This is the tragic story of Okonkwo, a leader of the Igbo tribe, a man who has earned a great reputation as a fighter (one of his greatest achievementThis is the tragic story of Okonkwo, a leader of the Igbo tribe, a man who has earned a great reputation as a fighter (one of his greatest achievements is a collection of five heads that he has brought home as trophies of war). He looks probably something like this:
Okonkwo is also a great yam farmer and has three wives. When he speaks for the ancestors he wears a mask that looks something like this:
This is the story of how Okonkwo comes to lose his farm, his son, his tribe and, ultimately, his life as his culture changes and is taken over by imperialists who look something like this:
who are intent upon doing this:
so they can get this:
Like all good books, "Things Fall Apart" has left me with questions:
1) Is there such a thing as a "primitive culture"? What does a primitive culture look like? Conversely, what is an "advanced culture"? Is a culture with complex technology necessarily more "advanced" than a culture with complex agriculture and mythology?
2) How do cultures devise common narratives? In the Igbo culture everything is a story and every story seems to relate things that the Igbo know: yams and palm wine and spirits and animals; every day objects found in the environment. What are some common elements of modern-day narratives? Do we all tell stories about iPods or cars? Televisions and office buildings? What is an object that represents our common culture? Is there such a thing or is our society so fragmented by target marketing that American society no longer has common denominators?
3) Is male chauvinism the default condition of the human heart?
4) What does a modern American have to do to avoid causing harm to people of other cultures? How much would it cost to avoid buying objects made in sweat shops? Or gold or diamonds from Africa? Or iPods from China? Or, go a step further: what would it be like to voluntarily quit consuming excess resources so that every person on the planet has equal access to food and shelter and transportation? Isn't modern capitalism, in practice, nothing but a form of passive subjugation?
5) When is is wise to resist cultural changes and when do you dig your heels in? Okonkwo's refusal to adapt to modern tribal ways ended up costing him his life. Is it better to foolishly die for what you believe in or to make compromises in order to survive?
Questions questions questions.
I recommend that you read this book and start asking yourself similar questions. ...more
1) One thing becomes clear when reading Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Katherine Anne Porter is a woman who spent a great deal of time fretting over semicolo1) One thing becomes clear when reading Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Katherine Anne Porter is a woman who spent a great deal of time fretting over semicolons. There is not a single sentence in this entire book that fails mechanically. There are no clunkers. I did not have to read and re-read sentences to figure out what she was getting at (unlike some other Southern writers I could name): all the pertinant details were vividly conveyed to me in the first go. Porter is an excellent prose stylist and it’s a pleasure to read someone so well versed in her craft.
2) Four stars instead of five because her stories make me depressed.
3) Also, (and I don't mean this to objectify her at all) out of all the Southern female writers that I have read (McCullers, O'Connor, Welty) Porter is the hottest. Look at those pronounced cheekbones! Yowza!
4) It is worth noting that KAP and I have the same surname. Perhaps one day my books will be shelved next to hers in the libraries of the future. Hahahahaha yeah right. She's a master.
"Light in August" is probably just about the best love story that I have ever read.
"What love story?" you ask. "I thought this book was about castrat"Light in August" is probably just about the best love story that I have ever read.
"What love story?" you ask. "I thought this book was about castration and arson and racism and horsebeating and wifebeating and whorebeating and slicing a woman's neck with a straight razor and then smashing in your dad's head with a chair?"
Yes. It is about that in a way. But it is as if Faulkner shows us the darkness of the human heart in order to warn us against the folly that lurks, often unchecked, in the depths of every man. "Light in August" is a parable, a thou shalt not. For, as Faulkner shows, racism so often leads to the destruction of men, misogyny so often leads to the destruction of the home, misguided patriotism so often leads to senseless violence. Faulkner knows, as the writers of the Bible knew, that hatred creates a distorted, inverted world, a moral climate (the Deep South, circa 1920) in which murder suddenly makes sense, becomes inevitable even. This is certainly true in the case of Joe Christmas who is ostracized and tormented from (literally) the second he was born for no good reason except that he was (purportedly) half African-American and born out of wedlock. For these two cardinal sins of the South he must pay. And he must make others pay in turn by fighting, killing, corrupting, running, burning everything in his wake.
I grew up being taught to hate racism, but this book, "Light in August" made me HATE HATE HATE racism. And not just that. It made me HATE misogyny and religious oppression. "Light in August" made me HATE the idea of using God or sex or skin color to try and control other people. Faulkner made me HATE hatred itself, and so he helped me to love. And because Faulkner shows us the depth of the accumulated other-hatingness in Christmas, he can, by contrast show us the depth of other-lovingness in the Byron Bunch character. Bunch, who gives up his life for the comfort of Lena Grove, a cussedly stubborn single teenage mother.
See? A love story.
Even though this book is overwhelmingly about Joe Christmas and his tragic life, I think that Bunch is the true hero. Hightower... well, whatever. Hightower is Hightower. But Bunch. Bunch is a hero because he is a fool. He is fool enough to love a girl who will in all likelihood not love him back. He loves against the odds.
Bunch is compelled by love to lay down his life that another might live. Christmas is compelled by hatred and he loses his life.
That is how awesome this book is. I know I am subject to hyperbole, but I have to tell you: this is probably the best book that I have read to date, in my life. It is certainly the best love story that I have come across....more
What if I told you that the best book I've read this year was what can only be described as a "Southern Gothic metaphysical thriller"? What if I toldWhat if I told you that the best book I've read this year was what can only be described as a "Southern Gothic metaphysical thriller"? What if I told you that all of the characters in this book are repulsive, low-down, cold-hearted, cruel? And that the plot involved death, arson, murder, rape, and insanity?
And if I told you that it's a Christian book?
You'd roll your eyes and reach for an easy summer read. That's what you'd do.
Now wait a second.
Any serious reader should read "The Violent Bear It Away" because it has a very strange structure. There are two simultaneous plots that overlap like a Venn diagram. One plot unfolds here on earth, and the second plot is never referred to explicitly. The second plot unfolds in a mystical, spiritual realm. The spiritual realm is represented in the physical realm by symbols scattered throughout the story: Rayber's hearing aid, Uncle Tarwater's shallow grave, and an eerie pink moon that looks like the eye of God Himself. The lines between these two supposedly airtight realms are blurred by O'Connor until the spiritual realm comes crashing into the physical realm with, yes, violence.
"The Violent" is not O'Connor's most beloved book by any means, but I think it's a must read for anyone who enjoyed "Wise Blood" , as well as any serious student of writing. ...more
"A dynamic speaker with a booming, distinctive voice, Bradbury could be blunt and gruff, but he was also a gregarious and friendly man, approachable i"A dynamic speaker with a booming, distinctive voice, Bradbury could be blunt and gruff, but he was also a gregarious and friendly man, approachable in public and often generous with his time to readers as well as fellow writers.
In 2009, at a lecture celebrating the first anniversary of a small library in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley, he exhorted his listeners to live their lives as he said he had lived his: 'Do what you love and love what you do.'
'If someone tells you to do something for money, tell them to go to hell,' he shouted to raucous applause."
Fact: Hemingway had a pretty sweet life. Ah! To live and write in Bohemian Paris of the Roaring Twenties! To sip absinthe in a cafe! To drink wine andFact: Hemingway had a pretty sweet life. Ah! To live and write in Bohemian Paris of the Roaring Twenties! To sip absinthe in a cafe! To drink wine and have conversations with Joyce, Pound, and Sylvia Beach!
"Feast" is a diverting read, even if Hem devolves into dishing snarky gossip about beloved members of the literati. I checked this one out as a follow-up to "Midnight in Paris".
It's a decent book well worth reading for its passages on the craft of writing, but it's certainly not a life-changing masterpiece. I recommend "Feast" for all aspiring authors....more
Want to do something fun? Bring up Ernest Hemingway in a circle of literary people. Say he is a genius. Then sit back and watch people yell at each otWant to do something fun? Bring up Ernest Hemingway in a circle of literary people. Say he is a genius. Then sit back and watch people yell at each other through mouthfuls of hummus and crackers.
I believe that Ol' Papa's divisiveness is to his credit. He must've been doing something right to inspire both vehement vitriol and adoring accolade (nobody gets fired up about a blandly efficient author like W. Somerset Maugham). But, like the guy or lump him, there's no denying that old beardy-beard, the shotgun-toting, world-travelling thrill seeker was a brilliant prose stylist who set out as a young man to create his own voice... and succeeded.
Full disclosure: I like Hemingway. Actually, I love him. I talk about him in social settings to anyone who won't roll their eyes at me and walk away. Here are the four most common responses I get:
1) "Oh him? I read him in high school. His books are so depressing." 2) "Oh him? He hates women." 3) "Oh him? Didn't he, like, kill endangered animals?" 4) "Who?"
I get it. And the thing is, most of these objections are actually valid. Hem is old school, and not always in the good way. He's old school in the mildly anti-Semitic, misogynistic, functional alcoholic way. I'm not excusing his actions or beliefs, but I'd like to point out that his anachronistic morality is a separate issue from his prose. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but we don't dismiss the U.S. Constitution as an irrelevant and outdated document just because of the author's personal beliefs.
I'm a vegan married to a feminist. If I can appreciate "The Sun Also Rises" for it's artistic merit, then so can you.
As for the people who say his books are depressing... well, if Hemingway's books seem depressing it's because they are. He writes about real life. Real life can be very depressing. I have little tolerance for people who will set down a book because it makes them sad. Life is not sunshine and puppies, folks. Hem belonged to a generation that had experienced a miasma of human atrocity called World War One. He suffered from bipolar disorder. He spent his early career as a broke writer who hung out with Gertrude Stein for fun. Why wouldn't he be depressed?
In conclusion. I exhort all young writers to read Hemingway. Hell, I exhort all old writers to read him, too. Read "The Sun Also Rises". Read it with fresh eyes. Learn from the great master.
“The Painted Veil” is the first W. Somerset Maugham book I have read. I selected it because I decided that this year I am going to read “serious” lite“The Painted Veil” is the first W. Somerset Maugham book I have read. I selected it because I decided that this year I am going to read “serious” literature. Ostensibly I am doing this to enrich myself. But I really just want to rip off great writers. I am pillaging their work, tearing their sentence structures into pieces with my mind. I am stealing everything I can get my hands on.
I am going to make those bastards teach me everything they know.
I set out to learn from a master. I was in luck. “The Painted Veil” is the work of a craftsman. The characters breathed on the page. I loved the complex character of Kitty Fane, how she manipulated and hurt other people. I was impressed by Maugham’s efficient (if bland) prose, and, contrary to popular opinion, I thought the book’s ending was better than the film’s ending because it was very true to life (spoiler alert/sad fact: human beings usually make the same mistakes over and over).
Yes, I should have loved “The Painted Veil”. However, the good parts of the book never added up to a feeling of “this is a truly great novel.” It is a well-written novel, yes, but I thought it lacked… passion? Drive? Urgency? It read at times like a sort of long melodramatic interpersonal math problem that Maugham was trying to solve.
So did he solve it? Does Maugham reach a satisfying conclusion? No. But he reached the same conclusion that fate so often forces us to accept: some people die horrifically of disease, others die horrifically of broken hearts (as I secretly suspect was the case for Walter Fane), and then things move on. In time you forget about the hurt. It may not be the most satisfactory ending, but there it is.
Maugham did not leave the ending of “The Painted Veil” ambiguous because he got tired of telling the story. He left it ambiguous because his story stayed true to life. He left it ambiguous because he knew what he was doing. ...more