Monday, July 23, 2007


NOW FINISHED: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
IN MIDST OF MY ANNUAL BIG BOOK: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
NEXT UP FOR A-TO-Z PROJECT: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

So, yes, I finished None To Accompany Me about a week ago but I didn't get around to posting my profound conclusions about it, especially as I spent the last few days in New York entirely distracted by a different book (that would be ...Deathly Hallows, what, you live under a rock?) and other fun things. Now I don't really remember what my profound conclusions were. Other than it was an OK book with exquisitely worded moments, I learned a bit about post-apartheid South Africa, and I have no sympathy for the cheating main character who comes to the end of her life and can't figure out why her personal accomplishments don't measure up to her political. Well, duh, maybe if you had some semblance of loyalty, commitment, and truth, you would have been able to have an amazing relationship with someone you found and loved. But no, you are too self-absorbed for that, at least in matters of the heart/bed, and your life went elsewhere and you lost your grip on it.

I'm pausing before moving on to 'H' in my A to Z Literary Blog Project, hence the throwing a Pulitzer winner in there this week. As Willa Cather goes, I'd have to say so far I like My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop better. I'm about 110 pages into One of Ours. I would never even consider not finishing it, hello, Pulitzer, but it's just OK so far. We'll see.

So, I thought this would be a good time to check in with the books I've read for my A to Z Literary Blog Project so far and see how they rank. In order from most liked to least liked, I'd say:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Information by Martin Amis
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

The top 4 are all pretty close. And far above the next two. And my Beat boy Burroughs is dead last. That book just did NOT do it for me.

Seriously, can I find a job where I just get paid to read books? Seriously? Please?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The personal is political

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

I remember the first time I heard that phrase bandied about, by self-professed intellectuals engaged in what we were certain was profound analysis in my life-altering Women's Literature class. Just to give you an idea, in that class we read the likes of Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, Laurie Colwin, Leslie Marmon Silko, Terry Tempest Williams. Some of what we read I found highly overrated if not outright dull: The Joy Luck Club, Like Water for Chocolate. At any rate, you can definitely see the idea of "the personal" being a political statement, if you like to phrase things that way, in that literary list.

But now here I am in Nobel Prize-winning Gordimer's book, and I see the deftly combined personal and political in a new light.

Of course one of the interesting things about this book is this woman's work as a social justice lawyer. I also find it interesting that when I initiated this little "literary blog project" (over winter break) I gravitated toward books about writers, whereas now I weirdly gravitate toward contemplating my lawyer self. (My other 'G' finalist was A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis.)

But after her husband leaves her, on the surface just out of the country for a little while staying with their son but really their relationship is coming to an end, she sits alone in the house drinking vodka and devouring news from newspapers, television, radio.

"The evidence of personal life was around her; but her sense was of the personal life as transitory, it is the political life that is transcendent, like art, for which, alas, she'd never had time after Bennet read wonderful poetry to her in the mountains...Politics affects and is evolved endlessly through future generations--the way people are going to live, the way they think further. She had no illusion about politics; about her part in it. People kill each other and the future looks back and asks, What for? We can see, from here, what the end would have been, anyway. And then they turn to kill each other for some other reason whose resolution could have been foreseen.
Yet there's purpose in the atempt to break the cycle? On the premise that the resolution is going to be justice? --even if it is renamed empowerment." - p. 305

Saturday, July 14, 2007

How about four weddings for every funeral

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

Oupa, the young man who worked with Vera at the Foundation, has died. First he and Vera were both shot when attacked by the side of the road while out straying from their Foundation work although not straying like that. Oupa may be the one man in this book Vera hasn't slept with. OK, I exaggerate. Anyway, Oupa slept with someone else; he's the one who got the teenage daughter of the other couple pregnant. But now he dies from his wounds, after everyone thought they were both going to be OK.

Oupa had a wife and two children who live way out in the middle of nowhere with no phone or anything, and he never sees them as he is in the city working at the Foundation. So as Oupa lies in a coma in intensive care and Vera and other co-workers visit the hospital daily, his family members have no idea. Only when he dies does "the Soweto grape-vine" kick in and get the message to the wife. And his body is brought "home" for a funeral.

The other day my sister and I were talking about flying versus driving from Phoenix to Payson, Utah. Our mother always drives and never flies. My sister joked that my mom may never get on a plane again, that she would not even do so to go to my funeral. Well for starters, I don't think that's true. But it did make me start thinking about, among other things, how we all scramble and do what it takes to get to funerals. Example: I just went to my grandmother's wake and funeral in the middle of my first-year law school finals. Seriously? Sometimes I wonder why I did that. Wasn't the trip I made in April with my uncle, to visit my grandmother alive, actually the more important one?

I'll tell you another one. My grandfather died in the summer of 2002. It just so happened I was on a road trip from L.A. to Boston. The person with whom I road tripped and I attempted to drive from Boston out to see my grandparents in western Mass. and got lost amid a ferocious summer rain and didn't take the shortest route anyway and in the end never made it. Then a day or two later, the morning I was preparing to fly back from Boston to L.A., he died. And at that point I changed my flight home, called work, stayed an extra week in Massachusetts, and attended the funeral.

"She gets his body back. And that seems so important. The dead body?...But someone came specially--from her--to arrange the transport, the money for the funeral. All the things that distance and poverty and ---I don't know--acquiescence in the state of things? --couldn't manage before become possible when there's so little purpose left."
- p. 215

On top of my not being religious and not really needing my soul consecrated to some godlike thing, I often muse about the need for a funeral at all. I know that they are a great way for the family to gather together to comfort one another and you often see people you haven't seen in a while. But wouldn't even that be lovelier if done while we're all still alive?

Friday, July 13, 2007

"I'd have kept those beans, but our house was cursed..."

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

So the two couples in this book, for a grand total of four main characters, are troubled by their children. One couple's child revealed her lesbianism. The other couple's child at only 16 or 17 years old got pregnant by a slightly older married man and they made her get an abortion.

The main main character - the human rights lawyer woman who has tirelessly worked for the Foundation that has assisted the oppressed in their struggle against apartheid -- thinks it's her "fault" her daughter "became a lesbian." She thinks this because she, back in the day, cheated on her first and second husbands, and would come home from her adulterous lover to find this daughter as a teenager sitting at the table doing homework. The daughter remembers this and describes in the present day how her mother looked on those occasions in a colorful way ("f**ked out"). The mother, horrified, thinks she clearly put her daughter off of men.

Well, that's all as messed up as it sounds, but I like what this woman says about it as she discusses the situation(s) with her friend who is the father of the teenage pregnancy girl.

"I suppose we believe we're responsible for what we think has gone wrong with our children and in their judgment hasn't gone wrong at all." - p. 177

Again I say, it's lines like these that have kept me eagerly reading this book. What more can I add?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

War? Fiddle-dee-dee!

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

If you're like me, reading this book will make you realize you know precious little about South Africa, and even less about what it's been like for people there to form a new post-apartheid society. For this reason alone, the book is worth reading. (But there's far more to it of course.) I used to hear a lot about South Africa in the news, when I was young. From CNN to U2, everyone who was anyone talked about it while we (we = the whole world, sort of) tried to end apartheid. But after that everyone kind of moved on. Although, not Hillary Clinton, I might add. Among the many places she traveled and acted diplomatically and helped people during her eight years as first lady was South Africa, where Chelsea and Nelson Mandela apparently became good friends. Love it.

Still, I would say that these days I can go for a couple years without thinking about South Africa. I'm pretty sure you do, too. Before this book, let's see, there were the handful of South African English teachers I met in the expat scene in Korea. Before that, apart from the occasional lamenting discussion when I volunteered at AIDS Action, probably had not given much thought to it since I watched Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (A great film by the way. Netflix. Netflix. Netflix.)

One of the main characters in this Gordimer book spent time in exile and was an important underground figure in the Movement (to end apartheid). At one point he ended up as an interrogator in a prison camp where they took spies who had infiltrated the Movement on behalf of the apartheid government. So here you had these people fighting for justice and their freedom to exist in their homeland and they end up doing to these prisoner spies the exact evils that corrupt white government officers had done to them. This particular main character is trying to reconcile this, even though he is the good guy who spoke up against using torture, even on spies. But now, post-apartheid, they are back living in South Africa and his wife has a prominent elected position and this dark side of his time in exile mustn't be revealed.

"Ashamed, even though he'd finally got himself out of the place, refused to carry on there. Refused, yet understood why others could do the terrible things they did; she was a woman after all, she could understand revolution but she didn't understand war." - p. 129

Oh yes, I like that very much. This is why I like this book. The emotional flashing back and forth of the other main character (the main main character) among her various lovers is a little tiresome--will she find out who she is? blah blah blah. But passages like the one above, which come about frequently in this novel, stop me in my tracks. I do believe that's me--all set for a revolution, but I just don't understand war.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

I didn't really know what to expect going in to this book. She is definitely an author of whom I had no real idea, no real feel for the work, beyond that she's revered and prize-winning. Well, the book is quite serious in tone and very emotional-novel-like, but it also throws in observations that reveal a kind of wit under her surface. Example:

"Bennet Stark carved wood and modelled clay but while recognition for his work in this vocation seemed long in coming had had to make use of a conventional degree he had earned when too young to know what he wanted to do. Bennet Stark was known, behind his back at the Department of English in the university where he worked, as Our Male Lead; as if he were responsible for his looks and the mixture of resentment and admiration these aroused. From the point of view of advancement in an academic community it's a bad sign to have some advantage that is simply a gift of nature, not earned and not attainable for others by any amount of hard work, lobbying or toadying." - p. 19

I love it. First of all, I empathize with the artist/academic debate. As I have amply pointed out in these here blog pages, why should we have to choose? Why can't we be creators and nerdy professors holed up reading and researching? Not that I want to spend my life researching, I'm realizing more each day. But say someone such as Bennet does want that. Why can't he be both? And more things besides? I like how she points out we earn our degrees when we're too young to know what we want to do (with them). Although, do we ever know that? I'd imagine not. Or if we do know, does it come to us suddenly, even a few years after earning a degree, in some fiery epiphanic burst? I'd even more imagine not.

Secondly, how funny about stuffy academia! How dare he be good-looking, eh!

Damn, I love me some non-traditional academics. And on that note, I must sleep now, as my research awaits me in the morning...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Solo journeys

NOW READING: None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
ISBN: 014-025039-5

And I have lots and lots to say about it, only right now I'm tired and going to go to sleep instead. It's been a long (but fantastic!) week. Yes, I am aware that it is Monday, and those of you in traditional working lifestyles are probably thinking, "Um, hello, it's the beginning of a week." But I just meant the past seven days. That kind of week.

Nadine Gordimer. Nobel Prize winner. And I'm already on page 218 (out of 324) so I'm apparently not reading this one at the glacial pace I've read the last few. At first the book made me angry, because I thought it was asking me to sympathize with a cheater, but now I think it might not be asking me that. Anyway, I'm off to dream about it. I'll be back, with profound thoughts in tow.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Waddling Apotheosis

NOW FINISHED: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

For one thing about the waning pages of this book, if the final chapters' Krishna ceremonies, temples, scampering gods, and riverboat rides are rendered on film in the same dreamy and somewhat convoluted way they are in the book, then I shall wonder if said movie isn't best enjoyed while chemically enhanced? At any rate, the whole last section of the book, "Temple," is definitely denouement to the thoroughly enjoyable and terribly climactic resolution of "Caves." But you also find out good stuff in the end. And you get to spend a little time with Ralph, who strikes me as loopy but likable.

And in the very very end, I am rather impressed by the prescient E.M. Forster. Although he probably wasn't alone among British who had done India time in saying the English empire would simply have to go at some point. But it's oh-so-interesting to read his 1924 words on this inevitability.

It is further interesting to note (as is noted throughout the book) how "India" is a conglomeration of so many states, regions, religions, identities...

"Then he shouted: 'India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one!...'
India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last comer to the drab nineteenth century sisterhood! Waddling in at this hour of the world to take her seat! She, whose only peer was the Holy Roman Empire..." - p. 361

Still, he holds out hope that we can all be friends.

I think my next project should be finding what E.M. Forster had to say 20-25 years later. Please tell me someone thought to ask him? And to write down his words?

Mishandled affairs

NOW READING (and nearly done!): A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

"Sir Gilbert, though not an enlightened man, held enlightened opinions." - p. 287

How brilliant is that quote! This guy basically waltzes in to the "decomposition of the Marabar" post-trial, post-mistakes, post-break-ups, as everyone attempts to move on. Whatever that means. After all, Aziz' life is ruined, but then again one could make a strong case that the occupying British had ruined his life either way. Not to mention the fact that his next action is to display a remarkable tenacity in clinging to the completely false notion that Fielding had ulterior motives or anything other than the jolly good Fielding motives we thought he had.

I really like the statement about Sir Gilbert, holding all the right opinions, waltzing in to wonder why we can't all just get along and "deplore racial prejudice" the way that he does. But before you start getting all up in a snit about "bleeding heart liberals" or some such nonsense, just think about the alternative. (Commuting Libby's sentence, anyone? I think I prefer at least the pretense of enlightenment.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

One's own dead

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

"'I was brought up to be honest; the trouble is it gets me nowhere.'
Liking her better, he smiled and said, 'It'll get us to heaven.'
'Will it?'
'If heaven existed.'
'Do you not believe in heaven, Mr. Fielding, may I ask?' she said, looking at him shyly.
'I do not. Yet I believe that honesty gets us there.'" - p. 267

Again I say the subtlety of this book is what's most striking about it: little bits of philosophy woven throughout like intricate parts of a cloth's design. This particular passage hits home. It's so simple and so clear to me, even if it sounds odd. It's like, screw eternal reward! You should be good anyway.

Meanwhile, Aziz is good and angry now. As well he should be. Although he didn't really help the matter with all of his quirky cultural responses to Adela, the caves, and the field glasses, I kind of like his take now that anything he does will still play into the colonial British imperial hands. He wants to separate himself from that crap two-tiered society. Who can blame him? In one way it does avoid conflict to completely remove ourselves from a troubled situation, but how on earth do we ever make peace?

I really like this bit, too:

"Although her hard schoolmistressy manner remained, she was no longer examining life, but being examined by it; she had become a real person." - p. 272

By the way, 'G' is just around the bend. Elizabeth Gaskell, Nikolai Gogol, Zane Grey?