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Last Dance of the Intelligentsia - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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June 28th, 2006


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09:40 pm - Last Dance of the Intelligentsia
Do not read Foucault's Pendulum.

Let me amend that. Do not read Foucault's Pendulum for the sake of reading Foucault's Pendulum. It is at least 200 pages too long, and do you really have that kind of time? The last couple months, I have been inexplicably been having issues with my own mortality—okay, it's actually not too inexplicable when you consider that my uncle keeps talking to me about what I'll be doing when I have kids of my own and what I'll be doing after I retire and I am TWENTY-FUCKING-FOUR AND DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THIS SHIT OMG—and fearing that life really is too short, and I have such a limited time to read all the books there are that I should use my time wisely. I need to know that I will get something out of a book, that when I have finished it, I will feel truly accomplished. Why should I spend over two weeks reading a book "because I'm smart and smart people should have read this book"? Life's too short.

Do I feel accomplished for having read Foucault's Pendulum? Um, well, yeah, I kinda do, especially considering the number of people who have admitted to not making it all the way through. But what have I earned? Really, how can you drop a Foucault's Pendulum reference into casual conversation without sounding like Alex Turner an insufferable twat?

"Oh, ho ho, you seem to be searching for Belbo's trumpet!"
"For what?"
"Belbo's trumpet! From Foucault's Pendulum!"
(And that's when you get punched in the face by eirefaerie.)

See, the book technically sounds good. The basic idea, according to the book jacket, is that a few overeducated arsemonkeys with too much time on their hands concoct this Plan that the Knights Templar supposedly had to keep this Big Secret all to themselves. But then their made-up Plan seems like it's, um, not so made up anymore.

The problem is that first part takes FIVE HUNDRED FRELLING PAGES. Almost the entire book is made up of people researching history, and that is just not fun unless you're, like, obsessed with history. In The Name of the Rose, the history lesson digressions were just local color; in Foucault's Pendulum, they're basically the meat of the book. Yes, it can be funny at times, but those times are few and far between.

Now, I am glad I stuck with it because most of the construction of the Plan was pretty interesting, and the last hundred pages or so, when the second part of the premise pays off, is very satisfactory in its own way. It becomes an existentialist mini-treatise on the meaning (or lack thereof) of life, and I found the ideas Eco was playing with fascinating. But I couldn't help but think he didn't need this gargantuan text to play with it. This text with, and I don't think this is an exaggeration, hundreds of characters, most of them merely pawns in the Plan, none of whom I really cared about. The book was basically all details. Couldn't he just have summarized, well, what the book jacket already told us, and then muse from there?

The problem is I cannot say. I cannot say that I didn't need to have gone through all five hundred pages of story, have taken that immense journey with the characters, followed their many adventures, so many of which I didn't even feel needed telling. Because all that plot is what backs up the message at the end of the book. I still think he could have shaved at least 200 pages off, though.

So maybe you should read Foucault's Pendulum, but read it for the right reasons. Read it because you want to and you feel like you'll get something out of it, not because you "should."

If, however, you're still interested in books you "should" read, here's a random assortment of such books that I recommend:

  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller — This book is really, really funny. Like funny ha-ha, I swear. Funny like people will give you looks because you're cracking up too much. It's funny, it's funny, it's funny, and then oh my God it is sad. You won't even see the sad coming because you were too busy laughing. And then you won't know whether you're still allowed to laugh.
  • Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky — I read this book in high school because my English teacher described it as the story of a man who kills someone just to see what it feels like, and that really intrigued me. It turns out he wasn't entirely accurate, really, but it got me to read it, so whatever. This may have been the first "classic" book that surprised me by being actually enjoyable. Like, "Sorry, I'm not going to play outside; I'd rather read this book by a Russian dead guy about Nietszchean ethics" enjoyable. I mean, you've got a murderer going mad with remorse, a brilliant detective who engages in some of the most exhilarating dialogues I've ever read, and the inevitable whore with a heart of gold. Also, a wicked plot twist that totally shocked me simply by existing because holy crap, are you saying Good Books can have wicked plot twists?
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez — It's a tale of unrequited love that spans, like, FIFTY YEARS. It caught me off guard when the person I thought was going to be the main character died in the first chapter. This was another book I read in high school for outside reading, and I was again surprised that a book by such a lauded author was so entertaining.
  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner — Okay, this one may not be for everyone. But I read half of it in one day, reading nearly the entire day straight, and it fried my brain in such an awesome way that I cannot help but love it with a mad love. It's tough; it's Faulkner. But God, it's so amazing in the way that it takes one story, a story that you can just look at the back and see in a chronology of events, and imbues it with so many shades of color and power. It's a story about stories and why we need them and why it's important that it's called history.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams — I'm not even sure if this makes it onto most "should" lists anymore, but it's my favorite book about talking rabbits ever.

    In conclusion, The Shipping News still blows.
    Current Mood: accomplishedpretentious and twattish
    Current Music: The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes
  • (75 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

    Comments:


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    [User Picture]
    From:schnappycat
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
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    Heh. I love your Current Mood. Anyhow, I definitely won't be reading F P (can I call it that? good.) as even your summary lost me. No sense at all. It's very sad. It's also sad that I haven't read any of the books you rec. I suck. And apparently T S N blows. So my comment both sucks and blows. And I'm tired.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:55 am (UTC)
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    To be fair, I did a really crappy job with the summary because I was trying to fit it into two sentences. Basically, they poke around through history and decide that everything that ever happened is because the Templars had a Plan for something. As people mentioned before, it's similar to the plot of The Da Vinci Code, which also involves secret societies keeping a Big Secret. It's way, way, WAAAAAAY more complicated in this book, though.
    (Deleted comment)
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
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    Why not? It's not like it's impenetrably written. Could you just not get into it? Too much absurdity with not enough happening?
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    From:hobviously
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)
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    As you...probably! know, Catch-22 is my favourite book in all of ever. But I didn't like Watership Down at all (though I can no longer remember why).

    I need new reading material, but I have plenty of that. I need new reading material that I actually want to read.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:58 am (UTC)
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    As you...probably! know, Catch-22 is my favourite book in all of ever.
    I do know.

    But I didn't like Watership Down at all (though I can no longer remember why).
    Curses!

    I need new reading material that I actually want to read.
    Discworld is always a good time.
    [User Picture]
    From:littlelesh
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:59 am (UTC)
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    Okay, I kind of love you for recommending Crime and Punishment, which is one of my favorite books. Everyone else I know loathes it with a burning passion and they all think I'm completely whacked for liking it, so it's just sort of nice to know that someone I know finds it enjoyable. Yay you.

    In other news, I haven't talked to you in forever, it seems. So...hi. :)
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 05:01 am (UTC)
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    Why would anyone loathe it? It's so awesome!

    And hi, you were gone forever, but you seem to have had a fun birthday! *hugs*
    [User Picture]
    From:briasoleil
    Date:June 29th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)
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    Because I was in French literature, I didn't get that much exposure to Eco. (In my department, Sartre was king. Well, one of them.) But he was all the rage among the comparative literature crowd. And he was oft quoted in lit theory.

    Surprisingly, I haven't any of the books on your list. I've read several others by Garcia Marquez but not Love in the Time of Cholera. I own it, however.

    I had incredibly little exposure to American literature in my English lit high school courses. We read lots of Canadian texts, short stories, etc. and we did tons of British literature, with some translated pieces to round out the curriculum. Faulkner was never one of the choices. The one novel by Hemingway bored me beyond insomnia. On my own, I've discovered a number of American women minority authors. But other than Steinbeck and Eliot, the men have failed to make an impression. Obviously, I need help.

    Wow. That was quite a little tangent. Oh, and question! The .rar file you sent? Were there five tracks? I had some issues with downloading the file the first time and I just want to make sure that it worked the second time. Also, thank you very much! I'm so in love with this band.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 05:11 am (UTC)
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    Yep, five tracks! Glad you're loving the Eisley.

    I think I started the first few pages of The Old Man and the Sea in junior high and stopped. Haven't really tried Hemingway since.
    (Deleted comment)
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    From:incidentist
    Date:June 29th, 2006 05:20 am (UTC)
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    Agreed. I got through "Pendulum" but didn't understand most of what I'd just gotten through, which makes it feel more of a waste of time.

    But the title is sooo good.

    So Name of the Rose is better? Should I try it out?
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 05:29 am (UTC)
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    I got through "Pendulum" but didn't understand most of what I'd just gotten through, which makes it feel more of a waste of time.
    I know! Like, yes, I understood some of the cool shit they were making up, but most of it? Totally fucking over my head. He should provide me with an abridged version with, perhaps, characters who are less overeducated and speaking paragraphs in French that I will not bother to translate.

    The Name of the Rose is shorter, and it has a somewhat tighter narrative because it's a clear detective story if you skip all the papal politics shit, and the chapter titles are the funniest parts of the book, but I don't think it's as meaningful as this one. I mean, they explore different themes. The ideas in this one at the end really hit me in a cool way. Many of the ideas in TNOTR also did that, and I think you'll like them, actually, because they deal with the nature of information and knowledge and logic. Emotionally, however, this one kind of guts you at the end. At least, I feel like it's meant to, and it did what it could to me even though I didn't care about the characters that much. TNOTR is Holmes/Watson fun, however. I think you'll like it more; it doesn't require you to know all the bullshit to fully get what's going on.

    It's weird because it's not that I hated either book or felt like either was a huge waste of time. It's that I don't feel like I'm smart enough to love them. I like them well enough, however, and I have made it through them, which is more than a lot of people can say, I suppose.
    (Deleted comment)
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    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC)
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    I haven't, but I loved Silas Marner, so it's been in the back of my mind as one I should check out.

    I think my favorite part of Catch-22 is the thing about his liver disease or whatever.
    (Deleted comment)
    [User Picture]
    From:electricmonk
    Date:June 29th, 2006 06:35 am (UTC)
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    Books!
    I've yet to read Love in the Time of Cholera, but One Hundred Years of Solitude was so, so good. I didn't realize how good it was until it was over and I was all, wait, what do I do with MY LIFE now?
    And I still have to read Absalom and I still have to read Crime and Punishment and... shit, Sunil, now I'm going to go obsess about my mortality, too.
    [User Picture]
    From:eirefaerie
    Date:June 29th, 2006 12:35 pm (UTC)
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    Really, how can you drop a Foucault's Pendulum reference into casual conversation without sounding like Alex Turner an insufferable twat?

    "Oh, ho ho, you seem to be searching for Belbo's trumpet!"
    "For what?"
    "Belbo's trumpet! From Foucault's Pendulum!"
    (And that's when you get punched in the face by eirefaerie.)


    This would TOTES happen, too.

    I've never read FP. I've always sort of meant to, but I've never been in the right head space to tackle it. I had to read Eco in Italian for class, and I liked the stuff I read well enough, but not well enough to go pick up The Name of the Rose in its entirety, or anything. But then, that was in Italian, so I can't say as I grasped its full impact.

    I love Crime and Punishment like I love air.
    (Deleted comment)
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    From:tamarai
    Date:June 29th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC)
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    This is my sad realization du jour: I was an English major (and got my master's in English) and have only read one of your five "shoulds" (I am not counting Foucault's Pendulum, nor do I plan to read it now -- thanks! -- although I might read The Name of the Rose).

    The one I have read is Crime and Punishment, which was actually assigned in high school, and I've always remembered loving it. But you know, I've really got to re-read it. I've always meant to, anyway, and now, reading your description, I realize that I have absolutely no idea what the plot twist is. My memory of one of my self-described favorite books of all time is all but gone. That is just sad. (Yes, I do realize it's been 21 years, and no, I won't cut myself some slack.) So, yeah, re-reading that, posthaste.

    The other four are also now on my list for 2006.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
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    I realize that I have absolutely no idea what the plot twist is.
    The resolution of Svridigailov's storyline. It's not so much a Plot Twist as an Unexpected Plot/Character Development. It just hit me in a "Wow, I didn't think classic literature would do something like that and make it be so cool" way.

    I hope you enjoy the other four! Let me know.
    [User Picture]
    From:ohimesamamama
    Date:June 29th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
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    Actually, Foucault's Pendulum doesn't get that much better if you really love history. I'm history's schoolyard tramp and I still found FP 'overkill'. Your book-love is the awesome, although I'm a Thomas Hardy girl myself.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
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    I've wanted to read Hardy just because he seems to be a very love/hate author. When people hate him, they haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate him.

    If I were to read one, which should I read? Tess, Jude, or Mayor?
    [User Picture]
    From:jenelope
    Date:June 29th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
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    I could not make it through Crime and Punishment even though it was required reading in 12th grade. It was the first book for which I ever checked out Cliff's Notes. I read the first 30-odd pages, until Raskolnikov committed the crime in question, but I couldn't stomach the remaining hundreds of pages of punishment. Too much of it was internal. If you're going to kill someone for the sake of killing them, would you really feel so much drawn-out remorse? People who are capable of that level of remorse don't go around killing old women. I skimmed the middle chapters and read the end. I think I got a B on my test and an A on my paper.

    As for Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury is my choice. If Raskolnikov had been more like Jason Compson, I probably wouldn't have stopped reading his book.

    Watership Down is my favorite book. I can't seem to go more than three years without reading it, usually in the Fall. I tend to use Adams' "lapine" terms when talking about rabbits (silflay, hrududu, flayrah, etc.). I love Meester Pigvig best.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:38 pm (UTC)
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    If you're going to kill someone for the sake of killing them, would you really feel so much drawn-out remorse?
    Yes! And have fever dreams about beating dead horses.

    People who are capable of that level of remorse don't go around killing old women.
    But he's not, like, this psychopath. He just wanted to see if he could do it. And he did. But he still feels totally awful about it. I think it makes sense.

    As for Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury is my choice.
    Speaking of Cliff's Notes...heh. That's the only other Faulkner I've read. I'm more of a Quentin guy myself.

    I haven't read WD since ninth grade. I should re-read it sometime.
    (Deleted comment)
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
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    I didn't ask. I wasn't even talking to you.

    What the hell are you even doing here?
    (Deleted comment)
    [User Picture]
    From:tophatter2
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:42 pm (UTC)
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    I cannot say that I didn't need to have gone through all five hundred pages of story...
    I keep running across this in music. On this song, "Let's Call It Love", new lyrics run out near the 3:00 mark, all vocals stop at 5:00, and the song is 11:00 long. It's a big fat guitar workout after that, and sort of an art-wanky one at that. Then everything LOCKS right in and the album heads into the last song, "Night Light", and the resolution isn't nearly as pronounced (or good) if you skip ahead. It's like the album burns up in a ball of fire, and only this coda is left.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    I love this book, starting when I read it in AP Lit. We read some other really good stuff in that class; Dr. Faustus, King Lear, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Waiting For Godot. A lot of people really disliked Godot, but that's because they expected it to make sense.

    Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    It's Tolstoy, not Dostoevsky, but I read Anna Karenina for fun a couple of years ago, which confused my dad to no end. His plot summary for that, or for any Russian novel: "It was cold. They died." I ended up really enjoying it, mostly for the secondary characters, like the farmer Levan.

    Love in the Time of Cholera,, by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
    My only Garcia-Marquez experience is News of a Kidnapping, which is not exactly typical of his work. NoaK is a straight true-crime, journalistic book on the abduction of seven or eight people on the orders of Pablo Escobar. It was a good book and I learned a lot about Colombian politicsm, the legal system, and all the factions in the guerilla wars going on down there. Being a judge in Colombia is an incredibly dangerous occupation.

    Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
    Reading and dissecting "The Bear" in English class has put me off Faulkner, but I always think I should make the attempt someday.
    [User Picture]
    From:spectralbovine
    Date:June 29th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
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    I feel like high school reading/dissection can put people off, but I found that college reading/discussion really enriched the works for me and made me love them more.

    I love King Lear and Long Day's Journey into Night. I did a report on the latter in tenth grade. I don't think I've read Godot, but I saw a production of it. It was...well, you know. Beckett.

    I haven't read Anna Karenina yet, although I know what happens to Anna at the end. Heh. One of those "spoilers" that's rather prevalent in the right circles.

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