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Penguin Moderns: Samuel Beckett and Kathy Acker

The End by Samuel Beckett ** (#26) 9780241338971
Samuel Beckett is an author whom I have not historically enjoyed; I read both Endgame and Waiting for Godot during my undergraduate studies, and cannot say that I found much merit in either.  I was therefore not much looking forward to reading The End, the 26th Penguin Modern book, but decided to go to it with an open mind regardless.  Both stories in this collection, ‘The End’ and ‘The Calmative’, follow ‘unnamed vagrants contending with decay and death [and] combine bleakness with the blackest of humour’.  The tales were both published in 1954, and were translated from their original French into English in 1967.

Both stories are told in a stream-of-consciousness style.  In ‘The End’, the voice of the narrator runs on, barely stopping, and running from one random observation to the next in the same paragraph; it is rare that such observations are at all connected to one another.  The voices of the protagonists have been captured well, as have their concerns with the world, but I found them both incredibly odd; indeed, they are almost nonsensical at times.  The second story is narrated by a dead man, and is thus even stranger than the first.  Both characters are very involved with divulging their bodily functions and excretions, which I personally found quite grim.  Despite being so short, both stories felt very long indeed due to the style in which they were written.

 

9780241338896New York City in 1979 by Kathy Acker (#27)
Aside from reading the first twenty or so pages of Blood and Guts in High School before deciding it wasn’t for me and putting it down, I was quite unfamiliar with Kathy Acker’s work.  ‘New York City in 1979’ is a short story described in its blurb as ‘a tale of art, sex, blood, junkies and whores in New York’s underground.’  Acker is referred to in the same blurb as a ‘cult literary icon’.

This is the first Penguin Modern to include photographs in my ordered reading of the series, and these, which are by Anne Turyn, I enjoyed.  I was not keen at all on the accompanying text, however.  Its blurb makes it sound rather gritty, which I am fine with.  I found the story vulgar, though.  ‘New York City in 1979’, which was first published in 1981, is fragmented in its prose style and format, and feels rather cobbled together.  There is little coherence here; rather, it feels as though Acker made a series of notes, connected only due to their New York setting, and published them without any editing.  The tone is impersonal and detached, and the characters are so shadowy that it is difficult to feel anything for them.  I felt as though Acker was shrieking her words at times, a fan as she is of random capitalisation.  I found ‘New York City in 1979’ a very awkward tale to read, and the photographs were the only thing here which I enjoyed.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Most disappointing books of 2014

Hello and a Happy New Year! 🙂

I’m really sorry for my long absence from the blog, but things got really busy and time proved to be insufficient for most of my activities.

Instead of a list of the best books I read in 2014, I decided to compile a list of the most disappointing ones, because, sadly, there were quite a few of them. I will make some brief comments about why they were disappointing for me, so if you would like to see a full review on any of them just let me know 🙂 In no particular order, here is my list:

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger **

I had heard so many great things about this book, and having bought it since last year, I was really looking forward to reading it. However, my high expectations were everything but met. I found the book rather dull and boring, and even though I expected to finish it within a few hours, it actually took me a couple of months to do it. I wasn’t particularly fond of the main character, Holden, either. I expected something big to happen by the end, but the book let me down in that aspect as well.

2. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut **

I am usually not so absolute with authors, but this book, having been the first of Vonnegut’s I read, made me reluctant to pick up any of his other books. The plot and the premise were so very interesting and I was convinced I would be in for a fabulous read, but that was far from what I eventually experienced. I recognise that Vonnegut has a rather poignantly humorous writing style, but I’m sad to say it was not for me. I caught myself struggling so much while reading, and I couldn’t wait until the book was finally over.

3. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki ***

This book looked like one I would thoroughly enjoy, since its main theme is the praising of the Japanese lifestyle and parts of their culture. As a Japanophile, I usually adore such writings, but this one disappointed me a bit. It lacked the passion I expected it to have, and I found it a bit boring in some parts.

4. Happy Days by Samuel Beckett **

Since I’m usually not really fond of Beckett’s plays, I should have tried to avoid this one. However, I was obliged to read it for one of my university courses, and I have to admit that I have never struggled so much in reading a play. It is flooded by stage directions that obstruct the reading experience, and it tired me out so much. Despite its tiny length, I had to take many breaks whilst reading in order for me to concentrate on it. I’m not doubting the great messages its analysis brings to light, but I believe this play would probably be better watched rather than read.

5. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest ***

Another book I expected to thoroughly enjoy but didn’t. I love fantasy and science fiction, and this book was good, but nothing more than that. It didn’t make me feel very excited while reading and often I was quite reluctant to pick it up and continue reading it. The plot was nice, some of the characters wanted a bit more working out, but it wasn’t anything particularly great.

6. The Skriker by Caryl Churchill **

Who would have thought that a play about fairies would be so un-fairy-like? The dialogues were confusing, the characters not particularly interesting and the premise rather dull for my liking.

7. The Gunslinger by Stephen King **

That was my first Stephen King book, and I didn’t find it as compelling as I had expected. I didn’t really like the writing style and the plot was confusing and very disorganized. Despite the fact that it was the first book in the series, I believe King didn’t introduce his world and the characters adequately for the reader to grasp what is going on. Sometimes, the chapters seemed unconnected with each other, and it looked to me more like an amateur writer’s first draft than a book by such a well-known author.

8. The Metamosphosis by Franz Kafka **

This book had been sitting on my self since last year, as well. The plot had an interesting premise and again I had heard so many wonderful things about it, but when I finally got around to reading it I was very disappointed. It tired me quite a lot and it took me a long time to finish it. I didn’t ike the ending and I felt that even though the story wanted to convey a certain message, it failed in doing so for me.

I am sure you have read some of the books I mentioned here, so I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on them.

I hope you all have a great (reading) year!