Each experience in our lives is filtered through a personal lens – a lens colored by memory. At this point it is difficult for me to reflect upon this...moreEach experience in our lives is filtered through a personal lens – a lens colored by memory. At this point it is difficult for me to reflect upon this text without considering the things I read in Daniel Mendelssohn ‘s The Lost. Wiesel’s compelling tale of his childhood carries the weight of a community, a faith and the world. Because it is a first person account of a childhood the story told has greater impact. Wiesel’s journey from affluent European Jew to Holocaust survivor in 109 short pages is blood curdling. That such a tale can be related in XX pages is almost as chilling as the story itself. Wiesel leads the reader through his journey intellectually: affluence, fear, ghetto, trains, lost mother and sister (a mere sentence), concentration camps, death march, lost father, freedom. The succinct narrative leaves the reader with little doubt that to survive this journey the first thing Wiesel must leave behind is his emotion. In order to make the text readable all it must be devoid of emotional response. Wiesel leaves the reader to fill that void – to overflowing.(less)
Things Fall Apart is a text introduced to high school students. It is considered standard fare. I read it for the first time in college, in a British...more Things Fall Apart is a text introduced to high school students. It is considered standard fare. I read it for the first time in college, in a British Lit class, part one. It did not belong in that class, but the professor did not care he wanted us to read Achebe beside Blake and Wordsworth. It was less than productive. I didn’t like the class and did not like the ego-centric professor and therefore did not like the out-of-place book before I even opened it. I decided this was not fair to me or the text, so I reread it. The story tells of the decline of one African man and his village and tribe at the hands of the “invading” missionaries and British bureaucrats. The tale winds through the unhappy, often violent, life of Okonkwo. Okonkwo is unhappy with his father, his wife, his children, and ultimately his tribe. It is the story of a man who is unhappy with himself. Like Buchi Emencheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, the story is rooted in the patriarchal tribal system in Africa. While historically accurate, it is troubling that such a text is being presented to young people as literature. While it is interesting on an anthropological level, the cultural distance leaves the reader at best uncomfortable, but more likely enraged. Also like Emencheta, the protagonist fails in the end and dies alone and unloved. Perhaps this is a function of African literature—but the leap was too great. There is little in the book for a modern American reader to latch onto, nothing to call his own, no frame of practical reference. No universal, at least on this continent. This text didn’t fit any better for me beside what I’m reading now: Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, and Erma Bombeck than it did with William Blake. (less)
Few adults approach Beowulf without some knowledge of the story. It is generally read in high school and again in college. Grendel and his mother are...more Few adults approach Beowulf without some knowledge of the story. It is generally read in high school and again in college. Grendel and his mother are the nefarious duo tormenting the Danes in the reign of King Hrothgar. Beowulf comes to the rescue and is, of course, successful. Beowulf returns home to Geatland, where he eventually becomes king. But the story doesn’t end there and there is not a happily ever after. Beowulf is killed by a dragon in his old age. His body is burned and the Geats begin to live in fear that their enemies will now attack. I read it in high school. I read it in college. It was considered a boy-book, to be avoided if possible. Not to be considered for pleasure reading—ever. I did peruse the Tolkien edition in the seventies – but it was Tolkien and the seventies. I did not read the entire text. So what brings a middle-aged woman back to Beowulf? Seamus Heaney. And reading it wasn’t about the story—it was about this particular interpretation of the story. Grendel still dies by Beowulf’s hand. The dragon still kills Beowulf. And it’s still a boy-book, a profoundly eloquent boy-book. Opening the book to any page offers up the power of Heaney’s linguistic faculty. “I adopt you in my heart as a dear son. Nourish and maintain this new connection, you noblest of men; there’ll be nothing you want for, no worldly goods that won’t be yours” (63). The simple addition of a semicolon to a text adds another layer of depth to Heaney’s interpretation of the original language. In the introduction, Heaney explains his reasons for taking this project, his discontent and finally his revelations about language. It is this last element that is intriguing. It is his labor over each word, his quest for the perfect translation, his examination of etymologies and endemic languages. It is his finding the meaning of ancient words scrawled in musty texts by listening to the old folks chatter in Ireland. The power of the text does not lie in the story, but in Heaney’s ownership of the words that make the story.
Any serious study of literature and writing eventually brings one to Shakespeare and inevitably the play said to represent the pinnacle of his career...more Any serious study of literature and writing eventually brings one to Shakespeare and inevitably the play said to represent the pinnacle of his career—perhaps the apex of literature in the Western canon. As a life-long student of literature I have examined this text several before. Each reading brings a renewed sense of awe. The storyline is filled with intrigue, passion, madness, murder, even ghosts, and yet the reader remains engaged and does not lose track of the action. Each character, including the dead King Hamlet, is believable. The text is so perfectly written that the reader is at once willing to surrender belief and put trust in Shakespeare as storyteller. In this particular read of the play I considered characters, for it is upon the force of each player that the strength of the whole rides—through dialogue. There are stage directions here and there, but Shakespeare builds a world for the reader through the voices of his characters. This is profoundly instructive for the fiction and nonfiction writer alike. Countless hours are spent building scene—putting people in places. The economy with which Shakespeare places people here—or there—is awe-inspiring. He allows the language to dictate place. He allows the reader to eavesdrop on conversations that logically can only take place in particular settings. It is, to me, a fascinating approach to writing; one that seems almost impossible. And yet, on the other hand, there is such a natural development throughout the text. Characters tell us where we are. Characters direct the reader—not scene. This is certainly an approach worth exploring. (less)
In Cold Blood was an experiment in form—and the expansion of a genre. The author, Truman Capote did five years of painstaking research before committi...moreIn Cold Blood was an experiment in form—and the expansion of a genre. The author, Truman Capote did five years of painstaking research before committing what he learned to the page. The story of how the text came to be is almost as fascinating as the tale of the Clutter murders itself. Capote insisted that there should be no authorial presence in the text, and yet his voice drips from each page. The protagonist is Perry Smith, the murderer who Capote is quoted comparing himself to. In the book our sympathies lie with the murderer—with Capote—with the outsider. And the text is successful in this, the reader, this reader, walks away wondering if there but for the grace of God go any one of us. And yet, Capote is not present. It would be impossible for Capote to have put himself into his book without taking away from the story. He was colorful, egocentric, and well, generally speaking, the center of attention. The impression gotten from the articles written about Capote and his work was that he was not well received in Holcomb. There were reports of Truman at hotels in pink lingerie… In 1959, in Kansas, one can assume that wasn’t very acceptable. Had he made himself someone within the text – how would that have changed the mom-and-apple-pie presentation he gives us? It’s not his story – he isn’t a character in it and I think wisely chose to allow the character be who and what they were – it gives the story a sort of insular integrity – these people, in this community…that Truman was not in any way connected to. The power of the story lies, at least in my opinion, in his physical absence. The structure of the text is compelling there is a starting point and an ending point. What happens in between is relative and although factual, it is contextual. The book is not linear at all and yet not once does the reader feel lost in time or space. What amazed me about Capote was his transitions from the murdered’s point of view to the murderers, to the detectives—seamlessly. I’m not sure how aware I was of this until I watched the movie, which isn’t seamless. It is clear why this text is one of the hallmarks in the genre of creative nonfiction. (less)
I never tire of reading the work of William Shakespeare. His ability to steal the work of other, earlier, writers and carry those stories forward into...moreI never tire of reading the work of William Shakespeare. His ability to steal the work of other, earlier, writers and carry those stories forward into literary prestige is awe-inspiring. And Romeo and Juliet is no exception. It always surprises me that when high-schoolers read this text it is presented as a love story and the deeper questions that the author presents are overlooked; What value do we, as a society, place on friendship, faith, trust, and love? What guides us to choose the people in whom we do instill our trust? What happens to us all when we live locked in our prejudices and fears? The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, for me, is that it is seemingly reduced to a boy-meets-girl romance.(less)