A mask of piety can often lead to a dark story underneath. The higher the religious fervor often covers up the guilt and shame from a dark history. JaA mask of piety can often lead to a dark story underneath. The higher the religious fervor often covers up the guilt and shame from a dark history. James Baldwin’s classic work unearths a history from each character. Starting with the innocence of John and his fear of inadequacy at the pulpit, we see the story of his parents. This high Godly bar seems insurmountable, but John finds his own path to God.
Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical novel is a soul-searching narrative on the nature of sin, the oppression of race, and the desperate need to be saved. Through his eyes we see John’s innocence, his father’s dark history, and the trouble of migration from the rural south to the urban north. It is a north with a promise to give, but never fulfilling that promise. It is a story of struggle against the desire of self.
It’s easy to see why this is such a masterpiece. Outside of just the compelling story, the prose itself and narrative tension make the work completely absorbing. This is the book on how to teach someone how to write. It pulses with energy.
“But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place.”
“There are people in the world for whom "coming along" is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive.” “…the North promised more. And this similarity: what it promised it did not give, and what it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other.” ...more
This is a bizarre book. I can see it as a precursor to the Twilight Zone or The Prisoner. This turn of the century story focuses on an undercover poliThis is a bizarre book. I can see it as a precursor to the Twilight Zone or The Prisoner. This turn of the century story focuses on an undercover policeman attempting to infiltrate a key anarchist group whose members are only identified by the days of the week. The story takes many bizarre turn particularly in the end where the chase to capture Sunday the leader of the group results in chases by elephant and balloons. I sometimes wondered whether the author was on something when he wrote this book. A surrealistic book with a very surprise ending....more
To Kill a Mockingbird is a slow exorcism of a dark past viewed through the eyes of a small girl and her Christ-like father. Atticus Finch would be theTo Kill a Mockingbird is a slow exorcism of a dark past viewed through the eyes of a small girl and her Christ-like father. Atticus Finch would be the man who would be the catalyst for change that was still far away in the South in the 1930s. The book itself would be a catalyst of confrontation in the 1960s, 25 years after the events in the book. Even with this dark and cruel racism throughout the book, Lee understands the people in the community, not their reasons behind the bigotry, but seeing them as folks. There is certainly more empathy for Southerners than other writers have given. Flannery O’Conner for one creates a very gothic twisted narrative of the south. For Harper Lee it does seem like she doesn’t see an “Us vs. Them” mentality when dealing with her fellow Southerners, but sees everyone as “just folks”. She lays out the story and lets the events themselves while the reader bears witness.
The trial of Tom Robinson only takes up a small section of the book. Most of the story is a character study of each family in town and how they relate to one another. From the Yule family, living near a trash heap, to Boo Radley, who lives next door to the Finches, we see the history of the town and how everyone interacts with one another. Once the trial begins, the ugly racism appears with taunts to Jem and Scout about their father’s defense of Tom Robinson. This brings Jem and Scout into a new world, broadens their perspective, and demonstrates how different they really are from most of the town. After the trial, there are even comparisons with the racism in that small town with the actions of the Nazis. It’s this dawning awareness that things need to change as observed by Jem and Scout that is a sharp contrast to the people in Macom that will be forever mired in the past, unable to move forward or change their ways. It’s as if these long family traditions will forever freeze and only families like the Finches to start to thaw their perspective.
I think my favorite part is the portrayal of Atticus Finch. It is very difficult to be the person who knows right from wrong when an entire community doesn’t understand it. It comes at a great personal cost to him emotionally, but even knowing “he will be licked” he continues to push forward for the right thing. This is by far the best part of the book. I also listened to this as an audiobook from Audible with Sissy Spacek narrating which was very excellent. So many actors are reading audiobooks now it is like having a lengthy movie version of the book. ...more
I often shy away from the classics because of their length. It’s quite daunting to read something with very old language at great length. Many of themI often shy away from the classics because of their length. It’s quite daunting to read something with very old language at great length. Many of them are so long because they told in parts in periodicals, the more parts, the more funds for the author.
My favorite quote about long books comes from Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction of his short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box:
““Reading a novel, War and Peace for example, is no Catnap. Because a novel is so long, reading one is like being married forever to somebody nobody knows or cares about.”
As a result, I skipped over Ethan Frome often. I put the book on the list when I added some of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die on my list. I picked it up and was surprised by how much I really loved it.
Wharton is a master at quiet storytelling, how the characters and the landscape tell the same story. The character’s desperation is palpable, but oh so quiet like a snowy winter evening, all sounds muffled. Something ominous hangs in the air, it slowly builds, and at the last moment, the big reveal. It’s no wonder she was a master at ghost stories.
A young woman in Starkfield on business, sees Ethan Frome, and with it the story of life in a small town and the desperation to get out of it. Ever burdened with his parents poor health and then his wife, he sees life in a young Mattie, his wife Zeena’s cousin. For a year he has an unhealthy fixation on her that represents the yearning for something new, to get out of the small town, to make a fresh start. As time wears on, Zeena begins to suspect something and the action of all three lead to a terrifying reality.
This would be a great book for a discussion. It’s short with such strong symbolism of the town, the weather, the characters and their actions. It ends like a ghost story, something you definitely wouldn’t expect.
Guess he's been in Starkfield too many winters. 18
He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters. P. 22
His father's death, and the misfortunes following it, had put a premature end to Ethan's studies; but though they had not gone far enough to be of much practical use they had fed his fancy and made him aware of huge cloudy meanings behind the daily face of things. P.30
But hitherto the emotion had remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. He did not even know whether any one else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege. Then he learned that one other spirit had trembled with the same touch of wonder... P.33
For years that quiet company had mocked his restlessness, his desire for change and freedom. "We never got away-how should you?" seemed to be written on every headstone; and whenever he went in or out of his gate he thought with a shiver: "I shall just go on living here till I join them." But now all desire for change had vanished, and the sight of the little enclosure gave him a warm sense of continuance and stability. P.44
All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way. She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all the others. P.85
For the life of her smile, the warmth of her voice, only cold paper and dead words! P. 92
Confused motions of rebellion stormed in him. He was too young, too strong, too full of the sap of living, to submit so easily to the destruction of his hopes. Must he wear out all his years at the side of a bitter querulous woman? Other possibilities had been in him, possibilities sacrificed, one by one, to Zeena's narrow-mindedness and ignorance. And what good had come of it? She was a hundred times bitterer and more discontented than when he had married her: the one pleasure left her was to inflict pain on him. All the healthy instincts of self-defence rose up in him against such waste... P. 93
The inexorable facts closed in on him like prison-warders handcuffing a convict. There was no way out-none. He was a prisoner for life, and now his one ray of light was to be extinguished. P.95 ...more
How can we reconcile the different aspects of ourselves? We contain multitudes, but combined into one person it becomes chaos. Anna Wulf is trying toHow can we reconcile the different aspects of ourselves? We contain multitudes, but combined into one person it becomes chaos. Anna Wulf is trying to bring herself together through her notebooks each one containing a different aspect, “… a black notebook, which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook, concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary.” It’s this attempt to document all these aspects and then to combine them into one person that drive this story. It’s an exercise in finding truth, but can one really look at oneself objectively? Can we know the true aspects of ourselves?
Anna Wulf is a successful writer. Her novel The Frontiers of War is a bestseller and has allowed her to live off the royalties for the foreseeable future. It is a novel of ill-fated love in Africa during World War II. In the black notebook, she has the raw story of what happened with her and her communist friends. Most of the story mirrors Frontiers of War as they deal with racism in Africa. The story itself becomes a critical piece of Anna’s journey to truth. Does she really convey what was being said and what was really happening? She often has television and film producers sending her letters begging her to sell the rights to make it into a movie. She only sells the film rights to studios that are obvious to fail. She doesn’t want it made into a movie as it will further diminish the truth. It becomes a crisis later in the book as she dreams of the book being made into a film, but the director has emphasized all the wrong parts. This is also the root of her writer’s block.
Anna Wulf is also a communist. The Red notebook documents her experience with the Communist Party in England and her disillusion of the cause. Politics is a key aspect of who she is, but she is forced to make a decision to make a break with the party. All of her friends, social activities are with the party, without them, who is she? It creates a further crisis of self. Can she stand on her own without this easy identity?
The Shadow of the Third is Anna Wulf’s next book, documented in the yellow notebook. She is trying to work out her own story. She’s had a series of affairs where there are always three people to consider, herself, the husband, and his wife. One is always a shadow to the other and it becomes a question as to which light shines brighter. She’s repeatedly in the shadows in this equation. Her book is an attempt to work out those feelings. Her relationships are all in a constant state of falling apart.
The blue notebook is a personal diary and mostly covers her sessions with her analyst Mother Sugar. Her analysis reveals the truth nature of her writer’s block that has to do with the black notebook. How does she know what she is writing is true? What gives her the right to state that her viewpoint is the true one that everyone must follow? It brings on a sort of madness that takes over the final section of the book.
The Golden Notebook is Anna’s final attempt at a whole story. She takes a lodger by the name of Saul Green and they have an affair. It’s not stated but Saul has some sort of multiple personalities disorder that mirrors Anna’s own splitting of herself. It takes place inside the yellow notebook and with the asterisks marks it’s difficult to ascertain whether this is all fact or fiction. Is she still working out her own story or has she left that aside and told an entire fiction with the attempt in healing the “sick” Anna? She must face all of her demons and exorcise them before she succumbs to her own “cracking up”.
This is quite the beast of a book. The architecture is very complex and she weaves in and out of each notebook simultaneously, but also has a real time aspect referred to as the Free Women section. It would probably take me another try at the book to get to its true meaning.
Many refer this book as a feminist book, but Lessig rejected this notion. She refers to the book as a struggle with madness. In creating the character Anna Wulf she is attempting to document every aspect of herself. The character goes so far as wondering how much she should document, even talking about her period and how that affects her. It doesn’t seem like anyone was bold enough to write that frankly about the internal dialogue of being a woman at the time. It’s an attempt to be unfiltered, but not attempting to do it in a shocking way. The character even discusses this with her analyst. If she only discussing certain aspects of herself that she feels is important, those important parts overwhelm the story. In order to tell the aspects that are important, she must tell her entire story so people can understand the perspective.
The entire book is an exercise in this exploration. I found it dazzling and hypnotic. I’ve always been fascinated with the writer’s process of creation. It’s so detailed in this book. It’s her struggle for truth, how she creates a story, and her own isolation from others due to her writer’s perspective that play center stage. It’s one of the books that will go on my favorite bookshelf as one to re-read and decipher further.
Favorite Passages: “Why do I always have this awful need to make other people see things as I do? It's childish, why should they? What it amounts to is that I'm scared of being alone in what I feel. P 11
“And when we part, there'll be a sudden resentment, a rancour-because after all, our real loyalties are always to men, and not to women... P. 52
“Literature is analysis after the event." P. 231
“It struck me that my doing this-turning everything into fiction-must be an evasion. Why not write down, simply, what happened between Molly and her son today? Why do I never write down, simply, what happens? Why don't I keep a diary? Obviously, my changing everything into fiction is simply a means of concealing something from myself.” P.232
“I think that she will retain the peace for years, until the pressure comes on her, and she must start thinking. In half an hour I must remember to cook the potatoes and then I must write a list for the grocer and then I must remember to change the collar on my dress and then... I want very much to protect her from the pressure, to postpone it; then I tell myself I must protect her from nothing, this need is really Anna wanting to protect Anna” p.337
“But the idea that I will have to write it down is changing the balance, destroying the truth” p.343
“The others, all over the world, who are writing away in secret books, because they are afraid of what they are thinking.” P.479
“I keep four notebooks, a black notebook, which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook, concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary. In Molly's house the notebooks were something I never thought about; and certainly not as work, or a responsibility. The things that are important in life creep up on one unawares, one doesn't expect them, one hasn't given them shape in one's mind. One recognises them, when they've appeared, that's all.” P.479
“Matching what I had written with what I remembered it all seemed false. And this-the untruthfulness of what I had written was because of something I had not thought of before-my sterility. The deepening note of criticism, of defensiveness, of dislike.” P.480
“I am increasingly afflicted by vertigo where words mean nothing. Words mean nothing. They have become, when I think, not the form into which experience is shaped, but a series of meaningless sounds, like nursery talk, and away to one side of experience. Or like the sound track of a film that has slipped its connection with the film. When I am thinking I have only to write a phrase like 'I walked down the street,' or take a phrase from a newspaper 'economic measures which lead to the full use of...' and immediately the words dissolve, and my mind starts spawning images which have nothing to do with the words, so that every word I see or hear seems like a small raft bobbing about on an enormous sea of images. So I can't write any longer. Or only when I write fast, without looking back at what I have written.” P.480
“We spend our lives fighting to get people very slightly less stupid than we are to accept truths that the great men have always known. They have always known, they have known for ten thousand years, that to lock a human being into solitary confinement can make a madman of him or an animal. They have always known that a poor man frightened of the police and his landlord is a slave. They have always known that frightened people are cruel. They have always known that violence breeds violence. And we know it. But do the great masses of the world know it? No. It is our job to tell them. Because the great men can't be bothered. Their imaginations are already occupied with how to colonise Venus; they are already creating in their minds visions of a society full of free and noble human beings. Meanwhile, human beings are ten thousand years behind them, imprisoned in fear. The great men can't be bothered. And they are right. Because they know we are here, the boulder-pushers. They know we will go on pushing the boulder up the lower slopes of an immensely high mountain, while they stand on[…]” P.614
Food can often set the mood in classic literature. The reader is more aware of the protagonist disposition or what he can afford simply by describingFood can often set the mood in classic literature. The reader is more aware of the protagonist disposition or what he can afford simply by describing a meal he or she is eating. I often can remember these fictitious dishes when I am eating the same food. It feels like I am back in the story. The concept of the book really resonated with me as I have keen memory for two particular books when it comes to food.
When I eat eggs, I think of Catch-22 when Major de Coverly is being convinced to use his military planes to get his fresh eggs fried in fresh butter. I also think of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest when McMurphy is talking about the conditions in the insane asylum: “ “Look at me now,” he tells the guys and lifts a glass to the light, “getting my first glass of orange juice in six months. Hooee, that’s good…Look at me now: bacon, toast, butter, eggs–coffee the little honey in the kitchen even asks me if I like it black or white thank you–and a great! big! cold glass of orange juice. Why, you couldn’t pay me to leave this place!”
The most famous food scene is in the first book of Remembrance of Things Past, Swan’s Way. In eating the madeleine, the writer is transported back to different time all of a sudden. It is an involuntary memory. It is this concept that has created this wonderful book.
Dinah Fried has painstakingly recreated famous food scenes from classic literature from Oliver Twist to Swan’s Way. If you have read the book, you will be transported by viewing the photo and reading the line that is associated with the scene. There are even footnotes with each section describing the inspiration for the literary scene, or describing the history of the food. She has brought in detail and background where the passages are less descriptive. It is a wondrous experience for the avid reader and a great Father’s Day gift. ...more
I really love these hard-boiled detective stories. This one is right up there with Red Harvest. Phillip Marlowe does the job he is paid to do and youI really love these hard-boiled detective stories. This one is right up there with Red Harvest. Phillip Marlowe does the job he is paid to do and you get a little extra if it suits him. I'm fascinated by characters like these that have the ability to bluff, outwit, and outsmart their opponents. It's the classic superhero detective. The last straight arrow in a crooked world.
Marlowe is hired to shake down the person who is blackmailing General Sherwood. His daughters are running wild and get mixed up with the wrong sort of people. They are used regularly to extort money from the rich General. Marlowe is hired to put a stop to it, but Marlowe gets more than her bargained for and so does the General. The story seems solved about a quarter of the way through, but it's just a smaller piece in the bigger story. Surprise ending too, great stuff!
Jealousy is a bad motive for his type. Top-flight racketeers have business brains. They learn to do things that are good policy and let their personal feelings take care of themselves. p. 64
I went upstairs again and sat in my chair thinking about Harry Jones and his story. It seemed a little too pat. It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact. p. 107
Quotes p. 110 "I'm a copper," he said. "Just a plain ordinary copper. Reasonably honest. As honest as you could expect a man to be in a world where it's out of style. That's mainly why I asked you to come in this morning. I'd like you to believe that. Being a copper I like to see the law win. I'd like to see the flashy well-dressed mugs like Eddie Mars spoiling their manicures in the rock quarry at Folsom, alongside of the poor little slum-bred hard guys that got knocked over on their first caper and never had a break since. That's what I'd like. You and me both lived too long to think I'm likely to see it happen. Not in this town, not in any town half this size, in any part of this wide, green and beautiful U.S.A. We just don't run our country that way."
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep. 125...more
This one's been on my to-read list for some time. It's only after reading How Children Succeed did I pick it up. In the book Paul Tough mentions how iThis one's been on my to-read list for some time. It's only after reading How Children Succeed did I pick it up. In the book Paul Tough mentions how it is used in the student's curriculum as an example of someone having too much grit. Indeed, the character Okonkwo is a classic example of someone overcompensating for a perceived weakness. He spends so much time being tough, trying to be a powerful man that he fails to see anything else. His story seems innocent at the beginning, an ambitious man who wants to disassociate from his lazy and indebted father. He goes too far, becoming a menace to his tribe and to his own family, with tragic results.
The story also parallels the introduction of the white man to Africa. The colonialism of the white man starts with Christians and their “sweet talk”, gaining tribesmen into their faith and taking apart old customs in the process. That perceived weakness becomes a strength that would subjugate both Okonkwo and the African people.
I was more interested in the first half of the book. Okonkwo’s wants power and respect, but he doesn’t understand what it takes to be a true community member and leader of the tribe. His perspective is always to show strength whereas if he showed weakness he would have been welcomed more in the tribe and better handled the missionaries in the second-half of the book. I also liked how the second half parallels Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Though it is not as thorough as that book, the same message is conveyed so brilliantly in the end of this book.
"Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious kids and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father's failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was acjbala. That was how “Okonkwo first came to know that acfbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion—to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness.” P. 23
“Then listen to me," he said and cleared his throat. "It's true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring to your mother , a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead” P. 208
“He sighed heavily, and as if in sympathy the smoldering log also sighed. And immediately Okonkwo's eyes were opened and he saw the whole matter clearly. Living fire begets cold, impotent ash. He sighed again, deeply.” P.221
“Does the white man understand our custom about land?" "How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad,- and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” P. 272
“He condemned openly Mr. Brown's policy of compromise and accommodation. He saw things as black and white. And black was evil” P. 282 ...more
I was surprised by how much I liked this book. What I knew from this book is what I saw on a movie poster from the English Patient, which doesn't realI was surprised by how much I liked this book. What I knew from this book is what I saw on a movie poster from the English Patient, which doesn't really describe the book accurate. It's a description of how four people recover from the horrors of World War II. One nurse stays behind in a converted nunnery to take care of a burned beyond recognition Englishman. An old friend and a sappar appear by chance, and each of their stories are told.
These passages reveal how these characters deal with their own horror.
Hana: "The deepest sorrow, he thought. Where the only way to survive is to excavate everything."
"I leaned forward to close a dead soldier's eyes, and he opened them and sneered, "Can't wait to have me dead? You bitch!" He sat up and swept everything on my tray to the floor. So furious. Who would want to die like that? To die with that kind of anger. You bitch! After that I always waited for the bubble in their mouths. I know death now, David. I know all the smells, I know how to divert them from agony. When to give the quick jolt of morphine in a major vein. The saline solution. To make them empty their bowels before they die. Every damn general should have had my job. Every damn general. It should have been a prerequisite for any river crossing. Who the hell were we to be given this responsibility, expected to be wise as old priests, to know how to lead people towards something no one wanted and somehow make them feel comfortable. I could never believe in all those services they gave for the dead. Their vulgar rhetoric. How dare they! How dare they talk like that about a human being dying."
The English Patient
" We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography--to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps."
The Sappar "There are those destroyed by unfairness and those who are not. If she asks him he will say he has had a good life--his brother in jail, his comrades blown up, and he risking himself daily in this war. In spite of the kindnesses in such people they were a terrible unfairness. He could be all day in a clay pit dismantling a bomb that might kill him at any moment, could come home from the burial of a fellow sapper, his energy saddened, but whatever the trials around him there was always solution and light. But she saw none. For him there were the various maps of fate, and at Amritsar's temple all faiths and classes were welcome and ate together. She herself would be allowed to place money or a flower onto the sheet spread upon the floor and then join in the great permanent singing.
The author Enrique Vila-Matas is grappling with something that goes beyond literature. In his search for “Writers of the No” he is attempting to examiThe author Enrique Vila-Matas is grappling with something that goes beyond literature. In his search for “Writers of the No” he is attempting to examine authors who have attained great heights in literature, but have stopped producing any work. Along the way, he examines the nature of creation and questions whether any format can truly express one’s thoughts. This book is a sort of existential crisis for authors. It’s also a fascinating travelogue into the minds of some of the greatest writers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Told in a series of footnotes, Vila-Matas, examines the great authors from Salinger to Maupassant who reach a great height and then stop writing. Why do they stop? What are some of the reasons? Does creativity simply dry up, or do these authors simply choose not to write? His idol, Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, is the quintessential creation of the art of the “No”. When asked to do something, he simply states, “He would prefer not to.” That preferring “not to” takes many forms, the loss of a key, the need for immortality, the lack of creativity, or that the format is too easy. What he eventually gets to is that one cannot come up with the best way to express their thoughts in any format. He claims a Bartleby syndrome in his own writing, hence creating this book of footnotes of authors suffering from the same affliction. A fascinating walk through some of literature’s finest and also most obscure writers. This is an essential text for anyone who aspires to be a writer.
I like how much the author focused on the nature of expression. Sometimes it is impossible to communicate or express how you feel about something in any format. Some just give up, or some settle for poetry unwritten in the mind. I can see many Borges references in the work, some implicit and some direct. Anyone who is a fan of Borges or Italo Calvino will really enjoy this work. I also like that this addition provides a bibliography of some of the works mentioned in the book.
“Poetry unwritten, but lived in the mind: a beautiful ending for someone who ceases to write.” p. 110
“These phantom books, invisible texts, are the ones that knock at our door one day and, when we go to receive them, for what is often a trivial reason, they disappear; we open the door and they are no longer there, they have gone. It was undoubtedly a great book, the great book that was inside us, the one we are really destined to write, our book, the very book we shall never be able to write or read now. But that book, let it be clear, exists, it is held in suspension in the history of the art of the No.” p. 113
“…where you are cordially invited to understand the absurdity of wanting to imitate or eclipse masterpieces and to see that the best you could do is eclipse yourself.” P. 146
“…he sometimes switched it on and was left speechless when he saw the presenters of literary programs acting as if they were selling samples of different cloths.” P. 161 ...more
I remember reading a study a number of years ago where they asked school children to imagine a day in the life of the opposite se. Boys were to imaginI remember reading a study a number of years ago where they asked school children to imagine a day in the life of the opposite se. Boys were to imagine what a girl’s day would be like and vice-versa. The girls ended up being very adept at imagining a boy’s life. However, the boys were terrible, mocking often, or refusing to participate at all. When in a position of power, one doesn’t immediately worry or imagine what someone else will do. It’s only when the advantage is taken away is it ever realized. In the case of Orlando, a man finds how much can be taken away when one switches roles from man to woman.
Orlando, a popular ladies man, lord, debaucher is magically changed one day from man to woman. In Elizabethan England, this has disastrous consequences. She faces the loss of title, land, and the ability to control her own life. She cannot simply attack a man with a rapier simple because she has been insulted, she must find a lady-like way to respond. So we watch over 300 years as Orlando navigates the changing roles of women in England, ending conveniently in 1928, the date of the novel.
It’s a gender bending sci-fi type of novel, but its theme shows how large the chasm between men and women. It’s a brilliant and shocking novel. It’s also different from her other novels where thought and contemplation play a larger role than plot. There is a fair share of it here but it mostly focusing on the changing roles of women. It's an excellent commentary as well an absorbing social history. ...more
The Name of the Rose is a darker book than I had anticipated. It shouldn’t be a surprise since Umberto Eco places the story during the Dark Ages. WherThe Name of the Rose is a darker book than I had anticipated. It shouldn’t be a surprise since Umberto Eco places the story during the Dark Ages. Whereas it begins with a sort of formulaic idea, a Sherlock Holmes of the time, the story soon twists into something far more sinister. It’s like a candle in the darkness and as we read we see the flame flicker. Will we see the light of the room or will the flame be snuffed out?
William of Baskerville with new assistant Adso, monks, who are tasked to investigate a death in an Italian Abbey. William, impressing his new colleagues with scientific reason is the very model of Sherlock Holmes. While the story begins innocently enough (a thriller in the Dark Ages), it soon takes dark twists touching on the corrupt church and imperial powers. Umberto Eco sets this scene against a larger crisis. The Knowledge lost during the Fall of Rome is kept by few monks. Meanwhile, these monks struggle with their own idea of faith, knowledge, and truth. Separate denominations are created all claiming to be the true way of Jesus Christ. Some denominations are legitimate paths while others are paths for selfish corruption. Umberto Eco makes these subtle allusions to the Catholic Church as a whole. What’s the difference between these denominations? This is before the Reformation and the Renaissance. Inside these Dark Ages is a seed of truth trying to blossom. It does so in the midst of a corrupt Catholic Church power struggle.
The concept I really enjoyed was the seeking of knowledge and truth. The library in the abbey is a complex maze. Knowledge is not used to inform or create, but to conceal and destroy. It’s a story in which knowledge can kill.
It’s a must read for librarians and book nerds.
in cases where those who had initiated the inquisition, the bishop, the city magistrates, and the whole populace, perhaps the accused themselves, truly wanted to feel the presence of the Devil? There, perhaps the only real proof of the presence of the Devil was the intensity with which everyone at that moment desired to know he was at work. ..." p. 26
"a book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements, clumsy hands. If for a hundred and a hundred years everyone had been able freely to handle our codices, the majority of them would no longer exist. So the librarian protects them not only against mankind but also against nature, and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion, the enemy of truth. p. 33
"Learning is not like a coin, which remains physically whole even through the most infamous transactions; it is, rather, like a very handsome dress, which is worn out through use and ostentation. Is not a book like that, in fact? Its pages crumble, its ink and gold turn dull, if too many hands touch it. I saw Pacificus of Tivoli, leafing through an ancient volume whose pages had become stuck together because of the humidity. He moistened his thumb and forefinger with his tongue to leaf through his book, and at every touch of his saliva those pages lost vigor; opening them meant folding them, exposing them to the harsh action of air and dust, which would erode the subtle wrinkles of the parchment, and would produce mildew where the saliva had softened but also weakened the corner of the page. As an excess of sweetness makes the warrior flaccid and inept, this excess of possessive and curious love would make the book vulnerable to the disease destined to kill it." p 153
""Why the Jews?" I asked Salvatore. He answered, "And why not?" He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. I reflected that this is why the simple are so called. Only the powerful always know with great clarity who their true enemies are. The lords did not want the Shepherds to jeopardize their possessions, and it was a great good fortune for them that the Shepherds' leaders spread the notion that the greatest wealth longed to the Jews. " p. 159
“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.” P 417 “as if for centuries those ancient pages had been yearning for arson and were rejoicing in the sudden satisfaction of an immemorial thirst for ecpyrosis."P. 500 ...more
I’ve had Everything that Rises Must Converge on my to-read list for some time. I ended up reading The Violent Bear it Away first. It’s a big differencI’ve had Everything that Rises Must Converge on my to-read list for some time. I ended up reading The Violent Bear it Away first. It’s a big difference to go from one to the other. The Violent Bear it Away is so intense and seemed to spring from one of the short stories in Everything that Rises Must Converge. Whereas France O’Connor painted with very dark colors in the former, she has a swifter hand and more clever analogies hidden within these stories. While some of the stories are still very dark, the lessons learned and culture displayed is illuminating.
Race relations in the south dominate most of these stories. There is a great clash with young southerners trying to escape tradition and modernize with their parents fighting against it, with varying results. In Everything that Rises Must Converge (the titular story), a young man sees the effect of progress in race relations on her entrenched mother. The theme of this story continues with Greenleaf, both having very similar endings. The Lame Shall Enter First seems like a first run at what would become The Violent Bear it Away, with an equally horrifying ending.
I liked the title story, The Lame Shall Enter First, and Judgement Day the best. What I really love about her technique is her ability to demonstrate the error in ways, but then to throw it back at the characters. It’s as if she is making fun of someone, but when she sees someone else laugh, she turns on them too. No one is really safe from her judgment. She shines a light on everyone’s misdeeds. ...more