Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mo' Summer Reading

Reading continues, on the deck, in the hammock, on the beach, on the porch, and, occasionally, when I get sucked into Sam Harris' blog, on the computer.

John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius is a good re-imagining of the Hamlet story, focussing on the parents instead of the child. We see Gertrude's marriage, her growing unhappiness, her frustration with the teenage Hamlet and her eventual infidelity with her brother-in-law. We also spend a lot of time with Polonius, who comes off much better ni Updike's book than in Shakerspeare's play. Like with most Updike, I wound up liking the writing more than the whole of the story (that's sort of been my experience with a lot of books over the last year, I guess), and I still don't feel like Updike should be considered in the same company as, say, Saul Bellow or Phillip Roth or Cormac McCarthy (even if he is probably more consistently funny than any of those others) in the pantheon of the great American writers of the second half of the twentieth century, but it certainly wasn't a waste of time. I'll teach Hamlet again this year, but I won't teach this.

I read William Boyd's Restless because I loved his book Any Human Heart, a look at the intellectual and artistic history of the twentieth century through a fictional journal. Restless is a spy novel, ultimately, and a good one, but it doesn't resonate (for me) like Any Human Heart. Unlike most spy novels, it's not ultimately about moral ambiguity, but more about trust -- and, in the novel's best stroke, about mortality.

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