Monthly Archives: February 2012

Reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

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On page 222.

Alright, I hoped to post when I finished this book, which I planned to have done by now but here we are and I feel the need to write a post anyway.

First of all, this book is amazing. I am not a nonfiction reader; fiction suits me just fine. Yet this book drew me to it probably because of the title and what I assumed the nature and topic of the book. Reading Lolita in Tehran sounds like it should be about the struggles and challenges and opinions of reading Lolita in what seems an ironic place, considering women are required to be veiled and meant to be void in figure and conduct. As an English major, my excitement and desire made me purchase the book once the library copy had to go back while I was still reading it.

However, the subtitle is the real clue about the book itself: a memoir in books. Books are merely the conduit for Nafisi’s experiences and they tie-in to the history and her time in Iran. Which right now is completely fascinating to me, as Iran encompasses more of the global attention each day, it seems. Having not been an adult during the 1970s and 1980s, this book allows me to understand the situations from back then while helping esee the present with more clarity and possibly conceive a future.

If it’s so gripping, then why haven’t I finished it yet?

Because this book is like a glass of water. It’s good for you, it’s a necessity (understanding others and backstory of other cultures and religions), it’s simple yet complex. Sometimes it is like a cold glass of ice water; there are points in which the water is still drinkable, even gulp-able, at just a perfect temperature to consume a lot of it at one time. But the water can get too cold, hard to drink, giving you a headache it’s so cold; these tend to be the war and riot passages, the bombing of Tehran in which Nafisi’s windows rattle as she tries to protect her family and not be scared–times when I am thankful that I am only reading instead of living through it. Which leads me to think, what if a religious zealot faction took over America and forced everyone into submission to their rules and morals? Instead of veils, it would likely be crosses we’d be required to wear in public. Moral offenses would become breaking the law and punishable by jail time or death. What would it be like to told that you cannot and should not socialize with the other gender? What about having moral police constantly patrolling all the streets and sidewalks and buildings? What would that feel like? Nafisi takes us, the reader, along with her and it can be especially hard to read as an American woman with all my rights and freedoms that my fellow Americans, and I’m sure that I can include myself at times, take for granted.

Unlike water, this book is anything but bland and boring. At the water cooler today, two co-workers talked about adding flavor packets to their water so that “it doesn’t taste like water”. Sure, water can be refreshing but it can also be boring to some. The language and descriptions are so beautiful and clear and delightful, that despite the difficult passages and my “what if” wandering personal thoughts that they spur, I return again and again to this book. Not so much to find out how it ends, we already know she leaves Tehran for the United States in the 1990s, but I return to enjoy her writing and storytelling. She not only tells her own story but also those of the women in her reading group as well as others that were a part of her life in Tehran. We get an inside look into a country I don’t know much about as a young American. The struggles and hardships need to be told and should be read and spread by others to create more awareness and understanding, and Nafisi does the story justice in her beautiful telling.

So my bookmark keeps moving, although not as slowly as with Infinite Jest, but slower than I would like. Perhaps this weekend I will make time and finally finish listening to the wonderful story Nafisi tells. Perhaps sipping a cup of tea will encourage the water of the text to warm up to a perfect temperature so I can consume the rest in one sitting.

Infinite update: on page 93.

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Reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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Currently reading. I am on page 84 out of 981–less than 900 pages to go! And I’m at footnote 36 out of 388. This is going to take a while.

Two bookmarks necessary, since footnotes are fun and helpful tangents.

Well I was going to set this one back on the shelf for a while in order to knock off several shorter ones first, but a good friend who finished his copy (BRAVO!) told me to keep reading. And another who is going to start. There is comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my ambitious effort to read Infinite Jest and it’s reassuring knowing that people do finish.

This book is like a jigsaw puzzle. When you first open it, similar to opening the puzzle box, there are all these pieces and you don’t know how they fit together. The more you read and pull pieces out, they sometimes link or look similar and other times it is a completely different part, but you know eventually everything will solidify and reveal itself. However, reading doesn’t give you a lid to look at and work from, there is no overall picture to guide you and so it is challenging to trust that it will work out. And in some cases, books don’t work out nor wrap up neatly–this may be one of those. Plus, when I do a puzzle, I hunt for all the edge pieces and work inward, sorting all like pieces and linking what I can as I proceed. However, Wallace gives you the piece he wants you to mull over when he wants you to, which can feel disjointed if you prefer a linear plot, which I do. But, this is supposed to be an amazing work and though it can be jarring and confusing at times, it also has beautiful language and intriguing scenes.

Some give up reading it, like journalist Christopher John Farley who blogged about his struggle reading the book up until the posts just stopped. Fair enough, the book is difficult and if you aren’t either stubborn or a masochist, then this book might not be for you.

Others band together and offer insight and encouragement for brave souls who pick up this novel. In the summer of 2009, the summer after Wallace committed suicide, an online community formed to read the book over that summer. It is still up with all its content for readers just starting the book and needing guidance or wanting more interaction with the work itself. I haven’t poked around too much there but it could be useful, and definitely interesting if I had more time in addition to reading this massive tome. One item worth looking at anyway is their tips on how to read to book; though for now I’m not worrying about reading guides either that are recommended, as time is still an issue.

So, why this book? I enjoyed Franzen’s The Corrections and in the course of reading a criticism about Franzen, I stumbled upon mentions of Wallace and his well-revered magnum opus. I bought a copy last spring and have been slowly piecing together the puzzle of Infinite Jest since then. It’s a hard book to sit down and consume large chunks of due to being pulled in too many directions and constantly being led here and there and way over there and back but not quite then some where near and then over then far then…get the picture? It’s a dizzying but beautiful journey so I persist. Other books have snuck in to steal my attention away from this great, albeit trying, book so the going is even slower.

But I am recommitting and will spend more time reading it. I have to join my friend in finishing it, so I can cheer the other one on.

Counting up to count down: raiding the bookshelf

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Usually it is good to have a budget or a plan, or in this case, a tally. I’m a bit embarrassed that many of these books have been carted around with me from grad school, college, and even some from high school. But my intention has always been to read them.

As shown by this blog, 2012’s mission is for me to read them all. But how many books do I even have? What am I setting myself up for? I’m just glad that the bookcases that are mine at my parents’ house aren’t included in this challenge–though I will get to those another time.

Alright, let the inventory begin! Most of them are fiction, many are classics and well-known works, so I’m excited for all the books. The inventory:

  1. Infinite Jest — David Foster Wallace
  2. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
  3. Reading Lolita in Tehran — Azar Nafisi
  4. Freedom — Jonathan Franzen
  5. How to be alone — Jonathan Franzen
  6. 1Q84 — Haruki Murakami
  7. The wind-up bird chronicles — Haruki Murakami
  8. How English works — Anne Curzan, Michael Adams (non-fiction, grammar textbook)
  9. Life of Pi — Yann Martel
  10. Middlesex — Jeffery Eugenides
  11. The Finkler question — Howard Jacobson
  12. Neuromancer — William Gibson
  13. Patron Saint of Liars — Ann Patchett
  14. The rolling stones — Robert Heinlein
  15. Run — Ann Patchett
  16. Things that fall from the sky — Kevin Brockmeier
  17. One hundred years of solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — Robert Louis Stevenson
  19. Selected stories of Philip K. Dick
  20. Sinner — Sara Douglass
  21. Friday — Robert Heinlein
  22. The information — James Gleick
  23. The end of the straight and narrow — David McGlynn
  24. The Screwtape letters — C.S. Lewis
  25. Twice told tales — Nathaniel Hawthorne
  26. 1984 — George Orwell
  27. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
  28. Brave new world — Aldous Huxley
  29. The scarlet letter — Nathaniel Hawthorne
  30. The wizard of OZ — L. Frank Baum
  31. Treasure island — Robert Lewis Stevenson
  32. I’m looking through you — Jennifer Finney Boylan
  33. Mirror mirror — Gregory Maguire
  34. Son of a witch — Gregory Maguire
  35. Inland — K.C. Frederick
  36. Dune — Frank Herbert
  37. The nature of a liberal college — Henry Wriston
  38. The soul thief — Charles Baxter
  39. Luka and the fire of life — Salman Rushdie
  40. Jane Eyre — Charlotte Bronte
  41. Paradise lost & paradise found — John Milton
  42. Pride and prejudice and zombies — Seth Grahame-Smith
  43. Waiting — Ha Jin

Whoa. That’s a lot of books. A lot. And considering that it is the first of February, I feel behind already. Obviously, really behind, looking at this list. The books are in no particular order but I think I’ll pick and choose my way through them, once I read the ones that are started, that is.

2012 wants to continue like 2011, the year of great change, however this year has more ambition and action–always a great pair.

Clearly, I need to cancel Netflix. We need a snow day–or week!–in Ann Arbor, so I can tuck in and devour this list, or begin to chip away at it. Maybe I’ll have to take a sick day or two–ha! I mean, achoo. 😉

For now, it is time for some tea, a blanket, and one of these many, many books. Now all that’s missing is accomplishment, but I will get there. Here’s to the moving bookmark–which will need to be ever in motion if these all are to get read this year!