decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
On Sunday night, I left my writing workshop and walked a block or two in the same direction as Sara. We talked about the weather--a cliché maybe, but there had been a change, recent and real. She said to me, "I think this is the first year when I can remember the seasons changing exactly when they were supposed to. Everyone talked about the equinox, the last day of summer, and just like that, fall was here."

Later that night, I was at home getting ready for bed when I heard a flock of geese fly over the house. One of my favorite sounds of fall. I didn't get outside in time to see them, but that's alright. It was dark anyway, and I can remember enough other times when I've watched them in their wavering lines, heading south.


A few recent books:

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: A short, lyrical novel about Japanese women who emigrated to American between the wars as, essentially, mail-order brides for Japanese men who were already living and working here. Otsuka has an excellent eye for detail, but she makes one very strange choice: the whole book is narrated in the first person plural. "We came from this village and that town; we married a migrant worker, a servant, a farmer; we worked in restaurants, as lady's maids, and in the fields." I can understand the impulse to capture the variety of experiences had by these women, the full spectrum of good and bad, rather than suggesting that any single narrative could be definitive. And, like I said, Otsuka's eye for detail is good--she has an impressive ability to pinpoint little telling specificities that bring life to her broad spectrum. But the plural point of view means there are no real characters. There is no one woman whose life can be traced from beginning to end. For me, this flattened the book, reduced my interest, and robbed the story of a lot of potential power.

I Sing the Body Electric! by Ray Bradbury: Last year, I helped one of the high school students I tutor with his work on Fahrenheit 451. I hadn't read any Ray Bradbury since the same book had been assigned to me in my own high school English class. I remembered that I had liked it well enough when I was 14, but as I worked on it with my student, I was surprised by how good it really was. Not just an interesting story, but nice sentences too. So I decided I should read more Bradbury as an adult, and when I saw this story collection at the library I grabbed it. And, sad to say, ended up a bit disappointed. Any collection of 18 stories is going to be a bit uneven, but I didn't find any of the stories here to be particularly memorable. And the prose did not sing in the way the prose in Fahrenheit 451 did. Oh well. I did like the stories better the longer they were, so perhaps this is just a case where Bradbury is better as a novelist than a writer of short fiction.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton: I first this book nearly fifteen years ago. My memory is that I didn't like it at first (mostly due to Paton's prose style), but that by the end of the book I was blown away. Yet, when I look back at my ancient LJ-post about it, that doesn't seem to be the case. So it is a book that has grown in memory over the years between reading and re-reading. (I think it helps that I've read Nadine Gordimer since then--the literature of South Africa, the literature of apartheid--it always helps to have more pieces to put together.) Now that I've read Cry, the Beloved Country again, I think my memory was correcting for the flaws in that initial assessment. It really is a very good book. Maybe not perfect, but very moving. It is the story of an elderly black parson in rural South Africa who gets word that his son is going astray in Johannesburg. He goes to the city to try to find his son, but arrives too late to prevent him from committing a terrible crime. Things become quite dark, but eventually the beginnings of something good are built out of desolation. Paton hops around in perspective, sometimes staying close to one character or another, sometimes pulling back to a very panoramic sort of omniscience. He throws all sorts of things into the story and they don't always cohere, but he always returns to the simple and powerful story of the father and son, the crime and its aftermath. And there can be no doubt that Paton wrote the novel with real feeling--that emotion resonates everywhere in the book.
decemberthirty: (lake)
Finished Cry, the Beloved Country yesterday. I was right, it was very worthwhile to read. It's not a book that you should read because you expect a great deal of pleasure from it, nor is it a particularly amazing literary masterpiece. It is, however, an excellent depiction of a particular place and time, and a heart-rending glimpse into the human consequences of political decisions. (Do you hear that, Bush, Cheney and crew? Political decision have human consequences!) Yes, definitely worthwhile.

And now I've got to figure out what to read next...
decemberthirty: (crane face)
Obviously the holiday season is not the best time of year for this journal. I'm too busy to do much reading and I'm too busy to do much posting, so the journal tends to suffer. Oh well, I've only got a week and a half left of work before Christmas break, and then I should have plenty of time to read and do whatever else I want...

Anyhow, I'm almost done with Cry, the Beloved Country. I'm impressed with the way in which Alan Paton has gradually built up intensity over the course of the novel, bringing it to the point where even the slightest details are full of meaning and emotion. I think that's why the beginning of the book seemed a little slow and stilted. I wasn't yet attuned to the subtleties of his tone and the weight carried by single words and images. Very impressive.
decemberthirty: (full crane)
Still working on Cry, the Beloved Country. I'm finding it very interesting. I always knew about apartheid in South Africa, but I was fairly young when it ended, and never really grasped the full extent of what it meant and the way it affected every aspect of life there. So it's fascinating to read this book that details some of what every day life was like during that time period. Even if I don't wind up loving it, I think it will have been worthwhile to read.
decemberthirty: (Default)
I took a personal day yesterday to supplement the time I had off for Thanksgiving, which resulted in me having a five-day weekend. I decided to take a complete mental vacation from my everyday life (including this journal) and to spend that time doing nothing but relaxing and enjoying spending time with my family. In retrospect, this was an excellent decision.

Now, however, I'm back... I finished All the Pretty Horses awhile ago, and it was excellent. I was very impressed with the way in which Cormac McCarthy handled his theme of the loss of innocence. Nothing was overtly stated; instead he related the events that happened and the reactions of the characters to those events, and let the gradual and subtle changes in the characters convey the theme for him. I hardly even noticed the innocence that was being lost until I got about three-quarters of the way through the book and looked back at the beginning and realized how different things were. I imagine that this replicates the experience of losing one's innocence--not only did I not realize how much John Grady was changing, I suspect that John Grady didn't really realize the extent of the changes as they were happening. The fact that certain aspects of his nature remained true throughout his experiences speaks to his own strength of character and conviction. Sigh. You can always tell that I liked a book if I'm taking about the characters as if they're real people. All the Pretty Horses was that kind of book for me. I don't know yet whether or not I want to read the rest of the trilogy of which this book is part. It seems to be a very complete work in and of itself, and I tend not to like it when authors don't know when to stop and try to add on to a story that should have ended. Also, I absolutely cannot imagine where McCarthy would go from here... I don't want to simply read "The Continuing Adventures of John Grady Cole," and I'm afraid that that's what the remaining two books would be. I only want to read them if they have something of their own to say. No way to tell that without going ahead and reading though, so I may have to seek them out.

Anyhow, since finishing All the Pretty Horses, I've been reading Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It's interesting because parts of it are absolutely beautifully written, but in other parts I'm finding the style to be quite off-putting. I'm not really sure that I like Paton's continual use of repetition. Sometimes he uses it to great effect and the result is very powerful and moving, but at other times it seems to be merely a gimmick. Also, I initially found the dialogue to be stilted in the extreme, but I seem to have gotten used to it, and it now only seems a little bit stilted. We'll see if it gets any better than that.

Outside of those stylistic complaints, however, it looks like it's going to be a good book. I'm already engrossed in the story line, and can't wait to see what will happen next. That's usually a good sign...
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