4.21.2010

Surrender

I had to give up.  It's the end of the semester; I've been enduring bad writing for months.  And it's not that Bringing Down the Mountains was such bad writing, but I could not commit to reading someone's not-so-finely-crafted dissertation at this point in my life.  I will return to it and the others that beckon me from the stacks, but right now, I need a departure from career reading.  So, Salman Rushdie has rushed in to fill the void; he's handy that way.  The Moor's Last Sigh has been on my TBR shelf for awhile, and Rushdie has long been one of my favorites, so I expect great things.  Of course, trying to tease out this dense opening while watching the boy at the playground was close to impossible, but the narrative is starting to gel for me.  After the aforementioned failed attempt, this love affair with language is exactly what I needed.  An example:
                 Now, therefore, it is meet to sing of endings; of what was, and 
                 may be no longer; of what was right in it, and wrong.  A last sigh
                  for a lost world, a tear for its passing.  Also, however, a last
                 hurrah, a final, scandalous skein of shaggy-dog yarns (words must
                 suffice, video facility being unavailable) and a set of rowdy tunes
                  for the wake.  A Moor's tale, complete with sound and fury.  You
                 want?  Well, even if you don't.  And to begin with, pass the pepper. (4)
This beauty occurs on the second page.  The Moor, Moraes Zogoiby, is still a character in shadowy grays, but the reader already yearns to know him, to sit beside him while he speaks such curiosities.

4.14.2010

Crunch Time

It's the end of the semester, and the books I checked out in January that have been languishing on my desk since then are coming due next week.  When the woman marked the April 20th due date, I remember actually laughing and saying, "Oh, I'm sure I'll have them back before then." 

Ha.

Turns out, the semester actually gets in the way of little things like reading.  But I did finish the Carver collection tonight, and though I was seduced by some of the TBRs, I had to make the responsible decision and go with the first of two soon-to-be-overdue non-fiction books on coal extraction in Appalachia.  Shirley Stewart Burns' Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities is the choice.  Try to calm yourself and form an orderly line.  I cannot easily accommodate the kind of clamor that is sure to arise from such an in-demand read.  

After being so enraged (again!) over the Upper Big Branch mine explosion last week, (and teaching Storming Heaven once again), I have been wanting to reconnect with this arena of my research.  Also, one of the professors I most admire provided a favorable review of this book, so I'm looking forward to learning from the author's first-hand experience.  There is still a part of me, though, that wishes for my own first-hand journalistic experience with this time and place.  Maybe it will still come.

4.13.2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Carver

I must admit to being skeptical when I began this collection.  The first two stories were so lean I had trouble imagining the great heights to which these tales would supposedly soar.  I thought the reviews must have been born of the freshness of his voice rather than some enduring quality still recognizable these years later.  Boy, was I wrong.  The strength of these stories is cumulative.  Each taken on its own might not in fact pack the whollop the collection manages together.  They build, stacking transgression upon transgression, layering quiet intricacies within each spare description, compelling you forward.  You do not want to stop.  You must stop, though, between each one to breathe for a moment.  To consider what Carver is doing.  To ask yourself the difficult questions: Did Scotty die, or did the bakery simply call back about the cake?  Could I fall into an affair with a stranger so easily?  Does it matter if Stuart killed that girl, or is it enough to have simply ignored her lifeless body as he ignores his wife's lifeless spirit every day?

I made myself put the book down last night, but I felt I could probably consume the rest of it in a moment.  So, maybe that moment is now. 

4.08.2010

Books and Reviews

I decided to purge myself of the non-fiction for a time and chose Raymond Carver's acclaimed short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories.  I have read his "Where I'm Calling From" as part of the Best American Short Stories of the Century text that I teach from but notably chose not to include him on the syllabus.  I'm interested to see where this collection carries my view of him.  The first stories (I read 2 last night) are rather remarkable in their way.  I agree with the Amazon reviewer that commented on the inimitable first lines of Carver.  I mean, seriously: A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house (11).  That there takes some chutzpah. 

Perhaps more remarkable are the reviews excerpted in the front.  Sometimes, I think the writing is better in the review than in the book reviewed.  Here's an example from reviewer Denis Donoghue:
In Raymond Carver's stories, it is dangerous even to speak.  Conversation completes the damage people have already done to one another in silence. 

Or this from Stanley Elkin (another one in the text but not in the syllabus): They're real as discount stores, time clocks, the franchises in small towns, bad marriages.  His rumpled men and ragged women will break your heart. 

You could argue, I suppose, that their writing is inspired and improved by Carver's. You must also recognize their own great gifts in the field.  Either way, I just hope the book measures up.

4.07.2010

A Complete Meal

I finished The Omnivore's Dilemma last night after several nights of reading 2 pages and crashing. And as I suspected, it has definitely managed to complicate life further than I'm sure I wanted it to.  No, I'm always glad for the eye-opening, the enlightening.  And Pollan does an excellent job of telling a full story rather than just one side.  It is clear to me, though, the only choice Pollan is espousing and the only choice for me to support as well: more local, organic, relational eating.

In comparing his McDonald's drive-thru meal to his self-gathered, killed, foraged, or grown "slow-food" meal, he writes:
The pleasures of the one are based on a nearly perfect knowledge; the pleasures of the other on an equally perfect ignorance. (410)

I have always been someone who embraces knowledge and tries to overcome ignorance in myself and in others when possible.  This knowledge does require a different kind of awareness and intention in our food choices, and I am pleased that we have the options we do.  I'm excited about the CSA partnership we got involved with this spring; I continue to love what Dad does on the farm.  We'll just keep thinking and growing our knowledge and hope that the knowledge continues to spread through the vast array of ignorance that persists out there.