Adventures in Reading

Fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

“You be lookin’ pretty junky with a Night of Joy broom stickin out your ass,” Jones said very slowly. “Night of Joy broom old, they good and splintery.”

The Pulitzer Prize-Winning A Confederacy of Dunces existed in my peripheral vision for some years. At some point I must have read the introduction and learned that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide and some years later his mother plagued a professor at a local college to take a look at her son’s manuscript. If we celebrate Mother’s Day for no other reason than to celebrate Mrs. Toole’s efforts it is a worthwhile holiday. Before I proceed, I confess that nothing I can say will do this book nearly enough justice.

A co-worker persuaded me into picking up the novel and I downed it over a few days full of snorts, guffaws, and raucous laughter as I shared inappropriate quotes with anyone in hearing distance. A Confederacy of Dunces follows an amusing entourage of New Orleans inhabitants and perhaps most remarkably Ignatius Reilly. Ignatius is a delightful result of the world of academy and has returned to the common people of New Orleans. A Confederacy of Dunces pursues Reilly through the echelons of the city as he seeks employment ranging from file clerk to hotdog vendor. Along the way he attempts various radical liberation movements to unsettle his New York City girlfriend Myrna Minkoff.

Toole’s title was taken from a Jonathan Swift quote: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

While reading A Confederacy of Dunces it continually put me in mind of classics such as Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and of course Joyce’s Ulysses. All great adventure novels with the central idea of a man pursuing life and various philosophical ideas. Toole’s New Orleans is as meaningful as Joyce’s Dublin. Toole’s novel covers such a breath of material but still remains a hilarious and energetic read. I seldom say this, but truly, A Confederacy of Dunces is a book everyone ought to read.

Conclusion: A definite keeper.


Revisted Reviews: All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front provides a glimpse into World War I from the German’s perspective. My favorite aspect of the book was that at no point did it glorify war, which is something I tend to find problematic in film adaptations of war. Brilliant piece though it’s disheartening as one of the classes from the local high school are reading it for school – to say the least from my experience with them at work, I don’t think they’re as nearly excited about it as I am.

Another knock at high school lit! I suppose I ought to start commenting on reading suggestions and abstain from overly criticizing every book high school student reads. All Quiet on the Western Front is an amazing war novel (though I couldn’t entirely sit through the film adaptation) that is touching and challenging. It’s a novel that invites the reader to inquire after the other side and define what if any differences exist. At least from the snippets of overheard conversations I’ve experienced, this is another novel many high school students seem to cringe at.

Sense & Sensibility: Conclusion
September 17, 2007, 8:02 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , ,

As a result of Mrs. Ferras disowning Edward he and Lucy will find themselves in the sticky situation of needing to earn an income. As the first born son Edward would have been financially cared for but now he and Lucy must be concerned with that ever lowly task of making money. Colonel Brandon proves more romantic that we may have dared, or perhaps it is a result of the still recent retelling of his own romantic tragedy, and extends a parsonage to Edward through Elinor. As generous as the offer is Elinor now finds herself in the situation of offering Edward and Lucy their future. Without it, they may have to wait months if not years for Edward to get into the religious ministries as well as find a location to practice.Now while all of this commotion is going on please do not forget the regular tête-à-têtes between Colonel Brandon and Elinor. In particular, do not forget that many of these occasions have been observed by Mrs. Jennings. As a result, another layer of gossip has been established (if not directly described by Austen) of the blossoming love between Brandon and Elinor. Finally Elinor catches on to all of Mrs. Jennings nudges and winks and a close reader may ask themselves what has and what has not Edward been told of this supposed affair.While at Cleveland Marianne takes violently ill and Charlotte and the newborn baby are sent away. Everyone (except the apothecary it seems) is worried for Marianne’s life. Coinciding with a rather miraculous breakthrough in Marianne’s health is the arrival of Willoughby! (Will they never be rid of him?) He has come to inquire after Marianne as he has heard of her poor health. Elinor notices that he is drunk. His drunken discourse and reflexions can be taken in many ways and Elinor’s never failing reserve of compassion trickles in again.

Willoughby has come looking for forgiveness and in need of confession. The degree of selfishness and vanity in this act is left to the reader. Willoughby it seems intentionally teased and led Marianne on while at Barton without realizing how much she loved him and how much he ultimately would return those affections. He now finds himself with a wife he has married for money. The reader learns the letter Marianne received the afternoon after the dance was dictated to Willoughby by his new wife. Elinor is not sure what to feel in regard to this communication but I commend Austen in having Elinor respect the wife’s actions. In a book rift with female rivalry and female competition for men Austen does quite the decent job of avoiding any stereotypical “cat fights.” Willoughby must accept his own actions. As a last comment of the evening Willoughby confesses his continued love for Marianne and even seems to suggest a possible continued relationship with her despite his marriage. He begs Elinor to relay this to Marianne and Elinor assures he she will relay what will bring comfort to Marianne.

Elinor ultimately expresses a great deal of compassion for Willoughby but why? I am still infuriated with the man. Perhaps one can brush off the incident with Marianne (even though it is her sister) as silly and naive. But what about Colonel Brandon’s Eliza? Even Marianne upon recovery expresses her hope that Willoughby was not always so evil and also confesses (and this is a big one) that if she would have died it would have been suicide – that her illness was largely self-inflicted. Marianne seems entirely changed after this incident. Was so much of her melodrama play acting and this was a swift kick in the pants that she needed? And what is Austen ultimately saying about the “reward” for sensibility? Marianne’s opinions change so radically by the end of the novel… I admittedly was left unsatisfied.

By the conclusion of the novel everything is solved: Marianne marries Brandon and with some fancy footwork it seems Ms. Lucy Steele ran off with the other brother and left Edward to marry Elinor.

And in conclusion: What was the point of Margaret (the youngest Dashwood sister)?

The image is from the Houghton Lodge and Gardens website.

Other opinions: Mommy Brain, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Addiction, My Tragic Right Hip, Books Lists Life, Reviews and More, Fifty Books, Book Nook Club, A Comfy Chair and a Good Book, Library Queue