The Barracks Thief

The Barracks Thief by Tobias Wolff is a slim, little novel that I apparently picked up from one of the boys' discard piles here at McCallie. It is underlined with abandon and without rhyme or reason. In fact, I think I will probably go through and erase it before placing it on my shelf - only possible because it is such a small volume (only 101 pages).

I can't say that it moved me to much thought or analysis, but I do think it was an interesting and intense look at these characters and this time. I also think it was probably a decent choice for a high school course - it is an easy read, short, but not lacking in depth.

Overall, a positive taste of Wolff.


Finished Bucking the Sun

I stayed up too late to finish Bucking the Sun tonight. Once I got close, I had to finish it out if for no other reason to hear the solution to this uncertainty that has developed over so many pages. And though some of the detached, separated scenes were a bit confusing, I was impressed overall with the subtle characterization and the beautiful use of language.

So good. I love a good book. I really do. And though the mysterious relationship was rather plain to me, I was thrilled by the surprise of who was actually in the truck at the end. A good twist. Better, though, is the writing.

We're here right now: Some certain morning, August freshly onto the calendar and the sun-count ever so slightly farther from solstice and toward equinox, you step into the day and the air carries the first minty trace of a turning season. Only a hint, cool and astringent and brief, then the summer sun asserts itself. But from then on, you can never quite put it out of your mind that autumn has been heard from. (101)

The communist in me likes this: But those who put their hands to the work ought to own that work, Owen. That's flat basic. That's the meaning of the movement" (367).


New Toilet Reading Required

So, I finished The Best American Essays of 2004 today, and I was sad to see it come to an end. But, because I have enjoyed this collection so much, I've decided that I want to make it a regular purchase each year, so now I just have to catch up a few years to be current. The last essay("An Enlarged Heart") in the collection rocked me rather substantially, not inconsequentially because it is author Cynthia Zarin's recounting of her 3-year-old daughter's battle with Kawasaki disease. I loved her tone, her honesty, her structure to the whole piece. It is good.

Besides the forceful ending with the mouse, my favorite bit is this:

As I listen, I think, This is what growing old is. We think we will learn Sanskrit, learn Greek. Instead, what we learn is more than we ever wanted to know about things we wish we'd never heard of. I think only, You cannot fall apart. (299)

Too, too good.


The Known World by Edward P. Jones

As I sat before my bookshelf this afternoon, I was struck by an omission on this chronicle: I read The Known World by Edward P. Jones back in April (I remember reading it during the Conference on Southern Writers and feeling conspicuous). I had just completely forgotten about it until I saw it tucked at the end of the shelf there, leaning against Joyce's Dubliners. (And if you didn't already know I alphabetized my shelves by author's last name . . . well, you just don't know me very well.)

I can't provide specifics like quotes or particularly poignant moments, but I can remark on how fine I thought the book was. Jones definitely earned his Pulitzer through dint of his extraordinary research, vision, voice, and characterization. In fact, I might wager to say it has earned the right to lean against Joyce. I'm sure there are others who would wildly disagree, but Jones impressed me, and I was captivated by this work.


A Taste of BTS

I like this:

Then she met Owen, and learned what a dare really meant. The geography of another person, that was where you went blindfolded and raw and in over your head. (30)

And this:

Pair of unfolding kids, they'd been then, and while in a sense he knew each of them from the ground up - Neil who always watched his way as if he were on stilts, Bruce built on springs - Owen worried a bit that they were not ready for Glasgow and Fort Peck. (33)

I really like the way Doig builds his sentences and layers in so many tasty bits. Quite a bit like fine, nuanced cooking, actually.

Long Time Coming

I've been away (still am, actually) and just now am getting around to updating the last few weeks of reading I've done. So, this entry will be a bit abbreviated, but it will get the job done.

I read Saul Bellow's novella A Theft a few days ago, and I must admit to not liking it much at all. Thinking back over it, I must concede a few points. The ideas are excellent here; I'm just not sure the execution is everything it should or could be. It feels disjointed to me, even though it comes entirely from the mind/experience of the protagonist, Clara Velde. I do wonder if the short form hindered the development of what could have been a finely crafted piece. Still, it gives me a taste of Bellow to compare the other, more famous and revered, works of his that I plan to wade into soon. Each character had the hints of great things, but it wasn't enough to let me really know them. Conversely, had the thing been edited into a true short story (as apparently several magazine editors urged Bellow to do before he gave up and published it directly to trade paperback), it could have gathered up that fantastic terseness and intensity that only the short story can accomplish. In between, it does too little or too much depending on where you stand.

After that, I grabbed from Tom and Dee's shelf The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs. I've been wanting to read this one for some time, so I took advantage of its convenient proximity and dived right in. It did make me laugh out loud at points, and I appreciated Jacobs wry commentary on some of the stranger bits of religious histories and practices. A fun and intelligent read.

Now, I am beginning Ivan Doig's Bucking the Sun. Doig is the author that Scott has recommended so highly to me, so I'm looking forward to talking this one up with him tomorrow when we see him. So far, though I am just a small handful of pages in, I am enjoying the language, the characters, and the story immensely. It seems to be a very complete work. In fact, as naptime is approaching, I can hopefully make some more headway soon.