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Monday, December 27, 2010

Robert Penn Warren - All The King's Men

I first started interacting with Penn Warren's book was back about a century ago when I lived in Sycamore, IL when I was a delivery driver for Pizza Hut. I had a lot of time in the car at the time and I wanted to use my time to the best of my ability and that was when I started my brief but wonderous love affair with audio books. I listened to a couple of the pulitzers that way Junot Diaz, Philip Roth, Michael Shaara, and a little of Shirly Ann Grau. I also started probably the first 2 hours of All the King's Men on audio book but gave it up because the writing was too poetic to follow while driving pizza around in the snow. So, all of that said, I put Warren's book down for several months and have picked at it a couple of times since then in between some of the more compelling reads. I do not read very many books the length of Warren's. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am a shockingly slow reader especially for this task and this lifestyle, and so to embark upon a long novel is like torture to me. I love reading and I love the fact of having finished a book. So I tend to read short terse fiction and poetry because I can grasp them in the time most people would take to read a longer work. For this project I have set about reading some of the longest books I have ever read and I am coming to find out reading long books is a lot more fun than short books and you can live in them longer and the writer writes that way for that reason that he can introduce more things than shorter fiction. I love following characters for this long. Jack Burden is a fantastic character. Willie Stark is a fantastic character, and I loved watching them rise, change, fall, come back, and live in the synapses of my mind. So, as a consequence of my slow-reading speed, I have made the trade off of slow pace but extremely high retension. Drew and I are constantly having conversations about these books that go similarly to - I will say, 'oh man i loved this part of this book,' and Drew will get this glassy look in his eye, mostly from the whiskey but somewhat for the remembering a passage from a book he read a few months ago, and I recite the rest of the selection from memory and Drew will say, 'yeah' and trail off in a foggy memory a said novel. So, though there was an expanse between the starting and the finishing of this novel, I can maintain a solid narrative of it because of my retension. That was mostly why we decided to blog about our reads because Drew's speed benefits him in the reading, but my retension benefits me in the writing about them. I will not forget these novels, as Drew might, but I wanted a bookmark so to speak of the events and my initial reactions. The more I dwell on any novel, the more I come to like it in retrospect, so I start to color the lines in a little and reflect postively on a book I initially hated, so if I didn't mark down that I was ambivilent then we get to the end, sit down to write about all of our experiences and find that I loved all of the books equally which isn't fair to anyone. So with all of that business attended to, I shall dig into writing about this novel.

I loved it. There, that is all you need to know. I love this book like I have read it a million times. I loved this book. There was nothing not to be totally and utterly enthralled in. Warren's voice is clear and distinct. He writes powerfully about the human condition, and tells you something about the world and time. He walks you through his world of seedy characters and corruption with the slightly marred hand of Jack Burden and makes you love every minute of it. You hate and love, you cry and you laugh, and you smile that little wry smile when you know when something is going to happen but you can't wait for it anyway. You will fall in love with Jack and Anne like you never have before. There are parts of Warren's writing that is the most honest true to life and actually teenage conversation that he had to have lifted it from his life because it is too real. The love story is too real. He is masterful in his retelling of teenage love and how the world and yourself ruin it, but it was going to be ruined anyways and its going to hurt but thats ok. The rest of the novel could have been drivel anyways, and I would love it for the love story. I will say for all time that that love story is the greatest ever put to paper. FOR ALL TIME, until I have to retract this in order to crown another which would be ok with me because I would have read a masterpiece, Jack Burden and Anne Stanton is the greatest love story of all time. There I said it, now I'll take all comers. Enjoy this book. Go read it now and love it. Then come back and tell me about it, because I'll be ready.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

John Kennedy Toole - Confederacy of Dunces

There is a swirl of mystery and drama that follow this book and all of it is intriguing from the movie curse to the New Orleans history with Mr. Toole and his mother, Toole's untimely suicide and his mother's push to get this novel published, whether she changed in the ending to fit publishers demands and all sorts of issues this novel brings with it a certain type of hype. All of this goes into this review of this book, for this entry I cannot separate myself from the context in reading this book.

Drew finished this book before me. I think we actually picked up near the same time, but then I put it down because I was not sinking my teeth into this work as well as he was. Anyways, I eventually picked it back up. After I finished Mambo Kings which wasn't an easy read for me, and then moving onto this bear of an undertaking was sort of jarring for me and hurt my appreciation of this novel. I just want to say all of this because I don't want to demean this novel if I didn't enjoy it as thoroughly as some other readers might have. I concede I probably missed something along the way. I will confess that the first couple of chapters were something unlike anything I have ever read and were for the most part a laugh riot. I have not read a lot of funny things, but I love to laugh and love all types of comedies, slapstick, satire, and many others, but after the first few chapters and some incidents throughout the rest of the novel, the humor is not sustained and what ensues in the weirdest story I have ever read. Ignatius is the most pitiful character I have ever interacted with and it was mostly just very uncomfortable reading it. When I finished the novel, I had no idea why Toole ever wrote this. I just didn't get it I guess. I feel like Toole is such a masterful writer that I didn't get what he was laying down at all, and he is somewhere scauffing at this blog post. I felt for his protagonist, and related to him somewhat for being so painfully socially awkward, getting himself into situations by way overthinking everything, making bad situations worse and feeling totally unequipped for this life and rather losing myself in fiction. All of this to say, I just didn't understand why Toole wrote this novel. You come to the end and everything ends in a weird melodramatic victory for Ignatius, but do we believe he will change and actually get normal and function in society or at least Myra's society. Anyways, this novel was written in a time and place, and I can't get a handle not on Ignatius's worldview but even Toole's what does he condone are we to laugh at Ignatius or are we to side with him and scoff at late 1960's New Orleans culture with gays and strippers running the streets. Anyways, I was very very confused by this novel, and finished it put it down and shook my head for a solid five minutes trying to wrestle with all of my own defeciancies at not being able to grasp the work in front of me.

If you feel up for the challenge, the words on the page make sense, they are written in English. The sentence and grammar make sense. The plot for the most part makes sense, things happen mostly naturally throughout. It is told in a straight forward timeline. The characters reactions and dialogue mostly also make sense. But grab for yourself themes, symbols, or any sort of meaning you want because I have no clue. I enjoyed the process of moving my eyes over the words if we call that reading, but understanding this book I did not do. So read it if you will, you may laugh but you may also leave shaking your head.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oscar Hijuelos - Mambo King Plays Songs of Love

Just to clear the air about this book before I keep bringing out this one fault with this novel throughout my review of it, this is an explicit novel. There is only one other book that I can compare to the explicit sexual nature of this novel and that is Junot Diaz's Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I loved both books, but both of them are not novels I would recommend to my mother because of the sexual nature of both books. Now sex is a central issue to both books and are used purposefully, mostly, and it is an ingrained thing in both cultures the author is trying to portray which is meaningful but beyond that there is still an overwhelming amount of sexual encounters in both books. All of that said, I must comment more thoroughly on this incredible work.

I put this novel down several times in the last year. I don't remember when I first started it, it could be as long ago as March, and I have finished several novels in between, but my steel-trap mind for text wouldn't let this novel and its characters escape me. When I picked it back up recently, I had to get reacquainted with the characters shortly, but after that it was as if I hadn't missed a beat. The characters are fantastic, they are hate-able, lovable, pitiable, and admirable at times. This novel runs the gambit of human emotions and takes into its view all of this character and this cultures existence. I was in love with sections of this book. There are times when I was totally enchanted with stories and times in Cesar's recollection, times I didn't want to end, but knew they would and hoped that they would as dignified as they deserved. I dreaded the ending of this novel, because I knew it was coming but Hijuelos dignifies his character with an ending befitting him. The ending is a swell of emotions that my heart was almost not big enough to contain. I loved the ending of this novel. I loved sections of it, I could really forget a few portions of it, I couldn't wait for other sections to end, but all in all, I really appreciated having to have to read this book. If I wasn't forced to and someone had casually recommended it, I would have put it down as I did in March and never picked it back up and wouldn't have been rewarded with its ending. Hijuelos is a fantastic writer and I will read more of his work after this project is over, I am glad he won for this novel.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Robert Olen Butler - A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

I adored this books for the first few stories. It is a collection of short stories that you can tell going into it that they are related only by theme and setting. I have never read anything by Butler before reading this book. i had never heard of Butler before this project, and I have also never read anything about Vietnam except for Nick Flynn's newest book The Ticking is the Bomb which he mentions an old boyfriend's of his mother and the lasting effect the war had made on him. I would say Vietnam is a minor subplot in Flynn's work, other than that I have never read anything about such a mixed up war. So for me this was a new experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed the first couple of stories, but let me tell you something about Butler's writing. It is wonderful and enchanting, it invites you in very very easily into it's inner secret and lulls you to sleep and erases all since of tension or suspense and then there is a sudden twist right at the end of the story, usually in the last word, last sentence, last paragraph. There are fifteen stories in this collection, and every single of one of them come down like this. I love a twist ending. I love suspense. I also love a happy ending. But Butler's complete overuse of it was sort of unnerving for me.

So I really wanted to finish this novel and start in on Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, and I am reading it last night at my mom's house when I am supposed to be watching Monday Night Football with my step-dad, and I am in the middle of the last story in the collection The American Couple. This story is basically a novella that is just jammed into this collection for some reason. So its about 80 pages where as the rest of the stories are about 10 a piece pretty consistently which also lends itself to a little repetitive tone. But anyways so I am half way through and I have a strong desire to finish tonight, and I cannot for the life of me concentrated on the words on the page, the two husbands are stalking each other or something. I couldn't follow, and Butler really wanted you to sit in the suspense. He starts describing things for the third or fourth time, and you are in the thick of it, right smack dab in the middle, and he wants you to feel the tension, 'whats gonna happen?' 'is someone going to die?' I don't know, but the whole time I didn't care what happen, after 70 pages I just wanted the story to end so I could read the last story which is the title story. It was painful. And it doesn't have that great an ending worth the suspense which is also frustrating. Some of the stories are gems, A Ghost Story I loved, The Trip Back, Snow!, and a few others were beautiful. I loved them. I didn't want them to end. They could have been novels and I would have read an 800 page book if they would have just keep going, but they ended and you had to go on to something else, and usually I liked it next one as much as the one before. There were a couple in there that just seemed like a flat but otherwise not distracting.

Overall, this was a great read. Other than Butler gets a little predictable in his ending, and The American Couple story sort of drags near the end, this was well worth the read and I am glad that it one the award so that I would be forced to read it. I am not sure if it makes me want to read more Butler, but I might at least look at some. I am telling you it was just that second to last story that really left a bad taste in my mouth. If you could find a way to ignore the ending of that story, then I would have walked away head over heels about this book. 90% of it is truly magical, surreal, dream-like and lyrical all in one gentle, evocative collection of some fantastic writing. I think this is one on the list that is really close to a must read.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I still can't believe it, but I didn't think I could ever see any of this happening. Drew and I through some strange circumstances found all of the most impossible books on this list. Today I found Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair. A book that has put Drew and I through the ringer tens of times throughout this search finding near miss after near miss. Making us almost give up on this search so many times it's not easy to recount here the frustration and the instant of momentary elation to find out that our sought after treasure was a mere misunderstanding, possibly Dragon's Harvest by Upton Sinclair, or maybe Dragon's Seed by Pearl S. Buck another Pulitzer winner written in the same era. But Today, TODAY, I found it in Mishawaka, IN at Better World Books,, and not only did I find it once, I FOUND IT TWICE! They had two copies. After some finagling I bought both copies and Drew owes me big time. I also find the actual white whale, Ernest Poole's His Family. That leaves Drew and I searching for our final books. And it is a race! We don't know what's on the line yet, but we in hot pursuit. I am looking for Harold L. Davis's Honey in the Horn, and Drew is looking for Margaret Wilson's The Able McLaughlins. Today was an amazing day for this journey, and a day that neither one of us will forget.

Drew just posted on this a moment ago, but I thought I would riff on him a little.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The real Adano

Just a quick link as I was wandering around the internet. I was purusing around Wikipedia today doing some quick research on A Bell for Adano, and I wanted to see if Hersey's town had anything to do with reality. I did a Wikipedia search of Adano, Italy. I even went to Google Maps, and looked up Adano, Italy. Nothing was going, so I went back to Wikipedia and followed some links around and found out that Hersey based his fictional town Adano on a realy Sicilian city Litica. A link brought me to the real page of a real Italian city in Sicily. And on the wiki-page, there was a picture of the 'real' bell tower. I thought I would post it here just for some point of interest.

John Hersey - A Bell for Adano

I chose this book because I have been keeping track of which years I have read books from and there was a long drought in between the recently finished Now in November, which I still have words for in my chest, and the next one I read which I count as having read before we started this project, Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. A slight caveat about that, Drew and I both had read five or six I can remember pulitzer books before we started this project. I think we had the idea because we had read a few of them and they were all fantastic reads, so there was the genesis probably. But anyways, we had read the same number of them going into this project and that led us on to want to read more. We decided because we had read the same amount of books on the list that we wouldn't have to go back and reread them. A few of mine were Chabon's Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Lahiri's Interpret of Maladies, Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, Agee's A Death in the Family, and a few others, but Drew had read a few others, so we decided to skip them and go onto the rest, so all that being said, I found a large gap in between 1935 and 1953, and so I chose to shorten that gap by reading something in the middle to cut the drought in half. I chose John Hersey's A Bell for Adano. Drew has read it recently, and really enjoyed it so it made it a little easier to pick it up.

That is a part of the struggle of this project is that, for me, reading a book I have no interest in is very difficult. I read incredibly slowly, at about 20 pages a minute. I don't know why this is, I may be slightly dyslexic, I am not sure, but anyways, I read very slowly, which led me in some way to want to take up a project like this. I love reading. And I feel like I am most using my time wisely when I am reading just about anything. When I first started reading, I found out that not all books are created equal. Some books are an enormous waste of time. So I decided when I was younger that in order for me not to waste my time because I am such a slow reader, that I would only read books that lots of other people found to be very vaulable. The easiest thing for me to do was to start with the classics. So literally what I did was I looked up on the internet classic book lists, lists of 100 greatest novels, and other such silly things. So as I did that I found a lot of similarities between these lists and read those books. Somewhere along the way, I think I crippled my reading speed because I try to take every word from a Dostoyevski approach and apply that to a John Hersey novel which might not be as important to scrutinize every word or paragraph, I don't know, but anyways, that is where I come from in my reading life. So this book is a list of books that a lot of other people say are good and therefore I should read them. Along the way, Drew and I have found some rotten apples in the apple basket, but nevertheless, we press on. The reason I get into this whole long tirade is because it is difficult to pick a book from the list and wonder through the first 100 pages or so, and figure out you're not that into this author. So I have sort of instituted a way to make myself read certain titles. This way of finding which eras I haven't read a lot and choosing one from there is a good way to get myself to read something.

A Bell for Adano is one such book. I finished it in a couple of days. It was a brief little edition, only 240 pages, and I zipped right through it even being sick as a dog lately. I loved reading this book because it was fun. I am not totally sold on Hersey as a writer, but he was hell of a story teller. He told some of the most interesting and engrossing stories I have ever read, and that isn't a lie. There are 37 chapters in this book, and each chapter is a story that is sort of related to all the other stories in the book, but they could be short stories in their own right. If you just like a good story, there are plenty in here that I feel like I will remember them as if I were told them by someone I really respect, like they will fuse with my memories some day and I will tell updated versions of them as if I were there, and they actually happened. I loved this book by itself, with no consideration given to any sort of style, artful purpose, or literary merit. So I will chose to turn off my literary brain for this one brief moment, and turn away the hot gaze of my ever scrutinizing eye and richly endorse this book to all book-lovers both near and far. Dig in.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Josephine Johnson - Now in November

Marget stands on the hill between the great rift between moderns and post-moderns, and suffers silently for all of the optimists of the ages crushed beneath the strain of duty and fire that burns for a desire outside ourselves and roles rigidly constructed for us by our culture. Johnson is saying a lot of things about life and the world and time with this novel. Johnson's first novel is a foray into a wide arena of literature. This novel is stunning. I was completely blind-sided by this novel, which is everything that I had hoped this journey would be bring out - diamonds in the rough. I discovered one a long time ago reading James Agee - A Death in the Family. i can't remember what prompted me to read Agee, but whatever got me involved with his mysterious novel, I am deeply indebted to that source of inspiration. Agee is a mystical writer whose story is hard to get to the bottom of, and because of his impossible story and is painfully beautiful writing, I have become completely enamored with everything he has ever written. I hope that Johnson will be a similar literary character for me. The journey is worth the discovery, and relationship forged is everything a reader wishes for a devotion to a writer. Johnson's wikipedia page is tiny, and the Now in November page is even slimmer. All of this leads to a great find for us pulitzer readers, Johnson's novel stands outside of time and context. It is a piercingly simple novel written with a sly eloquence that is understated with a slight decadence. There are handcuffs, walls, or boundaries that all serious fiction rubs its back against and no one wants to cross: the very, very thin line between dramatic and melodramatic. Where tension becomes a parody of itself. Johnson stradles that line with her first novel which her wiki page says she wrote when she was 24 which is a startling achievement.

For all of you who haven't read this novel, there are only a few of these pulitzers that I will give this unanymous endorsement for - read this novel. Without any condition, without any preparation, without any introduction - read this novel. You will love it. Johnson wrote this novel in the heart of the depression about a Midwestern farm that suffers with the audience Johnson was writing to. A novel doesn't do this. A novel never comes at the time this novel must have come. This came out, this is almost prophetic to what was to come to those reading it. It is incredible. There are scenes in this novel, images that will stay with you a life time. The fire, the drouth, the mules, so many things that I wish I could see outside of my mind's eye. This was almost a perfect novel. I don't say that often, but I loved this book, and it leaps into my top ten all time in a hurry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Willa Cather - One of Ours

Now I will be the first to say that I do not like Willa Cather. When I was in high school we were forced to read My Antonia. I did not like My Antonia. The pioneer story is not that enchanting to me, especially not ones of people who stopped in Kansas of all places. Then that engendered in me a dislike of all things Kansas if you can believe that until I met the pastor of my church who is from Kansas, then I thought, I should give this state and its people a fair shake. Disliking a state and its people based on a historical novel set there doesn't seem that reasonable after consideration. All that being said, I wanted to set the stage for the up hill battle this book would have to fight in order for me to respect it, let alone me to enjoy this novel.

I can stand before you now, well, I'm sitting and typing, but I can sit before you now, and type these words and don't necessarily feeling any less a man and say that I actually enjoyed this book. I really enjoyed this book. I actually adore this book. Cather really beats around the bush in this book, and really sets a story that doesn't need to be set at all, but its worth the ride. I really had no idea where she was going with this story at all, most of the novel really. After awhile, it starts to firm up a bit, but you are constantly asking yourself why did she write this book? The last chapter sort of sums it all up for you, but not in a final action way, but it a sort of narration way, Cather seems to need for you to know why she wrote the book, and basically tells you in the last chapter through the mouth of the internal thoughts of Mrs. Wheeler. I really liked it. I would recommend anyone who likes World War 1 things to read this book, maybe anyone who likes war books to read this, but other than that, it is a good read, if you have nothing better to do, pick it up you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge

This book is a triumph. This book broke open everything that I knew about writing and character and setting that I could never wish to write as masterfully as Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge is a fantastically honest character with her biting neurosis scaring you away from the page. Olive is a wonderfully conflicted character with some fantastic humor and all the pock-marks of realism that Strout crafts beautifully. It is a wonder that this book isn't more heralded as a modern masterpiece. This book will stay, and people will read this book ages and ages hence understand what it meant to live now. I cannot say enough about this book but too much is choking my clarity and ability to talk effectively about this work I just finished.

I will say that I read this entire novel, now the third of its kind completely on my new Nook. It is odd to never have held the actual novel for this work and say that I completed it. I didn't develop that relationship with the physical book that sometimes happens. I got a Nook for my recent birthday from my wife, which I asked for, after doing some research on which e-book device would best fit my needs as a reader. I really like a lot about the Nook, mostly the audio feature because I listen to music most often while i read and the internet capabilities because I do like to check facebook, twitter, and email while I'm out sometimes. Buying books on the Nook is exceptionally easy and the reading experience is very convenient. I feel really conflicted by the nature of the device and what it means for books in general. I don't know what it means for my book-buying and book reading going forward. During my time in college I acquired a lot of books because there was an extensive used book community. Taking all of this into consideration, i was skeptical at first about e-books and what it would mean to me. Do I continue to buy physical books? Will it feel weird after reading a few books on the Nook to read a physical book? Will this whole thing ruin my love and experience in reading books altogether?

This questions currently have answers, and some of which are different than you might expect. After coming to grips with the weight of this device and what it speaks into my life and the lives of all readers, I find that the device is convenient but ultimately not as useful nor as enjoyable as I would have hoped. Words are words and no matter how those words come to you, you will still be taken into the story if it is of any worth. So, I don't know at this point if I will continue to use the Nook as my only source of reading whatsoever. E-books still have a long way to go before they rival the entirety of the physical book market. Peer journal articles will be a huge boost to the nature of the reading public. If they introduce Jstor or MLA Bibliography to the e-book market, then things will get really interesting. I am waiting for an academic e-book product and see what they allow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Booth Tarkington - Alice Adams

Alice Adams is a triumph for Booth Tarkington in relation to this project. Tarkington started this project in our minds as the most obscure, strange literary figure of the twentieth century. My comrade Drew Moody and I both graduated from the same institution with the same degree and we both came into this project with the same ambition to expand our reading horizons while accomplishing something neat in the process. When we first set our eyes on this historic list we discovered a lot early writers that won that we, and as we have come to discover, that no one has ever heard of: such greats as Harold L. Davis (an author we still haven't found), Caroline Miller, and Ernest Poole (the most interesting story of any winner). The one we could most confounding, as we sort of conceded that there would be obscure authors, was Booth Tarkington. Drew and I had taken two classes that focused on the time this author lived and that within the span of a few years Tarkington would win the GREAT AMERICAN LITERARY prize, and we both had never heard of him. To boot, only a few of our professors who we keep in contact with, had anything to say about him also. Given all of this, we would have difficultly finding his books, and some humor and drama surrounding us obtaining them.

Taking all of this into this author, Drew and I decided that we would read Tarkington's first winner The Magnificent Ambersons together, and we successfully started it and finished it close to one another, and were both confounded and appalled by this terrible novel. We both agreed though early in this process, that Ambersons is the worst novel either of have ever read and would be the token choice in response to the question posed to us in posterity. Which brings me to my next topic, reviewing Alice Adams.

This sordid affair takes another strange twist in this long epic that this journey is becoming. I really liked this novel, in places. At a different time in my life, I would think I might not have liked this novel at all, but stacked up against Ambersons, it is a triumph for Tarkington. I would recommend certain readers to read this work of love and loss, of industry and social constraints, but I am not sure stacked up against real literature how this work fairs. Tarkington wrote it well, much much better writing than Ambersons, the language changed, the pacing, the dialogue, which makes me ask a lot of questions about literature of this time period and what we know of it as readers, but anyways. Alice Adams is definitely Tarkington's foray into Victorianesque literature in the same vein as Henry James, and that doesn't have a very soft spot in my heart. Taking this into consideration, the sheer fact that I would give this novel the time of day is a testament to its craftsmanship. Given that I dislike the author and dislike the style of writing, Alice Adams surprised me and I think it might surprise other pulitzer readers.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

William Kennedy - Ironweed

The second book back and I feel the swing coming back like riding a bicycle or throwing a ball. The rust at first, the muscles aren't ready for it yet, but you'll pick it up, and everything will make sense after all. Ironweed was one of the Pulitzers that I put down back in April, but I don't know why I never finished it. Kennedy is a masterful writer who chose a subject matter that is definitely in his 'wheel house' to 'steal' a baseball term. Ironweed is a gorgeous story, filled with pathos and high drama. Kennedy takes within his scope all of humanity. Kennedy writes at times a slight stutter, he gets in his singularly one or two paragraphs towards the end a little 'Professorial' bringing into his novel some 'English majory' stuff which didn't belong there, but other than that rough edge. Other than that, the prose is stunning. The main characters Francis and Helen dance together beautifully throughout their tangled love story, which could be placed amongst the most moving true romances of 20th century fiction. Francis' leaving scene brought tears to my eyes. It is stunning. It is a perfect ending. It is a perfect ending. Kennedy must have written it first, because it is written too perfectly. I was just in awe of everything, every word, every image was so tight, so crafted, so polished. It was perfect. I cannot express that enough. Some moments weren't perfect, they were good, just not perfect, but the ending was perfect, breath-taking, life affirming, like you are alive and so are the words and you dance together in a vivacious waltz of literary magic. So on that note this book makes a ruthless ascent into my top 10 novels of all time.

In closing, you will stand back from this novel and watch as Kennedy hammers every scene, every exchange, every image with power and confidence that to a lesser writer this story could have been smarmy and melodramatic. But in my mind's eye watching Francis, in a dirty 'new' suit, carrying a dying old raggety bum across the city piggy back was breath-taking. Just thinking about that scene makes one laugh, Francis a bum finds some old clothes of his in a suitcase, and the things that he chooses to wear on the bum is an old-fashioned suit that he wears to a homeless encampment called The Jungle which is raided by 'Raiders', a nameless faceless foe, and gathers together his dying friend and carries all the way back across the city to a hospital. It is incredible in the most unlikely situation every put to paper, but Kennedy makes you believe it. There were so many times throughout the novel that I wanted to break away and criticize as anyone who reads these entries will attest to I criticize these novels harshly because they were nominated as the GREATEST NOVEL WRITTEN IN A GIVEN YEAR, so I don't think my critique of them can be too harsh, but back to my point, there were several scenes that I was skeptical at first but Kennedy doesn't let you pull away, he keeps you engage and needs for you to believe him, and you do, you always do, like Helen singing in the bar, and Francis' ghost stories, they jar a bit at their predictability, but they turn out like gems.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

N. Scott Momaday - House Made of Dawn

For the first entry back from our break from this project, Drew and I both read House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday. Drew will be updating his blog with that entry soon, so I guess I beat him to the punch. Finishing this book was a task for me, I can't speak for Drew, but Momaday's writing style does not mix with me whatsoever. Other than that, and as it is a question of style and not talent, it is merely a preference of mine and for that I will address it as a believable work of art that holds some literary merit.

Momaday follows the story of Abel who we can pick as the quintessential Native-American of this time period. Abel represents to us all that means to be Indian as the characters will continue to refer to themselves. Abel is out-of-control, and all of his subconscious problems seem to seethe under the service of the narrative. We never directly address anything for Abel, everything remains off the page and conjecture. I don't know where we would learn as simply about what happens to Abel and what leaves him wounded and on Henry's doorstep again. Again their is conjecture as to why, and possibly what it means for the story could be drawn as to the plight of the Indians going unnoticed by the white man, but more on this later. But I wanted to just address the objects to look at in the text, because there is so much that I feel I missed. I took my time with this 190 page novel. It made you take your time to read the story, and perhaps Momaday was intentional in this regard to slow the reader and live deeply in this narrative. But the story didn't invite you in, you lived on the outskirts of it, and it didn't bring you down and let into the inner workings of these characters. We don't know anything more than when we started about Abel, we saw him move, we saw him run in the final scene, and I think we saw him kill a bear and kill a man. But this is my problem, I don't know Abel and we didn't spend a lot of time together. There were so many moving parts to this story that eventually didn't mean anything. The early section about the festival, and the early priest. The section about the white woman coming back was an interesting twist but ultimately it didn't match up with anything else. I was constantly confused through out this book as to who was talking and why this person was important. Momaday sets off different voices in italics throughout the novel, but we aren't sure who was speaking when it was plain text, and are ever more confused when it switches to italics and the person is talking about something totally different. Ok, I got that all out.

I wanted to address some of the reason why I enjoyed reading this book, but I had to flush all of that anx out of my system. It wasn't an enjoyable read necessarily, I will probably enjoy letting the words of Alice Adams pass over my eyes more than this book. But House Made of Dawn was for me a book as once I put it down, I sat, as I sit now writing, thinking over its nooks and crannies I revel in its mastery of form for function for meaning. If what I perceive is true of this text, the undertones are what feed the tension of the narrative. There is constantly a fight about to break out in these pages, and there is a sense of urgency to the words, I wish it was just a little easier to read for the sake of communicating the conflicts, but I understand perhaps what he was doing. The Native American story is one I am not familiar with, and this novel allowed me into a private conversation happening and has happened all over this country for hundreds of years and has informed an entire way of life. I don't think that Momaday has filled us in on the whole of the conversation but gave us a piece. The thing that I love about this project is that before I pick up a book I do know research, I do no contextualization for the work. I let the work speak for itself, the words on the page speak for themselves. Then after it is finished and I write a blog based on the words on the page and let them wash over me, I respond with all honesty to what I read. Now this honesty could be made account of if I feel propelled to read further, but the beauty of the novel is that the words can and should speak for themselves, if you need help to decipher something on the page you have an incomplete work of art. So I let it stand up to my critical eye, and this book passed. But now as I want to inform myself of this issue and the art and the conflict and the beauty of the stories. I will seek it out and watch in run on in front of me before I could ever catch up. The story of the Native-American people in America is one that I think is touch with all of the complexities of modern life, and might not at this point be unentanglable for our stories perhaps. But it will propel me on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pulitzer Project Update

It has been too long in between posts on this subject, and for whoever out there that reads this, I apologize for delaying. I recently moved and that hindered my focus in many arenas of life, in the scrabble to find work and find grounding in your new surroundings, things get left out, and you forget what it was you were doing before you sort of recreated yourself and your way of life in a new place. So I have been constantly thinking of this project, but not until now do I have any sort of impetus to continue on. During the duration, through many different sorts of circumstances, I have gotten the list needed down to a final four. And in a shocking turn of events, Ernest Poole was not the last book that would have been found. I have found it finally, and I had to go to the Northern most part of the country to find it. I went for a week stay in Seattle, WA with my Aunt Alicia and her family, and we went to a beach further north from her house on Bainbridge Island, and there my wife Sam and I wondered around this quaint little town and we fell into some used books stores on the little strip there. During this interim time, I have entertained the idea of renewing my pledge to this project, so maintaining connection with used bookstores has been how this project has made it through basically on life support. So, possibly on my most disillusiioned point in this project, I walk slowly through a fairly well organized little shop, and lo! and behold! Ernest Poole perfectly organized into the shelf. I didn't have to search beneath stacks and stacks of unmanaged books, digging through dirt and dust, blow off the front dust-jacket and there it would be. This was sitting on the shelf right where it was supposed to be. And to the level that I have built this journey in my mind, I started hyperventilating. I guarded the book against my chest, keeping it safe from all of the other 'treasure-hunters' stalking me through the store waiting for an opportunity to wrench this precious book from my grasp. It cost $6.00 and I paid in cash. The young woman behind the counter stared at me with all of the loathing she could muster for the strangest customer she would have all week. I promised to send her a Christmas card, and burst onto the street where I couldn't reach anyone with the good news that should accompany such an event. I had conquered my project's white whale, and I walked up the street ringing and reringing people who would care about such a happening, but no one answered. So the story ends like a blip in a peculiar uneventful way, and I decided then, possibly that I would not complete the task at hand. But now I feel more fervent about this notion than ever. I hope soon, with the help of my brother-in-arms, Drew Moody @dgmoody, to start researching more about the Prize itself and the choosing, possibly making contact with people who are concerned with such things. Drew and I, I think, have shyed away from making such an explicit move in this project, trying not to bring too much attention to the case, because we weren't sure if it was really going to lead to anything. So, here we are. I am just about to finish N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, and from their Drew and I are moving onto Alice Adams, and then who knows, but we have gotten the buying part mostly out of the way, with a few exceptions that may take some drastic measures on our parts. And then we will see where we go from there. Wish us luck, we will need it.


Friday, September 3, 2010


I don't write much poetry, but I wrote this one on a vacation visiting me Aunt Alicia in Seattle. She lives on Bainbridge Island and generously allowed us to live in their rental house for a week and borrow their car. We watched some old family movies of my father's family from 1961 to 1970, the year before my grandmother died. I wrote this poem for her.

I've seen her in my sleep;
I've walked with her in my dreams, but I didn't know her face.

Seeing her in the face of her daughter-
I struggle to place the eyes.

I knew her when I was young,
and the winds of the memory rush me like a heavy current -
- beckoning me backwards.

I want to keep my head above the water of my thoughts.

Their images crawl across the screen of my mind.
Their home movies linger like the taste of something
sweeter than you expected.
The teal cars, rounded head lamps and glasses,
straight cut skirts and Easter jackets -
- the vacuum of Army housing.
The emptiness sits with me now.

The people of the Island are going back to work.
This morning I got my first call to Substitute Teach,
and I am pulled back to the main land,
I have things to do, and this trip is over before
it began.

She sways in the sun at Yellowstone,
grabs her elbows behind her back at Disney,
chases her boys in gardens,
swims in her red suit and lips.

I watch the story of the family I never knew
unfold 8mm's at a time, like the minutes of
a meeting I didn't attend but shaped my life.

I looked from the outside and tried
to peek over the hedges and what I saw
I was allowed to see. A family, young,
before the jolt that would sink these people.

The video only records happy incidents of
this family with cake and car rides
swirling past us in a silent fast-forward.

The film stops.
My grandmother dies when my father was young.
Just before this a little girl who came late
in the recording dies, and leaves the stage
before her story begun foreshadowing
a great end for this family.

We have to put on our business suits and move.
Go to our own meetings,
Smoke our cigarettes before we get on the boat,
now we can think of the things left untouched -
- until we are ready.

A single thought can sink a man -
A memory run him aground -

There is no sound, but i can hear her humming,
singing softly to me.
I imagine she sung, probably when she was alone,
just barely above a breath.

No sound comes now, of the party-makers,
the car-horns, or the wind rushing past their
open windows in the early 60's sedan
on their way to Vermont or Victoria.
They careen across our expansive land.
They are from Alabama.
I am from Illinois where my mother
took me after their ship had sailed.

My father comes to Illinois once when he was young,
the scene doesn't last long.
We might have been to the same place at the same age.
But I went there without him,
maybe I should have looked for his ghost.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Donald Miller: A defacto father to the fatherless

Donald Miller, unwittingly, has become a surrogate father-figure to me which true of many authors to many men for, well, probably since we started writing things down. This is true of Donald Miller to me, and I think he, maybe at one time in his life would have rejected this, mostly now endorses this idea or one like it. There is so much that I want to embrace in this blog post, but so much that I know I will never get to and never be able to fully grasp. The first though is this idea of surrogate fatherhood of men mostly not volunteering for this job. For me, so many men have filled the role they didn't know they were getting themselves into. The void that a father leaves after he is gone is vacuum that can destroy a person if you let it. And we have to, we strive to fill that void with voices. People speak into us whatever we will let them, and this quickly warps into whatever we want a father to say. There is the victim and the victor, the traitor and the tyrant. It is at this point, and this might have been something that Mr. Miller didn't cover in his latest installment of To Own a Dragon - revisioned as Father Fiction which I think was well worth the re-write entirely. But that the fatherless child gets to pick, almost and I will expand on that further, the voices that speak into them. The fatherless child, victim sure of a terrible circumstance and a statistic that I am included in, is given opportunities in this life to have a multiplicity of voices speak into him/her at various points in its life in all different circumstance. But the responsibility is on that child, although perhaps unaware at the time, to choose wisely the fathers he may choose. We cannot choose our fathers in this life, and whether they will stay and further on whether they will love us rightly or not, but when they leave we then may choose what books we read, what music we allow in our hearts, what older boys and younger men we allow to shape us. And a reflection on Father Fiction, the section that cut my heart to its core, is that I have made some terrible decisions. I have let some awful voices speak and inform my heart, and I have turned away - which might be the more significant and more destructive choice - some excellent voices from my life. Reading along with the slow, delicate pace of Miller's prose was like going plumbing in the basement of my soul and Miller is holding the flashlight. I would turn back, and he would gently, sometimes with humor, suggest me on. Like the irresponsible man he portrays himself to be with biting honesty, I wanted to throw the book across the room and denounce him publicly for what seemed to me at the time was humiliating me ruthlessly. I know he knows my heart, and these are the words he must say to get through to me at all.

So I have, at Miller's prompting, given my life over to the idea of living a good story. That is simply and forever will be the only reason I went to see my dad at all. This is a long story, and I don't have time to deal with it here appropriately, but I can if I choose to in smaller chunks and unravel for you the beating heart of a boy who sort of stumbled into a adulthood and made a lot of mistakes on the way. My father left when I was 3, and I saw him again when I was 6, then I saw him again when I was 24. The interim time was filled with a stretch of almost insurmountable pain and spots of staggering joy, and the time I had with him wasn't enough to share with him my story, nor am I sure he cared. But my life, though linked to his, is not his to own. It is mine, and I could have used his guidance, love, and affection, but I will be a father someday, and all the love that didn't get used with him, I will shower on my children like a hurricane.

But in the mean time, I can use that love elsewhere.

God has led some strange people into my life. I don't how it all works or how it came to be, but for one reason or another my wife and I have always had the ability to house people. When I was in college several vagabonds came to stay with us. Coming from all sorts of stories themselves, and not knowing or not loving God in any concrete way, through their time with us we were able to give them some hope and push them a little further down the road. I would really love to find someway to make this system more efficient, more productive, more real. We sort of just happened to know someone who needed a place to stay, and we gave them that. Through our time, they accepted Christ or were already a Christian that need to get back on their feet. I wish I could get into their stories more in-depth because these 4 men and their stories would break your heart. I have a similar burden for the fatherless as Miller has seem to set forth in his endeavor to change the way our society views and treats fatherless kids. I want to give the ones who have set out on their own, and didn't exactly land on their feet a second chance. They always come to me wild and wounded, and we nurse them back to health and try to tamp them down a little and straighten them out mostly because I have been mostly, not to far ahead them, where they are and can show them the way as far as I have gotten. There are several national ministries that have attempted to do similar things like To Write Love On Her Arms and HeartSupport and other national suicide ministries, but I think we have to look at this problem large-mindedly and holistically, and provide the cure for these brokenhearted ones at the same time providing for their immediate needs in some responsible and tangible way. So if I could live this story effectively, I might try to move to a place where this is a rampant problem, more so than the smaller towns I have inhabited or start it here and see it grow. But then I would need a place to facilitate this program of housing people and co-existing with these ragamuffins. I would need some staff, volunteers maybe, paid-possibly, to help with the day to day operations of feeding and cleaning these kids. All the while, possibly turning these kids around and positively impacting the community around us. We would need support to keep the operation running, providing a revenue source would be fantastic to prop up our ministry. This is all a loose knit sort of story that seems to me now hard to peg down effectively, but it is a story that lives inside me and wishes dearly to be born.

I think that attending this seminar would be a great help to me and the friend I would bring, my wife, to understand more what it takes to start a story like this one, and see how Mr. Miller was able to start something like the Mentoring Project, and have a positive impact on kid's lives. So I am excited to see what this seminar brings to those hoping to set out in this crazy, mixed up generation and restore some peace and some hope to the hopeless.

I wasn't able to embed the video clip required because I have an internet filter on my computer and vimeo and embedded video is blocked.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Keepers of the House/Early Autumn

Shirley Ann Grau's book deserves its own entry, but unfortunately I can't seperate this book in my mind from Louis Bromfield's book Early Autumn. These two books are so amazingly similar that it was hard for me, reading them back to back, think of them as seperate works. Written years and years a part by two completely different people, they express the same sentiments. Bromfield and Grau express a furious longing for their female protagonists to divorce themselves from their lives, live peacefully separate everything they have ever known. Olivia and Abigail, live with apathetic husband's entrenched in a family history that they feel ambivalent towards. Abigail takes a more active role in pursuing legacy, but in the end separates herself as well as she can breaking all societal expectations to free herself from these lingering old world pressures. The difference between them is their settings which almost becomes a character in each other their tales, which bridges these works again. Early Autumn is set in waspy Durham, Mass, following the Pentlands family through a very tumultous summer, seeing the death of a son, the elopement of their only daughter, the return of the antagonist to the family, Sabine, the death of the prodigal son, Horace, and the coming apart of all secrets young and old. Much of Bromfield's subject matter doesn't really connect with post-modern readers which may be why this novel hasn't survived the test of time. A lot of his plot devices may have been shocking and scandalous at the time it was written, but now the tension is almost non-existent, and all of the intrigue we might import into this novel are minor issues that the author may not have investigated fully. But not just the plot similarities are what tie these novels, but the way they were told tie them closer, by their opposites for exactly the right reasons.

Bromfield uses flowery language with soaring descriptions and conceits that might be a little over the top for my ears, but it is a simple story. There are twists and intrigue that pours out of his well constructed characters. The characters are real, and they pop out of their dull surroundings. John Pentland is fantastic, Olivia is noble and picturesque, Anson is fantastic if a little flat, Aunt Cassie is a person that you love to hate but again a little flat, and Sabine is wonderful character that I think Bromfield want you to like but the characters don't. Something that really stiff-arms the contemporary reader is Bromfield's insatiable need to narrate this novel. Bromfield wants you to feel a very specific way about these characters and leads you a little maybe way too much to some sort of conclusion about this story. There is a lot of narration, not very much dialogue and little or not action. Lots of bridge-playing and going to bed. Which aren't intrinsically interesting events, lots of talking, but not dialogue, more monologue and narration about conversations. Bromfield talked for his characters, and didn't really let his characters time to breathe. There is too much language in this novel, and talk about how people will talk.

Grau's book is a simple story told in an ugly way. Technically ugly though. Grau's words are harsh on the ears, and it decides when to flow and when to be choppy. Grau tells a no-frills story and does everything that it wants to. Which is what I think is different about Bromfield. Bromfield really wants a specific reaction and suffocates his story by leading you to everything. Grau puts this story in front of you and lets you decide if you like it or not. I will respond and say that I loved a lot of this novel, but I wasn't captured by the ending. There were certain parts that I loved and didn't want to stop, but there were parts that I was definitely lost in and could have left behind. This was not perfect, nor near perfect, but it was a good novel, humble and unassuming. If I didn't know that it won the pulitzer I might feel differently about it, and wouldn't value it in the same light. Southern gothic is a very interesting mode of literature to, loving Flannery O'Connor and James Agee, and this novel nestles up to these authors, but I'm not sure they are of the same elk of writer. I am much more interested in reading more Grau than Bromfield. But I want to explore more Bromfield and see if there might be a better work of his out there that may be a more complete work.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

American Pastoral

As before I mentioned that I am listening to some of the Pulitzer's on audio books because I drive so much of my time for work. So I downloaded four of the books that I could find on the audio book website For some reason, I could only find these four and luckily I had four credits, so i downloaded them some time in January I think. Now I have finished three of them leaving only Shirley Ann Grau's The Keepers of the House, which I have started and am about half way through, so expect another entry soon. Listening to audio books is an interesting switch from reading text on a page. I think that sometimes you are allowed to dwell on a certain chapter or passage or phrase for longer than you would have reading, but then I think that is also true in reverse that sometimes the pace of the reading and the story push you further on than you would like and it doesn't occur to you to push pause and sit for awhile with the passage. Anyways, I have extensive training with taking in auditory media. I used to have a job where I did the same thing for eight hours a day sitting in front of an industrial size scanner and scanned newspapers into a computer database and emailed it on the next image rendering guy. So while there we could listen to our iPods and I quickly exhausted my music library to the point of boredom, and instead of paying for new music I found the wondrous world of podcast. This was about 4 years ago, and the world of podcast has swiftly advanced in the interim, but I took in a lot of sermons, Scripture, news, and stories. So I have trained myself in multitasking in this way. I can't chew gum and walk at the same time, but I can decipher things spoken to me and do work at the same time proficiently.

All that said, I loved Philip Roth's book American Pastoral. It was a roller-coaster ride for my emotions while driving pizza to people's houses. Sometimes I would get out of the car in the middle of a very tense section and think of nothing absolutely nothing else but what would happen next, pull up to a stop light and the narrator would be screaming a section and I would roll the windows up instead of turning the radio down because it was that evocative to me. Ron Silver narrated this edition and he is of the foremost i have listened to yet that really brought out the text. Roth's character our voyeur into this life of Swed Lavov, Nate Zuckerman is an interesting bit of artifice for this narration. I didn't know anything about Nate before this novel, I had only read one of Roth's short stories before hand and liked it enough to be interested in reading more but propelled by any sense of urgency. Now, Roth is on my short list of favorite living authors. He is incredible, but the Zuckerman idea I didn;t understand because I was not prepared for its strange disassociation with the text. I thought that somehow this character would come back at the end of the novel, but i had no idea that the novel he was describing writing in the beginning was the novel I was reading until at some point in the hours of listening I thought i would be impossible to bring Nate back in any substantial portion with the time allotted me in the finishing of the recording, which is a queer advantage in the regard to listening instead of reading that you have some sense in how things will resolve themselves because you see how long the recording has left. All that aside, Roth wrestles with everything there is to wrestle with in the American story I think in this expansive and ambitious work. Family and public/private life, all the narratives from a tumultuous time in American history told from an unlikely voice. The main thrust of the story covers years 1949 to 1968, and a little dabbling in the mid 1990's because of Zuckerman's segway into his terse novel. But the narration focuses on a liberal leaning business owner that survived the riotous time of the early 60's. What an interesting choice for point of view in this crazy mixed up time in American life. Swed is not a square, or doesn't seem like the squares I was presented in media today. The squares of the 50's and 60's were don't rock the boat no body's who didn't really know how to live. And as a energy-packed, angry teen the vehemence with which the 'hippies' fought back was always romantic to me. This romantic notion of violent revolution is turned upside down by Roth in a not-so-delicate way and so I thought that this voice would turn me completely off by my sympathy with politically charged twenty somethings. My vehemence has faded moving into my mid-twenties, but it can be peaked by the right impassioned speech or documentary or news story, and so a large part of me was afraid of being stiff-armed by an old-fuddy-duddy Jewish writer who has clear sympathy for the squares of the era and their businesses ruined. Roth more readily sides with the bourgeois in his narrative, which is fine and totally authentic, but because I can use a word like that says a lot about my leanings, and how a point of view such as Roth's would be hard to overcome for me. But I was allowed access into the mind of these honest, unflappable people who's logical is undeniable, and who's empathy for those so misguided by even a shared hatred of an unpopular war is touching and real.

Roth's scope of themes symbols and language is overwhelming. This is a titanic work which brings within its view almost the entirety of the human condition. I found myself revelling near the end, what else could Roth have to say about life, he said it all here. He gives you the opportunity to disagree with him which is humble for a writer dealing with all of the subjects that he does in this work, which could be constricting if not done as delicately at time as Roth does. Religion is a significant struggle in this work, and he leaves his voice succinctly out of it. The central conflict of that story is Catholic versus Jews and the bells ring inside of this quaint marriage of the two. Neither side is overly anything, non-practicing Jewish husband and Christmas and Easter Catholic, but when the parents get involved the story gets blurry, yelling and harsh words spoken by careless mouths, but Roth doesn't make a pronouncement on which is right and which is wrong. What he seems to be saying is it might have been better if they had just picked on and stuck with it, but I am not totally sure he even goes that far. He brings it to your attention clearly and forcefully but leaves it entirely up to you to decide. Which is a trait of a true artist that of which I envy and strive to attain. Roth deals with sex en masse, every part of sexuality addressed completely without flinching. A single part is disturbing my only fault of the book, that this scene for my ears was a little too in depth, but beyond that fitting to the work and important in some ways. I feel like this work is important enough to have won this award and am glad this project has brought this book into my life, now it is a part of my consciousness which has informed my life for the betterment of all. Wonderful work, read it please.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Let me begin this entry, though unfortunately it will be shorter than the others and slightly overshadowed by the entry on Roth's book which I just finished and am more willing to talk about, nonetheless, I will do my best to capture what I felt about this book at the time of finishing it. Diaz's book is a masterpiece, and one of the books that I have read so far in this contest that I am glad to say that I have read in my life. I think on this project often as to the effect of what I am doing with my time, why am I trying so dilligently to discover, find, buy, and read this books? What will I get from this? But with Diaz's book I do not think that and I capitulate and renounce my doubts about the integrity and importance of such a venture. Diaz's book will be one that I look back on in this journey as a sustaining force in a mixed, crazy, unfortunate list of some good and some awful books that have not stood the test of time *see the Magnificent Ambersons* Anyways, Diaz's work is awe-inspiring, riveting, and explosively funny at parts, but for the majority of the work you are on the verge of tears or insanity or rage, all of these emotions sustained over the course of what is perhaps a drawn out section here or an unnecessary definition here. There are footnotes in this work of fiction written by the author of course, but by some other perspective divorced from the straight narration. The narrator switches from time to time, giving us a different perspective on different stories. It is really hard to keep track of who is speaking. I believe that there are only two narrators, Junior and Lola, but they cover different parts of different peoples stories, which is very odd. And the main narrator Junior talks about himself, which would lead one to believe he might be a tad unreliable which adds even complexity to this twisted knot of a novel. One thing I told Drew, my trusted compatriot in this fight, was as I completed it, 'I have never felt so manipulated by a work of art in my life, and enjoyed it' Diaz wants to control everything that you are thinking through the work. At times the narrator who you could confuse for the writer, and the main character which could be Diaz himself thrust into this novel which could be a mostly true to life story written under the mask of magic realism in the best train of Marquez, but Diaz will say out right in the novel near the especially, why he is writing the story the way he is, even it it isn't true, which is an odd word to use seeing as how this is fiction and he could say whatever he wants, which is the ultimate manipulation. I loved this book dearly and am glad I was forced to read it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pulitzer Entry #5

After taking the entire month of February to regroup and assess this journey, I have decided to recommit myself to this task, but at a much slower and more enjoyable pace. Through the dark night that February was, and at many points potentially deciding to give up on the entire endeavor, I remember why I started this project to begin with - I love to read, and I love to write and discuss reading with people that also share this passion. During the course of the past month I was offered a ministry position which I have still yet to pray about and accept, and it helped me refocus this break neck schedule. January felt a lot like November for me. In November I took part in National Novel Writing Month which was very enjoyable, fruitful, but also immensely draining. What I thought I had accomplished in November I could endure through this year. But what strength I can muster in a month, I do not have the stamina to protract over the course of a year, and my attempt soured and I eventually felt like not pausing but giving up entirely. Giving myself a month to think about this project and refocus allowed me time and space I deeply needed. Now I rededicate myself to this venture with the help of my dearly beloved friend and compatriot Drew Moody, embarking together on a shared plan. We had anticipated reading works together but our schedules are so different and difficult that it may be more work than its worth. So we will collaborate on the writing of blogs and finding of this books, but reading may a private experience for the both of us for future purposes. So a catch up on all of the events and random happenings will accompany the news of the next selection.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Killer Angels

To start with a short preface to the seemingly extensive unappreciative things I have to say about this work, I would like to start by saying that there were sections that were exemplary, moving, stark, and well-crafted. Shaara's pacing was incredible, and his diction was at times flat and repetitive (very repetitive) at other times when you thought it would be the same old thing, 'He was an honest man, a noble man.' or 'He was an honest man, a simple man.' These phrases were stacked against each other for what seemed at least a hundred times throughout the work to describe several different generals. I just wasn't sure what he was trying to say. There were interspersed throughout the work just out and out and leaps that this author would have been hard pressed to find evidence for, meaningless dialogue, and useless events. I don't know, writing about such a complicated event like the Battle of Gettysburg is a bear of a task that I would not undertake, but then at times I thought this was about the Southern perspective on the battle, because only one Union voice is heard throughout the work. Shaara captures the voices of these men and keeps characters very separate and distinct which is amazing to me. For that I give this author credit, and the introduction to this work written by his son is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I may just copy and paste it here for all to read. But as the work finished I thought that I do not know any more about this event in history if I would have read the wiki-page on it. Unfortunately, I connected with these men in this armed conflict, but I am not sure if they are real, and the ending notes of each person betray his painting of them slightly. I do not regret having read this, but I may have been able to watch a documentary on this battle or read a text book entry and derive the same meaning. I don't want to be harsh to this work, it is worth reading, but it did not strike me as something I might have otherwise persevered through if this project wasn't upon me, and taking that forward am not sure I am better off because of it, which is really quite unfortunate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Color Purple

I feel this intense physical propulsion to write as soon as I finish reading. Like a immense itch that needs to be scratched or serious chocolate craving. You have to do something, don't just sit with the raggedy old book in your hands, its like a dead battery and you stare at it almost scornfully, like you have nothing left to offer me. I used you up and now I will put you down. Alice Walker told me I was coming with her with this book, she didn't ask, not even did she give me a choice. I think in the novel I just finished, I give my readers a choice. You can come if you want to, or you can leave this story behind, but those who chose to finish it will thank me for it later, not Ms. Walker, she grabbed my hand and put my face to these people because their pain had something to say to me. I was so utterly dumbfounded that she could cut me off from the rest of the world. These two characters almost 'forced' to live in isolation with the most backward simplistic people you will ever meet. And each sister raised in the south somewhere between Memphis and Atlanta, which we know are two places Celie isn't, the rest is vague. Also Nettie in Africa. Walker is amazing, and revelations start forming after reading than while, because you don't want to judge it before its over, she makes you give her a chance. Sure there were places where it gets awkward, just by her format which was ambition as the whole thing is a letter to God, or from Nettie to Celie. I had no idea what she was talking about as referring to God or any sort of organized religion. The amazing thing though is that The three books I have finished so far, and the book I am currently reading are intensely spiritual books, granted many of them do not take the time to land anywhere which I understand as a leap into message art, which I appreciate somewhat less that art for art's sake, but still I think you do your reader a little disservice if you don't choose to land, questions are fine, but the beauty of a proven point is more powerful I think. At one point stiff-arming sure, but if you haven't done your work in creating then I think you are to blame not the readers bias. Anyways, I was a little put-off by the at times one-dimensional male characters sprinkled throughout this book, though the women's voices are authentic like they were separate writers helping Walker fill in the blankets. Sofia has to be a real person. Shug has to be a real person, or else Walker has multiple personality disorder or something, but they were hauntingly real, and I will remember them forever.

The religious tension in this book didn't distract me, but it was a topic I often let my mind wander off to, where are these characters coming from, what do they know, what don't they know, and how are these things informing them? Nettie and her people are black missionaries from the South to Africa, though they spend some time in England. Celie is a God-fearing southern with an intense if even misaligned private prayer life which she choose to write down instead of pray aloud. Both women's ideas about God transform by the end of the work into something that is wholly unrecognizable to its original form. And although, the last parts are the parts I differ from intensely, I can see the maturity in their universal approach to God than some of the more trite versions of black and white legalism that I think cloud any true mature understanding of an ultimate, mysterious being that has revealed himself to us through a sometimes very confusing medium. This being said, Walker I think leads her way in this direction and sharpens instead of dulls here, which is fine, but I think she talks more than the characters talk here, with her glasses at the end of her nose, looking down on all of us people talked about Jesus as the Son of God, and her talking about God being bigger than just one man.

Feminism is deeply rooted in the stories of these women and their bumbling men, and a repressed main character discovers her aversion toward men and propensity toward lesbian love, which I think is mostly handled well and tastefully, and my own misgivings get in the way here, which is to my determent not the authors. She speaks so fluently so authentically that you let her talk, and just try to get out of the way. I loved this book.

Now onto Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. I started it a couple of days ago, so I can continue to read it as I just finished a book today, and will allow it time to sit with me, as I have already had these other characters talking to me for a couple of weeks.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Last night, fighting off sleep and sickness, I finished this slight volume March by Geraldine Brooks. At parts this novel wowed me with its eloquent rendering of Civil War era diction and stylized banter between the intellectual elite, lines Brooks portrays beautifully fabricated conversations between some of the most interesting characters in American literary history, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Brown and the like. There are intensely moving passages of war and love, of lies or carefully constructed artifice. Brooks investigates some interesting themes throughout this work, and I think she explores them well and artfully. At points though one of my criticisms is that she resolves things almost coyly, too mechanical, too clean and cool. Some of the plot points start wrapping up near the end and it seems really forced. That is my only concern, dealing with the horror of war we end feeling like a Shakespearean comedy without very much intrigue. Brooks is a master of her craft, but she doesn't have the heart to deal get her hands dirty. She shows us some horrifying images that which can only be rendered of such a traumatic time in American history, but I think she does it from a removed point of view. Her character March seems out of place and disconnected with his time and I think almost too much so. I think she may have stumbled a bit in importing too much post-modern sensibilities into a pre-modern thinker, which I felt a little misleading or leading which might have been the point I don't know. She gives a very post-1970's feminist voice to the female lead Marmee, which may have been true the person she was based I don't know. They are an interesting bunch of characters interacting in an interesting time and interesting things happen to them. On that level this novel is a smashing success. Diving further into this work, I feel a little disappointed that its themes and images are expanded upon or their cool detachment from a gritty realism I think she could have aspired to. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it thoroughly. I looked forward to it, and I loved the main characters voice, a voice I wish I could render in my own writing as authentically as she has here.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to pursue this time period throughout the winners as far as I can. The two books I am starting now are The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara that which I am listening to while delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut, and also just started this evening is The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Both works are masterful so as I have enjoyed them briefly.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pulitzer Entry #4

Apologies are necessary as I have slackened my reading and blogging in the recent days. I have slowed my novel-consumption, unfortunately, but I feel like even completing 3 novels this month still puts me in striking distance of my goal, given the fact that I also finish this book in a timely manner (possibly today), then starting the next book which I still have yet to choose. An interesting note on that, as I noted before the books that I would be drawn to by the books on the list that would, after this project is over. But another interesting invention I have noticed is the connections I am drawing between books even on the list.

Which brings me to the bulwark of this post, which is to dive deeper into this narrative that I have found many of these American works seem to grapple with. The book I am currently finishing up is March by Geraldine Brooks takes as its subject matter a chaplain during the Civil War. Bringing into it's scope of themes is the struggle of African-Americans to find their voice in this changing social climate coming, women's roles in this society and what that says about current gender roles, also faith is a central part of this work (not sure how legitimate her voice is in this endeavor), and she has sprinkled in many interesting characters that she adlibs lines for personalities like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Brown. Their voices come through authentically, but it seems a little contrived. But I would like to say that even though I can be critical of this work, I have thoroughly enjoyed wrapping up into this wonderful story. I think that this work and the scope of its subject matter and themes will lead me on a path investigating this story woven into the tapestry of American history. I have found it interesting that I haven't been well-versed in this pain-soaked, character-defining story of America and liberty and courage. My next reads will focus on Civil War and Slavery in the coming reads.

On a side note, in my endeavor to accomplish this task, and by the rigid rules that I have set in place by only being able to procure the books on the list by buying them all second hand, which has been quite difficult. So recently, after my wife Sam was looking at our bank statement online, noticed a charge from, an online audio-book distributor that I signed up for a free trial sometime in the late summer. When we noticed that we were still getting charged for it, we decided hastily to cancel the subscription immediate. When Sam finally talked to somone, the person on the line informed us that we had four credits good to download four audio books according to the months we had already paid for. Before canceling, it behooved us to at least get the merchandise that we had already paid for. Given this amazing opportunity, I downloaded four books that I didn't already have on the pulitzer list. The Wonderful life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, The Keepers of the House by Shirly Ann Grau, and American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I am not sure how this jives with my ambition to come to own them second hand, but it felt right at the time. My current job puts me in the car a lot, and listening to the books on list seemed like an excellent way to multiply my efficiency. I started listening to Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels. Being that the subjects in these two books cover the same time frame in deftly different ways through different voices, it feels like they are close cousins and it helps this break-neck project.

Thank you for your time, I promise the writing will get better in future posts.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pulitzer Entry #3

Just posted a list, that you can view in the sidebar of the complete list of the Pulitzer-Winners from 1917 forward. To explain the cypher I have used in denoting which books I own and which I have read already. One * (asterisk) means that I have a copy of the book and 3 * (asterisks) means that I have already read the books. Later I will post a story behind how I have procured all of the books that I already own, and going forward how I will find each. I have also added a sidebar to view all of my twitter updates which chronicle the pulitzer search as well.

currently reading March by Geraldine Brooks (fantastic so far)

I also need to keep track of where these books will lead me from here. Normally during the course of the life of an avid reader is simple. Somehow we find a book, through a list, a recommendation, find something interesting at a used bookstore, you have heard of this book, NPR or other media outlets, see an interesting movie trailer that you knew came from an interesting book like Up in the Air and want to read the book before you watch the movie, so many other ways. But then something amazing happens and you are dragged into willingly like soft, ephemeral hands leading downward through a time, a season full of ambition and explosion of passion for whatever it is it wants you to learn. I remember one summer I remember an English teacher in high school, Mrs. Kruse, whom all of my peers and fellow readers would agree inspired a army of young intellectuals to find our voices and read ferociously. I just remember hearing her esteem for Nobel and Pulitzer-winning author Toni Morrison, not a recommendation but more of an appraisal of worth and a endorsement, and I decided to read her work Beloved, maybe a little young to understand all of her beauty, but I appreciated much of what I didn't understand at the time, and have since thought back on her work and have had a continual revelation of her work an beauty by simply talking about the questions the book has haunted me with. Before I started this book I had just finished reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, stinging me with its at moment tender the next stark brutal honesty, ignited a passion for African-American authors. This then lead me to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, and its rhythms and simplicity in story telling, so simply that you can miss its beautiful if you don't slow your pace and walk with it at its speed. This progress lead to a place that I could experience Beloved which spurred me onto read her beautiful slender volume The Bluest Eye. From here I ended this reading tirade with Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, with its terse treatment of these same topics it was a haunting but fitting end to this rabbit hole at least for now. I have since read James Baldwin, Nella Larsen, Alan Paton, though an afrikaner, describes the plight of the South Africans truly and wonderfully, but nothing made me feel like I had discovered something for myself and read on.

Just like this adventure and many like it, I have been drawn forward by this type of beckoning during the first two books I have started this endeavor. The first book The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, is apparently the first book in a trilogy. As I finished the novel, I felt that so many things were left unaddressed, and this depreciated my view of the work. Unfortunately recorded in my posts, I do not treat these 'short-comings' lightly, since I have come to learn that it is a book in a series this could explain things left untied. I now want to pursue the rest of this series to reconnect to these characters and find where these loose ends tie up. Also with this work I find that understanding more about Alcott's Little Women would help infinitely with connecting to this novel, March. I am sure that this tunnel wouldn't likely end quickly. Further up and further on.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Pulitzer Entry #2

Just as a matter of course, I felt like updating the reading public of the journey which took an expected to turn. There will be several of these posts, the morning after posts so to speak, the wolf-trap posts. I started Lonesome Dove and arrive at the notion that I couldn't stand it. I wanted, I pined to dive forward and check off such an enormous feat right at the beginning, take down one of my several Goliath's. But alas, I couldn't muster the strength to persevere through such a work this early, and it might take a couple of books under my belt to do so. I, with a heavy sigh and the dreamy blur knocked soundly out of now focused eyes, resigned to start a lesser task. So I switched, and as to my own discredit, picked a book from my own self-interest. I bought two more books this weekend given some money by an unwitting compatriot in this endeavor my grandfather-in-law, purchased March by Geraldine Brooks and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Being as it were, that I had only in my possession at the time Lonesome Dove, March, and The Road. Lonesome Dove and I pacing the ring of a heavyweight fight which I the lesser component couldn't muster the Balboa like strength to stand another round, through in the towel, raised the white flag and mixing further this precarious metaphor blender, like the bully on the playground went for a lesser foe knocked down once but too prideful to throw the entire fight, went for March. Not to say a lesser work by any means, but I had a wealth of time in front of me and three targets available as I was out of town and away from my honey pot. I chose March for a specific reason. I really really want to read The Road, and the anticipation is killing me. This is a task I plan to put off as long as my helpless ambition and patience can abate. So I chose the lesser of the two eagerness and went forward with March which has been a treat for the beleagured soul.

A list is forthcoming, of the complete pulitzers and of those I already own and the nature by which I procured them.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lonesome Dove

The next book that I chose to read from the Pulitzer list is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. It is a 900 page western. Not crazy about starting this one. I figure I have to read it in about a week in order to stay on target. I have also figured out that I have to read about 6 books a month to finish in December. Who knows what this will bring?

So just for a pacer blog post I thought I would describe for you the process by which I will pick my next books to read. Since I would ultimately save the books I am least likely to read for last, as is the way with all these I suppose. So I devised an intricate system, an unflappable arrangement of 'random chance' for book picks.
step one: write all the decades of the list on tiny scraps of paper
step two: write 0 - 9 on the other sides of those scraps of paper
step three: put scraps of paper in a Christmas stocking still hanging in my living room
step four: pull on out for the decade of choice (this time 1980's)
step five: replace the decade number for the year number written on the back
step six: pull out another scrap of paper to tell me which year 0 - 9 (this time 6)

so I had to read the book that one the prize in 1986 which is the book listed above. Apparently, a good friend of mine had either heard of or read before, which seemed to me wildly irregular. Then I remembered his favorite actor is John Wayne. more later...