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A Wednesday for the Perplexed

What I've Finished Reading

The Island by Aldous Huxley. Let's be honest with ourselves for a second: the only reason I'm haunted by the feeling that I'm not being fair to Aldous Huxley is that I know he has fans whose taste I respect, not because I'm actually of two minds about the thing. It's not like Lawrence Durrell where I couldn't shake the compulsion to make fun of him but also couldn't help admiring the writing, and never knew how I felt about it from one page to the next. I don't admire a single thing about The Island and I'm too uninvested to make fun. At the same time it's obvious that my impatience with Huxley has taken on a life of its own. There's a mental barrier to my sympathetic understanding that is totally out of proportion to anything Huxley might have done to deserve it.

In short: The Island bored me half to death but I read it all. This is probably not Huxley's fault - but actually I'm just saying that because I can't justify my dislike: in my heart I think it's totally Huxley's fault.

Let's see what Anthony Burgess has to say!

As with so much of Huxley's later fiction, one is not sure whether or not to call this book a true novel. It is less concerned with telling a tale than with presenting an attitude to life, it is weak on characterization but strong on talk, crammed with ideas and uncompromisingly intellectual. Huxley shows us an imaginary tropical island where the good life can be cultivated for the simple reason that the limitations and potentialities of man are thoroughly understood [. . .] The people themselves are a sort of ideal Eurasian race, equipped with fine bodies and Huxleyan brains, and they have read all the books that Huxley has read. [. . .]

For forty years his readers forgave Huxley for turning the novel-form into an intellectual hybrid - the teaching more and more overlaid the proper art of the story-teller. Having lost him, we now find nothing to forgive. No novels more stimulating, exciting, or genuinely enlightening came out of the post-Wellsian time. Huxley more than anyone helped to equip the contemporary novel with a brain.

If you say so, Anthony Burgess!

What I'm Reading Now

THE OUTSIDERS by S. E. Hinton. This was my sister's favorite book when we were in middle school, and it's fifty years old this year, so I decided to overcome my old animosity and give it a chance! Ponyboy Curtis is a gentle young tough from the wrong side of the tracks. His friends steal cars and cut up a lot but their love is pure, not like the gangs of rich kids who terrorize the working-class neighborhoods in their Mustangs. The rich kids are called Socs, which is short for "Socials," and which consequently I have no idea how to pronounce. Ponyboy has just met a nice rich girl who has informed him sternly that rich kids have problems too. What will these turn out to be? Will these sweet young men all get killed in a street fight? I hope not! It's ok so far. S. E. Hinton has a clean, simple writing style that is ready to bear the weight of any melodrama that develops.

I don't know how I feel about A Confederacy of Dunces. There's a commonplace that comedy ages worse than tragedy, but it probably depends. This is a comedy that has not aged well, but what does that mean? You can see some of the bits where the Literary Establishment would have rolled in the aisles back in 1981, most of them of the type "Ignatius tries to impose his deliberately anachronistic ideals on assorted Hot Topics of the Sixties," and these are mostly just dead in the water now. It's hard to say if they were "really" funny in 1981 or not - part of the problem is that the characters in the big Hot Topic set pieces - the black factory workers and the gay party stereotypes - are as flat and unreal, or almost as, on the page as they are in Ignatius' mind.

I like it when Mrs. Reilly is just talking to her neighbors - the observational humor about how people talk to each other holds up well for the most part. The (constant) gut troubles and masturbation bathos stuff I can't really speak to. I was never much of a fart joke fan. I know fart jokes are supposed to be universal, but they go right over my head - there's probably a joke in that.

What I Plan to Read Next

A Fox Under My Cloak for real this time!


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 29th, 2017 03:55 pm (UTC)
Getting through a boring book is impressive and it's all over now!

Yes, comedy doesn't last too well, the dodgy parts tend to kill of the laughs.
Mar. 30th, 2017 02:23 pm (UTC)
There are exceptions! Northanger Abbey is several times older than Confederacy but still funny even though I'd never read any of the books it was making fun of. Wodehouse has the occasional dodgy part but doesn't tend to depend on them, and the best Wodehouse stories are still breathtakingly funny. I probably see more exceptions than examples, just because the exceptions are more likely to stick around.

Huxley doesn't need my help to be a famous writer, so I'm not going to feel bad any more about not understanding him.
Mar. 30th, 2017 03:32 pm (UTC)
I'm suffering from a bout of problematic Shakespeare "comedies" grumpiness which is colouring my view of old funnies!
Mar. 30th, 2017 03:58 pm (UTC)
Hah, that would do it! I feel like the local Shakespeare companies would benefit from just declaring a hundred-year moratorium on productions of The Taming of the Shrew, but they just keep trying to make it funny, bless their hearts.
Mar. 31st, 2017 03:50 pm (UTC)
I've go a BBC audio of ToS up next to listen to! I'm two thirds through Boris Karloff does Cymbeline, and I'm feeling strongly The Comedies aren't my thing.
Mar. 29th, 2017 07:27 pm (UTC)
This is probably not Huxley's fault - but actually I'm just saying that because I can't justify my dislike: in my heart I think it's totally Huxley's fault.

If the author bored you, it's got to be at least a little bit their fault. I think you should definitely blame Huxley! ;-)
Mar. 30th, 2017 02:37 pm (UTC)

Boredom is so subjective, though! One man's thrill is another man's tedium! It's possible that Huxley has written a great book here that I'm just stubbornly refusing to engage with because it doesn't have the things I like. I don't really believe it's a great book, but I am stubbornly refusing to engage.

Mar. 29th, 2017 08:25 pm (UTC)
YES I'M GLAD YOU'RE READING THE OUTSIDERS, it was one of my favorites when I was in middle school, clearly I am brain twins with your sister. (Actually I think that's just a book that lots of people love in middle school. It has so many EMOTIONS.)

According to the movie, Socs is pronounces Soshes (with a long O). In my misspent youth I always just said it socks, though.
Mar. 30th, 2017 02:51 pm (UTC)
:D Did you also watch West Side Story a hundred times? Knife-fighting juvenile romantics was her jam. That and horses.

I like it a lot! I appreciate the EMOTIONS and the way Ponyboy idealizes or romanticizes his friends, if those are even the right words, but I also can't help feeling (as I never did with The Hunger Games) that I might be too old for it - that I might have been too old for The Outsiders for a very long time now.

(My sister said "Socks," too).

Edited at 2017-03-30 04:00 pm (UTC)
Mar. 30th, 2017 08:30 pm (UTC)
Alas, I saw West Side Story for the first time this year! Although when I was a teenager I might have been put off by the "teenagers making bad choices because of looooooove" part of the plot, which is integral to any Romeo & Juliet adaptation, so perhaps it's just as well I waited.

I feel like The Outsiders is an id-fest that you need to read at a very specific age for it to really sock you in the FEELS. Afterward, there are still things about it to appreciate, but probably not in the same way as when you're thirteen.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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