Something Good from the Throne

I'm still slowly picking my way through The Best American Essays of 2004, and I came across this too good to pass up piece of writing this morning. So far, my favorite essay hands down has been the Oliver Sacks piece on neurological changes especially in regard to blindness (entitled "The Mind's Eye"). It took me forever to get through, but it made me look forward to visiting the bathroom. Now I'm in an essay by Luc Sante called "My Lost City" about NYC and its gradual deconstruction. It's interesting, but hasn't captivated me entirely. This paragraph, however, made me pause.

When the blackout happened, on the evening of July 13, 1977, it briefly seemed as though the hour of reckoning had arrived, when all those outsiders would seize control. Naturally, no such thing occurred. The outsiders seized televisions and toaster ovens and three-piece suits and standing rib roasts and quarts of Old Mr. Boston and cartons of Newports and perhaps sectional sofas, but few would have known what to do with the levers of society had they been presented in a velvet-lined box. But then, my friends and I wouldn't have known, either. For all the obvious differences between the SRO dwellers and ourselves, we were alike in our disconnection from any but the most parochial idea of community. In the end, the mob dissolved like a fist when you open your hand, and the benches on the Broadway traffic islands were repopulated by loungers occasionally pulling down a bottle hanging by a string from a leaf-enshrouded tree branch overhead. (250-251)

That's good stuff.


DogEared Pages of The Book Thief

This narrative voice is so unique. I love it. Some more examples of genius:

The moon was undone now, free to move and rise and fall and drip on the boy's face, making him nice and murky, like his thoughts. (60)

In translation, two giant words were struggled with, carried on her shoulder, and dropped as a bungling pair at Ilsa Hermann's feet. They fell off sideways as the girl veered with them and could no longer sustain their weight. Together, they sat on the floor, large and loud and clumsy.
***TWO GIANT WORDS*** I'm Sorry. (146)

I love death's statement about young men in war:

I've seen many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men. They are not. They're running at me. (174-175)

I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.
There are many things to think of.
There is much story.

Undeniably, this book is one of the finest pieces of writing I've read since I retackled Song of Solomon this past semester. I am thoroughly engrossed in the "machinations that wheel us there." Thoroughly impressed and moved.


Finished The Shack . . . Started The Book Thief

So, I finished The Shack last night, and I continued to be mostly unimpressed with it, much to the dismay of many of my friends and colleagues. Truth be told, there were several learning moments that were worthy of further thought and introspection, and I am glad to have had the chance to think about God in those ways for a brief bit. However, I remained put off by the feeling that Young was convinced he had all the answers, and he used this character Mack's seeking as a tool to spout off those answers - to teach us, as it were. The whole book was lacking in plot, character development, and direction and overloaded with poorly written didactic lecture. I basically just could not sympathize with the characters because they were so thinly drawn, and the plot was not strong enough to keep it driving. That said, I will restate that Young did offer quite a few thoughtful points, and I am glad to have encountered them.

Now, I'm just 37 pages into The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and I am already thrilled. I had to reread the prologue to really settle myself into this narrative device and style, and now I am reveling in the use of word, the subtle descriptions, the uncanny and skillful writing that has captivated me from the start. A few small examples:

I was just about to leave when I found her kneeling there.
A mountain range of rubble was written, designed, erected around her. She was clutching a book.

If you can't imagine it, think clumsy silence. Think bits and pieces of floating despair. And drowning in a train. (21)

When the train pulled into the Bahnhof in Munich, the passengers slid out as if from a torn package. (25)

The buildings appear to be glued together, mostly small houses and apartment blocks that look nervous. There is murky snow spread out like carpet. There is concrete, empty hat-stand trees, and gray air. (27)

Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon. (30)

Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children. (37)

I won't do this for every 37 pages, but - wow - I am without breath at how unique and strong and fine this writing is.

Thank you, Tim Chakwin, for making this your summer reading last year and bringing it to my attention.


The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Besides the obvious annoyance factor of the abbreviated first name on the front cover, I am giving The Shack the benefit of the doubt. Joel (and everyone else who has recommended it to me) loved it. I've heard a few detractions, but I'm willing to see where it takes me. The language is adolescent - at times, simplistic; at others, completely overwrought. The concept is interesting though, and I'm willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to see where he's taking us. So, we'll see. I do find it off-putting that Papa speaks in slang at times ("We is all that you get" or "Yup, I'll be keeping my eye on 'em") and at others, drops total intellectualism ("Inside that confluence of multifaceted inhibitors, what is freedom really?") The inconsistency is distracting.



Of Human Bondage has just been closed, and I really enjoyed it. It was thoughtful, the language was strong, and I appreciated the journey - even though it was tiresome at times. As well it should be - the story of a man's becoming shouldn't be tossed off in a mere few lines, right? Many times, I couldn't sympathize or even comprehend the feelings or actions of Philip (need I say more than Mildred?), but I always appreciated his honest appraisal of a situation, and the narrator's voice was a consistently trustworthy guide. I have to admit to liking the happy ending and to being truly worried about how Philip's financial woes would be resolved. The ending seemed rather hurried, though. In particular, I didn't understand how we could watch him embark on this relationship with Sally and never have a conversation about their age difference (she, 19, he, 30) and never hear what her parents (his dear friends) thought of the situation. Overall, though, a fine work. I'm thrilled to add this one to the "Have Read" pile.

What's next? I must go peruse the shelves.


Of Human Bondage

The good news is I read over 40 pages of OHB today . . . during daylight hours . . . while the children were playing. The bad news is there is still a lot to read on this one. Because it is an old book with great thin pages, I continue to forget that it is 760 pages long. That's no brief jaunt. I loved this moment where Philip struggles with some greater truths. It's like he grew up today:

He saw what looked like the truth as by flashes of lightning on a dark, stormy night you might see a mountain range. He seemed to see that a man need not leave his life to chance, but that his will was powerful; he seemed to see that self-control might be as passionate and as active as the surrender to passion; he seemed to see that the inward life might be as manifold, as varied, as rich with experience, as the life of one who conquered realms and explored unknown lands. (545)


Full-fledged Neglect

Since we returned from vacation and launched ourselves into the housework, I've not been reading much nor recording anything from my reading. I'm still enjoying OHB, and I think I'm close to getting it done. I went to McKay today with two bags full of books and came out with three more novels and two children's books. What am I thinking? The pile of To-Be-Reads just keeps growing - it is an unstoppable force, I'm afraid. The upside is that one of the McKay purchases is one I read many years ago and just wanted in my library (Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier), and you really can't beat 75 cents, can you?


Bondage, Really?

I'm starting to really enjoy Of Human Bondage (see link below). There is some fine writing, and I continue to be amused by the character and his occasional witticisms. There have also been some thoughtful conversations transcribed that I feel I benefitted from as much as the characters must have. I love this wrenching description of a party scene; it feels so relevant.

They danced furiously. They danced round the room, slowly, talking very little, with all their attention given to the dance. . . . The air was heavy with the musty smell of humanity. But they danced furiously as though impelled by some strange power within them, and it seemed to Philip that they were driven forward by a rage for enjoyment. They were seeking desperately to escape from a world of horror. The desire for pleasure which Cronshaw said was the only motive of human action urged them blindly on, and the very vehemence of the desire seemed to rob it of all pleasure. (293)

I've just gotten to where Philip (and the reader) are introduced to Mildred. I had to chuckle at the wry humor of Maugham when, after Philip secures a date with the frustrating Mildred, we read "Philip was vaguely irritated" (338). Hilarious.


Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Myers

Finished the last of this troublesome series today (Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Myers) this afternoon after the frenzy of reading the beach allows. And I have to admit that I actually kind of enjoyed it. I was ready to completely hate it (my highly literate friend refused to finish in protest), but I was taken in by a few strong elements. A few decisions were terrible - writing in Jacob's voice, Renesmee's name, and others. But some were good. Even though I didn't like her poor attempt to write in Jacob's voice, I really appreciated the extended immersion into the pack dynamic. The storyline worked quite well here. I also like the development of the pregnancy and Bella's character through the process. Like many women, she gained strength as her baby grew, and her character took on greater depth and dimension, I thought. I still find it disturbing that her great strength (or any vampire's, for that matter) must be accompanied by "super-model" beauty. But there were some areas where Myers countered my major concern over all the times Edward simply overpowered Bella physically.

Overall, it was entertaining although not terribly thought-provoking. But I must at least comment on the ridiculous naming of their daughter. Renesmee Carlie (each a blend of the grandparents' names: Renee, Esme, Carlisle, Charlie). Had I chosen this route for our daughter, her name would have been Brendalene Waydean. I'm still actually laughing out loud at this idea.

So, back to Of Human Bondage. Back to thinking.