Books

Nov. 7th, 2013 04:37 pm
decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
A wet and grey afternoon in the middle of a week that has been busier and more stressful than anticipated. But now I am home from running errands in the rain and wind, and I'm going to make a cup of tea and tell you about some books.

I. "The Great Plain Drinks the Blood of Christian Men and Is Satisfied"

It's been over a week since I finished Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rölvaag, and I still don't quite know what to make of it. The books is centered around Per Hansa and his wife Beret, a pair of Norwegian immigrants who travel from Minnesota to settle in the Dakota Territory. Per Hansa is ideally suited to life on the prairie--he's hard-working, optimistic, and neighborly. But Beret struggles with their new life. She feels isolated, hates the endless unbroken prairie around her, and turns to strange forms of religious fanaticism to comfort her in her misery. There is much that's interesting in the book, from Rölvaag's detailed accounts of daily life in the Dakotas in the late 19th century to his sensitive depiction of Beret's unhappiness, but somehow the book never came together into a compelling whole for me. A few great set pieces, lots of interesting historical detail, but no real emotional resonance. And I hated the ending. Really hated. I can't think of the last time a book's final ten pages had such a negative impact on my opinion of the whole work.

One interesting fact about Giants in the Earth: despite the fact that it's set in the United States and tells what seems to be a quintessentially American story of settling the Great Plains, Rölvaag wrote the book in Norwegian and it was originally published in Norway. Only later was it translated into English so it could be read in the US.

II. "...and the button, too, there, still, only not where I am."

Still dipping my toe occasionally into the cool, eddying waters of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Still enjoying my intermittent immersions in Davis's meticulous prose and quirky thinking. I've been thinking too about how fortunate I am to have had the chance to hear her read on two occasions. She is a fantastic reader of her own work, and I find myself trying to hear these stories in her voice when I read them.

III. "...all the years of decline and renewal..."

I've started reading Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, a book that has been sitting on my to-read shelf for years. It's interesting to finally read it, because I'm realizing how little I knew about it. I had no idea, for instance, that it was such a Californian novel (though I'm well aware that Stegner's famous fellowship is at Stanford, so I don't know why that came as a surprise). For some reason I also imagined that it was a difficult book, but I've found the first 80 pages to be accessible and engaging. The book seems to be starting somewhat slowly and I wasn't sure at first that I liked Stegner's narrator, but I'm warming up to him now. Plus, the book is about one of my favorite themes: family history, and the things we know and those we will never know about the people who came before us. I think I'll like it.
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