Friday, December 28, 2007

holiday reading - so far so good

Although I haven't read all that much this holiday, what I have read is excellent. Finished Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars before Christmas, and I am still thinking about that novel's ending. I don't want to give anything away, but the main character Rose is as infuriating as she is intriguing. She's a deeply flawed character but one who is also burdened by the conventional expectations for women living in the 1960s. For this reason even when she is absolutely exasperating she still draws the reader's sympathy. The ending has made me think of a conversation I had with Patchett about the themes she explores in her work. She agreed that she seems to return to the idea of finding home by another way. I hadn't finished The Patron Saint of Liars when I asked her about this, but now I see how true this is for the main character Rose. "Another way" is the only way for her.

The book I am MOST excited about is, coincidentally, also about finding home by another way. I am really into memoirs at the moment, and this is no ordinary memoir. See You in a Hundred Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America is Vanderbilt alum Logan Ward's story of how he, his wife, and their two-year-old son left a successful albeit soulless existence in New York City and settled on a farm outside of Staunton, Virginia. In doing so they also deliberately left behind the twenty-first century, foregoing all amenities and necessities that would have been invented after the year 1900. I loved this book for several reasons, but primarily because Logan is an honest and self-deprecating narrator. This year on the farm is one of utter humility. He is spooked by the horse on which he is entirely dependent for transportation; he is equally at the mercy of the rain that refuses to fall for several months; and he admits that it is difficult and ultimately necessary to ask for help from neighbors who must think their project is slightly bizarre. I would wager that it would be a page-turner for anyone familiar with the New York life that he abandons or the area of the country in which he chooses to settle.

Oh my goodness I just realized I accidentally skipped two entire chapters! Off to read more of the good stuff. Ironies abound in the Wards' project, but so do tiny miracles. Absolutely worth reading, and fun reading, too.

Here's a link to Logan Ward's home page so that you can read an excerpt and buy the book: See You in a Hundred Years.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Read Matrimony by Joshua Henkin yesterday. It has a good cover. And that is all I have to say at the moment.

Okay, two days later, having mulled sufficiently, I now have a little more to say. Here go's:

I can’t say that I didn’t like the novel. I finished it in surprisingly little time. I was pretty interested in the choices the characters made, and I wanted to know how things would end up for them. That being said, there was no zinger for me. No moment where I thought to myself, “this is pure truth, even if it is fiction." No glimmer, no recognition, nothing. Just steady as she goes. Really precise prose. Beautiful characters, and when I say beautiful I mean not a dog in the bunch. And maybe that’s a metaphor for my relationship to this book. All the rough edges were polished away. Nothing stuck. This brings me to my real problem: I can’t think of a single person to whom I would give this book. And this bugs me to no end, because I bought it new and in hardback! Mistake. Normally I would send it on to elena or anne, but I think either might be insulted if I did so.

There are better things out there to read, so go forth and read them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

When not reading this holiday...

I'm definitely going to see Lauren Ambrose in the new film Starting Out in the Evening. The review makes it sound so wonderful that there is very little hope of it ever coming to Nashville. But maybe, just maybe, it will be at the independent theater in my hometown. Here's the link: Starting Out in the Evening: A Scholarly May and a Literary December Meet in a New York Autumn"

Friday, December 14, 2007

"We read to know we are not alone"

I've been thinking about this idea since Ann Patchett's visit to my school on Monday. In advocating for the writing life, she stressed the necessity of solitude. Yet she qualified this by saying that she is never alone when she is reading. She also never watches television in order to make time for reading and writing. I haven't turned on the television in ages either, but ostensibly for no such admirable reason. Largely because the Gilmore Girls went off the air and Rashad McCants no longer plays for UNC. But I did yesterday, and I heard Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis announce to my living room, "We read to know we are not alone." I hadn't seen Shadowlands in almost a decade, and as much as I loved it when I was younger, I don't know that I could sit through the sadness of it again. Still, I am going to make myself one of these days because there is no way that I understood the profound nature of Lewis's ideas back then. I got the love story part, that's for sure. But yesterday, I was mesmerized listening to him talk about prayer. A colleague, who recently learned that Lewis's companion was in remission from cancer, says to him, "This is what you've been praying for" and something about God answering him. Lewis says candidly to him, "That is not why I pray. I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because it just flows out of me. My prayer doesn't change God, it changes me." Yep, this one is going in the Netflix queue.

So back to Patchett. She described her characters and story ideas as "living" in her head. She drives around town with these people and ideas, eats meals with them, and basically feels their constant presence as they take shape in the form of a novel. This reminded me so much of graduate school and living 24/7 with paper ideas. I would go running with paper and pen in hand because sometimes the ideas clicked when I was furthest away from my computer. (BTW, I did thank her for Truth & Beauty and said that it really spoke to my grad school experience. It was clear upon uttering this fervent gratitude that I was the one millionth unoriginal person to do so.) I guess the thing that struck me the most about her visit was the way she talked about the desire to write. She said that you know you are a writer if you can't quit the habit. I know what she means. I do not aspire to be a novelist, but I get ancy if I haven't blogged in awhile. If I'm lacking ideas. If I haven't read a good book recently. When I first moved to Nashville and away from grad school, I experienced the oddest sensation that I could not identify for some time. I would feel unsettled for what seemed like no reason in the world. After looking around my house, thinking about teaching, taking a run, it would finally hit me. I desperately needed to read. The second I opened a book I would feel like a cloud had lifted. I'm better able to identify this feeling now, but it still makes me laugh. It's the strangest craving.

I'm in the middle of The Patron Saint of Liars now and cannot believe I waited this long to read it. I am also going to take this opportunity to highly, highly recommend getting David Sedaris's Holiday on Ice, but on audiobook. I laughed so hard listening to him read about being a Macy's elf that I almost wrecked the car. Good dysfunctional family stuff, and it's the perfect time of year for it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Raisin in the Sun

Three days until finals - thank goodness. We just wrapped up Lorraine's Hansberry's 1958 play A Raisin in the Sun in my freshman English class today. This is a work I love more every time that I read it, even though I can acknowledge that it is a little dated. Favorite lines? Probably right after the Youngers have lost all the insurance money to Walter's scamming friends. Beneatha, his sister, is disgusted with Walter because he is so fixated on the money that he plans to sell back their new house to the Clybourne Park Neighborhood Association. His way of recuping the money is to acknowledge this racist organization and their desire to have their white neighborhood just the way they want it.

Beneatha: I said that that individual in that room is no brother of mine.

Mama: That's what I thought you said. You feeling like you better than he is today? (Beneatha does not answer) Yes? What you tell him a minute ago? That he wasn't a man? Yes? You give him up for me? You done wrote his epitaph too - like the rest of the world? Well, who give you the privilege?

Beneatha: Be on my side for once! You saw what he just did, Mama! You saw him - down on his knees. Wasn't it you who taught me to despise any man who would do that? Do what he's going to do?

Mama: Yes - I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too ... I thought I taught you to love him.

Beneatha: Love him? There is nothing left to love.

Mama: There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing (Looking at her) Have you cried for that boy today? I don't mean for yourself and for the family 'cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning - because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.

These lines will never be old and dated, which is a reason to keep teaching this wonderful play.