The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Puerto Vallarta reading

We just returned from a very successful week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where we used my parents' time-share and were accompanied by my sister-in-law and her daughter. The three kids LOVED playing in the pool and on the beach, and apart from the fact that they ate an enormous amount of junk food and didn't get anywhere near enough sleep they were great. And contrary to my fears, I was able to even get some relaxing in (it's usually pretty difficult when chasing around a very busy toddler and his affectionate/rivalrous older brother). In fact, I read FOUR whole books! Two barely count; they were very short little mysteries by one of Mexico's leading genre writers, Paco Ignacio Taibo II: SOME CLOUDS and NO HAPPY ENDING. They're clever and full of local color (Taibo knows Mexico City well and captures it vividly if much more concisely than another local-color genre writer like James Lee Burke) but neither had all that much besides that--the plot was pretty cursory, and the scenes of violence perfunctory and excessively stylized.

After Taibo I decided to postpone my reading of Arendt's ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM (I've finished Part I and needed a break) and took on one of the first English-language novels, Henry Fielding's JOSEPH ANDREWS. I like Fielding quite a bit, and I like novels from that period, from before people really knew what the novel should be. I was concerned when I read that many critics feel that JOSEPH ANDREWS bears a great deal of resemblance to DON QUIXOTE, because frankly I find that book incredibly boring. I know that plot in novels is a bourgeois convention, blah blah, but when I try to get through the plotless prose works like Cervantes or Rabelais I just can't do it. But Fielding is different (because he was a dramatist as well? maybe). TOM JONES is, of course, brilliant and very intricately and teleologically plotted, but it's also really funny and really willing to go off on digressions. JOSEPH ANDREWS did definitely have more of the whole DON QUIXOTE, picaresque structure/nonstructure to it, but its constant themes really worked. The introduction to the novel (I read the Penguin edition) said that the real theme of the novel was charity and the hypocrisy of a purportedly Christian society that doesn't hold to charity, but I actually felt that the novel was much more about the obligation of hosts to guests--a deeply classical theme, in keeping with the novel's deeply classical learning (embodied, of course, by Pastor Adams).



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