When I see or say the title of this book, it makes me think that it's Bukowski's jab at Salinger and his coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye.When I see or say the title of this book, it makes me think that it's Bukowski's jab at Salinger and his coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye. I don't know why I think this or draw a correlation between the two except for the mentioning of "rye" in the titles and that the protagonists in each are young men. This is anybody's cue within the Goodreads universe to school me and set me straight...
I read Ham on Rye shortly after I had just finished Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. This only happened by accident, but I think it was a blessing. I had a friend explain to me once that Bukowski developed a lot of his writing style from the likes of John Fante. That is probably true. After all, the aforementioned pal of mine is a Bukowski fiend. But, I've read Fante and remain unimpressed and I don't see the ties there even if Bukowski admits to having adored Fante's works. I see a deeper connection between him and Hemingway.
Prior to having read this wonderful work, I had only been privy to Bukowski through the movie Bar Fly, which I adored. Post having read this book, I wish I had delved into the man way earlier in life.
The honesty with which this book is composed is so pure that it is borderline devastating to any reader who can look past the ugly surface and shock valued writing. It's a mean novel but it's heartfelt and that's what matters. Bukowski tests his readers. He makes it so easy to dismiss the work as pure garbage meant to terrify and infest the minds of his audience. It's as if he's daring you to finish the damned book so that you might find its deeper meaning.
Perhaps, my willingness to accept the perverse and grotesque nature of this book is a sign that there is something wrong with me. But, I don't think that's it. There's something within the confines of this work that speaks to the person hiding inside of all of us who hides their honest character from the world in their everyday existence. The only question this book begs is, "I wonder what Bukowski is hiding?" We all have secrets and proverbial skeletons hiding in our closets, and the fact that I could relate with Bukowski on many levels throughout Ham on Rye tells me that I could also relate to him in the fact that there are always things, no matter how honest a person is, that are being hidden.
This book is terrific because Bukowski actually is hiding something throughout it, but it's the reader's responsibility to find it. It's not a novel riding on its ability to be rude or hostile. If you think that or want to think that then you should delve into something like A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews or Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin. Now, those are books that will get your goat.
But, this book has a message. The final chapters are so touching, especially the last few pages whenever Bukowski describes the last moments before America's entrance into WWII and then the short moments after the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced...
In fact, the most trying thing about Ham on Rye isn't reading about an adolescent boy pissing in his girlfriend's family's milk carton or masturbating the family's dog. No, the book isn't about the trials and tribulations of the poor and the stupidity of youth. It's not about boils and misogyny. It's not about beating the shit out of people or animal abuse.
The trying aspect about this book is its timelessness. It's easy to forget the time period in which the work is set. It's important to really put this book in perspective before you go into a diatribe about how disgusting it is. This was the time period that raised children who would eventually become the Hell's Angels. It's a book that reveals the makings of a counter culture that would one day give rise to the acid craze of the 60s.
Maybe I enjoyed this book because I can grasp the bigger picture of how connected the literary world actually can be. Or, maybe I'm just a sadist.
Definitely a book worth reading as well as rereading.
It reminded me, oddly enough, of Joseph Heller's Catch 22. The dialogue among characters is rambDefinitely a book worth reading as well as rereading.
It reminded me, oddly enough, of Joseph Heller's Catch 22. The dialogue among characters is rambunctious and satirical, the narrative revisits an important story throughout the novel (i.e., Catch-22's Snowden scene), and it's duplicitously fantastical and real. Arguably, both novels also are anti-imperial, though, that's a stretch with one being anti-war and the other being anti-establishment (my opinion, of course).
The major point I carried away from Green Grass, Running Water was how unacceptable western-white culture can be of any other, different culture. But, even more striking, is how it shows that all cultures struggle to accept change whether the culture is black, white, red, etc. This is a book full of characters who must mask themselves in order to escape the figurative prison that their own uniqueness creates, which is to say that in order to live among the masses one must act and/or become part of the dominant culture mass. In the context of Green Grass, Running Water, Native Canadian Americans use the device of masking their culture in order to escape the stigmas applied to them by a majority. Once they are absolved of the stigma, they drop the disguise and run free for a bit until they are eventually pursued and recaptured then the cycle repeats: imprisonment, breakout, freedom, imprisonment, breakout, freedom, etc.
The unique thing about Green Grass, Running Water is that it is actually applicable to anyone who feels imprisoned within their, to steal from Terence McKeena, cultural operating system. As a reader, I got the sense that even the white characters of the novel were not so much portrayed as dumb as they were trapped. Stereotypes were not only applied to Native people but applied to all people. However, it’s very important to understand that it is only the Native people in this novel who are able to break free from the trap, which is what makes Green Grass, Running Water quintessentially Native American.
Green Grass, Running Water is a reference to the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson’s, directive to Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Creek people regarding their needing to essentially move out of the way of white settlement in Mississippi and other surrounding territories. Howard Zinn eloquently describes this in his article, “As Long as the Grass Grows or Water Runs” which I also believe is in his book A People’s History of the United States. I have provided Zinn’s quotation from Jackson here:
“The proper tactic had now been found. The Indians would not be ‘forced’ to go West. But if they chose to stay they would have to abide by state laws, which destroyed their tribal and personal rights and made them subject to endless harassment and invasion by white settlers coveting their land. If they left, however, the federal government would give them financial support and promise them lands beyond the Mississippi. Jackson's instructions to an army major sent to talk to the Choctaws and Cherokees put it this way:
‘Say to my reel Choctaw children, and my Chickasaw children to listen-my white children of Mississippi have extended their law over their country. .. . Where they now are, say to them, their father cannot prevent them from being subject to the laws of the state of Mississippi. . .. The general government will be obliged to sustain the States in the exercise of their right. Say to the chiefs and warriors that I am their friend, that I wish to act as their friend but they must, by removing from the limits of the States of Mississippi and Alabama and by being settled on the lands I offer them, put it in my power to be such-There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as Grass grows or water runs. I am and will protect them and be their friend and father.’
That phrase ‘as long as Grass grows or water runs’ was to be recalled with bitterness by generations of Indians.”(Zinn, As Long as the Grass Grows or Water Runs, http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defco...)
In the end, this book is absolutely thought provoking and sad. It’s satirical and shameful.
An absolute mess of a book, Mda's "The Heart of Redness" is filled to the brim with numerous unmemorable characters and a jumbled, loose story. This nAn absolute mess of a book, Mda's "The Heart of Redness" is filled to the brim with numerous unmemorable characters and a jumbled, loose story. This novel and its players are about as flat as the pages on which they are presented.
I will never understand how books like "The Heart of Redness" gain ground and experience even mild success.
Mda takes an interesting and powerful notion of a story and completely ruins its contents. "The Heart of Redness" has the potential to stand for something, yet it succeeds in offering nothing. This book is a good example not only of what not to read but also what not to write....more
Recently, I was asked to tutor a student with a paper dealing with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. The assignment was to argRecently, I was asked to tutor a student with a paper dealing with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. The assignment was to argue which of the two works was the more dystopian novel. I hadn’t read Brave New World when I first heard the assignment; however, having already read 1984, I was convinced that Orwell’s piece could not be surpassed. My conviction was premature.
First and foremost, I have to state that 1984 is the better novel, so, naturally, Orwell is the better author as well. Orwell is a stronger story teller and his characters are more fleshed out and flawed. But, that doesn’t undermine Huxley’s novel. Though Orwell’s dystopian novel is better, it is not scarier and necessarily more dystopian. Perhaps, the most convincing argument I can give to support this idea isn’t in anything I can write so much as it is in something I can reference.
The night I finished Brave New World, I happened to catch an episode of Frontline of PBS entitled, “The Medicated Child”. And, as one might conclude from the title, the episode discussed the over-prescription and diagnoses of children when it comes to psychological conditions such as ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder. This documentary presented children who were administered a number of pharmaceuticals meant to correct or “fix” their alleged conditions. Perhaps most striking was the age of some of the children that appeared on the program. There were children no older than 4 years who were prescribed psychiatric medication.
Upon watching the episode, I decided that Brave New World is the more dystopian novel because it is the most realistic in terms of the path that western governments (the United States specifically) are headed on today. In Huxley’s work people are not born into the world, but they are created. Essentially they are manufactured. There are a number of apparent reasons for the extinction of the birthing process; but one major reason is an attempt to create a human without any defects. In this brave new world, people are bread at the molecular level to be happy with their position in life whether they are a janitor or a lawyer, master or slave.
Of course, the book shows that this system has flaws. The populace of Huxley’s world is not without its unhappy moments hence the creation of the drug soma, which is meant to permit a temporary escape from reality, a holiday. And, there are those in the population who dissent from the norm by not taking as much soma. Even more, there are “savage” populations who carry on the birthing process and other social norms of today that are, in the brave new world, considered taboo (i.e. religion, parenting, family, marriage, etc.). Such populations are put on reservations and ostracized from the “civilized” world.
But, what is the correlation between the episode of Frontline and the lesson I learned from the book?
In Brave New World Huxley presents a society that is attempting to rid the human mind and race of unbalance. In Huxley’s world, these imbalances are stunted during the manufacturing process of a human being on the chemical and molecular levels(of course, the problems are never wholly terminated). All defects are addressed at the earliest possible age that technology allows. Therein is the connection I found. Is it not the same situation in today’s world? Are drugs not being administered to children at very young ages in an attempt to “fix” what problems are just beginning to surface?
It is curious that today’s humans are slowly becoming intolerant to difference. More so, and arguably more disturbing, the instant gratification world of today seems to not want to, in the parlance of the times, “Wait and see.” Instead of giving time for a child to develop and fine tune its character, many parents seem to be opting to curb that process by allowing medical caregivers to prescribe pharmaceuticals that, often times, have not even been tested on children.
Brave New World isn’t so much a look into the future so much as it is a different perspective of the present. Excluding some of the futuristic references such as using personal helicopters as the main mode of transportation and accepting ideologies that preach that “everything belongs to everyone,” the people of Brave New World still deal with the problems of today (and, no doubt, the problems of the 1930s when it was published). Traffic, delayed airlines, sports, drug use, vacations, media fervor, selfishness, disease, even third-world countries, are all things that exist today and in Brave New World. The only difference is that Brave New World is fiction and has an ending. It cannot be changed unlike today. ...more
I think the epistolary form of this book really helped to flesh it out and make it entertaining. The anecdotes are funny and the information is very,I think the epistolary form of this book really helped to flesh it out and make it entertaining. The anecdotes are funny and the information is very, very genuine. The author of the letters, George Philip, is undoubtedly reliable as well as he is extremely savvy. Probably the most admirable characteristic of this manuscript is the literary nature of the letters.
It would behoove anybody looking to learn about the lifestyle and history of the cowboy on the range of South Dakota before the turn of the twentieth century to read this book. Cowboy Life: The Letters of George Philip is unabashed and real. It’s a book full of informative anecdotes, timeless curiosity, and enviable as well as unenviable tales of a lifestyle long gone and, arguably, forgotten.
Perhaps, the most intriguing thing about the book is its honesty. There are parts of it that, by today’s standards, are completely politically incorrect and insincere; however, if the editors and publisher had changed those aspects, the credibility of the manuscript would have been ruined. The author neither embellishes the ugliness of human nature during those times nor does he come off as unapologetic; but he tells the stories and lessons nonetheless.
I would suggest this book to anyone looking to learn more about the lives of cowboys during the last leg of the legendary American West. ...more
When I went to the bookstore to select my next read, I begrudgingly went to Hemingway. I wanted to read one more of his manuscripts before I made a fiWhen I went to the bookstore to select my next read, I begrudgingly went to Hemingway. I wanted to read one more of his manuscripts before I made a final decision on the author: like or dislike. I first picked up For Whom the Bell Tolls because of the familiar title. I read the description, arguably his best novel, and was enticed. But, I put it back in its place after seeing its length. I grabbed The Old Man and the Sea instead and went to the check out.
I thought, Why take a chance of reading a long book by an author I already dislike when I could read an equally well known but shorter story?
While standing in line, I, again, begrudgingly went back to Hemingway and swapped The Old Man for the much larger For Whom the Bell Tolls.
If I’m going to read something by an author I already don’t enjoy, I thought, then I might as well go all in.
So, that’s what I did. I knew a few things before I read For Whom the Bell Tolls. I knew that Hemingway wasn’t all he’s cracked up to be. After having read The Sun Also Rises, A Moveable Feast, and his short story collection, Men Without Women, I also knew that Hemingway was one of the most boring and long-winded (yes, I said it, long-winded) American authors. Finally, to his defense, I knew the man could write a sentence like no other person I have ever had the pleasure (or displeasure) of reading.
However, I did not know that Hemingway could write scenes with great intensity like what is found in For Whom the Bell Tolls. I also did not know that this would be the book to break the preconceived notion that Hemingway’s writings are misogynist. Most of all, I did not expect to find a novel with such towering highs that were matched by such dreadful lows.
Hemingway gets too much credit for his writing style. Sure, his sentences are short and to the point but there are so god damn many of them! I have heard a lot about his distinctive “less is more” style (never seen it), but this book is a testament of Hemingway going against the aforementioned adage. The fact that For Whom the Bell Tolls is a mere 30 pages (give or take a dozen pages depending on the edition) shy of 500 should make this point blatantly clear. What people mistakenly call a talented writing style is just an inability to trim the fat of a text.
Here’s the deal, if a reader is able to understand the story by skipping the exposition and only read the dialogue between characters then the author is failing to maintain interest. I’m not saying that’s what I did, but I am saying that I easily could have done it. However, the boring and lofty nature of Hemingway is not hard to overcome and it wasn’t what sent For Whom the Bell Tolls burning down in flames. No, the responsibility of destroying a potentially great novel falls in the hands its romance.
The love story between Robert and Maria is a waste. It is empty, flat, and distracting. It completely ruins this book. It simply does not belong. Robert’s friendship with his elderly guide, Anselmo, is more vivid than anything involving Maria as well as it's more meaningful and loving. Actually, in the case of Robert and Anselmo’s relationship, Hemingway actually does succeed in showing his ability to show more with less. The sex scenes between Robert and Maria were written interestingly, though. Anything else, however, dealing with Maria could have (and, should have) been cut out, which is a shame because Earnest Hemingway obviously (judging by length) put a great deal of effort in trying to flesh out her character and the love story between the two.
In fact, the love story taps into the overall bigger problem of the novel. There are too many unnecessary depths. Anything that strays off the path and away from the story of the revolution feels forced. There are two stories told by Pilar that are perfect examples of this dilemma of contrast: her telling of Pablo’s despicable murders of a group of fascists and her story about her former matador lover. One story belongs and one does not. One story helps to bolster the identity of many characters while the other is just sitting there making the reader think, “What was the point of that?”
For Whom the Bell Tolls could have been half the length it is now. And, had it been cut down, it might have been one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Most of the characters were genuine and concrete. The conflict between Robert and Pablo is intense. Even El Sordo, a relatively minor character with a comparatively small presence, is a very real, three-dimensional person. Pilar is extremely bold, mysterious, and strong. Arguably, I think Pilar is the strongest character in the book (outside of Robert). Hemingway's focus on building Pilar's character proves to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was not a misogynist writer.
Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody. Do what I should have done, read The Old Man and the Sea. ...more
The way that I see it is Animal Farm is the fairytale version of 1984.
It might have been more insightful to me had I read it back in high school or evThe way that I see it is Animal Farm is the fairytale version of 1984.
It might have been more insightful to me had I read it back in high school or even before I read 1984. It was mildly entertaining, though. Allegory, allegory, allegory.
Even though I rated it with two stars, it is still worth reading considering that it is very short. If anybody does really enjoy this book then they should read Aesop's Fables, which I think to be superior and more beneficial. ...more
“Did you know that Americans regularly throw away nearly 15% of the food they buy at the grocery store each year?” (Katie Adams, 20 Lazy Ways to Save“Did you know that Americans regularly throw away nearly 15% of the food they buy at the grocery store each year?” (Katie Adams, 20 Lazy Ways to Save Money)
I cannot figure out if reading Katie Adams’ article before I started writing my review for Dave Eggers’ What is the What was a case of serendipity or if I’m just making an arbitrary connection between the two, but either way I feel pretty wasteful. I think about the truth behind the statistic provided by Adams and how I threw away a loaf of bread yesterday from which I only took six slices before it molded.
What is the What is a book of depth existing in a shallow world. Because it is a biography (of sorts), Dave Eggers displays a quality of sincerity and humility that is unsurpassed by authors today. Nowhere in this work did I hear Eggers’ voice. He is completely transformed into Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee from Sudan who is only one of thousands of so called Lost Boys that were orphaned and relocated to the United States, Canada, and Australia in 2001. Though Eggers’ gift for writing is nowhere near the topic of the book or my review, I cannot help but commend him for his ability to abandon ego and embrace modesty.
When I think about that molded loaf of bread resting in my trashcan at home, I wonder about the What. Because the What is a puzzle throughout the novel, it is left to the reader’s discretion to believe in its goodness, badness, or muteness, even. According to the story of the beginning of the world that Valentino’s father tells, the What is inherently a mystery. The first man and woman of the world had to choose between cattle and the What with the Cattle representing tangible prosperity and the What encompassing the unknown. When the man and woman decide on the cattle, God is happy:
“God was testing the man. He was testing the man, to see if he could appreciate what he had been given, if he could take pleasure in the bounty before him, rather than trade it for the unknown.” (p. 62)
Valentino admits that What is the What had to be pronounced as a novel because some of the memories recounted happened when he was very young, but I think such an admittance can only lead to skepticism that is unnecessary. Memories are subjective and to try and extract that subjectivity will only end in folly. What is the What is truth, and I will never believe otherwise. To read this book as anything but honest is denial in action but, more so, it is treason to humanity.
What is the What is a real heartbreaking work of staggering genius. It is a book of genocide and love, pursuit and surrender. If Valentino and the other Lost Boys are not being bombed from above or chased and enslaved by Islamic fundamentalists, they are being hunted by lions and attacked by crocodiles. However, they are also having their hearts broken and their hopes met. This book forces the reader to see Valentino and the other refugees for what they really are, human.
They have love interests, hobbies, and angst. They have faults. They expect too much from the Western dream just as so many people around the world do. What is the What simultaneously makes the role of culture in life large and small. Though the struggles of Valentino in Africa were life-threatening and disastrous, they, in a way, do not disappear in the United States. To quote Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men:
“This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”
So when I think of that molded bread and all the other food I’ve tossed into the garbage, I can only think of the What and what it represents. I can only think of the starving people everywhere who would tear the molded sections off and savor the rest. The What is something that cannot be found in the literal sense. The What is the opportunity to change things, and I like to believe that Valentino found it with this book just as I see it in the things I waste for which I feel guilty. ...more
Two weeks on this book! Aye, reader, as I breathe, two weeks with no other manuscript in sight; chasing after its ending under the hefty pressure of iTwo weeks on this book! Aye, reader, as I breathe, two weeks with no other manuscript in sight; chasing after its ending under the hefty pressure of its lines, and thrown on the swells of the author’s long-winded thoughts—the pages within, the chapters all around, and not one other thing!
Of course, it wasn’t all that bad; but my botched attempt at mimicking the Melvillian voice is an adverse effect that lingers after reading his first novel, Typee. And, what a first novel it is. After having spent approximately two years on the high seas, Herman Melville returned home to live with his mother and siblings and at twenty-five completed the documentation of his quintessential adventure.
“From my twenty-fifth year,” Melville wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851, “I date my life.” (Historical Note, Leon Howard)
From the beginning of its publication, Typee suffered the abuse of what I call the critics’ reality check. In fact, the question of the book’s honesty is akin to today’s questioning of reality-television albeit the book is a hundred times more literate and important. At the time of its release, readers were searching for true stories and not entertaining fiction, and Typee did not escape the skeptic’s questioning. Throughout the more than a century of its existence, the manuscript has again and again been accepted and rejected as honest. The belief in its genuineness therefore is much like the ocean, for it ebbs and flows.
I couldn’t care less; however, if I had to jump on one side of the fence I would argue that it is, for the most part, genuine. I am inclined to believe that no non-fiction is truly free from embellishment and falsehoods just as no fiction can escape an author’s underlying truths and experiences. In a moment of Zen, it is all one and the same.
What I found most intriguing about Typee was neither the adventure nor the characters. Instead, the immediate conflict of the narrator was what hooked me. Melville, also known as Tommo, is an indecisive little bugger. The first sentence expresses his strong discontent with having been on the seas for six months:
“Six months at sea! Yes, reader, as I live, six months out of sight of land; cruising after the sperm-whale beneath the scorching sun of the Line, and tossed on the billows of the wide-rolling Pacific—the sky above, the sea around, and nothing else!”
The sense of urgency to set foot ashore is strong, and therein is the hook. Melville presents a clear goal: GET OFF THE SHIP! I enjoy such clarity, and after several chapters filled with descriptions of the sea, other islands, the ship, the ship’s crew, “savages,” and even some politicking, Melville recruits a comrade (Toby) and they escape to the island of Nukuheva (actually spelled, Nuku Hiva). However, instantly upon their landing an amount of regret seems to be cast upon the travelers and this is where the monster of indecision creeps in.
Often times, the novel and narrator’s conflict between abandoning ship and going ashore reminded me of certain positions I find myself in from time to time. It’s like deciding to do a ten mile hike when, five miles in, one starts questioning continuing the trip; though it matters not whether one turns around because the distance back to the start is the same as the distance to the end, it feels as if the option is still there. The predicament is reminiscent of The Clash’s song, “Should I stay or Should I go?”
In no time the travelers are confronted with destitution as they head for a valley in the distance. They face the harsh reality of tropical weather and nature, starvation, sleep-deprivation, injury, and, oh yeah, the threat of running into members of the cannibal Typee tribe. It is the traveler’s one hope that they come across the reportedly non-cannibalistic Happar tribe first, so with such a hope the question is always being asked: Typee or Happar? When, after days of desperate excursions through the tropical forest, they reach their destination and come across two young natives.
“Typee or Happar?” they ask the natives.
And, as universal luck would so have it, the young natives are Typee. It is with such news that a plan to escape the island to the comforts of the high seas begins to surface. It is with this cognitive dissonance that Melville is not telling so much a story about adventure as much as he is expressing his discontent and need for escape.
However, this is not a synopsis of the book. I will put future readers to task to figure out how it all unfolds.
As a final note, upon reading reviews and information about Typee I came across discussions of race and Melville’s use of the word “savage.” Some argue that Melville falls victim to the stereotype of the “Noble Savage” that runs rampant throughout many manuscripts of the time, but I’m inclined to disagree. Granted, I think the word was used haphazardly but I most certainly do not believe it was used as a form of degradation. If anything, Melville dispenses his thoughts of savagery equally among the natives of Nukuheva and the alleged civilized societies.
Personally, I think the passage below defends my thoughts:
“But it will be urged that these shocking unprincipled wretches are cannibals. Very true; and a rather bad trait in their character it must be allowed. But they are such only when they seek to gratify the passion of revenge upon their enemies; and I ask whether the mere eating of human flesh so very far exceeds in barbarity that custom which only a few years since was practiced in enlightened England: A convicted traitor, perhaps a man found guilty of honesty, patriotism, and suchlike heinous crimes, had his head lopped off with a huge axe, his bowels dragged out and thrown into a fire; while his body, carved into four quarters, was with his head exposed upon pikes, and permitted to rot and fest among the public haunts of men!
The fiend-like skill we display in the invention of all manner of death dealing engines, the vindictiveness with which we carry on our wars, and the misery and desolation that follow in their train, are enough of themselves to distinguish the white civilized man as the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth.”
If Melville should be accused of anything it should be misanthropy, not racism. ...more
The thing about this book is if you’re going to take it on then you really have to relinquish control. If you’re the type of reader who has to have anThe thing about this book is if you’re going to take it on then you really have to relinquish control. If you’re the type of reader who has to have an unwavering amount of insight and understanding of every sentence within a work then you just need to turn away from this novel. A text such as this makes it difficult to really ignore that voice inside ye old noggin that grows increasingly louder as the plot thickens. The whisper that at first says, “What’s going on?” changes to, “What in the hell’s going on?” to, “Okay, where is this going?” and, finally, to, “Screw it!” will simply not go away unless you decide right off the bat to shut the hell up and just roll with the punches that Faulkner always throws. So, set your gumption level to high, let go of your authoritative tendencies, and enjoy the literature. (It will probably behoove you to read the Sparks Notes or Wikipedia summaries of each section AFTER you read each part.)
When thinking about the The Sound and the Fury, I really cannot help but reference my review of the second most atrocious book I have ever read, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, because Faulkner proves that an author can break the rules of the English language so long as he/she is actually good at doing it. Sure, it may seem unfair that I compare Danielewski to Faulkner; however, I say that you’re going to try and write like a master then you’re going to have to face the fact that you’re nowhere near as good as one. Unlike House of Leaves, I was able to completely ignore the mutilation of punctuation, craft, and literary device in The Sound and the Fury even though there was more of it in the latter.
I’ve read several reviews that complain about the stream of consciousness and non-linearity of the text, which is understandable; but that’s why I say future readers of the book need to have a summary of each part nearby. There’s no rule in reading that says you’re not allowed to look for help on understanding a book. In fact, I say go one step further and research a book before you even read it. It really does make it that more enjoyable.
There are four parts to the novel (five if you include the “Appendix,” which Faulkner added to the novel later on). However, I feel that the four parts can be split into two sections: the first section being parts one and two and the second section being parts three and four.
It is no coincidence that although the first part is narrated by the mentally retarded Benjy that it is the easiest to understand. Though it does not run in sequential order, it presents an honest and simple depiction of a crumbling southern family. Benjy calls it like it is and lets the reader know what's happening:
Mom's sick. He loves his sister... A lot. He loves fire... A lot. He loves the pasture his family used to own until they sold it and it was made into a golf course. Luster is pretty much the closest thing to a friend he has. And, most of all, he doesn't like being castrated.
Of course, Benjy is more dynamic than that list but the point is that is perspective is necessarily pure and his thoughts catapult the reader into the dysfunctional Compson family.
Therefore, it’s only natural that if Benjy’s perspective is the easiest to understand then the hardest is going to be the next section, which is narrated by his brother, Quentin, who is supposed to be the most intelligent of the Compson family. By providing the “dumbest” perspective via Benjy and the “smartest” perspective via Quentin, Faulkner is able to create an overwhelming amount of contradiction in the reader’s mind. After all, why is the smartest person’s narration the most difficult to read and the dumbest the easiest? These two sections are juxtaposition in action whether it is their contrasting monomania with their sister, Caddy, or their inabilities to express their true feelings to others around them. The dumb and the smart are one in their helplessness but one is more the fool. I cannot help but quote Obi Wan Kenobi, "Who's more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?"
The third and fourth parts of the book seem to focus on the difference between bigotry and tolerance. Part three is narrated by Jason, a racist and brother to Benjy and Quentin, who is obsessed with protecting his wealth and despising everything that is a threat to it. He speaks vilely about the black servants of the household whom he feels are getting paid to not work and blackmails his sister, Caddy, in order to gain more wealth by stealing the money she sends to her daughter, Miss Quentin. Jason seems to direct his bitterness of being stuck with taking care of the family after his father’s death toward Miss Quentin who he relentlessly pursues until the very end of the book. Plain and simple, he's upset because siblings Caddy and Quentin left home to live their lives while he got stuck with what they left behind.
Part four, though in third-person objective point-of-view, can easily be described as the servant, Dilsey’s, part. It is through Dilsey that William Faulkner demonstrates perseverance of the mind, body, and soul. Though up until this point, Jason has supported the family and servants financially, it has been Dilsey who has actually taken care of and maintained the household. She watches over and manages all of the other servants, is the caretaker for the sickly Caroline Compson, and is the matriarchal figure for Benjy. While Jason obsesses over the disappearance of Miss Quentin who he accuses of stealing his life savings, it is Dilsey who maintains, albeit a loose, sense of order.
By the end of the novel, I still wasn’t sure if I understood everything that happened. In fact, I’m still not certain. However, I know good literature when it’s in front of me and this book smacked me right in the face....more
Something about David’s writing just doesn’t sit well with me. After listening to a number of his appearances on NPR (This American Life, mostly), I wSomething about David’s writing just doesn’t sit well with me. After listening to a number of his appearances on NPR (This American Life, mostly), I was convinced that his book would be replete with as much a wry narrative; however, his writing pales in comparison to his presentation. This is not to say that he does not write well so much as it is to say that his performance overshadows his manuscripts.
Of course, I speak with very little experience since I’ve only read Me Talk Pretty One Day; but I have the feeling that I should have heeded the advice of any number of my friends and just listened to the audio book instead. The problem with the book is I think I was searching for something more. I wanted the same feel I get from Sarah Vowell. I wanted to read a book that gave me a sense of dignity and knowledge.
Me Talk Pretty One Day worked purely entertain. Alas, my expectations tend to ruin my experiences, so I will focus on what I enjoyed.
The book is split into two parts: the first focusing on David’s childhood and life before France and the second providing anecdotes of his time in France. I really enjoyed the latter half of the book. Part One was humorous, but it really didn’t hit the spot like Part Two. Part One, even when David was older, was angst filled and riddled with whines and grimaces. It was the more immature of the two. The self-deprecating nature gets to be too heavy for laughter so much so that it comes off as pitiful.
Part Two is a breathe of fresh air, methinks. I really got the impression that David was genuinely happy even though his writing style remained crass. I think my favorite story was the self-titled, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and I thought maintaining the villainous teacher throughout the majority of the book was in good taste.
Sedaris really knows how to flesh out a character. I think his simile and metaphor is pretty hit or miss, but his characterizations (or, summarization since they’re probably all non-fictional) are extremely colorful and refreshing. I especially got giddy whenever he mentioned his sister, Amy.
All in all, there’s actually not a boring moment in this book. It’s a good read if you’re looking for a book to knock out in a day or so (even though it took me a week). It might very well be the perfect summertime trip book. Take it on a flight or in a car. Read it in your hotel room.
I’ll leave you with what I thought was a funny excerpt from the story, “Smart Guy” in which David takes the Mensa IQ test:
Still, there were moments when, against all reason, I thought I might be a genius. These moments were provoked not by any particular accomplishment but by cocaine and crystal methamphetamine—drugs that allow you to lean over a mirror with a straw up your nose, suck up an entire week’s paycheck, and think, “God, I’m smart.” ...more
I think I made a good decision when I chose to read this book shortly after I read Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga oI think I made a good decision when I chose to read this book shortly after I read Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs simply because it offers another perspective of the times. However, more importantly is my good fortune of having become familiar with a number of the characters in the book via other literature whether it be Ken Kesey through One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Neal Cassady through Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or any other folks who made a cameo Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Larry McMurtry, etc.
This book is so great because it takes the “hippie” subculture whether it be sexual revolution or the psychedelic wave and ties it all together. A lot of information that is disseminated from this period of American History seems to be irresolute and lacking an informative perspective. Somebody like Hunter S. Thompson may have some wonderful tales to tell, but he never quite quenches the thirst for knowledge so much as he fills the reader’s current entertainment void.
A lot of criticism I read about Tom Wolfe is that he wasn’t actually in the scene. He was an outsider. A poser. But, I think that’s what makes him so potent. He’s a careful and attentive observer. More so, he’s what I like to think of as a compassionate conveyor. To take a phrase from the Mary Prankster’s, “He’s on the bus.” However, he’s on it without being on it. (It doesn’t get anymore psychedelically confusing and contradictory than that, now does it?)
What’s more amazing is reading this book along with other texts that fall into the “hysterical realism” genre really gives the ignorant reader an entirely different, radical historical perspective on revolutionary movements in America. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test isn’t a story of hallucinating speed freaks looking to “get their kicks and get out of it quick.” To the contrary, it’s a history of a movement. A movement that fought and sacrificed a whole hell of a lot in order to try and figuratively turn people on to a new step in thinking.
It’s so easy to pigeonhole the “free love” and psychedelic revolutions into a closet and tape it off in history with labels that read, “Hippie Bullshit.” These weren’t weekend warriors who were simply looking for a wild and crazy weekend. They weren’t a couple of secretaries looking to get tipsy on frozen daiquiris and whiskey sours at the local Apple Bees.
No, these were real people with genuine ideas and convictions on how they felt their lives should be lived, and if anybody else wanted to try out their lifestyle then they were welcome to “take the test” and "do their thing."
This book took me back to when I was a child in grade school and the local D.A.R.E. representative would come in with a McGruff the crime dog doll and tell me and my classmates about the dangers of drugs. We’d always hear stories about how a man on acid scraped off his skin with broken glass because he thought there were spiders crawling on him. We were never taught that we might have a religious experience or feel happy. Of course, I’m not saying that grade school children should be exposed to drugs or alcohol; but I am saying that preaching that drugs are bad (mmmkay) for one's entire life is not only a lie but it’s an encroachment on personal freedoms.
On Tool’s album Aenima, there’s a prelude to the final track entitled “Third Eye” by comedian Bill Hicks:
“See, I think drugs have done some good things for us, I really do. And, if you don’t think drugs have done good things for us do me a favor and go home take all your albums, all your tapes, and all your CDs and burn them. Because, you know what? The musicians who made all that great music that’s enhanced your lives throughout the years… Real fucking high on drugs.”
That’s pretty much this book in summation. Yet, if you even bring the subject up around most Americans it seems that they cringe at the notion of controlled substances.
And, I think that’s exactly how this book ends.
“We blew it!”
That phrase that Kesey and Babbs sing as a duet while hyped up on LSD is that grimace that people give when drugs are mentioned. ...more
The entire thing reminded me of something I would have read in a workshop novel writing class during my undergraduate dThis book is an absolute mess.
The entire thing reminded me of something I would have read in a workshop novel writing class during my undergraduate days. It’s replete with poor syntax that leads to even poorer grammar, which eventually works to destroy the book. I really don’t know what the editors were thinking by allowing colloquial mistakes such as “could of” and “should of” and “could care less” to stay in the final publication. All of the colloquialisms did appear in Truant’s narratives, which, I assume, is supposed to just be part of his “character.” But, what’s the reasoning behind such tact? Am I supposed to think that Truant is a dumbass?
I was kind of led to believe that Truant was supposed to be a pretty smart dude. At some points his narrative sounds well informed and pretty academic, yet in other parts he is unbearably sophomoric. And, spare me the talk about how he’s supposed to be like that since he’s going insane because that doesn’t fly. Just because someone is going crazy doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Besides, this isn’t so much about a flawed character as it is about poor authorship.
I understand the old adage that you can break the rules so long as you know the rules, but you still have to make it believable and make your reader buy into it. A perfect example is how an author like Cormac McCarthy won’t use quotation marks most of the times or he’ll replace a phrase such as “son of a bitch” with “sum bitch.” When McCarthy does it, it’s done with a sense of authority. When Danielewski does it, it’s done with a sense of confusion like he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.
Really, though, it’s the gimmicks of the novel that completely kills it. And, contrary to what ardent enthusiasts of the book might claim—its complicated nature makes it compelling—all of the devices used are actually incredibly distracting. It’s not complicated; it’s confusing to the point that it rips you out of the book and makes you wonder if you missed a page (or, if you went to the correct page after following a slew of footnotes). It’s like being given a crossword puzzle with clues that have nothing to do with the answers for which you’re searching. In other words, the book’s gimmicks work to defeat the purpose for having placed the gimmicks there in the first place, which is to make it a fun, engrossing, and different read.
I can’t help but revert to another author who is just better at this craft than Danielewski, Johnathan Safran Foer. In Foer’s novel, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” there are weird text setups and whatnot; but, again, he presents it with such authority. Other authors that come to mind would be Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Eggers.
Without a doubt, "The Navidson Record" is the most enthralling part of this book. The characters are pretty three dimensional and the setting, well, the setting is phenomenal. The concept that space and time are essentially arbitrary kept me turning the pages. Imagine, a house that is bigger on the inside than it is outside... A whole lot bigger! Even Zampano’s footnotes didn’t bother me. The appearance of the closet and the hallway were reminiscent of the eerie monolith in 2001 (which, I think that was actually cited in the book at one point). The dimensions of the places explored throughout the house evoked so much wonder.
I actually even enjoyed all of the cross references to The Inferno, the Metamorphoses, and other such works. I thought the academic feel was pretty cool even though I think it was supposed to be mocking rather than emulating that style.
But, once again, anytime it started to get really good Truant would pop up with some boring, angst filled allegory or sob story about his position in life. His pointless existence, I might add. Some might say he was a tragic hero, but I felt nothing but pure tragedy when I saw his stupid courier font pop up at the bottom of a page. I simply could not give a shit about Truant. (With the exception of the letters from his mother, which were pretty captivating.) And, when he delved into one of his free-writing sessions, forget it; my eyes were rolling more than bowling balls.
I cannot stress enough how much I wish "The Navidson Record" was the only story in this book. How I wish it WAS the book!
(Except for that “What Some Have Thought” section where Karen showed some of it to a number of important scholars as well as famous people. The “interview” with Hunter S. Thompson almost made me throw the book in the trash. Just read it and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Danielewski writes from Hunter’s point of view as if he’s only seen/read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Thompson is quoted as saying such a cliché line as, “I never thought I’d hear myself say this but lady you need to lay off the acid…” which is such absolute bullshit and typical of what someone would write whose knowledge of Hunter S. Thompson only goes as far as Johnny Depp and Bill Murray’s depictions. I mean, I get it about this section and how it’s supposed to be satirical hence the Harold Bloom and Kubrick interviews [which, were pretty funny especially the Bloom one:], but god damn that Hunter S. Thompson part just really hit me the wrong way.)
The thing about this book is that I only think people like it because it’s different and enigmatic, but that doesn’t make it good. It’s got a lot of presentation but very little substance, which is why when you ask somebody what it’s about they talk about how you have to turn the book every which way to read it instead of telling you what it’s actually about.
So, what was it about?
A kid finds a dead guy's dissertation of a documentary about a house that's bigger inside than it is outside but the documentary wasn't real. In fact, the dead guy made the whole thing up and that dead guy's words might have made the kid go crazy. But, more than likely, the kid went crazy because his childhood was fucked up and so was his social life and it was only a matter of time.
Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it's a glimpse into the vast unknown? How to make fun of academia?