl (sexism plus reverse ageism alert) but I was proved wrong. While not an earth-shattering masterpiece by any means, it is a very engaging, thoughtful and perceptive book, certainly much wiser than what her age would lead one to believe. It is also a relief to read a simple and straightforward book after a long time.

The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch: Last year it was Musil, this year his friend Broch? Frankly, I don't intend to finish it anytime soon. I am just curious to know what is inside it. Will update once I find something.

The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem:
This is a Swiftian take on the Science fiction genre. If you remember the academy of Lagado section of Gulliver's Travels you know what to expect. (It can be read in its entirety here.) Like Solaris, once you get the drift, it gets a bit tedious but mercifully the book is actually a collection of short narratives. Like Gulliver, it is structured as a travel account in the form of diaries of one space traveller named Ijon Trichy. Lem riffs on all sorts of intellectual ideas, not just scientific but also religious and political. The back cover of the book compares Lem's writing to "intellectual rock throwing" which is a pretty accurate description.

I did open the new year account by reading the celebrated short fragment Lord Chandos Letter by Hugo Von Hofmannsthal. I will just point to Disquiet Thoughts for a nice overview rather than reinventing the wheel myself. Hoffmansthal's Letter describes very eloquently what most of us have felt from time to time - the failure of language to mirror the inner world of experience in any meaningful way. Lord Chandos Letter puts this idea in a wider philosophical and literary context by showing it to be the essential part of what it means to live in the modern world. The way it stresses the fact of uncertainty and doubt involved in any artistic use of language, it is often seen as some kind of manifesto of modernist literature.

It seems to be available here though I am not sure of its completeness or accuracy (it does look okay at a glance though). The NYRB edition is, as usual, a complete delight. It contains quite a few of his other short works too which I have not yet read.


Madhuri said...

Thanks for the link. I liked reading the letter, although such expressiveness could hardly have come out of a person who finds hard to express the world around him!

Alok said...

Exactly my thoughts! there was something inherently contradictory and paradoxical about the letter. At least he could have said that it was a temporary phase in the recent past but he instead says that it is his permanent mental condition now! It made more sense to me to read it as a thesis rather than a first-person confession.

In real life, like the letter writer, Hoffmannsthal himself renounced writing after receiving praise and critical acclaim at a very young age.