Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Reading Year in Review

I only completed 14 Quest novels this year, but in my defense, there were a number of thousand pagers that slowed me down a bit. I have much more ambitious plans for 2015, in fact I hope to double that number. I've looked ahead though, and no uber books this year, so I might make it.

My favorite this year was easily Gone With the Wind, honorable mention to Anna Karenina.

I didn't truly dislike any, but I liked Moby Dick least.

Quest books I completed this year #24-37.

24. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (1986)
25. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1620)
26. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
27. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1884)
28. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1877)
29. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1936)
30. Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
31. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (1847)
32. Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry (1947)
33. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë (1847)
34. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers (1940)
35. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1856)
36. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1916)
37. A Passage to India, E. M. Forster (1924)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Story of the Fourth Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke



With the exception of THE Christmas Story…this is my favorite Christmas story.

Though it is not a TRUE story, and not TRULY a Christmas story…it is a luminous gem.

I will resist further commentary, but recommend it to one and all. It is a short story, easily read in an hour.

A quotation by Henry Van Dyke, but not part of the story:

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love…time is eternity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Anthem for Christmas

Anthem for Christmas
by Gloria Gaither

In the space of the beginning
Was the living Word of Light
When this Word was clearly spoken
All that came to be was right

All creation had a language
Words to say what must be said
All day long the heavens whispered
Signing words in scarlet red

Still some failed to understand it
So God spoke his final Word
On a silent night in Judah's hills
A baby's cry was heard

"Glory!" sang the angel chorus
"Glory!" echoed back the night
Love has come to walk among us
Christ the Lord is born this night

All creation sing His praises
Earth and heaven praise His name
All who live come joint the chorus
Find the words
His love proclaim

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (37 down 63 to go)

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

When his spirits were up he felt that the English are a comic institution, and he enjoyed being misunderstood by them. ~ Dr. Aziz

This is the first time I’ve read A Passage to India or E.M. Forster. The novel is a third person narrative set in the fictional town of Chandrapore in northeast India. It takes place under British Raj (rule), in the early 1920s and involves relationships between members of the Anglo-Indian community. I think you could call Forster’s writing modernist and/or humanist in style. He is also part of the Bloomsbury Group.

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars



I had no idea of the plot other than the obvious: that it had something to do with India. I’m just uncannily perceptive that way. The story is about a rare friendship between an Indian and a Britton. The Indian, Dr. Aziz, is a Muslim physician who was skeptical that Indians could befriend the British until he meets Cyril Fielding the headmaster of the government-run college for Indians. Dr. Aziz finds Fielding to be progressive, accommodating, and unprejudiced. Their newfound friendship is put to the test when Dr. Aziz is accused of assaulting Adela Quested, a young unmarried British woman.

Miss Quested only recently arrived in India to consider marriage to the British magistrate, Ronny Heaslop. Most of the British make no effort to understand Indian culture or custom, but Miss Quested wants to experience “the real India”. To that end, Dr. Aziz arranges a trip to a local tourist spot, the Marabar Caves. However, things go badly at the caves and Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of assaulting her.

Dr. Aziz is not likely to get a fair trial in the British system, but a trial ensues and pent up racial tensions erupt. Fielding is vocal about his belief in Dr. Aziz’ innocence and is ostracized by his compatriots. In spite of this loyalty, the trial puts the friendship between Fielding and Dr. Aziz to an agonizing test.

Fallout from the trial destroys several relationships, and damages others. Years later, one of the principal characters opines that Indians and British cannot be friends until India is free of British Raj…Even the earth and the sky seem to say, Not yet.

The prejudice of the British was troubling and almost unbelievable. Yet, I am inclined to believe Forster knew what he was writing about. The ignorance and hypocrisy would be almost comical, if not so maddening. I might have found it less offensive if the characters were just vile human beings who hated anyone different from themselves, but that wasn’t really the case. Most were actually decent people painfully deluded about their own superiority.

For instance, early in the story, Dr. Aziz removes his own collar stud and lends it to Fielding. He does so before other guests arrive for luncheon. Fielding doesn’t know Dr. Aziz gave him the stud off his own collar and Dr. Aziz, trying to be gracious, just hopes his collar doesn’t ride up. Ronny Heaslop notices Dr. Aziz’ collar, but says nothing at the time. Later, and behind Dr. Aziz’ back, Heaslop expresses scorn for Dr. Aziz and his appalling lack of refinement in failing to wear a collar stud.

Almost comical.

I’m certain Heaslop genuinely believed that failure to dress in proper British fashion was an indictment of Dr. Aziz’ worth as a human being. But of course Heaslop was ignorant: ignorant that Dr. Aziz knew how to dress properly, and ignorant of the stupidity of his own ethnocentric prejudices.

The British were not alone in fault. Many of the Indians nurtured prejudice and stereotypes of the British, but more ironically, the Muslim Indians (called Mohammedans in the novel), and the Hindu Indians also held each other in contempt. As I say, the British were not alone, but their position of power gave greater consequence to their prejudice.

The novel serves as an exposé of the ethnocentric beliefs and the resulting abuses of British imperialism. As such, it was highly effective. I thought it was a worthwhile story, important even, but not quite thoroughly enjoyable. There were a few moments that were quite riveting, but at other times it transitioned rather abruptly. Still, I’m glad I read it; it gave me a glimpse of a time and place of which I am largely ignorant.

Excerpts:

Narrative regarding Dr. Aziz and a British soldier after they have had a friendly polo match: They reined up again, the fire of good fellowship in their eyes. But it cooled with their bodies, for athletics can only raise a temporary glow. Nationality was returning, but before it could exert its poison they parted, saluting each other. “If only they were all like that.” Each thought.

Narrative regarding the British official investigating the alleged crime: He had constantly to remind himself that, in the eyes of the law, Aziz was not yet guilty, and the effort fatigued him. (My commentary…interesting choice of words there…not he was innocent until proven guilty, but he was not YET guilty.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

The 350 Greatest Novels



I like poring over lists, not just great novels lists. I just like lists. So, I was perusing my list of the 100 Greatest Novels today. I explain the creation of this list in my very first blog entry. If you missed it (and many of you did I’m sad to say), you may now make up for your oversight by clicking HERE. But in short, I took six different greatest novels lists and made one composite. If you want to see the composite list, click HERE.

As I say, I was perusing my list and it made me curious about little things like what author has the most appearances. And that made me curious about the bigger list, which is all novels on all six lists combined. There are 349 different novels. 349 is an untidy number, so on my own authority and discretion, I am adding The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to make it an even 350.

I did a little analysis of all 350, just out of curiosity. The results below show those authors who have more than one novel in the full list. I give highest honor to George Orwell, who although he only had two, 1984 and Animal Farm, both were in the top 10, #2 and #7 respectively. The only other author who comes close is William Faulkner who had two in the top 15, #9 The Sound and the Fury, and #14 As I lay Dying and two more #39 Absalom, Absalom and #62 Light in August. I’ll give one more honorable mention to Henry James who had 7 overall, with 4 in the top 100. No other author had more than two in the top 100.

Charles de Lint: 8 overall, 0 in the top 100. His highest #191 Moonheart

Henry James: 7 overall, 4 in the top 100, highest #74 The Ambassadors

Robert Heinlein: 7 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #106 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Ernest Hemingway: 5 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #13 The Sun Also Rises

Fyodor Dostoevsky: 5 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest#27 The Brothers Karamazov

Charles Dickens: 5 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #52 David Copperfield

William Faulkner: 4 overall, all 4 in the top 100, highest #9 The Sound and the Fury

Joseph Conrad:  4 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #21 Heart of Darkness

Leo Tolstoy: 4 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #29 Anna Karenina

Ayn Rand: 4 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #76 Atlas Shrugged

James Joyce: 3 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #5 Ulysses

Evelyn Waugh: 3 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #23 Brideshead Revisited

Jane Austen: 3 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #46 Emma

John Steinbeck: 3 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #8 The Grapes of Wrath

Cormac McCarthy: 3 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #25 Blood Meridian

E.M. Forster: 3 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #38 A Passage to India

Thomas Pynchon: 3 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #48 Gravity’s Rainbow

Saul Bellow: 3 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #51 The Adventures of Augie March

Graham Greene: 3 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #82 The Heart of the Matter

D.H. Lawrence: 3 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #103 The Rainbow

Thomas Hardy: 3 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #122 Jude the Obscure

Salman Rushdie: 3 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #140 Midnights Children

Thomas Mann: 3 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #144 The Magic Mountain

L. Ron Hubbard: 3 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #145 Battlefield Earth

Nevil Shute: 3 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #164 A Town Like Alice

George Orwell: 2 overall, both in the top 100, highest #2 1984

Vladimir Nabokov: 2 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #10 Lolita

Virginia Woolf: 2 overall, 2 in the top 100, highest #14 To the Lighthouse

F. Scott Fitzgerald: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #1 The Great Gatsby

Aldous Huxley: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #16 Brave New World

Kurt Vonnegut: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #18 Slaughterhouse Five

Ken Kesey: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #22 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Mark Twain: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #27 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Garbriel Garcia Marquez: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #39 One Hundred Years of Solitude

John Fowles: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #41 The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Willa Cather: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest # 55 Death Comes for the Archbishop

Toni Morrison: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #57 Beloved

Nathanael West: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #58 The Day of the Locust

Philip Roth: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #67 American Pastoral

V.S. Naipaul: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #68 A Bend in the River

Alexandre Dumas: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #73 The Count of Monte Cristo

Theodore Dreiser: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #75 An American Tragedy

Ford Madox Ford: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #91 The Good Soldier

Marcel Proust: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #94 Remembrance of Things Past

Stendhal: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #95 The Charterhouse of Parma

Stephen King: 2 overall, 1 in the top 100, highest #100 The Stand

John Irving: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #115 A Prayer for Owen Meany

Ray Bradbury: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #116 Fahrenheit 451

Margaret Atwood: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #121 The Handmaid’s Tale

Honore De Balzac: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #159 The Black Sheep

William Styron: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #168 The Confessions of Nat Turner

George Eliot: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #178 Daniel Deronda

John Cheever: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #183 Falconer

Khaled Hosseini: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #192 The Kite Runner


Robertson Davies: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #199 Fifth Business

Albert Camus: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #209 The Stranger

Norman Mailer: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #218 The Naked and the Dead

Dashiell Hammett: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #224 The Maltese Falcon

Edith Wharton: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #231 The Age of Innocence

Kazuo Ishiguro: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #242 Never Let Me Go

Sinclair Lewis: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #252 Main Street

Milan Kundera: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #265 The Unbearable Lightness of Being

John Le Carre: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #270 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Philip K. Dick: 2 overall, 0 in the top 100, highest #321 Ubik


These 64 authors, accounted for 176 of the 350, and 56 of the top 100. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I Wear Suspenders

I wear suspenders. Not every day, but often. There are two reasons: one very practical and one rather vain. I think they do the job of holding my pants up better and more comfortably than a belt, and I like the distinctive look. To be very honest, I think the latter is probably more important, but I contrived the first in order to assuage my reproach for such vainglorious thought.

I think suspenders, or braces if you are from the U.K., are more comfortable than a belt. By the way, men should wear a belt or suspenders, not both. The job of either is to hold your pants up, so I prefer suspenders because rather than pinching my waist, they operate on simple gravity and I can wear my waist band as loose as I like without risk of ending up on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

But as I say, I probably like the look more than the comfort. They add a little flair to the otherwise conformist ensemble of my male colleagues. Not many men wear suspenders anymore, so they add a little distinction. I like that. In fact, I am the only one that wears them in my workplace and they are kind of my trademark. Another man wore some one day, and he was teased with comments such as: “Oh excuse me, I thought you were Joseph for a moment.” I almost felt bad for him, but at the same time I was gratified; I am special.

One day I was away from the office for lunch and I happened to cross paths with stranger who was also wearing suspenders. Our eyes met and he offered one of those subtle head nods, and I returned the gesture. We might have sort of grunted at each other too; the point is, there was clearly a bond established between two members of the exclusive men who wear suspenders club.

And this, like so many other insignificant events, set me to pondering. In the little world of my workplace I am gratified to be special, but in the wide world I am happy to find someone like myself. I want to be unique, but not too unique. (I know unique should not have a qualifier; the "error" was intentional.)

We all want to be unique. Society places great value on individuality. Individualism is extolled and honored. We celebrate non-conformity, take pride in our individuality and resist anything that categorizes us too narrowly.

And yet, we want to belong. There seems to be an innate desire to be identified with some group bigger than ourselves. In spite of the aforementioned exaltation of individuality, we all want to fit in. Perhaps not all, there is the rare recluse who shuns human association, but I wonder if they truly desire solitude, or if they merely despair of fitting in. I cannot say. I have only observed that most people want to belong.

I am of the opinion that we don’t value individuality quite as much as we pretend. We pay lip service; we think it sounds wise, or new age, or enlightened, but in the end I think most of us want to belong more than we want to stand out. I realize the two are not mutually exclusive, as the suspender club illustrates. But I believe the desire to belong is actually stronger and more natural than the desire to be unique.

No real point to any of this, I just wanted to point out that I wear suspenders as an excuse to brag about my grandson. He recently took notice of my suspenders and his mother got him a set of his own, and he loves to wear them and tell you he has suspenders like Grandpa.

I love that boy!

But if he is trying to belong, it is unnecessary. He already belongs to the small group of people I love more than life.


© 2014 Joseph E. Fountain