My family and I took off for a week and went to the shore at Wildwood, New Jersey. Stayed in a suite-like hotel/motel thing, whose main attractions were across-the-street proximity to an attractive blend of sand and ocean and a pool. 1970s-esque orange shag carpet just doesn't get me going.
Nonetheless in typical fat really white guy fashion, I didn't spend that much time on the beach during the day (I've never actually been a huge fan of the beach, regardless of my size or ability to tan others with the intense light I reflect off of my many folds of skin). I basically stayed inside and read. I'm going to comment a bit on the stuff I read, more for my own interests, but feel free to read on.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. Since The Great Gatsby is my favorite book, I had some high expectations of the book that gave Fitzgerald initial critical and more importantly, financial success. From what I know of his life, the novel is somewhat autobiographical (as was Gatsby). But I really didn't like it. I read elsewhere that he wrote it originally as The Romantic Egotist but that was rejected by publishers, so later he revised and added to it. Maybe that's partly the reason it seemed disjointed at times. It also felt like Fitzgerald was just throwing crap down on the pages sometimes, in comparison to the beautiful phrasing, language, and description he showed he was capable of in Gatsby. Other parts seemed to rely too much on high intellectualization (if that's the proper description) -- so much so that the meanings were dissipated. Regardless of what, exactly, though, I didn't like, I had to fight through to finish the novel. And I didn't feel particularly enriched.
Sparks, Nicholas. A Walk to Remember. My mom and sister both really loved this novel, and while I derived a decent amount of enjoyment from the basic plotline, it was trite. And I can't really imagine pop MTV celebrity Mandy Moore as the loving, selfless, unadorned, humble Jamie. Ugh. I also found it hard to swallow lots of the descriptions and the sudden, overarching changes that occur to the characters, who had been initially set up to be fairly static, as well as the events that take place to cause some of those changes and as a result of those changes. Furthermore, there are lots of underdeveloped tangents that should have either been finished or removed -- they cluttered up the novel and led me to believe that Sparks is an inexpert author. While I recognize Sparks isn't a Hemingway, he should realize that his audience isn't all going to swoon at yet another Carolina coming-of-age teenage love story and completely discount numerous flaws.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. My sister Kate got this because she needed to read it for school, and upon her friend's remark that she hated reading it, I had to find out for myself. Plus, I hadn't read anything more than short passages from Hemingway. At any rate, I absolutely loved it. Its language is simple, and it's short too -- only around 130 pages, double-spaced. But it's a perfectly, elegantly crafted novel -- it shows what literature can be. His style is refreshing, as well (especially after reading This Side of Paradise, which can get rather long-winded) because of the shortish sentences and understandable language. The story is simple, too -- an old man, amidst seemingly permanent defeat, continues to press onwards and meets eventually with the perfect opponent, one who draws all the best qualities of the man. Not absent are rich imagery and symbolism. I thought it was simply beautiful.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I gobble up the Harry Potter books. I read this one right when it came out and read it again on vacation -- apt for what I would call escapist literature. I've got some questions regarding plot progression on this one, but nothing at all that impacted my (immense) enjoyment of the book. And since it's rather fat, I was able to keep reading for a while. I can't wait for the fifth book to come out. Incidentally, I rather liked the movie made from the first book, too.
Crichton, Michael. Airframe. This is another re-read of escapist stuff that I rather liked. I couldn't find my copy of Timeline, my favorite Crichton novel (but did find cheap audio tapes at a book warehouse thing on the boardwalk, yay), so I brought this. It's an exciting page-turner. As with the rest of Crichton's work, I appreciate the accuracy he attempts to imbue into his fiction.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat's Cradle. I had never read any Vonnegut before this, but had heard wonderful things from classmates who had and my newspaper advisor. I really liked Cat's Cradle -- not only because Bonononism is ingenious and the work makes you think and the author is obviously very good at stringing words together and has a vibrant imagination and can express that to the reader, but because it read like an action novel. I didn't know that I appreciated that, but I think to a fair extent I do. Vonnegut's writing (although divided up into a hundred-some chapters of a couple pages each) wasn't choppy at all to me and fascinatingly fluid. I really liked it. However, I thought it would have been cool if he had included an appendix on Bokononism -- even just a collection of the writings of Bokonon in the book -- somewhat like Orwell did with Newspeak in 1984.
Girzone, Joseph. Joshua. This is another one Mom loved. And I liked sections of this too, but like A Walk to Remember there were tangents unrealized and some hefty assumptions and action and change without enough reason for doing so. But the essential message of the book -- that religion as it is today is not how God or Jesus intends it to be -- a somewhat authoritarian regime wherein the people are restrained from true growth in their faiths and relationships with God because of interdenominational and interreligious quarreling and an unspoken "I'm better than you because I'm <insert faith here>" as well as insincere clergy and insitutions based upon regulating and maintaining control of people and treating the enterprise of faith as a corporate endeavor rather than the enterprise of love and brotherhood it should be -- that essential message was a good one. Especially having read it in the wake of Catholic sexual abuse scandal -- which, in my never-humble opinion, has been perpetuated because bishops are not close to their people -- they decree instead of guide.
Adams, Douglas. The Salmon of Doubt. This final collection of Adams' unpublished or published-far-too-thinly material was marvelous. I've long been a fan of the Hitchhiker's Guides but hadn't read his shorter pieces, which are hilarious and wonderful jaunts through the highly entertaining mind of a genius. And he was a geek, too!
Adams, Douglas and John Lloyd. The Meaning of Liff. Funny as hell.
I also read some little-known essays from Ben Franklin, published collectively under the title Fart Proudly. I particularly liked his treatise on how to choose a mistress :)
So those are the books I felt like writing a bit about.