Friday, September 17, 2010

Classic Book Club: "Tristram Shandy" AND Exciting News For All Readers

Sirs! Those of you who came along to talk about Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy will recall how hard to read we all found it. I managed to get 52 pages out of the way but cannot see myself finishing the book in any realistic timeframe. The book became this chore hanging over me, keeping me from other things – I began to think of all the lovely non-fiction books I could storm through in the time I was taking to read (or to not read) Laurence Sterne's opus.

What I find difficult about Tristram Shandy was its lack of any clear narrative thread. The book* seems to be just an endless series of digressions and rambling asides. I suspect that when you get into the book you learn to love the endless tangential moves, but I was finding that nothing about the book was making me go back to it or keep reading it – it was almost completely lacking in any unfolding plot that would call you back to see what happens next or how the characters develop. So I have given up.

One book this reminds me of, and one that has been compared to Tristram Shandy, is Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds. That's another book I gave up on, as it just seemed to an endless rambling series of narrative meanders rather than anything resembling a true novel. Still, I found what I read of At Swim Two Birds to be more enjoyable, maybe because I could make more direct connection with what he was writing about.

Still rambling digression is not all bad – Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat is almost all digression, with only the most shadowy connection to anything resembling a plot. But it is also a work of comic genius. Tristram Shandy feels like it is meant to be funny, but in the first 50 pages I was not feeling the roffles.

So to the next book. First things first – from now on, I am only going to send out notifications of classic book club stuff by e-mail. If you want in, drop me a line. This is the last book I announce here, and the book is… Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol. When I first floated Classic Book Club, some people expressed an interest in reading this, but then dropped out of our fold. Maybe putting this on the agenda will bring them back again.

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*or, at least, its first 52 pages seem

An inuit panda production

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