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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.