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January 1, 2011

Founded in a thought-filled SE Portland shower by our Reader of the Pack, Dawn AM, BookCycle PDX’s core purpose is to bring free-flowing book access and drop-off points for community use. “Give when you can, take when you want.”

Our simple mantra, Bringing literacy and the love of books to your local hangouts one bookcase at a time, says it all. At the baseline, this means we offer a bookcase to a local business and a “starter set” of books all stamped with our logo. We maintain this bookcase and keep it with books ready to read. We hope to foster community of fellow bibliophiles not only through our books, but through future book-centric events and regular book reviews. This can be as big as we, collectively, make it.


Ender’s Game Or, Sounds like Good Military Strategy

January 19, 2013

Now this is an odd sensation…I’ve been away from WordPress, and all of the sudden writing a review looks more like Tumblring. I almost fell into the temptation of posting a cute unattributed review. Then I remembered where I was. That’s in my desk, writing a review for the first time in eons. Literal eons. In the past few days I’ve finished two books, but I’d like to focus attention on Ender’s Game.

Yep, you guessed why: because they’re working on a film adaption, and I’m always curious to see how these things translate. (Though I also had interest in this novel via word-of-mouth, unlike my Watchmen experience.) My friends constantly recommended, so I had no reason to not pick it up.

This novel (the first of a series) focuses on Andrew Wiggins, a.k.a. Ender, a young child being monitored for potential use as a government weapon. In this future America, families are limited to two children, and a third requires a government waiver. Ender is allowed to be born because his two older siblings came come close, but didn’t cut it, as fighters. The G-men thought Ender Ma and Ender Pa did such a good job on the first two that The Third may be the Earth’s savior.

At age six, Ender reaches the end of observation and gets taken from his family to be militarily trained. He could give or take Mom and Dad; his older brother, Peter, holds resentment towards Ender because he himself failed as “the one.” Ender sees more than just resentment, though: he also sees the ability to kill in Peter, dangerous and angry. It’s a relief to be away from Peter, but the same can’t be said for Ender’s sister, Valentine. Valentine’s intellect was enough to make her the one, but she was too empathetic. There is pure love between these siblings, and it’s hard to see them part.

(Hmm, you say to yourself: children being trained to kill sure have good sibling relationships, if this and The Hunger Games are any suggestions.)

Ender’s start at school, to be part of the International Fleet, isn’t easy. He’s young, little, and teased. His intellect and quick-wittedness, not to mention freak physical strength, become the key to his survival (and ultimate success). In his training his leaders subject him to unfair trials to mold him into the commander they need: one with natural aptitude plus a nonchalant attitude about killing when necessary. So that’s our protagonist. Aside from the human antagonists—bullies, platoon leaders, teachers, brother—the main antagonist is The Buggers. This enemy is one humans haven’t directly communicated with but have engaged in two crushing wars with. In ways kids once played cowboys vs. Indians (ugh) or cops vs. robbers, kids in the future play “buggers and astronauts” (11):

Peter opened his bottom drawer and took out the bugger mask. Mother had got upset at him when Peter bought it, but Dad pointed out that the war wouldn’t go away just because you hid bugger masks and wouldn’t let your kids play with make-believe laser guns. The better to play the war games, and have a better chance of surviving when the buggers came again.

If I survive the games, thought Ender. He put on the mask. It closed him in like a hand pressed tight against his face. But this isn’t how it feels to be a bugger, thought Ender. They don’t wear this face like a mask, it is their face. On their home worlds, do the buggers put on human masks, and play? And what do they call us? Slimies, because we’re so soft and oily compared to them?

The third war is on the way, and the Earth needs a savior, which is where Ender comes in. What is the stuff of childish play will soon be the focus of Ender’s life, every day. Did I mention this kid is six years old when he first starts his training?

I enjoyed reading this novel. It was a little tough for me to believe Ender was six. Most six-year-olds I’ve interacted with projectile vomit in class and cry if you don’t acknowledge they’ve had their hand raised for five seconds. Anyway, this leads me to some questions about the film adaptation.

They’ve aged Ender by five years or so. Is this so he’ll be more relatable (which I can get behind), is it so they can introduce a love interest (boooo), or is it because the thought of kids going to war will slim down the audience? I suppose the success of The Hunger Games proves audiences can handle murderous children. On the other hand, Ender is subject to years of mental anguish by his teachers, and he isn’t told when he does kill. Maybe that’s the trick to succeeding militarily and defending our corner of the universe? I dunno.

A fabulous point made in this story is our (Americans’, humanity’s…) urgency to defeat an enemy we know little about. Some extremist dudes in ghutras arranged the destruction of a symbolic American building, killing about three thousand, so now we have to wage war on every brown person wearing a turban who might read the Quran…

I buy that we, humanity, would try to destroy an alien race. The buggers’ motivation for starting a war are unclear, given we cannot communicate with each other. (The buggers appear to communicate amongst themselves in a sort of ESP-way, thinking as one, following a Queen Bee’s directives.) But, hey, this universe is ours, dammit. Let’s blow them away!

I would definitely recommend reading this. It is a classic sci-fi novel that digs deep into our willingness to wage war; our willingness to absorb collateral damage; our willingness to use genius for bad. I won’t give anything away by parsing for you what the title means, but “gaaahhh” came out of my mouth many times while reading this. Gaaaaahhh. This book never made me tear up, but it did make me say, “I believe this could happen. We have children fighting in wars across the globe. Why wouldn’t we start them young, monitoring their potential, in such a ‘civilized’ country like ours?” Then I got mad.

So, please read. If you have read, let’s talk about this. The back cover includes a snippet from a NYT review, in which the reviewer describes the novel as one would an action-adventure game: “Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species…He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?” But I assure you there is much more depth to this novel than discovering if a child is capable of defeating a grotesque enemy.


Island by Aldous Huxley

September 22, 2011

KK here, one of the supposed-regular reviewers for BCPDX. I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Excuses are for losers, but I have one. I broke my hand playing kickball this summer (stupid, I know), and this has been the first book I’ve read since being able to type a lot comfortably. Here we go again!

So my good friend Peter says to me, he says, “I’m reading Island right now. You have to read it.” He thought it was amazing, and being part of the My Favorite Book is Brave New World Club, I took his advice seriously. I told my book club partner about it, and we read recently read it—and discussed it to near-death.

The thing with Island is, it’s sold as a novel—but it’s a half-assed novel, if you want the truth. The plot and character development are super-thin. But the ideas? Oh, they’re grand. Many of our book club members hate-hate-hated the book, because they just couldn’t get into the narrative. However, once we talked about it, they realized it wasn’t “a bunch of hippie bullshit”—it is incredibly thought-provoking and amazing for discussion. But as a summer read? Not that hot. I had an enjoyable experience with it because I read it as a philosophical treatise: I used a ton of Post-It flags and wrote notes on the back flap to provoke my thought. (Confession: I’m a nerd, so I do that any time a read a book, regardless of genre or topic. Shhh.) Knowing that I would be discussing this book with a group of smart people made the reading easier.

It’s not horribly written, mind you. Yes, Huxley’s ideas are far more grand that his writing, but he isn’t horrible at it. This book just disappointed a lot of people who were expecting a story. Another reason I enjoyed it immensely is it fits in my liberal world view. I agreed with much of what Huxley posited. So what, exactly, is it about?

Plot: this guy, Will Farnaby, is a journalist hoping to facilitate a dirty deal between his rich boss and a small island, Pala, over oil. His boss is hoping for exploitation, whereas Will is just thinking about the paycheck. It was serendipity when he found himself crashed on the island and taken care of by its inhabitants. This island is the namesake of the book. It is also Huxley’s idea of a utopia. As Will’s health improves he becomes more interested in how Pala works. He is the Skeptical Outsider finding it tough that things really work here; he just wants to find out who is in charge and exploit them. By the end, however, he’s bonded with the residents and drank their semi-Buddhist/Tantric Kool-Aid.

That’s the gist of the plot. Not too much more intrigue than that—there is some political intrigue, but it, altogether, adds up to about ten pages. Most of the character development results from explaining how people handle emotions—mostly pain—in this utopia. It boils down to “mind over matter,” if you must know. Psychology, education, population (control), consumerism, religion and drug policy are all Huxley’s targets. I don’t want to spoil it all should you read it. But here’s your warning: if you aren’t too socially liberal you will have a hard time with this. As a fawning fangirl I agreed with a lot. Not all. Having discussed it in book club, I don’t have it in me to say much now. I will leave you with some choice quotes, however.

On sex (89):

Maithuna,” she answered gravely, “is the yoga of love.”
“Sacred or profane?”
“There’s no difference.”
“That’s the whole point,” Ranga put in. “When you do maithuna, profane love is sacred love.”
Buddhatvan yoshidyonisansritan,” the girl quoted.
None of your Sanskirt! What does it mean?”
“How would you translate Buddhatvan, Ranga?”
“Buddhaness, Buddheity, the quality of being enlightened.”
Radha nodded and turned back to Will. It means that Buddhaness is in the yoni.”

On Family; everyone belongs to a Mutual Adoption Club where you become family with more than your blood relatives (107):

“Take one sexually inept wage slave,” she went on, “one dissatisfied female, two or (if preferred) three small television addicts; marinate in a mixture of Freudism and dilute Christianity; then bottle up tightly in a four-room flat and stew for fifteen years in their own juice. Our recipe is rather different: Take twenty sexually satisfied couples and their offspring; add science, intuition and humor in equal quantities; steep in Tantrik Buddhism and simmer indefinitely in an open pan in the open air over a brisk flame of affection.”
“And what comes out of your open pan?” he asked.
“An entirely different kind of family. Not exclusive, like your families, and not predestined, not compulsory. An inclusive, unpredestined and voluntary family. Twenty pairs of fathers and mothers, eight or nine ex-fathers and ex-mothers, and forty or fifty children of all ages.”

Fulfillment, from the Notes on What’s What (160):

“‘Patriotism is not enough.’ But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.”

This book is great for debate—I didn’t quote any of the anti-capitalism, anti-Catholicism, anti-sit-in-your-desk-education passages. There’s also a bunch of words about enlightenment through drugs. (This is Huxley we’re talking about.) If you’re into reading an interesting mix of Eastern spirituality, Western criticism and humanism, hey, you might like this. If you’re looking for a breezy summer read, stay away. It’s not a beach read.


Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

June 24, 2011

This is a fine little book about punctuation. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation was an amusing read for me, but I’m not certain it’s for everyone.
If you cringe, or at least laugh, at mispunctuated signs I’d recommend this for you. If you’re curious about how to really use a semicolon, you’d be better off asking your friendly neighborhood English teacher (or Googling it); this book explains how to do it, yes, but there’s a lot of banter that prevents this from being efficient instruction.

This book is 204 pages of example, history and how-to. Why does this matter? According to author Lynne Truss (201):

We have a language full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and allusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.

Therefore, we can’t go the way of those rotten teenagers and SPK TXT, nor can we go the way of dead Futurist F.T. Marinetti and communicate “with unhampered words and with no connecting strings of syntax and no punctuation” (184). No, no, all that ambiguity would cause mayhem, you know? This book didn’t need to convince me of such, however; I’m already a fan of correct punctuation. What I found helpful was the clearing-up of certain ambiguities (the differences in American and British usage of terminal punctuation with quotation marks, for example).

It was a very enjoyable read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to the average civilian. If you aren’t already anal retentive about punctuation, I don’t think this book will turn you into the type who corrects apostrophes on signs.


P.S. Thank you, Lynne Truss, for introducing me to my new 15th Century hero, Aldus Manutius the Elder. This scholarly printer invented italics and established firm rules for using a semicolon. LOVE HIM.

Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney

June 8, 2011

I’m reposting one of my older reviews as I haven’t written a new one since my last Wednesday. I chose Dhalgren, because it is a sci-fi landmark, but I’ve found not many people I know have read it. Understandably so, as it is quite an undertaking. But it is just so good.

I had to read Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren because my sister's fiancé, John, handed me the book. (If you want me to read something, people, put the book in my hands. Or pants—see Dune.) I wanted to read Dhalgren because, after a quick Google search, I realized it was a sci-fi landmark (and as I’ve said before, this is a genre I used to ignore but now can’t get enough of). It’s a hard read, though; the novel will be most enjoyable to you if you understand basic sci-fi motifs and postmodern techniques—and can handle 800 pages.

First, what I didn’t like: it took me almost twenty pages to get into it. But when you consider it’s 800 pages long, that’s not bad. See, the novel starts mid-sentence: “to wound the autumnal city.” Within a couple of pages our narrator has sex with a woman who soon turns into a tree. I had read on the webz that Dhalgren is a difficult read; with these first pages, I was inclined to agree. But, you know, sex with a stranger who turns into a tree is bound to happen to everyone at some point in his or her life, so I kept reading.

Now, what I like: that last part of a sentence that starts the novel is a complete sentence—it starts on the last page. Oh, hey: I liked pretty much everything about this book. So if you want my quick opinion, quit reading now and note that I give this book a five out of five. Because this novel is so damn epic, I’m not going to try to analyze it too much. Instead, I’ll just familiarize you with it a little bit, and tell you what I like.

Dhalgren takes place in an American city, Bellona. It was once one of the most populous cities, but most original inhabitants have left. I imagine it’s somewhere around New York. An unspecified disaster, limited only to this city, created post-apocalyptic conditions (the typical smoky-dusty-sky that brings looting and chaos). Yet, everyone lives okay with each other. There are, of course, moments of strife, as racial tensions run high and a crazy guy shoots at people from the top of a department store. People live wherever they want, taking whatever they want. Some normalcy exists (a bus runs; a bar serves booze nightly; a enigmatic publisher prints a newspaper). People drift into Bellona because they want something. Something new? Something difficult? Something boring? Hard to say. Given the post-apocalyptic setting, you might anticipate this to be a story of survival or of getting out. Nope. The time lapses, the atmosphere, the cosmic inconsistencies (is that two moons?), the optic chains, prisms and holographic disguises indicate this is science fiction. Some might say this is a metaphor of real-world strife (a metaphor for the ’60s?) or some other sci-fi trope. I don’t think it’s that, either. Hey, man, it just is.

As I mentioned before, the book starts mid-sentence. This sets us up for a trip: the circular narrative aspect is badass. I was confused when I started the book, and hella confused as I finished it. After finishing, though, I re-read the first two chapters and everything made so much more sense (so make sure you do that). The book doesn’t start, and the book doesn’t end. It’s really fitting that there is no clear plot, though, because our single-shoed narrator is unreliable. He doesn’t know who he is (he knows his age, he thinks, and places he’s been), so he gets nicknamed “Kidd” or “The Kid” (depending on who you ask). It’s not just the past he’s forgotten, either; he loses minutes, hours, days. Ahh, now we’re getting heavy into the post-modern thing. (Seriously: if you look up “postmodern literature,” note that this book contains nearly every characteristic.) In addition to the circular narrative and lapses in time, Delaney crafted the book to create poems and rough drafts within Dhalgren. The Kid, who carries a found notebook everywhere, writes poems (he thinks); the Kid writes down conversations and events that happen (the best he can recall); and the Kid goes back and scribbles in the margin.

Within a few chapters, the story feels like it’s progressing linearly, until Delaney shows us those notes in the margin (which, Kid admits, he doesn’t know where the vignettes fit in). So when did any of this stuff happen? Given all of this, Dhalgren could aptly be described as a “mindfuck.” (If you liked Inception, hey, you should read this book.) You have a keen sense that this book isn’t just a story, but an exercise in writing. It can be quite cheeky, as Tak explains to Kid the three conventions of science fiction (p. 372) or we read a conversation between a much-published poet, Newboy, and the new poet, Kid (p. 355). At some point the book stops being a novel and becomes a written history (p. 662):

[Here the correction marks—except for one entry further on—stop. Did our transcriber tire of amateur scholarship? What he has given is more frustrating than helpful. And the sensitive reader will wish with us that he had annotated the final, rather than the first, few pages; there are half a dozen passages to come where even these attempts at variora might be preferable to the most informed supposition…

If this wasn’t Delaney telling a story about Kid, but a journal written by Kid, then who is this mysterious transcriber? Is it Kid again? At what exact point does the former-book-now-journal become a book again? Are we supposed to believe anything? Yeah, guys, mindfuck.

It’s not just the fancy literary techniques that got me sweet on this book. It was the subject matter: people just doing people things. The seemingly inane conversations recorded by Kid, the plentiful sex scenes (straight, gay, ménage à trois, gang-bangs), the random acts of violence during scorpion “runs” don’t add up to much, but they do make us comfortable with the characters (unless, of course, you’re a prude). Delaney, a much-published literature professor, obviously knows how to use characterization. How aware are the characters that they’re in a book? They’re certainly aware someone is writing about them (they recognize themselves in Kid’s poetry). We get the feeling that nothing is censored (but who knows? What might Kid be hiding?), as this is a salacious read. But what would you be doing in a city with no rules and no economy?

Delaney can comment on our constructions of sex, gender, and race with his characters. The ones we’re primarily concerned with, the scorpions, seem to blur all these lines. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, male or female; you can have as much sex as you want—however nasty you want—or be as violent as you want. There are moments when the characters forget they’ve blurred the lines, though. Why does is it disturbing that Gladis desires an annual gang-bang? Why are most of the scorpions black? What does it mean that the white guy who prefers the company of the black scorpions is called Tarzan?
These things—and many others—gave me a lot to think about. These characters have such fluid sexual relationships with each other: why do I feel most comfortable with monogamy? Many of these characters don’t label their sexuality: why are we so uncomfortable with pansexuality? The black characters call each other “nigger:” why can’t the white scorpion respond in kind?

There is so much more to say and so much more to think about, but this “review” is already disjointed (although, given the book, that’s fitting). Needless to say, I definitely plan on reading this book again.


Next up, though? Jane Eyre. ‘Bout time I picked up a stodgy classic.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

May 25, 2011

I like to imagine the Apocalypse begins with a big ball of fire and continues with a small badass population fighting over resources. Everyone has big awesome hair and wears a lot of leather and metal. The good guys are attractive, and the bad guys all look like that inbred uncle of yours (making us all, yes, inbred, too). However, this is a product of watching The Road Warrior and Mötley Crüe music videos; the real Apocalypse isn’t going to be as fast or as stylin’.

For just this reason I really appreciate The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. The Apocalypse didn’t happen as one wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am Judgment Day, but a crumbling of civilization. We sold ourselves and starved ourselves until we were all against each other. No big event revealed the truth—that humanity is depraved. It just happened. Not the explosions you were hoping for, but the results are the same: how could you argue this isn’t the end times?

The novel starts in 2024, with precocious fifteen-year-old Lauren narrating and journaling the events that happen to her family and neighbors in their walled California compound. Don’t get the wrong idea; they’re not walled-in as a sign of wealth, but walled-in to protect themselves from robbers, looters, rapists, et. al. Some places are worse than others, yes, but all of the U.S. is in shambles, it seems (47):

“There’s cholera spreading in Southern Mississippi and Louisiana,” I said. “I heard about it on the radio yesterday. There are too many poor people—illiterate, jobless, homeless, without decent sanitation or clean water. They have plenty of water down there, but a lot of it is polluted…Tornadoes are smashing hell out of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and two or three other states. Three hundred people dead so far. And there’s a blizzard freezing the northern midwest, killing even more people. In New York and New Jersey, a measles epidemic is killing people. Measles!”

I imagine if our characters traveled outside the U.S. they’d be seeing the same things, if not worse. Unsurprisingly, there is a huge disparity of wealth: people have literally nothing or they have a lot. Lauren’s situation is out of the ordinary; her family has some income as her dad works at a college (can you imagine school sticking around at a time like this? I honestly can’t). The neighbors take care of each other, even sharing communal citrus trees. This is the best situation one could be in as a character in this novel, for they have something—and have souls. However, that’s all shattered one day as their compound is finally broken into. Most everyone dies—many murdered brutally—and the houses are burned to the ground.

Our heroine, a survivor, Lauren heads north, maybe to Oregon, maybe to Canada. Like the sea of refugees she passes on I-5 and 101, she just wants to get somewhere that has housing and employment. At this point we’re about halfway through the book, ready to get to the whole point: The Parable. Given the title of the book, how could you not expect a spiritual side?

All I’ve mentioned of our heroine is that she is young and precocious. She is also black, strong, and the daughter of a minister. This is all important: life, like today, is easier if you are white and male. But she is determined to survive, and her world falling apart forces her to take her ideas seriously and begin to implement them. The past several years haven’t been inventing this religion, but “stumbling across the truth [which] isn’t the same as making things up” (233). She forms Earthseed, a religion that maintains that God is Change—but the only lasting truth is Change. Earthseed’s destiny is among the stars, as there certainly isn’t anything left on Earth. Lauren isn’t being hopelessly metaphorical. She literally means that Earthseed’s followers, no matter how removed they are from her generation, will take root off-world. This is quite a goal for a teenaged girl. However, her commitment is unwavering, and you can’t help but side with her.

Butler’s character Lauren is the sort of strong female I am always excited to read about. It’s definitely sad when one is pleasantly surprised to read a strong, smart, candid female, but I am. (It is really good for me to be reading less canonical literature and more sci-fi!) In this novel Lauren is 15-18 and all sorts of kickass. She leads a group of survivors, picking up more along the way, to ultimately form the Earthseed community (see, she’s a Sower, eh?) And if I want to see how her character and community progress, I can, for there is a sequel.

I won’t bore you with what I didn’t care for in the novel (it isn’t much; I just didn’t feel affected by it). What I liked:
1. Realistic depiction of the world going to hell (I hesitate to say dystopia, for while it seems dystopian, it’s not a unified society we are dealing with).
2. Lauren is the kind of character a girl can look up to (although I’m a 27-year-old woman, I still find this very important)
3. There are so many moments that caused me to proclaim, “Ah! That just happened!” or “That is totally going to happen!” or “That should be shocking, but it isn’t.” You know I’m a sucker for all that’s relevant.

I recommend this book if you’re into strong female leads; if you want to trace a religion’s inception (yep, this seems how one would start); if you are into survivalist/post-apocalyptic literature (though it didn’t make me cry like The Road did); or if you like an engaging story.


P.S. I learned that the end is nigh.

Review: Little Bee, Chris Cleave

May 18, 2011

Repost from early 2009.

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truely special story and we do not want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day,and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you will never have to face. Two years later, they meet again — the story starts there…

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens The magic is in how the story unfolds.

This is the text on the inside  leaf of the dust cover for Chris Cleave’s book, Little Bee.

Damn you publisher. damn you to hell. have a little faith in your reader base. i would have read this book anyway, the expectations set in the fold were misleading and cruel. you cant read a book like this under false pretenses. each time something happens, it is compared against the expectations set. and the book is left wanting, but not by its own merit, by your deciet.


For everyone else out there, here is what it should read in the leaf fold of the dust cover:

Little bee, a refugee from Nigeria, knows only one man and one woman in London. Her story is sad as is the stories of the man and woman she knows. When she tells her story, you will listen. Not by force, but because the scar tissue from her tale is beautiful, if only you see it in the right light.

If anyone tells you there is magic here, slap them, then keep reading.

This is one of the saddest books I have ever read, but if you are prepared for this fact, you can certainly enjoy it. Little Bee is well written and grabs you attention from beginning to end. It is not magic.

— Jason

The Picture of Dorian Gray

May 12, 2011

No new review for me today, but I’ve pulled something relevant out of my archives. A new “uncensored” version of Dorian Gray came out recently. I really want to read it. Although this is Wilde “uncut,” we know he was still limited by Victorian conventions, so it’s hard to guess how much is different. Le sigh. Deets here.

Several years ago, near the end of my English major classes, I read “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. HILARIOUS. I then said to myself, “I must read more of this Oscar Wilde. He is funny, smart, and of course flaming.”

I have long admired Wilde for his writing and his fashion, so it made sense to pick up The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde for cheap.

This week I read his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a must-read for any person, as you will suddenly “get” all references made to Dorian Gray (look, I just came across one yesterday in my daily blog-reading), and you will quickly learn that Wilde writes in aphorisms. Seriously — everything the guy puts down on paper is a punchy universal truth. You know someone is a master if they do something better than Shakespeare…

So, Dorian Gray… Glad I read it. Would I recommend it? Not necessarily. It was written in Victorian England, and definitely reflects the time period. All of the description gets boring (typical of the Gothic novel), and sometimes Wilde’s wit is just exhausting. But, if you can get past those minor quibbles, please read it!

The protagonist is Dorian Gray, a fashionable, beautiful, rich young man whose friend, Basil Hallward, paints a magnificent portrait of him. Dorian wishes he could remain as gorgeous as that portrait forever… The novel follows his life primarily, including his near-marriage, his addiction, and his, umm, bad decisions…

Within pages of reading I scribbled a question on my bookmark—”is every line an aphorism?” (if it isn’t a universal truth, it is still a witty epigram). The answer is “Not quite, but close.” The character of Lord Henry is the greatest provider of these; he is like the best friend who influences you to smoke pot, drink cheap beer, or skip class. You know you will have a good time with him, but your other friends warn you to stay away… Here are just a few I underlined while reading:

  • …there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about (chapter 1).
  • And Beauty is a form of genius—is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation (2).
  • All influence is immoral… because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul (2).
  • There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth! (2)
  • To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies (3).
  • Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing (4).
  • Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect—simply a confession of failures (4).
  • Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays. I should fancy that the real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford nothing but self-denial (6).

And so these are some of the lessons imparted to impressionable, young and beautiful Dorian Gray. You know, this is why Lindsay Lohan had so many problems. She had too many people like Lord Henry around!

Part of the reason I decided to pick this novel up is because I’d lived by the preface alone (see my blog about blogging). I liked to pick it apart and admire the language, using it support any argument I had (most often with myself) about aesthetics. Wilde was inconsistent, as I explained in that ol’ blog of mine. So am I. So is literature.

Is Dorian Gray didactic? Is it a rumination on our obsession with youth and beauty? Is it simply a well-written book? You know, I could expound on these and other questions for ages. But, I did that with my review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so I figure I’ll give that a rest.

My recommendation:
Read this novel, especially if you are one of those people who likes to read “the classics.” This one is considered a classic for good reasons:
Did you know “Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book?” (chapter 11). Is this possible?
Why does art exist? Some say “it’s an outlet” or “it’s to show our true selves.” Do you think a work of art can come alive? Or somehow retain the essence of its subject?

Oh, and be careful what you wish for. That is all.