Thursday, April 02, 2009


now finished: An Essay on Crimes and Punishments by Cesare Beccaria
now reading: Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron

So, I read a random book between 'R' and 'S' and while it may sound like a law school thing it actually wasn't. I first became inspired to read Beccaria's important little treatise (it's not long, really) when I read the excellent Voltaire in Exile a few years ago, back in Cambridge, Mass. Voltaire, as pretty much anyone knows who has ever been near me while I think a literary thought, is one of my all-time favorite people and his Candide is my favorite book: the perfect blend of sarcasm, humor, intelligence, zaniness, and deep thought. Anyway, reading all about Voltaire during his time in exile and his epiphany about human rights I discovered that he is not only a literary and philosophical hero but a humanitarian thinking human rightsy hero, too ("Ecrasez l'infame!") The Italian Beccaria's widely published and praised essay influenced Voltaire, and some editions of it were published with an intro by Voltaire or apparently even with Voltaire's name on it when they didn't know at first who the anonymous author was. (Beccaria kept it on the down low at first that it was his work because of his aristocratic family and whatnot, but it turned out the government liked his treatise so it was okay in the end.)

What the essay/short book does is deliver a page or two of thoughts on many, many topics related to criminal justice such as laws, confessions, the death penalty, sanctuary, torture. Frankly, I want to quote his entire torture chapter word for word for all to see; he logically proves why it's no good. I knew I would be very interested to read this ever since I bought it a few years ago, and I'm glad I finally read it. It also has the uncanny effect of making me wonder (AGAIN) if I shouldn't have done a two-year master's in philosophy or history or something instead of law school. But I recall that there weren't a lot of M.A. options for Philosophy, when I looked into it during those aimless twentysomething years of mine; you pretty much had to get a PhD. Hmmm...

Anyway, now it's back to the literary blog project. By the way, I am so senioritised about school it's not even funny. I have stopped caring about whether I "should be" reading something else, and I am considering school and all its attendant work a three-days-a-week job, with the rest of my time available for reading novels if I so choose -- plus figuring out what to do with my life.

So, 'S.' William Styron. I've always been intrigued and I chose to go with his first novel instead of his Pulitzer-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner because I will read that anyway (since it won a Pulitzer) and I had a feeling I'll want to read more than one of his. (Although I took the same approach to Normam Mailer and was really not that impressed with The Naked and the Dead...or at least, not as impressed as I wanted to be.) I also opted to not read Sophie's Choice just yet, partly because I've seen the film. And even as I type that I know it's so terrible. Poor authors whose books get made into films.

Lie Down in Darkness is so far so good. He's obviously a very talented writer and about 100 pages in I am getting caught up in this Southern family, the various characters, the plush country club, the shacks on the edge of the town, the train, the hearse, the servants, and a lot of repressed emotion amidst it all. It isn't luxurious slow moving epic, just a really novel-y novel, taking its time to introduce you to the characters but doing so through both flashbacks and their interactions with one another. So far I like it.

I am also rather intrigued that his late-in-life memoir about depression was called Darkness Visible. Darkness can so clearly be so many things.

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