Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Last Last Station Thing

finished, but still quoting: The Last Station by Jay Parini

Yes, one more bit of my soul placed on the page for all the world to see by Parini-as-Chertkov:

"Again I long to go away, and I do not make up my mind to do so, yet I do not give up on the idea. The great point is whether I would be doing it for my own sake if I went away. That I am not doing it for my own sake in staying, that much I know for certain ... " - p. 129

Wanting to go away, aka plotting my next big move, is sort of my m.o. in life. I may want to go away slightly less than usual because I have just gone away, which is to say I have come to Chicago and am living somewhere new. But just in general, I do still want to flee the country. And yet I stay. "...that much I know for certain."

And I really want to go read War and Peace again this spring/summer after all this Last Stationing. But I think I will reread it every five years or ten years, I haven't decided yet. Instead, this year, I am going to reread/really-actually-read-all-the-way-through Moby Dick. And you're all going to do it with me, starting on March 15 (beware!) Who's excited?!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Leo Tolstoy totally gets me

finished: The Last Station by Jay Parini

Or is it that Jay Parini totally gets me? Well, either way:

"It is not an easy thing to alter the trajectory of your life. People have expectations on your behalf. You come to believe them yourself. When I began to live my life according to new principles, my family and friends dismissed it as youthful folly. Friends and relatives turned against me when I persisted..." - Chertkov, in The Last Station p. 126

The only thing I'm not sure is whether this has more to do with my rejection of religion more than a decade ago, or my more recent cavalier attitude toward law school, or if it's equal parts of both.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Station

finished: The Last Station by Jay Parini

I love me some Tolstoy! This we know. After all, we owe the existence of this blog to Tolstoy. This Literary Supplement to Linda Without Borders was born when I commenced reading The Book itself, War and Peace, a little more than four years ago now, whilst I was over yonder in Korea. I even called it Linda Without Borders: War and Peace until it outgrew the title and became a place for me to think all my literary thoughts.

So, my boy Leo Tolstoy - love him, as did many others, apparently! The Last Station takes place in and around his Yasnaya Polyana estate duing the last year of his life. He and his wife Sofya are not on the same page with regard to personal property, specifically whether he should give his personal property to the masses of Russia. Nor are they on the same page about his friend Chertkov and the Tolstoyan minions who all hang around living communally and professing Tolstoyan values all day.

The Last Station was not on my radar whatsoever until I started reading about the movie (in EW, naturally); then the movie started getting awards season buzz, so of course I knew I was going to read the book, see the flick, and enjoy one or both.

Check, check, and check - although I would say especially the film. The book is well done though. I'm not a big one for "historical fiction" - with rare exceptions - but I tried to appreciate Jay Parini's desire to write it as an homage of sorts to Tolstoy. I think he really digs Tolstoy's understanding of God-is-love. Rejection of the flawed church, but with an acceptance of the depth of religion. And there's the occasional great quote, often from Tolstoy himself, taken from real life sources, like this one:

"In recognizing Christianity, even in its distorted form as professed today, and in recognizing at the same time the necessity for armies and arms to kill in wars on such an enormous scale, governments express such a crying contradiction that sooner or later, probably sooner, they will be exposed. Then they shall put an end either to Christianity (which has been useful to them in maintaining power) or to the existence of armies and the violence they support." - p. 212-213

A few days after finishing the book, I happened upon the film The Good Soldier, a documentary that ponders that very issue of the violence in war and the injustice of a government asking/forcing its citizens to kill. Would that Tolstoy could be here to watch the film with us and comment wisely. He left us great messages, though, about such things as war, and peace. I just wish everyone would read them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Has anybody here read my good friend Martin?

long since finished: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

Have I really not talked about good ol' Martin Arrowsmith? I finished him not that long ago, but it's starting to feel like another world now that we are in Chicago, and out of the exquisite suburban torture that was life in the GRapids. (Oh, sigh. Grand Rapids is NOT that bad, and I should stop implying to the blogosphere that it is. It was just my situation there that was that bad.)

But Martin understands! Martin Arrowsmith had his own exquisite tortures in life as he tried to make his way, not the least of which was Wheatsylvania. The scenes in the provincial prairie town of Wheatsylvania, where his wife Leora's family lives, are painfully funny! Like, to the point that the book would be worth reading just for the Wheatsylvania scenes. (But luckily there's plenty of other good stuff, too.)

I had to return my copy to the library so I can't quote you some of the Wheatsylvania dinner table goodness, but suffice it to say everyone just has to be all up in Martin's business about everything, and not because he's, you know, doing anything wrong per se, but because he's, well, Not From Around There, and he is grilled and analyzed and criticized and advised and questioned about everything and nothing. And apart from the invasiveness, they talk about so many things that Just. Don't. Matter. Except to them.

But then Martin and Leora are off to even more adventures in other cities, and the book takes you to unexpected places, much as their lives take them to unexpected places. I think that is in fact the best thing about the book, because it reminds you of what life is and what it does. Also, I did not see the ending coming at all; an unexpected ending is always fun.

As you may know, I love reading these Pulitzer winners partly because of what the fiction Pulitzer is: an award for an American novel. This means so much more than being a novel published in the U.S. by an author who happens to be from the U.S. The works that win this prize reflect and comment on what American life is. Not in a jingoistic, hyped-up way, but in a true way. That is what I like so much about the Pulitzers, how they are an award for Truth, even in the fiction and poetry categories. And Arrowsmith exemplifies that so well.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Who does this remind you of?

"And you make people nervous...You either take to somebody, or you don't. If you do, then you do all the talking and nobody can even get a word in edgewise. If you don't like somebody -- which is most of the time -- then you just sit around like death itself and let the person talk themself into a hole."
-- from Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

When I think back on Franny and Zooey, I remember it as OK-not-spectacular. But I just looked at my old copy and realized I certainly did fold down a lot of pages!