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Thursday, December 29, 2011

John P. Marquand - The Late George Apley

Sitting here in Starbucks on a Thursday morning, I read the last 90 pages here in the sweet smells of coffee and a variety of incongruos music. I can't find the particular reading mental energy from my apartment. I haven't read very much in my apartment since my wife and I moved to Lombard, IL. I find in my own recollection of this project that many things in mine and Drew's life has changed considerably. Though this project remains the same, same goals, same challenges, but the entire tone of that which we do now has changed. The motivations seem the same, but viewed in a different light given our different courses in our recent past.

When Drew and I began this project, we were so full of hope for what the future held for either one of us in the scope of this journey and our friendship. Several sharp turns later, especially for Drew, and we arrive at this current moment different people, changed for better or worse. I find this to be a central issue raised during the course of this project and especially raised in the novel I just finished.

John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley is a novel about a landed Bostonian arsitocrat during a time difficult, challenging, and potentially causing the existinction of everything he ever loved. Marquand picks his setting, timing, and contexts very well to execute his agenda against this character, but I found the novel not too one thing nor another which was very frustrating. Drew read this work a little while ago, and we talked about it before I began reading it. I have chosen the last few novels I have read by the website which generates a random number for me. I just plug in that the my minumum in 1918 the year the project began, and my maximum of 2010 which is the last year we had before we began this project. Nevertheless, Drew and i talk about this novel before I began it and he had a very ambivalent view of this work. As you can track over the course of this conversation between Drew and I we often have simliar reactions to books, where neither one of us have loved while the other has hated a particular work. Often if we have differing reactions they are shades of gray of one another where I believe I quite liked Martin Dressler where Drew was luke-warm to it, and the like. This novel proves no different for our track record. I remain ambivalent toward this novel with a strange conflicted like and dislike for it.

There are several aspects of this novel that I like very much such as the character development and the format that Marquand chose to pioneer it seems in this novel. His use of personal and professional tones through personal and professional letters written by Apyley was incredible. Marquand is a master of voice. Marquand can change tones and directions on a dime, and you never have to look back to the beginning of the paragraph to figure out who is talking because the voices of the different characters are stark and alarmingly distinct.

The aspects of this work that I couldn't stand were some of the things that Drew and I talked about before I begain reading such as: the idea that this work is a satire of the Boston elite. I have nothing but glowing approval of well-done satire even if it limits the work due to the nature of satire to the context of its own time and concerns. There are several conflicts that are so universal that can stand the test of time but often this is not the case. Apley I think can stand the test of time if it is made obvious to the reader that this is in fact a satire but not one that is terribly funny. Given these parameters the jury is out as to whether this novel works as a true satire at all. Certain aspects can only be seen as purely satire, but much of the novel is completely genuine and emotionally quite evocative. I am very uncertain about this book, but is was a pleasant read, and I am glad it is over.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sinclair Lewis - Arrowsmith

I know that it has been awhile since my last post here. Drew and I started a new blog on WordPress I believe, but I do not remember the login information there so I am just going to record my blog here and transfer it over there so I start my next book. Right now I have my Winter Break from seminary courses at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. My wife and I moved from Bradley, IL in September, quit our jobs and got rid of a lot of our stuff to pursue this thing, and now that I am done with my first quarter of school work, I am finally able to get back to reading fiction which is a welcome relief from theological reading and writing. The one thing that I must really train myself to do is when school gets back into session, that I am not pining after reading more pulitzers. This project has been something that I have been able to put down and let it stay down for awhile, but when I pick it up again, it consumes all my waking attention.

Sinclair's Lewis' book I started reading quite some time ago, I believe I started reading it while I was a substitute teacher at St. Anne High School. I had a prep period one period there and I forgot to bring a book, or maybe actually I finished the book the period before, I don't remember, and I look through the English teacher I was subbing for's little library. This little library was for students to take books from to do book reports if they forgot to go to the library or bring one from home. I found Arrowsmith the same edition I had and nearly the same shape, tattered and marked. So I began to read it, but shortly after that Drew and I must have come up with a challenge because I put it down and didn't come back to it for a couple of months. I eventually, because I had bought copy I had used and it was in terrible shape, I went and bought a reading copy at Barnes & Noble. So I finally pick it up and discovered that I only had 250 pages left to read, so I decided it would be an easy finish for me at the beginning of my break to sort of get me back in the spirit of the project.

Sinclair Lewis' Arrowsmith is a convoluted book that seems like it saying one thing when it is definitely saying another. I enjoyed reading it, but as has been the case with some of the Pulitzer's so far, I wondered what it meant and why it won the award. I don't think fiction has to mean something, but more specifically I wondered what it meant to him, what it meant to the Pulitzer committee, and what it is supposed to mean to me. I really like the turn of the century Christian influence that Arrowsmith buts up again through out the plot who are mostly ambivalent characters if not a little annoying. My favorite quote is one from one of these zealous Christians, Ira Hinkley, addressing Arrowsmith very early on in the plot, "You think you have some of these fancy modern doubts, but I tell you simply got indigestion." Then he tries to convince him to go to a YMCA and exercise and study the Bible. I just thought Lewis' recollection of these characters to be funny and mostly amiable. Lewis really really investigates the scientific aspect of this novel, and if any one out there is a Scientist and is looking for a novel to read this holiday season - this is the book for you. There are large portions of this book that I had to read somewhat slower to track why this experiment going wrong would effect the plot, but at points he gets pretty technical with early 20th century scientific jargon. It is fun to read things of that time period and see how entrenched in the time that it is, but also how timeless these pursuits are.

Lewis paints a picture of a altruistic scientist, Martin Arrowsmith, who is constantly finding himself impeded by the influence of others on his time and research capabilities. All that Arrowsmith would like to do in the world is sit in a laboratory and experiment for the rest of his life. The first hiccup to any of that is experience in Medical School at Winnemac where people are constantly intruding on his time like the above quoted Ira Hinkley, Cliff Clawson, and eventually Leora, his soon to be wife. Then Leora and Martin go and live with her folks for awhile while Martin practices medicine in Wheatsylvania, North Dakota where Leora is from. Here, Martin is impeded by Leora and her family who not only don't understand scientific research but don't understand fully the practice of medicine. Martin's reputation is tarnished here and they moved to Nautilus, Iowa where he meets another loud-mouth Christian with political aspirations Pickerbaugh. Pickerbaugh saps all of Arrowsmith's time with grand standing and general phoniness. From here Martin joins a practice of his follow Winnemac student Angus Duer in Chicago, this from here he goes out to be with his professor and life-long hero Gottlieb. Here is where the book actually starts to be a book, all the rest of the book really seeks only to affirm the relationship between Martin and Leora in a quasi sincere way. I believe the characters and their relationship, but I am not sure I take it all the way Lewis wants me to. So the ending isn't as powerful to me. But the novel begins when Martin lands in New York. The characters are there for awhile and it really develops the atmosphere perfectly, then Martin meets up with a previous character, Sondelius, and finds himself in St. Hubert of the Caribbean fighting plague. This scene is a great protracted scene with some bitterness in it. Then Martin returns to New York and lives out his days in general lackluster writing. This book has over a hundred times where it could have stopped and didn't, and it is mostly the question of this reader where things should have ended and why they didn't. Nevertheless, I don't think it was a complete waste of my time having read this book and would recommend it as a very decent read to anyone who has the time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Richard Ford - Independence Day

Wow, it's been awhile. I didn't remember which book I had finished last until I looked over the blog just before typing this post. I have taken a little break from reading all things pulitzer, which oddly coincides with the summer, as last summer Drew and I also took a break which you would think maybe I would take up reading more fervently. But it hasn't happened that way. So I return to reading with Ford's pulitzer-winning novel, Independence Day. i started reading Ford's novel over the Fourth of July weekend. I thought that it would be an introspective but delightful read that would put into perspective our national holiday without an emotional identity. All of these things Ford takes within his scope, and strives toward that end continuously throughout his novel. Ford is a writer for writers. He is deliberate, controlled, precise, and very intellectual. Everything he places before your eyes is exactly what he intends and furthers his artistic goal completely. Ford's main character Frank Bascombe is a ex-sportswriter real estate agent with a pension for self-awareness, that might not be the right word, I'll try neurotic. There are so many questions I have for Ford and his main character, if I could pose questions to a fictional character. I haven't read anything else by Richard Ford, nor have i read anything else about him, but I have to imagine that Frank Bascombe isn't a far shot from how Ford may see himself. To put this review simply, and the complete opposite of Ford's writing style, I did not like this book. Ford takes 450 pages to say absolutely nothing about anything at all. Ford is ambivalent about virtually everything in life, our 'hero' of the fiction claims obviously not to be a hero and almost completely doesn't care about anything, so then that makes me realize, 'why should I care about this book?' I think there are several things that Ford tries throughout the novel that I found interestnig. I understand that Ford is playing with conventions throughout the novel, often switching voice throughout, weaving in dialect in very odd times even in the narration. Certain aspects of the novel are very interesting to me, but the overall attempt I think falls too short of interesting for me. Ford is a master of making long drawn out conversations of nothing. Almost every conversation Bascombe gets into in the novel he ends up becoming angry at someone else's political view, worldview or lack of one. It is amazing. Whereever Bascombe goes he has to have a long drawn out conversation that ends up not saying anything else at all. Ford writes eloquently, but says nothing. It is infuriating. I try not to let my own worldview affect my taste in literature too often, but this time I can't. In this novel, Ford postures constantly an aloof, sophisticant that is too involved in himself to mean anything to anyone. Bascombe is the most self-involved jerk I have ever had to read 450 pages about. The Existence Period is meaningless. I really really didn't like this book. It wasn't painful to read, but it definitely wasn't enjoyable. I am glad this one is over and it bumped my stats up 2 percentage points.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bernard Malamud - The Fixer

With this book, I am now over the 50% completed mark for Books Read. For now my pages completed lacks behind considerably as I have read most of the shortest books on the list which is troubling for the completion of this project. It took me until I was over twenty novels in to develop the statistics aspect of the project, and that is concerning because I didn't keep track of the page lengths I was dealing with and that led to me working against myself in finishing this project quickly. The longer the book, especially some of the ones I am not excited about reading, the harder it is for me in my reading disposition to finish. I read slowly, as has been exhaustively noted here, and the longer the book the slower I work. This fact results in fewer finishes and more frustration with the duration of this project. But now is a time for celebration though, that I have turned a corner and have now reached that 50% mark that which I had previously thought unachievable for a long time.

So now on to Malamud's winner, The Fixer. The first thing that surprised me about this book was that it is the only Pulizter winner that I have read so far that has been based entirely outside of America. There are some winner that the main characters are from other countries, and travel out of the US. But Malamud sets this novel in Pre-Revolution Russia, specifically in Kiev, what we now call Ukraine. Malamud's main character Yakov Bok is a Jewish peasant from a Russian community to house peasant, and he travels to Kiev for work. There is entrapped for a murder he didn't commit, and forced into prison to live out a sentence-less sentence until he arrives for his trial. He suffers through 2 and a half years in prison unsure of his fate. Knowing the evidence against him is false, he has hope that truth will prevail. Bok knows the time and place he lives in, and the merciless slaughter of Jews in recent years, killing his parents actually and making him out to be an orphan, decidedly goes against his notion of a fair trial. So Bok sits. Bok goes insane. Bok freezes and eats filth and suffers for seemingly no reason at all other than the unbridled hate and superstition of the Russian people.

Malamud is a superb writer. Malamud writes with power as if this happened to him and he is retelling it to you through Bok. I find his voice to be true and transparent. There is nothing fabricated in his environment down to the stove in the room, what the walls look like. What cockroach ridden cabbage soup tastes like. It is a perfect setting. You believe everything he is telling you and you look for clues, the seams in his descriptions that might betray him but there are none there. Malamud keeps you reeling from his powerful prose and exceptional pacing. This is a titan work of American fiction. Everyone should read this book, and everyone no matter what stripe or state you are in will enjoy it thoroughly. Malamud addresses so so much in this book, Jewish/Christian conflict which spill into the base nature of all people for all time. It is an amazing feat that Malamud winds you through this novel. Forcing you to answer his questions. What is truth? What is duty? What would you do the wiser now for having read this work? Malamud is a writer amongst writer.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jeffery Euginides - Middlesex

I just wanted to start this post by saying, admitting to all of you readers out there, that I cried at the end of this book. Over the course of the exhaustive reading, there are time that I probably haven't given a book it due justice. I can admit that here, in saying, that when this reading list has become a competition between Drew and I, I focus on the goal. This goal-oriented approach helps me to get through some of the less appealing books, but possibly, I have overlooked and not spent enough time with some of the better books on the list. There have been several times over the course of this list that I have felt totally lost in a novel, and Euginides' Middlesex is one of them. I love this book. I was lost in his narrative, completely lost, ready for whatever it was that he was bringing to me next. Thirsty I would say for the next page, paragraph, scene, or chapter. I am careful to say that, as if one could consider this a page turner, I wouldn't go that far. It wasn't a thriller, there were moments where it dragged, just a little bit. I say that with the utmost respect, I really truly do. There is not a lot that I can find at fault with this novel, a subtle portion of pacing perhaps, and it pains me even to offer this slight criticism.

Euginides is a master of fiction. He knows it, and unlike as I have mentioned before Cunningham, he doesn't lord it over you. Euginides trusts his reader and that would make me cautious to recommend this book to the novice fiction fan. It can be a hard read at times. But to his more seasoned fan of fiction this book is a marvel of literary allusions with seeming effortlessness, this has to be mentioned any time there is a reference to T.S. Eliot's Wasteland. Euginides is a master. Again, not as pedantic as Cunningham at times to use every little piece he introduces until it is beating you over the head, Euginides weaves it through carefully. Chapter 11 is an amazingly crafted metaphor throughout the novel. AMAZING! I laughed out loud when I figured out, as he was saying it, what the reference was to. It was fantastic. There is too much in this novel to reduce in a short review like this, to make mention a few things.

The subject matter of this novel is difficult for me to get attached to. I have no experience whatsoever and as the casual observer of this phenomenon in our society, I have to say that I come to this novel having formed no conclusions about transgender and related topics. So coming into this subject matter, I didn't know what to expect and how my upbringing and current worldview would shut me off to this novel. Euginides destroys those notions and opens you to understand this character fully. Euginides brings within his scope all of the human and American experience. I was constantly reminded of Chabon as Euginides was introducing so many subplots dizzying the careful reader to keep track of the important events. But unlike Chabon and Cunningham, Euginides doesn't embarrass you with their ambition. I felt an overwhelming careful precision to Euginides writing that less careful, more - I offer considerately - 'confident' author's might not take the time to carefully construct. This novel, and Euginides writing gives me something to aspire to - precision. Plain and simple, that is what Euginides perfectly exemplifies - precision. He executes his character development, his seamless transition, his plot devices, his dialogue, everything churning toward and improbable but overwhelmingly believable, fitting, and perfect ending. Chabon and Cunningham represent a very common literary, artistic figure to me. Writers that assume so much talent, so much artistic prowess that often they overlook the simple steps one needs to take to humbly submit their art to a critical audience. They assume a lot of confidence in their abilities that sometimes some editing and hard work would have worked out some of the hard edges that a critical eye will find and find fault in. They are unbelievable writers in their own right, Pulitzer Prize winners, but I believe that the reason for the prize as I have great respect for, is the sheer ability of the writing. There is a lot of forgiveness for over-confidence and maybe not as tightly spun writing when they can command their styles and art as they do. Euginides does all of that. Euginides's writing is gorgeous, but he combines that with razor-sharp precision. I love it.

This novel did everything that you would want an epic novel of its caliber to do, everything. It is in my humble appraisal as near a perfect novel as I have ever read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pulitzer Stats Update

As someone, anyone, hello? may have noticed, my pulitzer stats fluctuated. My total pages, pages read, and pages left to read have changed, which has also changed my percentage read. The reason for this is simple. I installed Apple iLife '11 on my computer which has a spread sheet function identical to Microsoft Excel. I put all of the page numbers into the spread sheet and it gave me a much more accurate reading of the work I have accomplished and the work I have further to go. Also, I got different editions to the books on the list. As I have exhaustively mentioned throughout this project, I have developed a several allergic reaction to book dust. Thinking back on my travails throughout this journey, I realize now that this must have begun at some point during this project and I believe that I did not always have this allergy, but that I must have caught it while hunting around in some of the sketchy locations we had to travel to, thinking of here the Salvation Army store in Kankakee, IL and Toad Hall in Rockford, IL. Two wonderful places that have not kept their due care of their materials. I found A Bromfield Galazy at Kankakee Salvo store for $.10, and I got T.S. Stribling's winner for under $5. I think also found Lafarge's Laughing Boy for $3, and a few others I can remember right now. Anyways, I just thought I would make mention of the fact that objective stats changed, hard numbers that should have been pretty well locked down fluctuated and that might raise some eye brows. I am currently reading Edwin O'Connor's The Edge of Sadness.

If you will notice, I just finished Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird which I loved, and am going on to 62's winner Edge of Sadness. I noticed a large whole in my 1960's reading and felt like trying to read through the 60's. For a summer time activity, I might be rewarding. Next to tackle will be the late 30's early 40's which also reflects some ill attention.

Faithfully charging ahead...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harper Lee - To Kill A Mockingbird

To Whomever It May Concern,

This book is amazing. There I said it. It may surprise whoever reads this that this blogger did not read this book before now. I understand your expected and assumed surprise. For one reason or another, this book escape my scope of my assigned reading in College, and as it was assigned to me in High School, like every other good American High School English student, I used spark notes when I could and when I couldn't I just listened to the class discussion of it and made it up as I went along. To all my teachers, I apologize for not having read this when it was assigned. If it is any consolation, I love it. There isn't much that I can say about this book that hasn't already been said. I think one of the 'novel', some pun intended, part of this pulitzer project Drew and I have embarked upon is that for whoever reads this blog, you will get a review and a reaction to many books a lot of people have not read. One of which, Angle of Repose, and I would like to take this time to apologize to Mr. Stegner, I am sorry I trashed your book, reading back on my post, I felt it harsh and unforgiving. It was my true reaction at the time, but please forgive a careful reader his own modest opinions. You were awarded a prize by a panel of jurors. A humble student of literature is no object of great prestige or import that you must fear his ire.

A slight caveat, for any of you who have avoided reading this mammoth work of the American Classical Canon, read it now. It is a treasure. I knew the story going in, and let me take the time now to say that what level of gravitas a book, I mean a single work of fiction by an author who only wrote one novel, was awarded one prize in her life, that I would know the story of her novel inside and out to be oft-quoted in movies and television shows, the cultural consciousness about this story amazes me. I mention several times throughout this blog to be an aspiring writer, to achieve her level of awareness to the public is amazing. On the level with Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and A Christmas Carol. Harper Lee succeeded in making a very humble book about the Deep South torn in the racial debate is astounding. As many people do, I place this work right next to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as possibly one of the only book's given the title 'A Perfect Novel'. I can literally, under no circumstance, find fault with any one bit of this novel. It was perfect. Congratulations Ms. Lee, you have achieve a rare feat in this project. I have nothing negative to say about your book. You Win! Anyways, read this novel, cherish it, and read it to your children. It is magical.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wallace Stegner - Angle of Repose

I don't believe I blogged about it this time, as we have in the past made mention of the challenges that were afoot amongst ourselves so our dear readership could follow along at the moment by moment updates, on the edge of their seat to witness the battle champion arise victorious in the wee dawn hours of the morning. Well, that is just what happened, no one knew about it but us. And I had kept it a secret from Drew the entire time that I was slowly but silently carving away at the this book. When we compare to one another how far we are along in one of the challenges it inspires the other one to drop whatever it is they are doing and read that book. Which can be frustrating for me because I, as has been well documented on this journey, read at half the speed that Drew Moody does, and that is why we arrive at the state that our challenge month's record is in. So a short recap.

January - Travels of Jaimie McPheeters - Drew Won but only a few pages, down to the wire.
February - Lonesome Dove - Drew Won, this time but a larger but still competitive margin.
March - Gone with the Wind - Drew won, I have still to finish this book.
April - No Challenge Month
May - Angle of Repose - I win.

So without further ado...the review of Angle of Repose.

I hate this book. I cannot find one thing anywhere inside me that can form any sort of emotional attachment to this book. I would have. I could have without the ending. The ending solidified this book into the most unreadable book of all time. It took me two weeks to read this book, but it felt like an eternity. It really did. I can't even start to put into words, as I am trying now what it was about this book that made me turn my back on it and forsake it forever. I am sorry Mr. Stegner. With great acclaim, comes great criticism, from a lowly person like me I offer that what you did was pure cowardice, and I wasn't even that interested in the book to begin with when I came to the ending.

Everyone I assume must say that the book should have ended before Stegner just tagged on the final bit, Zodiac Cottage. This how I am imagine Mr. Stegner writing this book, and I assume there is A LOT from this book that didn't make it into the final cut. Why because at 569 pages this book was unbearable, UNBEARABLE. I have never had a book truly last as long as this one did that felt like a punishment to read. Some books have such high emotional costs on the reader that they felt like punishments but in the end rewards the reader with a true ending. This ending wasn't true, it as a frankenstein's monster of mixed up hurry up and finishes if I have ever seen one. Well, that was quite a review.

So I will give Mr. Stegner some well deserved praise. I found myself at times caring for these characters which is very hard to do with an extremely uninteresting plot. I cannot tell you how COMPLETELY uninteresting this plot was. I am really sorry Mr. Stegner, but it wasn't interesting as you and your main character may have found that the Victorian novel set in Idaho isn't interesting. Its not I'm sorry. And I really am in this way sorry that this ambitious novel didn't work. I mean it won the Pulitzer prize, and has some fantastic writing in it. Some heart breaking symbolism and elements and themes that he brings through out the novel that really work. Some that don't, some that he really wanted to work but weren't doing as much work as he thought they were doing. Some that he forgot he was using for oh I don't know 300 pages, and then rushed in and mentioned at the end. So, what this novel needed was some really tough editing. Because this novel isn't what it thinks it is. And I think that Mr. Stegner knows. I would like to see the reason why this one won the prize. Perhaps for Stegner's body of work. Because honestly this isn't a great book. It is a really really well written book which literary allusions, famous characters walking in off the street, some really fantastic drama moments, the dramatic arch over the last 100 pages was at times, not all the time, I put it down plenty, but at times were really page-turning for such a very drab book.

The one bit of praise that I can without condition give Wallace Stegner is that, there are at times the most well-thought out actions I have ever read. Stegner writes certain scenes that are perfectly staged in his writing. I mean perfectly, as a writer right now that is going through a second draft of an extended work, there were moments where Stegner is completely in control of everything you are seeing and feeling and you aren't nit-picking his novel to death. For that, against all odds, he gets my vote for a great writer, but this novel is not a great novel.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Paul Harding - Tinkers

I literally just finished reading Paul Harding's Tinkers. Sometimes I don't get to writing the blog until late at night, or I put down the book for awhile and go do something else to let the book sit with me. I closed the book and picked up my iPhone to type this blog. I apologize for any misspellings- it difficult to type on this thing.

Those that read this blog wouldn't know that my Dad left my mom, my two brothers, and I when I was very young. The story is complicated as most divorces are, and I would be willing to guess that my Dad wouldn't frame what happened with that wording - left us- but whatever the case, he wasn't a part of my life at all. Ken left and started over with his own family that he kept separate from us. And for most of my life I waited for him to come and find us. A lot of my childhood is a blur due a very fickle memory on my part- through a series of complicated circumstances as well- but I can remember being twelve and being very good with maps because I needed to be able to tell my Dad how to get to us like he couldn't find us and that is why he never came. I am also a Red Sox fan because, although I never spoke to my Dad, I assumed he followed them as intently as I did because I was born in Boston and he lived in New Hampshire. I found out very recently that he doesn't follow sports, and when he did he was a Bulls fan which ironically is where my mother moved when she left back to Illinois. I mention all of this now because this book gave me another way back into my story. For a long time in my life I have felt like a detective uncovering things long forgotten- who my dad was and why he left and similar such stories. So I appreciate opportunities to feel my story again. Harding captures this story with surprising clarity and power. I got to read for the first time an expert writer capture a scene, unfortunately not from my real life, but from how I have envisioned meeting dad for the first time. With him coming to my house and knocking on the door with his hat in hand apologizing. Harding doesn't give you long to linger in that moment and I was sort of mad when it ended because I thought at first that he clipped it but he didn't.

This is a brilliant novel. Well worth a Pulitzer prize. It stands up against some of the other powerful winners. It hasn't cracked into my top ten favorite novels of all time- but it definitely in the top 15 pulitzers. I know this wasn't much of a review. All that I can say is take a day and read it- his lyrical wanderings are a welcome respite from chaotic modern life. Some of the writing in this book will literally break your heart. And as a young writer, his writing is humbling, and makes me strive to be a better writer. His writing isn't as unapproachable as Penn Warren's but it is of an elite class that I definitely admire.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Edna Ferber - So Big

Well, the first thing I have to say about this winner was that it definitely was a book. I read every word of it, and I have decided that it qualifies as a novel. It has all of the component parts, characters, setting, plot, conflict, climax, resolution. It is consistent in character, some of the characters change. Some stay the same. The actions and dialogue are all very believable and sound fluid and natural. At one point I cared about how it ended, and it ended exactly the way I wanted it to. With all of that said, I couldn't have cared less. Edna Ferber writes very securely. She says exactly what she means. Although her meaning is superficial and very out in the open, it is amazing that this won a pulitzer. The first point is that it isn't a bad novel, it isn't a good novel though. It is definitely a novel. I enjoyed reading some it. Some of it I couldn't be done with sooner, mostly the ending. The ending was meaningless. I must have missed the boat when they covered the idea that the ending doesn't have to be significant in any way. I wrote a book, and I am not saying that all of the drama, conflict, and tension need to resolve on the last page that gets old. But there has to be something. The last page added nothing to the story unless I am missing a great deal. It was the last thing I read. I will give it that. There should have been an epilogue or something to explain what happened. Not that the action was complicated. Dirk goes back to his apartment and his Japanese servant gets his clothes ready. That is all. I just didn't understand why that was the last thing I read. Again, I will say it was an ending. The last sentence was in fact the last sentence therefore it was an ending. But I clearly didn't get whatever it was Ferber was trying to do.

Anyways, I am glad that book is over. Well, I can't say that, that would give the impression that I had some sort of feeling to that book. I liked Selina DeJong, which is exactly what Ferber wanted me to do, so she succeeded there in creating a main character that was extremely likable, but she tipped her hand the entire way which was really disappointing and left you really doubting her writing ability. Just because I agree with an author's worldview doesn't automatically make them a good writer in my eyes. Sometimes that makes it more difficult on them if anything because I am really watching closely what they decide to do. Anyways, Ferber isn't a bad writer. It takes some considerable skill to weave a novel together that is coherent and thematically consistent, that has very believable characters and really fluid dialogue, but overall I wouldn't read anything else by her because she didn't make me care.

New Pulitzer winner was announced as Drew has covered extensively on his blog and twitter feed, so congratulations Jennifer Egan for your winning work A Visit from the Goon Squad, it sounds fantastic, although I won't know until a year from now. So I am looking forward to it if this ambivalence doesn't crush my willingness to read. So I am on to Tinkers which sounds equally amazing on a rainy day in April.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eudora Welty - The Optimist's Daughter

I just finished my third Pulitzer in April which is a great rebound from taking the entire month of March off. Eudora Welty's winner The Optimist's Daughter was a terrific unassuming little book. Welty can really write a sentence. She chose a very narrow story with which to use to bring a lot of things out. She achieves a lot in this very brief novel, not everything but a lot of things. She writes with precision, brilliant precision. She has startling clarity of purpose in every image she chooses. Her laborious use of everything she introduces reminds me of another Pulitzer winner Cunningham and Wharton. Welty is a phenomenal writer who I hope is remembered.

One thing that limits her is her setting, the Deep South, which I think she commands every aspect of but her writing of it makes it seem like, as an oft-quoted joke between Drew and I, a regional novel. A slight caveat, southern gothic is my favorite form of American fiction- so that comment is not to say that I felt put off by her setting, by no means. I just found that the way Welty paints the south extends some of the elitism that can be very pervasive in certain places. I recently met an individual from near Nashville, TN that had not traveled to northern Illinois before and he comment on Midwesterns complete lack of regional pride that he had experienced in the south.

Welty also writes very well from the female perspective. I say this as a male who has written an extended work from a female character's perspective- that imagining things and speaking truly from a certain perspective is one of the most challenging things to achieve in great writing. Given Welty is a woman, she writes excellently embodying her world well. There were several times in the novel that I thought were brilliantly inside the person she has created for us in Laurel McKelva. The breadboard at the end of the novel I thought was a perfect, if at a moment a bit trivial, image for her to use for us to be completely enveloped in her characters. I wished that some of her chief conflicted were more directly addressed but I have never seen a writer give us a character explain her own limitations and write perfectly as the character would understand them with all of the character's foibles. On a side note, Fay and the Chisoms are to-date the least likable characters I have encountered on the Pulitzer journey thus far.

After this novel, I have no clear direction for my next read- so we will see where April will bring me. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Peter Taylor - A Summons to Memphis

An interesting thing happened to me as I was reading this book. I am currently a teacher's aide at the high school I graduated from in my hometown. I live in the 'big' town next to the tiny town I grew up in after a time away at college. While I was in the library helping a student with a reading project, I decided to take a turn around my high school's modest library where I found a first edition of Taylor's novel. And I felt a great collision with this novel and felt that if there was a time that I was going to finally feel connected to this work it was now. (Taylor's main character is a rare book collector who is constantly revisiting his childhood home) Taylor's novel is about a lot of things- one of which is the tension felt for being in between places. All of Taylor's character seem to be caught between where they are and where they think or thought they should have been. Taylor captures this emotion quite clearly. Also, Taylor captures the idea of how place and things can define us. He does an amazing job, and this may be a strange generalization, but how the mind set of perhaps places such as the South and other regions of America and maybe the world can place a keen identity to their settings. Taylor makes Memphis and Nashville into major characters in his novel, but also particular possessions as well. What is interesting about his novel is that there is almost no dialogue at all. The entire novel is told through recollections by the narrator Phillip Carver and this particular narrator has no connection to conversation whatsoever. All of this is very intentional on Taylor's part given that the major plot devices he chooses to use are all telephone calls- an interesting choice on his part for two reasons. One being that his choice in not portraying any dialogue at all would make it difficult to disseminate those calls without telling us exactly what was said, but the second interesting choice is that the telephone for Taylor's writing period is the chief image for two people to be caught in a tension between being present to one another but also disconnected. Another image for him to craft his thesis of isolation. Taylor is a craftsmen in this regard. Another poignant use of the no dialogue is that if regions and cities are to be characters then they obviously won't be able to have any lines so to speak. So by Taylor cutting out dialogue altogether Memphis and Manhattan get to be as present a character as Phillip, Holly, or any other. For all of these reasons, I admire Taylor's ambition.

All of that said, I did not connect to Taylor's award winning novel. Perhaps it was intentional on the author's part- portraying an emotionally aloof character will hinder the reader's ability to connect and all of that reinforcing his central premise. I don't believe that is the case. The last few pages and the swell of 'action' betray that sentiment. Taylor rallies the reader into tracking the action of the ending closely only to be a little let down by the anti-climactic ending- which is another arena Taylor masterfully crafts but I think against what I understand as his purpose. Taylor, like many other esteemed writers, is very efficient in his word and image choice using everything that he put into his novel by the end. A thing of beauty that I admire every time I see it used- note here another Pulitzer winner Butler's '93 winner- so with that said his ending is exactly the ending he wants and is leading you toward the whole novel. Only for
you to get there and say- now what was that all about?

Anyways, I will read more Taylor and find out if this novel is representative of Taylor's work or not and if it is then I might better understand what Taylor was trying to do with this ambitious novel. As it stands, I think that novel worked but maybe not as well as I can see right now. It won the Pulitzer, and as with some of the other winners Drew and I have read so far with this one I am sort of puzzled as to exactly why this one won. It was a good book, I don't know about great necessarily, but good and worth reading.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cormac McCarthy - The Road

After a long, too long, drought in Pulitzer Project. I made it back in quickly triumphant fashion in the month of April. Drew and I haven't decided on a challenge for this month, so I am just going to use this month to really catch up on reading this month. While my novel is in the middle of revisionland this month, I will have a lot more free time and potentially much less stress as March was sort of a tough month all in all arena's of my life. So let's start talking about The Road.

First and foremost, I LOVED THIS BOOK!. I can't talk about it in the past tense because I will treasure this book in my heart forever. I LOVE THIS BOOK. If you have a brain in your head, if you are alive, if you are drawing breath at this moment, then you MUST read this book. I loved it. It was a hard fought battle. It was tough-going and some of the sentences every so once in awhile were a little wonky. But some were beautiful and the in-between kept you engaged like no other book I have ever read. This stole the place of greater works in my top ten favorite novels of all time. This pulitzer project is ruining everything I thought I had solidified about my opinion of the written word. This book is a triumph for humanity. For all people of all times, this book is a tour-de-force. This book will be everything you want in a novel. It is a glorious display of power in the hands of a craftsmen on an elite level. You will never read another book like it. I can't find a way to praise this novel more. I LOVE IT.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A slight departure

A close friend of mine died this week. His name is Will McDermott. I wrote a poem to remember him.

My friend Will died today.
He died on Friday but I found out
today and so became real to me.

I felt him go, like a great hand
wafted the memories of him out of
my mind.

He had memories of me, of a different
time, and me as a different person.
That part of me went with him.

We keep each other alive.

A boy died today,
and the great world spins- and spins- and spins- and spins.

The sun came up this morning. He died on
Friday and I didn't find out until

The world exhaled; right before it
takes another breath, a life goes out.
A million more pour in, but I don't
know any of their names.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Michael Cunningham - The Hours

Wow, I feel like I blinked at this book was over with. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I was reading. After finishing McMurtry not too very long ago, I sort of have the sense that if I don't hate every waking moment of my life for having to read a very long and very mediocre book then I must not be awake. Reading Cunningham was very refreshing, although a painful and hard-bitten book filled with what seems to be very petty people, Cunningham writes his like masterpiece with such confidence, at times to a slight fault.

I couldn't help be feel the entire time reading it how great of a writer Cunningham might think himself to be with his painfully exact little idiosyncrasies and maybe a little too over the top coincidences peppered throughout the novel. If there were one removed I might have found them charming, but overall I thought they were distracting. I think we really come to understand that these characters are living parallel lives, and they all coincide in the final chapter, and trust me I like that approach. I really do, and I thought it lovely, and the wool was completely covering my eyes as to the final chapter, and I sort of felt foolish for not picking up on it earlier, but I loved it either way. I really enjoyed this book, and as of yet, I don't know if I would definitely recommend a single pulitzer to my wife, who is not as 'accomplished' a reader as I am, but this one is going on her to read list. Cunningham for all the trashing I did earlier in this post, trust me with his acclaim he can stand it from a little piddly book-reviewer such as myself, he writes with clear, and I mean, crystal clarity into the heart of humanity. His subject matter was at times painfully alien from me and reader of readers so to speak, but this culture was pretty foreign to me, but it is still an accurate representation of the human condition far and away pristine in his retelling of real events. Cunningham is a master observer of life and love and heartbreak and a fine reteller of such events. I want to read more by him just to see him look into our soul's unselfishly and tell us our own stories. Cunningham is brilliant, a little overconfident at times, but he is brilliant.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ernest Poole - His Family

Boy am I confused about this book. I appreciated reading this work. Poole is a fantastic writer. He can really write an important sounding sentence. Poole fills this text with repetition, symbolism allegory, foreshadowing. At times Poole is really trying to write this novel, forcing images and symbolism that doesn't seem true to form. At other times, the way he constructed his characters seems as natural as breathing.

I want to read more of Poole, if I can find any of his work. I also would like to read this novel more than once. This would be a perfect novel to teach in a college course. Throughout the novel I found myself saying that there is probably more going on than I am able to comprehend at first glance. I wish I could have slowed down a little and taken my time with some of the portions I had questions about and I may revisit this novel.

One of the most interesting themes running throughout this novel is this surreal positive undertone. So many times things take a fantastic positive turn in this novel, and it is jarring. Poole is extremely supportive of Deborah's worldview which is pre-communistic if there is such a thing. Setting up a Utopian apolitical, a religious orphanage in the heart of Little Italy in NYC before WWI. It is incredible to think of Poole's story and how this book basically a forerunner of Communist Party literature winning America's prize and the first one at that. Poole went to Russia in 1919 to report on the People's Revolution. With this novel, Poole sort of comes out of the closet with his stance toward communism. Other than these repetitive overtones of the work, there is more going on than just a message art novel. Poole is a master craftsmen and I am glad that I was introduced this his artist heart.

The final thing on this novel is that it is the most original ending we have read so far. It is interesting that it is the first book on this list that has the most interesting ending, so be find the intriguing ending in the beginning for whatever that's worth. I have never read something so philosophical as the ending of this work. I would be remiss to give anything away about this ending, it isn't a twist, it is completely predictable, actually this is the most conventional ending of any book I have ever read, but the way he wrote it was a very very interesting choice. That is all I am going to say.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Larry McMurtry - Lonesome Dove

I don't have much to say about this book. I could not muster any sentimental feelings at any point during this way too long book. Drew and I talked a great deal while reading this one and sometimes that shades your view of the work, but this time I had my own opinion which was to be thoroughly unimpressed and most often perplexed by this novel. Now, I say perplexed not for anything that the writer did, but more of why did this novel win the Pulitzer prize for fiction? I didn't think that this was a bad novel. By any stretch of the imagination this novel made sense. All of the sentences linked together to form paragraphs, the paragraphs were grouped together to form chapters that led to a consistent theme and for predictable but more often than not well-rounded characters. There was plenty of conflict, and there moments when I wanted to see something happen to this or that character or to see a situation resolve itself. So all of that combines to not thinking that this was below average writing, but at the close of this work I couldn't help but think that this was just one in a long line of genre fiction that McMurtry has churned out an a stagger pace and with an inconceivable amount of words. But I think that is my point, I don't know why they picked this novel. I appreciated the characters and some of them were memorable and some were forgettable. I like to think Gus McCrae was worth following, I don't know about 900 pages of following, but at the end of the day, I was just confused. This is an pretty good novel. I wasn't staggered by its beauty or writing.

If anything it was the most underwritten thing I have ever read. McMurtry placed you in very interesting and poetic situations which I appreciated, but when it came to really capturing your heart McMurtry backed off and did nothing, let the moment fall flat and I didn't understand why he did it. Then he made things happen that were so counter-intuitive of a genre fiction Western, where he made a difficult and complicated ending out of a predictable, very conventional novel. McMurtry isn't a terrible writer. I might even be inclined to say that he is an above average writer that can tell a story. McMurtry even did so well for me to think that I actually have given some more attention to the American Cowboy as a very potent story in American history rife with plot and conflict and beauty. Whatever the case, McMurtry won for a novel I wouldn't have readily picked. If I had been asked to read this novel outside of this conflict, I wouldn't have finished it. If I had finished it, I would have felt ambivalent about it. If asked to discuss it, I would simply shrug to the person who recommended it, and ask them why. So to the Pulitzer committee of 1986 - Why Lonesome Dove? Any reason is fine, and I am not entirely mad about your pick, it was just a very perplexing book.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Julia Peterkin - Scarlet Sister Mary

For a majority of this read I was trying to piece together what the central conflict for this work was. There were a lot of pleasant sub-plots, but as for a central redeeming conflict for our conflicted main character to overcome, I was in the dark. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the work thoroughly, but that as a reader I was a little uncharted at times. I like to guess a little throughout the work of what is going to happen and what the conflict is, but in this one I couldn't really tell. One of the major reasons it was hard to look ahead was because our protagonist isn't always the most likable characters. Sister Mary is hard to get a handle on, which begs a very interesting question of this novel. Mary is rebelling ferociously against her very specific culture. Freed slaves in the south around the turn of the century that still live in the Plantation they were enslaved on in south Carolina. Mary is a very different main character and I loved her. According to her culture, she was a wicked woman, but according to our time and place she wouldn't have been to out of the ordinary, which made the reading of this character difficult. Then I think also that this book was written in the 1920's which would have made a black female protagonist that is a wicked woman a very controversial main character. To go a step further, for Mary then to be a character that Peterkin defends and justifies in her wayward ways would have been an incredible statement to the general population making a lot of claims about Christianity and proper marital relations.

Then comes a big part of the novel that I really admired. Along with the conflicted main character and the very avaunt-garde social dynamics that the main character displays was really eye-opening for me in this read. Peterkin was extremely ahead of her time in the writing of this novel. To think that Age of Innocence won not too long before this and that novel plays on a social tension that uses a lot of the same old Victorian dynamics that England had been using for the last 100 years. So for Peterkin to employ the same protagonist to go against the grain of her culture and the culture of the time in the way that Mary does is an extremely brave move. Then to put that all together, I got the very vague sense toward the very end of the novel that Peterkin was sketching out a very vague picture of the Odyssey in her novel. One of the only clues, other than some not to beat up on an overused word, but, vague overtones of the Odyssey's classic themes. On page 200 of my copy, Peterkin gives reference to Dawn rises and Peterkin personifying the sunrise as is famous from Homer, also having a cripple as a main character, Mary's journey into the 'underworld' of dramatic divinely inspired visions. All of this to combined in me the slight sense that some Odyssey allusions would be too far off.

To wrap up succinctly I really enjoyed this read. I can't help but think that Alice Walker's later Pulitzer-winning novel The Color Purple borrowed heavily from this work, in theme and some characters and situations, but I could see Walker giving a great nod to this novel than stealing from it. I would like to do some research on Peterkin and see how influential this novel was to African-American literature as a whole. I have taken college level English classes based on this time period and never read or even heard of Peterkin before this challenge which is remarkable to me for a writer or her caliber.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Margaret Wilson - The Able McLaughlins

To start out saying, simply, I loved this book. I know I have said that about a lot of these books, but I truly enjoyed this book. To come back from that statement a little, this book didn't make it into any favorite books of all time category for me, but it was definitely a worth-while read. I think that this to date wraps up most about what I find intriguing and at the same time frustrating about this project though. I am not sure if I would read any more of Wilson. She is a fantastic story teller of the most minimal sense which is refreshing and more modern than most American writers of the time. But what I find intriguing is that this novel was a period piece, written about pioneer Scotch in Iowa before the railroad got to them. By the time this novel is written, cars were plentiful and the roaring 20's were in full swing. So this simple pioneer novel would have been passe by this time I think. To think of the great New York crowd reading this novel driving in their automobiles and going to talkies and speak-easies. What a weird book to win. So I want more context for this work, more debate, more reaction. Some New York Times reviews or something, and much of that is not available about this early works. The other thing I constantly come back to is that this is the 1920's America, voted the best novel of that given year. Hemingway is writing during this time, Fitzgerald is writing during this time. We have so much information about these men it is staggering, this isn't Paleolithic times, ok this was less than 100 years ago in our country during the time of the printing press and widespread journalism, and yet we know nothing about these authors or their works.

Anyways, as an aside I guess to some of the things that have confounded me during this project. Wilson's book is a grand relief for me as I do not like American pseudo-Victorian-ism, like Poole's book is shaping up to me, Bromfield's work, Wharton's book (which I ended up adoring - but for the majority of it I loathed intensely). Wilson writes a humble story about not-well off Scotch from Glasgow and Ayrshire. I loved the characters and their intensely personal characteristics. I loved the minimalist symbolism sprinkled through. I loved the themes of mistaken identity, secrets and the lies that go into protecting them, how secrets can steal your soul. I loved a lot about this book. I loved the pacing as we would jump forward long stretches of time, and then calm down for the 10 day search party for Peter. I loved that Wully was put through the ringer in this book, over and over again. I secretly love when an author has it out to put their man character through hell. Wilson is a fine writer. I think there were opportunities she missed, and somethings she could have left out, but Wilson cultivated this novel's ending slowly and painfully and made you earn it, which I liked intensely. First class work definitely, and if anyone could ever get there hands on this book, I would recommend it to the novice and experience reader alike which isn't something you can often say of great works.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pulitzer Update #something

In a recent turn of events, well, I use the term recent loosely here, but I have come to understand that I have a terribly ironic disposition. I am, I regret to inform you all, allergic to book dust. I wait here for the laughter to die down. During this project I was put into places, on hands and knees, scouring the floors of silent seas like a pair of ragged claws the annuls of used bookstores across the midwest. I would leave some of these place depending on how long I was there, if I had to go in any basements which was more frequent that you would think, and if the books were being stored in damp or unventilated spaces. This was of course the normal for old crusty bookstores everywhere that would house the strange and long forgotten award-winning books Drew and I were feverishly searching for. A point about this trip that we have left a little underaddressed by both of us. I mean come on people, for a given year, these books one the highest award an American Novel can achieve, The stinkin' Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and I have to search for 12 whole months to find all of them, I mean come on people. Anyways, so during this search probably, because I am terribly unaware of my health, I noticed that I got itchy eyes and throat closing symptoms after these long excursions into the used bookstore underbelly, and after some time removed from these locales I would be fine. The point that really hit home was when I was reading Louis Bromfield's Early Autumn which I found in a salvation army in Kankakee, IL coincidently where I live know but for me at the time it was a little bit of an adventure as this location is not in the terribly best area of Kankakee county and I was rummaging through books that had probably not moved in years. It was after this amazing encounter, buying this book for $.10 that Drew and I began to see this book everywhere, but nevertheless, it was quite a find. So a few weeks later, I began to read this volume, and low and behold after only an hour or two of reading it did I discover that this book was in fact trying to kill me. I pressed on eyes blazing, throat closing, nose running like a faucet that I gave in and took some anti-allergy medicine. And I finally realized that I was ironically painfully allergic to book dust.

This only comes to ahead today, and I felt like making mention of it here that remarkably enough only a handful of the books I have purchased this past year seem to have given me fits while reading, and today in order to interrupt these volumes negative effects on my health and well-being did I decide to order online reading copies of certain books. This I tell you was the least gratifying thing I have ever done, and part of this post is a simple confession. After an entire year of searching high and low, and I mean terribly low for these books did I simply go to my used bookstore providing website of choice and buy three of these books. Simply, I felt ashamed. I will receive these books in the mail, and I will hide them. I will read them quickly and silently and I will put them away for fear of being found out that I have two copies of these books and one was procured in less than honorable way. (Books afore mentioned purchased today were Herman Wouk, Katherine Anne Porter, and Paul Harding)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Oliver Lafarge - Laughing Boy

Coming on the heels of finishing Taylor's Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Lafarge delivers up for me a genuine love story as has never been as uniquely told in American literature to date. McPheeters is a love story late coming in his work, and Taylor weaves together many different plots that deliver a wonderful array of the American experience. Lafarge's tale is uniquely Native-American and wonderfully so. I loved this book. I have said that about several other of the Pulitzers, and I am not ashamed to say it about this one. I would stack this work right up there with some of the best of the reading so far, and for the ones to come. I have truly enjoyed this project and it has expanded my appreciation of all things fiction, all things novel, and has thoroughly revived my love of reading. A task such as the one set before Drew and I on this journey I had feared would crush my love of reading under the strain of such a project, but if anything it has emboldened me to further heights I think.

I am only slightly opposed to giving a recap of the novel, and I stick to only either praise or criticism of the works we finish, but for this one I think I will retell the story briefly in order to highlight all that I loved about this book. Lafarge tells a stirringly simple story of Laughing Boy, a Navajo teen, coming of age during the Americanization of the West and of Indian culture. Lafarge brushes up against all of the evils that stem from the American involvement in Native-American life and uses much of this darkness to color our female protagonist Slim Girl, Came With War. Laughing Boy falls in love with a forbidden love, Slim Girl, who his family suspects of being an Americanized Navajo. Slim Girl was taken to American school and was changed there into a Christian. She returns to her homeland through some convoluted means and sweeps Laughing Boy away. They go away to her American village where they have an enchanting romance. Things cannot hold all of the tensions that are pulling at them through custom and culture and things get out of control. Lafarge lets us stay with them and pulls to keep this enchanting time together as long as it can hold, and its steady decline peaks very near the end of this beautiful work and his pacing is mesmerizing. Lafarge sweeps you all the way through the end of the novel, and leaves you breathless. This is a love story that rivals some of the greatest ever told, and what is remarkable is its transcendence as well as it's very uniquely Navajo intricacies. I stand amazed at this strange and lovely little book. It is a short work, my copy only 192 pages, and its pacing early on is very meandering and soft. When it picks up near the end, you would think it would have to be jerky and swell with a fever pitch, but instead it crests more like a wave and crashed upon my heart voraciously and I struggled to keep my heart and head about myself as it rose above me. I loved it and cried when it ended as only it could. I cannot tell you how it ends, and leave out a lot of details because I want you to read it. Even if it doesn't resolutely place itself amongst your favorite novels of all time, it will be worth the ride and will carve out a place for itself in your heart. Laughing Boy and Slim Girl are a pair that come up to Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Robert Lewis Taylor - The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters

Before I begin my post on this book, I want to lay the ground work for a future post that will be larger in its scope than this one that deals solely as many other posts do with it's main thrust only one work, that will chronicle a large swath of the final days of Drew and I's book hunt which lead us to some of the greatest lengths our book trips have taken us, and the finalization and realization of a year's worth of questing. But alas, this entry is not that.

First off, I would like to introduce the reading public to a challenge that Drew and I staked together in the reading of this work. Drew and I have decided on a challenge situation that will fuel our desires to read some of the lengthier and less appealing works the list has bestowed upon as such as: Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, and Executioner's Song. The way we orchestrated this challenge was simple enough, to put the ten least attractive works in our estimation into a hat (Boston Red Sox hat to be precise) and pull at random one of the names and that would have us pitted against each other the task of finishing that book first and the winner go the spoils which at this venture is a Steak Dinner! So we set about picking the book out of a hat, and I had both my brother and sister in law pick out of the same hat, replacing the first drawn name to see if we got the same name picked and the winner of this drawing was in fact, Robert Lewis Taylor's Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. As fortune would have it, both Meghan and Aaron both drew the same title so it seemed apt to us at the time to say the consensus was selected. The reason McPheeters was entered was partly due to its length and Drew and I's aversion to Pioneer novels having both a great distaste for Cather's My Antonia. This is purely a personal preference on both Drew and my part, and wouldn't like to offend anyone, but it is what it is as they say. So the terms were that we drew the name out before the start of the new year and we were to begin this work on the first of the year. Hoping of course to finish the book at the very latest in a month, the first one completed would win a prize to be determined later, which we decided for better or worse, a steak dinner as many of our respondents said would be apt to apply a pun and say the stakes we were playing for would be steak. So, without further ado, I would like to congratulate Drew Moody on beating me to the finish line in this first of a series of ten challenges that will take place over the course of this year. He finished first with me coming up short only by 10 pages. Over the last two days to keep pace and try to overtake Drew, I read 160 pages a day which is a lot of me, as I worked today from 8 to 3 pm at my newly acquired teaching position.

So to start my reflection on this work. I loved this book. Not from the start, and at times I felt that my attention waned considerably. My life as it was in the beginning of the year and much of last year was in complete upheaval and a great portion of my financial future seemed in dire straits. All of this combined for an amazing year of uncertainty and confusion with adventures aplenty sprinkled throughout. And somewhat this novel reflected all of those times for me over the course of last year. Adrift and untethered would be an accurate description of much of my sentiments throughout the first leg of this journey, and I have joy & woe to reflect upon that has led me to a place of seemingly solid foundations now. I can't help but feel in a profound way connected this character at a very core level and I am deeply grateful for having been forced to tough through this book. If I weren't reading this book at a hyper pace and compelled to finish it quickly this is one that I would have definitely walked away from for a time. Not to say that it wasn't engaging at times, and I was definitely lost in the story a great deal and didn't want to leave it's characters for a second. Not often do you as a reader become emotionally invested in a set of characters outcomes. I can say that it is rare having read basically nothing but fiction this entire past year, claiming to be crowning achievements in American fiction in a given year, and not often due you get so attached to a set of characters or circumstances that you literally cannot walk away from a passage, paragraph or chapter to see how at least this minor conflict gets resolved in some satisfactory way.

I will say that in this case, I didn't want to trust my heart to this author, knowing the novel's genesis as based in history and real diary entries of the McPheeters clan and knowing the general dismal condition of many of the stories told of this time. But Taylor proves a story teller worth the merit awarded him here. He delivers on his promise, that if you trust him he will lead you to a great place. Though trial and travails abound around every bend of this trail, he brings you forward with clarity of purpose, concise language, and engaging drama that keep you reading possibly skipping a couple of sentence in the hope to reveal Coulter coming over the hills, Jaimie making it back alive, and many other hopes achieved throughout. A glorious read and a treasure of American fiction that illuminate a fascinating time in the American tapestry.