April 15, 2008

All New People, Pere Goriot, and The Moon and Sixpence

Three of the books that I read in the last few weeks are All New People, Pere Goriot, and The Moon and Sixpence.

I first read Anne Lamott's writing when she wrote for salon.com some years ago. That was before Salon had become a political magazine, before subscriptions were offered and before you had to watch advertisements to read the articles. That was when Salon was possibly the first general-interest internet magazine. The fact that I can still remember her name is evidence that her writing left a deep impression on me. (Although I think I did get her name mixed up with Anne Tyler, and for that reason I have a few unread Anne Tyler books on my bookshelf.)

All New People is Tyler's third novel, and I thought it was very good--worth reading again. The book flap states that the story takes place in Marin county in Northern California. It seems to me that there is a Berkeley-esque feeling to her writing. I get a similar feeling from Maxine Hong Kingston and Ursula Le Guin, other writers who have lived in Northern California. I tried to describe that quality, but it sounded silly, so I will just say that they are sensitive writers.

The structure of the book is pretty free form. There is very little plot. The editorial reviews at amazon.com describe the book well. The narrator describes her childhood so well that I remembered many things from my own childhood that I haven't thought about in years. One recurring thought as I read this book was that if Taiwanese people wanted to know what life is like in America, this would be a fairly good start. The story takes place in the late sixties or early seventies. Although I wasn't around then, the book's world still felt very familiar.

The next book here is Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac. I was inspired to read this after reading Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. I enjoyed it, although I prefer Balzac's Eugenie Grandet. Much of the plot is concerned with money. The protagonist needs money in order to establish himself in society. Unfortunately, reading about people losing money is painful to me, in the same way that it is difficult to watch a gory movie. One thing that I found amusing is that the last ten pages of the book is almost pure babbling. Even if you loved the book, I don't think you could deny that it is babbling.

The last book here is The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham. Below is the picture of the book cover. The book is loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin. I didn't catch on to that until almost the end of the book when the painter moves to Tahiti. There are a lot of similarities in the story to Cakes and Ale, also by Maugham, and the writing is very good in both books, but I didn't appreciate this book as much. The narrator can barely understand the heartlessness of the main character and the reader is in the same boat. After reading the story, there's a good chance that you'll want to take a look at Gauguin's art and see if you can see the genius or the painter's idiosyncrasies in it.



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