- A Guide To Gaskell Around the Web at Jane Austen Today
- An Appreciation of the BBC Gaskell Adaptations, the best evah, at Enchanted Serenity
- Elizabeth Gaskell as seen through the words of Charlotte Bronte at Bronte-Blog
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
- Wuthering Heights Stars Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley Are Engaged: SQUEEE!
- Numero Cinq is a new lit-blog from VCFA folks that is well worth blogrolling.
- Jacket Copy on Banned Books Week.
- Thomas Steinbeck on Michael Moore Winning the Steinbeck Award
- The AP Interviews 'Hunger Games' Author Suzanne Collins
- Jennifer Weiner's post-Franzenfreude manifesto
- Masterpiece returns! Jezebel on Brit period-drama adoration.
Perhaps my favorite was the simple early story in the collection "My First Goose" in which the narrator kills a goose so that the soldiers he's accompanying will see him as one of them, a plan that works, but he sleeps that night "with the crimson hands of a murderer." To me it sets the tone for the rest of the stories and gets to the heart of the underlying question: why is this thinking Jewish guy palling around with Cossacks who slaughter his people, and at what personal price? I felt that the stories, even the simple two paragraph ones, had a wonderful tension between his intellectual, philosophical side and the battle-lust and admiration for his fellow warriors he reveals at the end of "Kombrig 2" when he sees the general riding by after a big, presumably bloody victory and just thinks it’s marvelous. This is also mirrored by the juxtaposition of his short descriptions of nature which are lush and reverent and the carnage that either precedes or follows such descriptions.
I'll admit that I also spent a chunk of time--this is the journalist in me--reading about Babel's life and work, which have a lot of interest for me since all eight of my great-grandparents were Russian/Polish/Lithuanian Jews who emigrated here in part because of the Cossacks. Babel's biography struck me as being very mysterious and elliptical, rather like his stories-you began to get the sense of a man who intentionally blurred his real and fictional identities and created a persona for himself somewhere in between embracing and rejecting his heritage.
Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."
Re-reading the title story produced a strong, almost visceral recollection of the first time I read it, in high school English of course. I didn't remember it as I began re-reading it, and then when I saw the word "Misfit" it all came back to me. These stories are so effectively disturbing and difficult to remove from one's mind. It’s really a wonderful example of an author “going there”—being brutal and merciless in a beautiful way. The images she creates are quite unforgettable: the dead grandfather sitting on stage with his eyes and mouth open, the mentally-disturbed daughter being left in the diner on her wedding day by the husband who has patiently wooed her so he can get her car, the Catholic schoolgirls whispering in the dark overheard by their creepily precocious young cousin. I loved “A Stroke of Good Fortune” because it had this great demonic pregnancy subtext and the vividness of the protagonist's struggle to get up and down the stair to her apartment was so complete and portentous—you could hear the stairs creaking, see the nosy neighbors, feel the wheezing breath and swollen ankles.
The one mistake I made was being overly curious and then going online and reading too much about the religious subtext of the stories. Because I'm a bitter atheist I found myself getting a bit mad at poor Flannery, who was so, so brilliant but very religiously warped.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Good morning! Happy holidays to all my readers who celebrate.
Saturday, September 04, 2010
"Male genius has far outnumbered female genius in the history of literature, and it shouldn't be a crime to say so. This issue will die when women produce more and more work of indisputable genius and, until then, we need to stop championing mediocre female work out of defensiveness, stop firing spitballs at male work and stop dissolving the line between high art and pop art.”
-A young female member of the literati in response to Franzenfreude.
Ugh. This kind of thing annoys me so much. Franzenfreude has gotten me thinking a lot about why I read and why in recent years I've been so angry about the hierarchy imposed by "literary fiction" on other genres, and the way it's connected to sexism. (Male genius has outnumbered female genius? REELY? Has someone not read her feminist lit-crit or a little book about how ladies kinda need rooms of their own to get scribbling?)
I started this blog a long time ago to discuss my love of literature in a snob-free context--thus its original "unpretentious lit crit" URL. I did this because I was ashamed of my own previous closed-mindedness, the way I'd wrinkled my nose as a late-adolescent when I saw movie tie-in paperbacks on people's coffee tables. But as I, needing books to read during difficult times or long trips, started reading said paperbacks more and more I realized that popular commercial fiction brings us back to reading the way we read as kids--ravenously, emotionally, viscerally. It's a beautiful thing, and it's important and great to mix that reading with the kind that elevates your mind as you parse its complex symbols and sentences. And really, who's to say what's "better"? In our tech-heavy, politically disastrous day and age, emotional engagement may be a truer antidote to what ails us.
I just snarfed my way through 'The Hunger Games" trilogy and I'd say it was probably the most profound reading experience I've had in at least a year, besides re-reading Emma and Dubliners. It was a one-note YA series that the Slate book club is currently analyzing and denigrating at the same time, but I'm unashamed to admit how much I loved it and how sophisticated I thought its treatment of its themes was.
That's why I'm so obsessed with Jennifer Weiner's crusade. The line between high art and pop art won't be dissolved, but who cares if it is? It's meaningless. Of course some writers are more clever, smart, talented, more ambitious in their stories, in their sentences than others. A canon-lover like me would never deny that one George Eliot is worth a thousand whoevers. But you know what? Sometimes "literary" writers have more exciting plots than their pop counterparts, and sometimes pop writers make you think about contemporary society more than their literary counterparts. Sometimes genre writers use the conventions of their form like a sonnet and make magic that's utterly original--while a lot of the lit-fic I review for Publishers Weekly feels like it was cranked out in a factory (not that it isn't usually good, but there's a sameness to it). It's pure insecurity on the part of the literati to police their borders so assiduously--why not just get good writing to speak for itself?
Yes, there's a good thought. Let's ask a bunch of questions beginning with "why". Why can't we admit that Bronte heroes get us hot under the collar and we enjoy the fart jokes in Joyce and Shakespeare even as we respect their genius? Why do so many adults who read Harry Potter have to qualify that love with some sort of snipe at Rowling's prose style? Why don't we celebrate writers who are keeping our dying written medium alive by connecting deeply with thousands of readers? After all, they're the ones who allow cutting-edge literary experimentation to happen by bringing in profits. And why do these discussions about high art and low art always smack of sexism? Franzen gets more respect than his literary female equivalents who write in similarly highbrow manners. For-profit churners-out like James Patterson get grudging respect and NYTimes Magazine cover stories. Would they do that for Danielle Steele? Me thinks not. And yet there's nooo connection between the two phenomena.
But all this consternation has made me glad that I found VCFA, where writers of speculative, realistic, literary genre and in-between fiction all learn to do the same thing together: engage the reader, stay in scene, write compellingly from the sentence through the plot arc. And I'm glad, although I neglect it often, that I have this blog--and I have you, dear readers, who share my taste and my opinions. So thank you!
And now I'm off to immerse myself in an epic, stream-of-consciousness novel in translation about the Holocaust, a review of which was due yesterday. Happy labor day and may the Egalitarian Bookworm spirit be with you.
A few more links worth reading:
- Is the New York Times' book section really a boys' club? (Slate crunches the #s)
- I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it | Lionel Shriver
- Jonathan Franzen Reviewed on Video (WaPo's Ron Charles)
- Franzen Frenzy! (Lizzie Skurnick @ book beast )