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Book 30

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
  3. Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
  4. Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
  5. Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
  6. Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
  7. Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)
  8. Gibbs, Christopher H., ed. — The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (334 pages)
  9. Sendak, Maurice — Where the Wild Things Are (48 pages — though only 1 page will count towards my tally)
  10. Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God (215 pages)
  11. Clarke, Arthur C. — Rendezvous With Rama (245 pages)
  12. Clarke, Arthur C. — The City and the Stars (246 pages)
  13. Chesterton, G.K. — The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (205 pages)
  14. Tepper, Sheri S. — Beauty (468 pages)
  15. Slawson, Douglas J. — Ambition and Arrogance: Cardinal William O'Connell of Boston and the American Catholic Church (186 pages)
  16. Belloc, Hilaire — The Great Heresies (166 pages)
  17. Waugh, Evelyn — Brideshead Revisited (326 pages)
  18. Rawicz, Slavomir — The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (278 pages)
  19. Junger, Sebastian — The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea (309 pages)
  20. Seth, Vikram — An Equal Music (486 pages)
  21. Dubus III, Andre — House of Sand and Fog (351 pages)
  22. Kurkov, Andrey — Penguin Lost (251 pages)
  23. Bradbury, Ray — Dandelion Wine (247 pages)
  24. Bradbury, Ray — Farewell Summer (209 pages)
  25. Doran, Jamie and Piers Bizony — Starman: The Truth behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (241 pages)
  26. Makine, Andreï — A Life's Music (106 pages)
  27. Barnes, Julian — A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (307 pages)
  28. Chaucer, Geoffrey — The Canterbury Tales (623 pages)
  29. Pushkin, Aleksandr — Eugene Onegin (Vladimir Nabokov, transl.) (351 pages)
  30. Lowry, Malcolm — Under the Volcano (387 pages)

Page count: 8068.

This was supposed to be my Halloween reading. No, actually, Under the Volcano was meant to be the first half of my Halloween reading. I meant to finish it before Halloween and then read a Lovecraft novella. This wasn't supposed to take over a month to read, but it turned into one of the most difficult reads I've attempted, and now Lovecraft will have to wait until next Halloween.

I'm not sure I understand Under the Volcano at all. I'm not quite sure I don't understand it, either. I'm just not sure. There are sections that are impenetrable. They illustrate the degradation of the mind as it recedes further and further from life, thoughts flitting from subject to subject, sometimes rambling on without completing a thought, the distinction between reality and imagination lost. Then there are moments of clarity, when different pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place.

The plot is almost nonexistent and, indeed, irrelevant: Under the Volcano is a character study. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a character, the first from a secondary character on the year anniversary, setting the scene, the other chapters from the point of view of one of the three principals on the Day of the Dead, 1938. We are allowed to get into the minds of the characters in a way that another narrative structure wouldn't permit, and it is revealing to see events from their unique perspectives, informed by their unique formative experiences, biases, insecurities, loves, fears.

I hardly ever have time to read except during commutes, and this is not a good commute book. Under the Volcano requires more of a commitment: dedicated, lengthy, interruption-free reading sessions with access to reference materials for the occasional obscure allusion or more than occasional few lines in another language. I like being able to stop at obvious stopping points: paragraphs, sections, chapters, etc. With Under the Volcano I occasionally had to stop mid-sentence! Much material was re-read and re-read again as I attempted to orient myself or penetrate the fog of words. I feel like I've read a book two or three times its length. Despite all that, I do feel Under the Volcano is a good book, and I would like to revisit it, perhaps once every few years until everything falls into place. There's a lot in there I didn't quite get, perhaps ungettable on a first attempt — the preface's author indicated it took him three readings — so I think it would be good to come back after the story has had a chance to percolate through my consciousness.

When I learned Under the Volcano had been made into a movie, I didn't quite believe it. I didn't think Under the Volcano was adaptable, as the essence of the story is the internal, psychological struggle of each of the characters to come to grips with his or her reality. However, I must say that John Huston did a commendable job, by limiting his scope to one aspect of the story, the alcoholic Consul's deterioration and its effect on those who love him. Albert Finney (I can't get over how much he reminds me of William Shatner!) turns in an Oscar-worthy performance, and Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Andrews are compelling in supporting roles. The movie can only show us the tip of the iceberg, though — or, perhaps, the peak of the volcano.

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