Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christ Nailed

now finished: Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
now reading: My Life by Bill Clinton
up next: The Wife by Alafair Burke

I've just finished reading Wise Blood, and I am here to say -- what a weird little book. Of course, for Flannery O'Connor that's a pretty tame comment. We emerge from so much of her writing with comments more along the lines of "Damn, that was dark!" or maybe "That was so fucked up!" so, you know, "weird" is no big, really. Then again, please don't get me wrong - there is twisted shit a-plenty in this novel, and I don't believe I'm spoilering you as a Flannery O'Connor reader by saying please don't expect a happy ending. But somehow this one, despite its showcase of the usual gothic depravity that is humanity, didn't leave me reeling as some of her others have.

And that, I think, is because I was so amused and delighted by her central character's invented not-religion, the Church Without Christ. Early-ish in the novel, Haze, who in Wise Blood is what passes for our protagonist, declares, "I don't have to run from anything because I don't believe in anything" (p. 72 of ISBN 978-0-374-530631) and I perked right up. It reminds me of one of my favorite Pretty Woman lines I'm forever quoting at people: "I can do anything I want; I'm not lost."

A bit later, this man -- who, like everyone else in the novel, is pretty much a lost wreck -- begins "preaching" his Church Without Christ. Basically in response to someone on the street one day who mentions the Church of Christ, Haze invents his Church Without Christ and says, "I'm member and preacher to that church where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I'll tell you it's the church that the blood of Jesus don't foul with redemption...I'm going to preach there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from and no Redepmption because there was no Fall and no Judgement because there wasn't the first two. Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar." (p. 101 of ISBN 978-0-374-530631)

Good stuff, right? I mean - this book is hilarious. Even though it's also Flannery-dark-and-twisted. Now, O'Connor herself was Catholic, right? To the end? I've finished this book but am still unsure of exactly what she is trying to say about religion herein. Or about people. Or wisdom or blood. The plot, such as it is, mostly involves a few characters running into and from one another in a weird little small town as they try to figure out something, anything about their weird little days, and there's all kinds of grotesque imagery, animals-in-cages symbolism, notions of freedom, automobiles, whorehouses...a real nice range of human fuckery. But it's peppered throughout with Haze's "sermons" and it's therefore kind of fun.

There is also a great (terrible) argument with an even-more-pathetic-and-stupid-than-Haze (if that's possible) (and it is) character, named Onnie Jay, who tells Haze, "It don't make any difference how many Christs you add to the name if you don't add none to the meaning, friend." See what she does there? This clown actually thinks Haze is trying to preach Christ because, I'm telling you, he's reeeeallllly dumb, but O'Connor manages that jab at religious hypocrisy nicely. Onnie Jay goes on to say, "You ought to listen to me because I'm not just an amateur. I'm an artist-type. If you want to get anywheres in religion, you got to keep it sweet. You got good idears but what you need is an artist-type to work with you." (p. 157 of ISBN 978-0-374-530631)

Ha ha ha ha ha. That last sentence there in those exact words might be the very advice I'd give to, well, the whole world, if I were a consultant to the world. (And really, am I not, though, a consultant to the world? Just a decidedly unpaid one.)

Now in this book Flannery has touched me with not just the darkness, the worst zoo ever, an exploited gorilla, the religion, and this little artist-type bit, but she outdoes herself with one more passage that became my favorite with how nicely it sums up my religious worldview, like, really and truly.

I'll get to that in a second, but let me remind you that this is not to say I 100% agree with Haze. His nihilist Church Without Christ (it still makes me smile every time I type it) is actually antithetical to me in some ways, such as when he delivers this sermon: "I preach there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else's, but behind all of them, there's only one truth and that is that there's no truth...No truth behind all truths is what I and this church preach!"  I dig his blasting of religion and all there is to unpack in O'Connor's literature, but I definitely DON'T believe in "no truth." There absolutely are absolute truths. I just think they're not being taught by religions, on the whole.

However, he moves from this directly into some of what I DO think, starting with his very next sentence:

"Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place. 

"Nothing outside you can give you any place," he said. "You needn't look at the sky because it's not going to open up and show no place behind it. You needn't to search for any hole in the ground to look through into somewhere else. You can't go neither forwards nor backward into your daddy's time nor your children's if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you've got. If there was a Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?

"Where in your time and your body has Jesus redeemed you?" he cried. "Show me where because I don't see the place. If there was a place where Jesus had redeemed you that would be the place for you to be, but which of you can find it?"   (pp. 165-166 of ISBN 978-0-374-530631)

That, my friends, is some excellent preaching. In the past, when I have tried my ablest to get people to explain to me how Christianity works, perhaps I should have just hurled that question at them, demanding to be shown where in your time and body Jesus has redeemed you. Show me, people. Show me damn where.

And just for some icing on this cake of Wise Blood, there's a (fucked up, obviously) character who swears, and boy does he swear excellently. He has introduced me to two new excellent swears, in fact: "Jesus on the cross!" and "Christ nailed."  I shall endeavor to incorporate them into my vocabulary at the earliest opportunity.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Why We Need a Manual for Writing (Wo)men

just finishedabandoned: A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
now reading: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
up next: What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin Bergen

I'd heard a lot about A Manual for Cleaning Women around the time it was published to great acclaim and mass pronouncements of self-on-the-back-patting "I've discovered an overlooked writer!" And it's been on my radar since then, making me think I should maybe check it out.


For me, reading this collection of "short stories" (more on that in a sec) is excruciating, and therefore I am abandoning ship. I made it through 163 out of 399 pages, and I dutifully read some of the foreword, biographical info, etc., so I thoroughly get the "importance" of this. What I don't get is why y'all enjoy it so much. To each her own! Speaking of "her," the reason I was reading this is that it was this month's selection for my Women's Classics Book Group. I therefore had all kinds of motivation to actually finish it, such as the book group ladies, a deadline, adding it to the list of our completed selections (you know I love me a checklist!), the discussion at the meeting, etc. But nope.

However, the book group meeting did help me clarify why I hate it, namely that the selected stories are neither a satisfying whole nor a satisfying sum of parts. You see, Lucia Berlin wrote lots of fragments and story bits over several decades, the vast majority of which drew on her real life experiences (so far, so any writer). Sometimes she was published, and sometimes even acclaimed in small literary circles, and a few academic ones, but obviously did not hit the world fame jackpot or anything. After her death, some peeps saw fit to collect these stories -- so very many -- into A Manual for Cleaning Women, which naturally includes the story titled "A Manual for Cleaning Women" and have I mentioned that it's SO DAMN ANNOYING when short story collections have a title lifted from one of the stories - the pretentiousness starts there and I can't even, because selecting the title of one story to represent a collection either means you see this title as representative of the writer's life and work overall or you were too lazy to think of a title, and it's usually the former, and it's stupid because when writing ONE story, the writer is not writing all of their life's work. And if they were, if that there were anything that centrally important, then it should maybe have been shaped and crafted into a full-length book -- ever try that, Lucia Berlin and other "wondrous" short story writers? No, no you did not. Because writing a book is hard, and writing short stories and snippets and fragments and paragraphs about things that happened to you is not as hard. Crafting a truly great short story IS hard, though, and that's why so many short stories suck.

And all of that is why so many collections of short stories are published. I might even publish one myself someday, because we writers definitely churn them out. I will hope that each story is a good story and do my damnedest to make sure they're all good individually if they're published together in a collection. Lucia Berlin couldn't do that, because she was dead. Would she have wanted all of these stories published? Would she have wanted them ordered and collected like this?

Because here's the thing: as much as this book is excruciating to read in long stretches of snippet-after-snippet-after-snippet, it's also not as if you could read one "story" a day and then move on because you'd be super left hanging, as most of them don't really have things you need to feel complete, such as a beginning, middle, end, plot, or point. They don't really stand individually. But they also don't really go together quite right. They are wisps and fragments of her life. Which brings us to the next part of the problem: she should have shaped these ideas and words and life bits into a memoir. (I can't believe I'm actually saying that anyone "should" have written a memoir. Seriously - if I say that, it's worth at least a glance, based on my usual call for widespread memoir eradication). But she didn't. Yes, I get that she was busy, and an alcoholic. But. She didn't do the work that needed to be done, so I don't need to sit here reading her and praising her to high heaven for her fragments and bits. And I definitely don't need to praise stories that aren't good stories, just because they're collected together and show this woman's life rendered as sort-of fiction.

The strongest moments are the occasional story with either a point ("Carpe Diem") or a beginning, middle, and end ("Friends") or, very occasionally, both, as in "Her First Detox," which also contains some of her strongest writing because she is at her best when describing alcoholism and withdrawal symptoms. I mean, that is her strength, and she actually struggled as an alcoholic and overcame her problem. That is amazing. And she writes so well about it. So what's with the pretending to write fiction and refusing to admit it's true?

Believe me, I've thought about this, as most writers have: am I writing fiction or memoir? Yes, it's OK to use real-life true shit in your fiction. No, it's not OK to make up shit in your memoir. Blending means fiction. So that's where we're at with Lucia Berlin, her fictional blend. BUT! But! But! the entire book group, as my fellow group members heaped praise on the book (yes, I was the lone voice of dissent), they kept coming back to "Her life is so fascinating" and "She overcame so much" in their defense of her. Which means that they, too, see the strength here in her writing about her life. So then, just do it, lady. Or, if you don't, that's fine, but IF you are going to call something a story (or the people who posthumously collect it are going to call it a story), the writer has to have something more than just a way with words and an arrangement of fragments to have crafted a literary work.

But this is not a beautiful literary work. This is Ms. Thang breaking the fourth wall in "Point of View" to tell us, meta-ly, that if great short stories such as Chekhov's "Grief" and, apparently, her stories, were written in first person we'd feel "embarrassed, uncomfortable, even bored" but because the narrator tells us authoritatively and third-personly that so-and-so with blue eyes went to the store or whatever, we "feel, hell if the narrator thinks there is something in this dreary creature worth writing about there must be. I'll read on and see what happens."  A.) She is comparing herself to Chekhov, and I'm thinking, hmmmm, maybe not. B.)Spare me the meta-analysis, but thanks for admitting, Lucia, that your content might be a bit lacking, but hey, nothing a third person point of view can't fix. Sheesh.

She admits in the next line, though, "Nothing happens, actually. In fact the story isn't even written yet." I find that an apt description of much of her book.

As for what IS written, this is a heap of things like "Toda Luna, Todo Año, in which our protagonist abandons her touristy resort and hangs out with divers (real ones, fishing under deep water for seafood) and falls in lust with one who inexplicably teaches her to scuba dive in five minutes and then on one of their underwater adventures, "They embraced, their regulators clanking. She realized then that his penis was inside her." What? Are we still seriously heaping praise on this, Publisher's Weekly and The New York Review of Books and Elle and Entertainment Weekly and The Boston Globe and on and on and on; are we really? She just suddenly realized that it was inside her, did she? Wow. Did she also realize she was secretly a 12-year-old writing in a note to her best giggly friend about what she thought a sexy story might sound like? Because then the sperm "drift[s] up between them like pale octopus ink" and you have got to be kidding me. Don't forget the big payoff ending to this story, when she literally pays off the man - this diver/lover of hers - who comes to her room as she packs the night before she leaves, where he asks for 20,000 pesos to pay off his boat. She writes him a check. Oh, after their supposed "romance," how disillusioning. Kind of like reading this crappy book.

There's a foreword by Lydia Davis that slathers all kinds of fawning lackey praise on the stories, citing examples of "incredible" things Berlin does that would have me giving Davis a C-minus on her paper if she'd handed it in in my English class. There's also a note by editor Stephen Emerson, in which he kowtows to Lucia Berlin and then says he "can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to read her." Well, you don't have to imagine, buddy, because here I am, in the flesh.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Own Canoe: A Tale of Linda and Louisa

There was that one day early on I related to Bronson Alcott. ("Although Bronson Alcott was unfortunate in never being understood by the many, he was singularly blessed by being understood by the distinguished few.")  But then, I kept reading Invincible Louisa and shit got real and I came to see how scarily similar I am to Louisa herself. And not just 'cause we both got names that start with an L and end in an A, yo.

Let's check it out.
(Quoting from Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, Alcott Centennial Edition, ISBN: 0-316-56590-3)

"At the end of the day, both little girls would write in their journals, Anna [sister] filling hers with quiet, pleasant reflections and a record of the work she had done, Louisa covering her blotted pages with accounts of her turbulent thoughts, of her glorious runs on the hill, with the wind all about her, and, alas, of her quarrels..."    p. 41

I, too, have an older sister. We did keep journals when we were young, but I'd say that passage above is basically an apt description of Lesley's and my Facebook pages.

Oooohhh, here's a part about life's work....very much related to current work...which is NOT my life work...? (Don't worry, I've already had this conversation with my boss...)

"What she had learned...made her a good teacher, but it could not make her love the task of instruction. Besides knowledge, she brought to the task energy and an enthusiasm for succeeding, along with that boundless friendliness which is the heart of a real teacher's success.  [That's me, ever "establishing rapport"...]  The little girls got much from her; she in turn got much from them....Louisa gave generously and taught well, but she could not learn to like her work. She was too restless and impetuous..."  p. 63

Right, then. Moving on, to her sister's marriage:

"...after going to see Anna in her new house and observing her sister's happiness in her new life:
'Very sweet and pretty; but I would rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.'" -p. 94

Seriously. I would rather paddle my own canoe. Who can put it any better than that?

From personal back to professional, she struggled at first, as we all do, don't we? to write and succeed at making a living writing, and specifically to write a novel.

"She remarked finally that she was tired of long stories, that she would rather 'fall back on rubbishy tales, for they pay best and I can't starve on praise.' It was a belief unworthy of her, unworthy of her real powers, of her father's principles, of Emerson's teaching..."   p. 134

Ahh, that's my problem - falling short by slacking off and being unworthy of Emerson's teaching! But there's still hope because:

"Things, just the same, were bound to be better for one of Louisa's spirit. She was a strange mixture of impetuousness and toiling perseverance, of wild, impossible fancies and practical sense."

I'm pretty sure no one has ever summed up Lindouisa so well.

Eventually, she gets to travel the world (Louisa without borders?) and "stopped at Frankfurt to see the house of Goethe, for Louisa would never be anything but an ardent hero-worshipper, and here was the shrine of one of her literary idols."  p. 137   The problem with this trip, though, is that she was able to go abroad by working, as the companion/helper/nurse-ish personal assistant to a woman with issues. "It was very hard for her to be hampered by the inabilities of another." p. 138, which is basically my motto. But she does meet a good guy whom she befriends (and who inspires Laurie, for ye Little Women aficionados) but who is not her suitor -- he's twelve years younger than her, for one thing. She does have suitors, though, in her life, but...

"She was so busy...that she rarely gave thought to matrimony...Life was so full for her without marriage, so beset with activities and responsibilities, that certainly matrimony was something which she never consciously missed. She had a great desire for independence, which it would have been hard for her to give up for any person's sake."  p. 140

I have had that exact conversation in those exact words so very many times.

"On the other hand, she had great capacity for affection and sentiment, for romance and for happiness."  p. 140

See, e.g., crying at Coca-Cola ads and the like.

Writing is a struggle. At one point, "she planned various novels later -- indeed, her mind was always a seething ferment of plans..."  p. 182  Check and check! And there's the obligatory moment in every writer's life (mine has lasted for a decade) in which she lives in a pleasant house with the family but, natch, "There is no mention of a study or of any privacy for herself, where she could write in peace." - p. 183  The eternal goddamn fucking struggle.

Yet, as we all know, she meets with success! Will this be my future, too?

"With Little Women, Louisa achieved what she really wanted, a piece of work which she actually knew to be her best. With it she achieved also the appreciation of the world and such prosperity as gave her full power, at last, to do just what she wished. It is delightful to read of how her name came to be on every tongue; how she grew to be not merely famous, which mattered little to her, but universally beloved, which mattered much. After all the years of doubting her own power, of looking for her true field, of thinking of herself as a struggling failure, she was obliged at last to admit, even in the depths of her own soul, that she was a success."  - p 155

May it become so.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Walking a mile/life in Aurora Greenway's (many) shoes

I finally read Terms of Endearment,  which means that I finally have come to know the character of Aurora Greenway.  I have never related so much to anyone who is so different from me.

It was my first Larry McMurtry in quite some time. It has been more than a decade since I read and adored Lonesome Dove, which I am still forever telling people to read, and another Gus and Call book, Dead Man's Walk (which wasn''t as good as Lonesome Dove- few things are - not that I had much hope as I am always super wary of prequels, even more than of sequels.) During that time I have always meant to get around to reading more McMurtry, but you know how I am with my books and projects and piles and lists of things to read...

Terms of Endearment, however, was always steadily up there on the urgency scale, if nothing else because of another looooooongtime but almost finished project of mine, that of watching all the Oscar winning Best Pictures. The movie Terms of Endearment is one of the few Best Picture winners I haven't seen, largely because I wanted to read the book first. Well, I've at long last attended to the reading portion of that goal.

Frankly, I don't know that the book was all that great. Kind of like Ordinary People, which I also finally read recently, for reasons of see above. I mean -- these books are okay, but to spawn super famous Best Picture winners? Hmmmph. It remains to be seen whether Out of Africa, my last lingering '80s-Best-Picture-winner-source-material-so-I-can-finally-watch-the-movie, underwhelms similarly.

But Aurora. Holy cow. We are the same. I wasn't even born when Larry McMurtry wrote this, but it's as if he channeled my spirit, the entity that would soon be me. It's weird, because, as I said, she's not actually like me. She is into, just to name a few things, cooking, shoes, and having lots of suitors hang around her. I'm not like that. AND YET, we are so very, very similar in our sort of essential (as in essence) approach to being in this world. I will here and now share a few quotes to show you what I mean. Let's start with Aurora speaking to her daughter Emma, early on, page 94:

"When I'm mellow and the air has a nice weight I do so love to speak elliptically, you know...As for your question, which happily you phrased grammatically, if rather dully, I can tell you quite distinctly that I don't care if I never hear the phrase 'really felt' again....No, I've not finished...I may have new heights to rise to. For all I know, my dear, good grammar provides a more lasting basis for sound character than quote real feeling unquote."

There's more. On page 225, for example there's another exchange with her daughter:

"Everybody's afraid of you. Why don't you try being gentle for a change?"
"I do try--it's just that I seem to be prone to exasperation," Aurora said .

How about her early days with Vernon?

"Yes, you're much too polite, I know that," she said. "It's a pity I'm not..."

"I don't want you to be scared!" she yelled. "I"m just a human being! I just wanted you to sit and drink some tea...with me...and be my companion for a few minutes.  ... I'm not scary! Don't tell me I'm scary! There's nothing frightening about me. You're all just cowards!"

I mean, clearly we could stop there. But what the heck, let's continue.

"...she was as she had been that afternoon--spiritless, convinced of nothing except that there was not much point in trying to make things right. Things would never be right."

"For all I know the whole point of civilization is to provide one with someone to drink tea with at the end of an evening."

As she sat at the window, looking out, her sense of the wrongness of it was deep as bone. It was not just wrong to go on so, it was killing. Her energies, it seemed to her, had always flowed from a capacity for expectation, a kind of hopefulness that had persisted year after year in defiance of all difficulties. It was hopefulness, the expectation that something nice was bound to happen to her, that got her going in the morning and brought her contentedly to bed at night." 

"Oh well, you know me," Aurora said. "I'm not one to hold grudges. I acquire so many of them that some have to be discarded."

How will we top that one?  Let's try.

"Why, after all these years, do people still think I mean anything?" she asked.

Once, Emma tells her: "I hope I never become arrogant, like you...You dismiss whole classes of people with a wave of your hand."

Later on, the General has some words: "You just talk to hear yourself talk." In her reply: "I've gone to quite unusual lengths to be accommodating to you, and we still seem to fight all the time. What's life going to be like if I suddenly decide to be troublesome?" "You can't be any goddamn worse than you are," the General said. "Ha ha, little you know," she said. "I've made almost no demands on you. Suppose I decided to make a few."  

Moving on. "Of course, being away from home has always made me feel quite gay," she added. "I believe I'm a born gadabout. One of my problems is that I frequently need a change."

Don't overlook this conversation with Rosie.

"Don't like to impose," Rosie said.
"No, I'm the only one who seems to. I'm only sorry there aren't more people willing to be imposed upon."

Those are just the choice lines whose pages I noted along the way. Reading these bits of Aurora was almost unnerving, like, is someone inside my mind? And if so, why is that person Larry McMurtry? Apparently there was a lot of praise heaped on him for writing women so well in this and a few other books. Well, I don't know about all that -- and much of what happens in Terms of Endearment is bizarre, implausible, or straight up farcical. But McMurtry is certainly onto something. Or someone. (Me.)

Once more, with feeling:  "There's nothing frightening about me. You're all just cowards!"


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Reivers

Well, if one is going to return to one's literary supplement blog after far too long away, The Reivers is certainly a good choice with which to do it.

Y'all, Faulkner is one of those writers that we've all heard of and many have even dabbled in (by literature teacher force) or come to have ideas about. But how many among ye have actually read a bunch of his stuff? Lots of people get turned off early, like in high school. I did, but not by slogging through As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury -- no, I was horrified by the experience I had reading a mere (as if anything is "mere" with Faulkner) short story, "Barn Burning." I hated it. I hated it in an intense, passionate, irrational way. I can't really remember now, decades later, why I hated it so, so, so very much, but I loathed it. I'm pretty sure I hated the characters and I know I hated the outcome. So I did what any self-respecting, literature-loving 16-year-old would do: I took a stapler, sat down with my AP English textbook, and stapled shut the pages containing that story, starting with the page before and ending with the page after, a series of staples advancing like a row of ants around the edges of the pages, so as to prevent myself from ever  accidentally letting the book fall open to that horrid story and making me see it ever again.

I then spent my next several years -- in which I was, mind you, an English major with an emphasis in American literature-- complaining about Faulkner and telling anyone who would listen how much I hated his writing (and occasionally throwing in the "Barn Burning" stapling story for good measure). Of course, I had also read "A Rose For Emily" in high school and didn't hate it nearly as much, but I conveniently overlooked that.

Fast forward a decade or so from high school, and by my mid-to-late 20s I had become obsessed with the Pulitzer prizes and decided to embark on my project of reading all the Pulitzer-winning fiction. This came with a realization that I would be reading not one but two novels by Faulkner, although I didn't do those right away, of course. (In fact, I'm still in the midst of that project, because I mix projects together and read other stuff in between, instead of just blazing through one project at a time, which is very not-Charles-Emerson-Winchester-the-III-like of me.)  Not to mention Faulkner's appearances on other lists of greats with which I concern myself, such as the Modern Library's Top 100 and the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die. But before I got to any of that, during the summer of 2014, a summer in which Brian and I had many a day at his family's Lake Michigan vacation home (that I am Southwesternly unable to refer to as a "c*ttage" as they all do), I spent some time reading The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Yes, all of them. One of them was by Faulkner.  "That Evening Sun Go Down" (published in slightly different form sometimes as "That Evening Sun") was a good story. A really good, well-written story. And there I was, a thirtysomething, forced to sit on a porch one summer, in the midst of being back from Asia and kind of sort of settling down in the U.S. again, in a day-of-Americana-reckoning, realizing that my high school self really might have not had that good of a reason to hate "Barn Burning," ya know? Not that I can particularly remember that much about it...

Well, now here we are, with me having finally rectified this major gap in my literary life, having finally got around to reading a full Faulkner novel, and it is The Reivers. Yes, this is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by our boy William Faulkner. His other Pulitzer winner? A Fable. What't that you say? You've never heard of these novels of his? You figured he must have won the Pulitzer for As I Lay Dying, or The Sound and the Fury? Or at least Absalom, Absalom!  Fun fact: No novels with exclamation points in the title have won the Pulitzer, although Swamplandia!  was a finalist for the year 2012, when no award was given. Well, Faulkner may have won the Nobel Prize after writing those famous novels (those of you who've been with me a while will undoubtedly recall that you don't win the Nobel for a book; you win it for a body of work), but his Pulitzers came later, for A Fable and then for his last book, The Reivers.

And yes, I had to look up what on Earth a "reiver" is. Turns out it's an old word for "robber" used in the Scottish borderlands -- at least that's what I read -- and brought to the U.S. by people from there. An interesting choice of Faulkner's definitely, for the title.

I hate describing/spoilering plots, but the "robbery" in this book is more of a free-wheeling escapist weekend journey that ends up being a coming of age experience. It's definitely not about, like, career burglars or street thugs, but rather people who get swept up in an opportunity and plunge themselves into a feverish few days of learning and growing, from mistakes and other things that come along.

What this book does incredibly well is take you into long, winding sentences without letting you get so lost that you can't find your way out of the paragraph; it also gives the reader a vivid sense of place and the characters inhabiting the places rendered.

What it did for me, more importantly, is get me fired up to read more Faulkner novels. He has a beautiful command of sentence structure (long and involved though that structure may be), life journeys, introspection disguised as regular-ol'-folks-livin'-life, and the striking interpersonal turmoil of life. He makes you want to crawl inside the book and hang out with these people, even though no part of you would rationally want to, say, have Everbe's job, or Boon's...or necessarily live in rural early twentieth century Mississippi...

What I also loved about The Reivers: his social commentary, particularly about the way cars and the automobile society we've embraced have erased some very real things. Nature, for one thing, in the form of wild, untouched spaces; those are basically gone. Also, some part of our human selves has been forever altered. The car/train/horse/walking layers of symbolism that pile upon themselves in this story could take years of literary analysis to fully sort out.

One thing I must point out, though: I've seen multiple reviews/commentaries where people describe the book as "funny" or "one of his funniest novels" or "a comic masterpiece," Um, hello? Do these people also work for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association slating Golden Globe nominees into categories? To me, The Reivers was anything but a comedy. It was a coming-of-age tale and a slice of life. Sure, there was wit -- there were clever and sly bits slipped in all sorts of places in this book. It was real and endearing. A "comic masterpiece" though? Did we get what Faulkner was showing here at all?

If you've read The Reivers, what do you think -- comic masterpiece or no?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Two thousand sixteen
or, The Triumphant Return of My Literary Supplement Blogging

Yes, it has been a while. I had blogging issues in 2015 (laptop issues, really), but it's a new year, fresh start, etc. I won't bother doing too much detail in a '15 recap; let's just quickly mention that the year basically included continuing to trudge through my many simultaneous reading projects.

The best books I read in 2015 were Room by Emma Donoghue, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, A Room With a View by my boy E.M. Forsterand Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z by David SacksSome other interesting finds, well worth checking out, were Les chercheurs d'os by Tahar Djaout, The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (which essentially restored my faith in contemporary literature and made me believe there are actually good writers writing out there), Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (thanks, book group!), and Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum. Overrated, or maybe just overfussed about: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt (apparently some people think she's dismissing or defending the perpetrators of the Holocaust? Hello? Did they actually read the book?), One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which I really need to read in Spanish, which is why I was reading/suffering through it in English, to prepare for this necessary Spanish reading that I'm going to get aroudn to any minute now), and Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler, which I was really prepared to enjoy more than I did, it being her Pulitzer-winner and all, and me having really loved the other book of hers I'd read. I didn't really hate hate hate any book I read in 2015, unless you count Wild, which I mostly came to hate after I read it, when I actually thought about it. The process of reading the book was enjoyable enough, but the author, Cheryl Strayed, is more than a little full of shite and not that great of a writer, and one starts to realize this when one applies a little thing called critical thinking to Wild, but if that sounds too hard, and you prefer to be entertained laugh-out-loud style, go read the entirety of this anti-Wild blog.

So anyway. Now we're in 2016. Wheeeeee!  Here we go.

Yes, my projects continue, but I can definitely see the light at the end of their tunnels! In my Prez Bios project (wherein, you'll recall, I set out to read a bio of every president in order to see where we went wrong, a goal clearly conceived during the Dubya administration), I've recently finished --and reconsidered--Nixon and am now at Ford. Totally in the home stretch of this project: I've reached my lifetime! In my A-to-Z championship, I have one more finalist to read and then will select my final winner (which I wasn't even planning on doing when I first read the 26 novels, one author's last name for each letter of the alphabet, but that project evolved after I finished what became the first round). When that wraps up, I'm going to embark on a reverse-gender A to Z, because I realized that I read far more men than women in my A to Z selections, so I've decided to remedy that.  As for prize-winning Pulitzer and Newbery novels, I've read a few each year and continue to plug away.

Speaking of that, I've just finished William Faulkner's The Reivers.  The Faulkernization of my adult life continues, as well it should. More on that in my next post.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Not THAT A to Z ...
A Blog Book Survey

Stolen from another blog, I give you my answers to the A to Z Book Survey! I'm pretty sure all the Kidz 2-day doing the survey include images for each'll be lucky to get a handful of pictures from me! I always say, a thousand words are worth a picture...

A - Author You've Read the Most

Oh gosh, I'm not sure! Look at me already failing on the first question. But I mean, should this be the most individual books? Because that would be Dr. Seuss, I think. Number of pages? That might be Tolstoy, after only a couple of books. If we're not counting Seuss and Tolstoy, then it's gonna be either Sandra Scoppettone, Nelson DeMille, or Virginia Woolf - I've read about a dozen books from each of those three. If I weren't lazy about images (see above), I'd post a lesbian/mystery Venn Diagram to illustrate this answer.

Men Against the Sea (The Bounty Trilogy, #2)B - Best Sequel
Ooooh, good question. Oh, man, The Two Towers doesn't really count as a sequel, right, book-wise, because The Lord of the Rings is actually all one book, even though it's not. Hmmm. Well, if not that, then let's go with Men Against the Sea, the second book in the (Mutiny on the) Bounty trilogy. I adored Men Against the Sea.  I felt so impressed by and fond of the men and their boat that saved them. What a great yarn. Worth a look!

C - Currently Reading
I'm in the middle of the very good Truman by David McCullough, the current selection in my prez bios reading project, but also fiction-wise quickly blazing through Inherent Vice on the side (my second Thomas Pynchon) so then I can go see the movie.

D - Drink of Choice While Reading
So, coffee. Obviously.

E - E-reader or Physical Books?
I do not enjoy e-reading books. I have done a few, and found it convenient to be able to purchase and borrow books that way, especially when living abroad, but I do not really enjoy it. Here's to page-turning!

F - Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School
Um. I had no idea who I was or who the people I wanted to date were in high school. With that caveat, and knowing that it would probably not have been a good idea, I probably would have dated someone truly messed up like Laurent in Therese Raquin, or at least someone very confused, like Rob in High Fidelity -- confused but who likes music. Definitely, there would have been music involved.

G - Glad You Gave This Book a Chance
Let's go with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Before it became cool for adults everywhere to shamelessly read Young Adult because staring at screens has altered their brains and attention spans so much that they can't read lengthy amounts of words on pages anymore, I worked at Borders and there was an intriguing little green paperback bestseller that I became inspired to pick up and Oh.My.Goodness do I just love the hell out of that book. Read the sequels, saw the movie, and did a bit of spreading the gospel, but just in general, if you think The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is for some reason not worth your time, think again!

H - Hidden Gem Book 
This has got to be either Night and Day by Virginia Woolf , which seems to get exactly no attention, even from academic/feminist/Anglophile/literary devotees but which I maintain is one of Woolf's best, or Tepper Isn't Going Out  by Calvin Trillin, which gets no attention from anyone except me and Brian.

I - Important Moment in Your Reading Life
The obvious answer would probably be something about War and Peace, no?  But I think it might actually be when the Modern Library published their list of the Top 100 books (two lists, actually, one for novels and one for non-fiction) and I printed them out and highlighted and set out on a quest, and have since continued finding quests and projects and lists of books to read and I absolutely love doing this!! (Making lists of books to read next is a hobby of mine.)

J - Just Finished
Um, speaking of lists, Smoky the Cowhorse. Among other checklists I'm working my way through: the Newbery Medal Winners. Good ol' Smoky hails from the early days of that award, the 1920s.

K - Kinds of Books You Won't Read

 L - Longest Book You've Ever ReadOh my goodness, so many candidates. Now I have to go check which is longest out of  Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or Dream of Red Mansions/Chamber aka The Story of the Stone....ahhh, forget it, you can go look up how many pages yourself. I like long books. Proust, I'm coming for you.

M - Major Book Hangover Because Of...P
robably Into Thin Air. I couldn't shake that for months. And all I did was talk about it, with other people under the influence from it.

N - Number of Bookcases You Own 
There are three here in this living room, with Brian's and my books. Before my Great Book Sell-Off of 2006, I had about five tall ones and then some filled in Boston...there are books in houses in Phoenix...I don't really know/care how to answer this question other than literally. I guess I co-own three.

O - One Book You Have Read Multiple Times Again, besides Dr. Seuss? That would be Candide. Voltaire forever!

P - Preferred Place to Read 
Anywhere quiet.
A steady hum of sounds is OK. Jabbering, cell phone conversations, sitcoms, etc.? Not.

Q - Quote That Inspires You or Gives You All of the Feels From a Book You Have ReadObviously, Candide: "That is very well said, but we must cultivate our garden."

R - Reading RegretOther than maybe Cynthia Ozick, nothing I've actually read, but more all the time I've wasted not reading in this life.

S - Series You Started But Need to FinishSome people would say Harry Potter (I've read the first half of the first book...twice...)  Definitely not Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone ABCs, as I am So done with  all that. Let's see, what could it be? I haven't started Game of Thrones, really, though I did read the first few pages of the first, and that's my next-up series, I believe...I can't really think of any. Wait, Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid and Ellie Hatcher books are series, right? But she's still writing, and this is supposed to be a complete series. Ugh. Can I use Proust here, too?  Well, wait, actually, I think Alafair Burke is done writing Samantha Kincaid, she said, now that she's in New York. And I've read two of the Portland-set Kincaid series and need to read the third. So, that.

T - Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books(You see where I've already mentioned Candide and War and Peace multiple times, right?)
How about:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

U - Unapologetic Fangirl For...
Fangirl? Me? Ummm...
Anna Quindlen?

V - Very Excited for This Release More Than Any Other
Would it just be wrong to say my own book?
I'm so not the release-anticipating type with books. I've fallen behind on all my still-writing living authors (Atwood, Berg, DeMille, et. al.) I've got one word for you, kid: classics.

W - Worst Book Habit
Sitting here with a laptop on my lap instead of picking up a book?
Judging people who read trash?  (I mean real trash, like Twilight; I'm not disparaging the genres here.)
Disparaging genre fiction?
Forgetting what I've read?

You tell me; which is the worst?

X - X Marks the Spot: Pick the 27th Book on Your Bookshelf (from the upper left)
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Y - Your Latest Book Purchase
Pretty sure it was at Schuler over Christmas when I picked up Night Train by Martin Amis and Game of Thrones by the inimitable conscientious objector George R.R. Martin. Have I bought anything since then? I don't think so. I tried to get Vanity Fair at our neighborhood bookstore in Lincoln Square, The Book Cellar, but couldn't find it, and at Women & Children First, I tried to get our next book group book, Eichmann in Jerusalem,  and they were sold out of that! So, back to the library...

Z - ZZZ Snatcher: Book That Kept You Up Way Too LateThis has not happened in SO long. I am a champion of falling asleep these days. I love getting sleep. I can't remember staying up reading, sucked in, since I was in Andong (Korea, in 2011)...either Freedom by Jonathan Franzen or Long Gone by Alafair Burke; I remember being up late reading both of those that year.

What a fun survey!

How about you?