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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

March





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 Audible.com, 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.

--joshua

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.

--joshua

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.

--joshua

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...

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Good Earth

To start these posts assume two things, that either everyone who reads this blog has read the book, or that after reading my review they will be better informed to pick this one up. I am not going to rate anything, if it sounds interesting read it, if not don't. Simple enough. Unless I feel especially moved by a work, I will not try to mediate between you and literature. Read for yourself.

Pearl S. Buck's - The Good Earth
Pulitzer-winner 193151S9PFc+1ZL._SS500_.jpg
This work was incredibly accessible. It is a simple, simple story about a peasant farmer that rises through all of the avenues available to him. He is a rock of mostly moral dependability, which I find troubling about Buck's work. I wonder what she believes about his actions. She presents his actions very fairly. He is pressed to make some hard decisions, and throughout avoids, more than decides, certain moral turpitude. The entire work had this benevolent cosmic being orchestrated Wang Lung, main characters, life to work out well for him mostly because he was a hard worker. It would be impossible to make any certain kind of moral, religious, or ideological claim on this work. It is too multi-faceted for that. Lung's actions and the resulting consequences mirror to closely the ambiguous nature of life to make moralizing possible. If this then is Buck's central theme that 'life is complex' she accomplishes that, and that is a humble outcome and speaks into a certain type of life that attempts to define everything around them by positing knowledge into the unknowable. Let me outline this for you, and I think I might have to get into some literature terms to get there so stay with me.

Lung is a humble farmer, taken after his father, they own the land they live on. At some point, He buys a slave for a wife from the great house of the town. This common woman comes to live with him. These two characters exchange 4 or 5 sentences throughout the entire novel. This I find a failing on Lung's part. When there is a severe famine in the land, Lung, after much much debating decides bring his small family south to find work. There they starve and beg for a living in a tenement housing situation. Here, as they are starving and hoping to get back to the land after the drought is over, he is tempted into selling his youngest daughter into the same slavery that he bought his wife out of. He simply avoids this and as he avoids it, he is 'blessed' by being at the right place at the right time, inheriting some money in a very funny situation. The novel waffles on itself, and you can never tell if Lung is in his heart a good or bad person.

Now this is not always your objective when introduced to your protagonist. In older traditions, you just assumed that you are supposed to like the main character and his venture forward, but with protagonists like Nick Caraway from the Great Gatsby, or Holden Caufield from The Catcher and the Rye, it is brought to our attention that we may not be getting the entire story or a shading of it. The interesting thing about this novel is that Buck leads you to define her character for her. She leaves it up to the reader delicately. She presents his life to you, and she allows you the time to consider his actions before moving onto the next part. This is a simple, beautiful book that portrays the simplistic complexity of life. She is proposing a gray world full of unimaginable evil, cosmic sorrow, and pure elation, and it is the objective of the reader but then also almost the participant to make the key judgments that will pilot their lives.

One issue I take with this novel is that it introduces a lot of information that it doesn't utilize properly. At one point when the family ventures south to a southern city, the family interact with white people which the main character finds very startling, but they only inhabit this section of the novel and never again. Then also Wang Lung is given a tract that has a picture of Jesus on the Cross on it. No one in Lung's family can read the text on it, but they look at the Crucifixion and all agree that whatever someone had done to deserve such a death was probably really bad. But yet again nothing ever comes of this implication. I don't know what Buck's point was in introducing these things and not coming back to them at any point. It was a beautiful experience at points, at other points painfully uncomfortable to sit through, but a moving reading experience that I could recommend to the right person.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pulitzer Entry #1

I have endeavored to start a new project. It is simple. But it starts with a story. A friend of mine Drew, who may be the only person who reads this and I have a passion for used books and literature at large. So he noticed in his collection that he had inadvertently started to collect Pulitzer prize winning novels. Seeing this as the novelty it was decided and I thought it was a good idea at the time that we might try to make the collection complete. So we both set out to collect all of the novels that have one the Pulitzer prize, which they have been awarding since 1917. There are some really obscure books on the list, by authors neither of us have ever heard of nor would ever have given the time of day seeing them sitting on the shelf.
This project started as a casual pipe-dream but just recently seeing that I will have no occasion to be devoted to any one read project at a time being free now from the rigors of academic life decided to take this matter more seriously. That being said I have a mythical dream that I might complete this task in a year. Now a year is a long time, and 84 books doesn't seem like a mountainous task, but given that during academic life I averaged 25 to 30 books in a given year at my own leisure I find that this task demands a great deal from me. I subject myself to its ludicrous consumption of my time, and the spoils that it might bring. So here I am, I will update this blog with two kinds of future posts in the event that there is news in this realm. My used bookstore experiences regaling all with humors and dramatic stories of my successes or failures as a obscure book hunter, then also coinciding with that my experiences actually reading this books. I don't want it to be so much of a book review, that is a profession I have no interest in, but my experience of them inside of the scope of this project. I hope that this task makes be a better writer, a better reader, and a more disciplined individual. I hope that it stretches me and grounds me in works of fiction that are worth reading or at least someone in the last century thought so at some time.

I am not reading in chronological order, I fear that would be unhealthily unsatisfying and burdensomely boring. So I have an intricate randomizing selection process where I pull a decade that I wrote on slips of paper out of a hat. Then I have wrote a number on the back of that year, so I draw again and the next time I could draw from 0 - 9, and I must then read the book from that decade and that year.

The first book was not selected this way, but instead was one of the only Pulitzers that I owned that sounded interesting at the time that i began reading before the new year began. I finished it today. A post reflecting my experience with that novel will be posted tonight.