Monday, July 21, 2014

A Book Borrower I Be

photo by Anna Reavis

This summer I decided to try to read through some or all of the books people have lent me to read over the past few years.  The first of these reads was The Devil's Dream by Lee Smith, which I didn't enjoy as  much as I have her other work.  I think this is partly because it's a history of a country music family, and I don't like country music, but I think it's mostly because I felt no affinity for any of the characters, nor did I find them particularly interesting.  Or maybe it was because I recognized so many of the people I grew up around and didn't particularly like in some of these characters.  I don't like to be reminded of the pervasiveness of ignorance and general tackiness in my culture; I see enough of that as it is. I prefer my reading to be an escape from my life, not a reflection of it.

My next choice was The Paris Wife  by Paula McLain, which is about as far from my life in setting and surroundings as you can get.  I found The Paris Wife immensely readable and breezed through it in a few days.  I enjoyed it until toward the end where the marriage is unraveling and found that to be a little disconcerting to read.  Reading about Hemingway as a fictional character did make me want to re-read The Sun Also Rises and Green Hills of Africa, which are the two Hemingways I have read and possibly also delve into some other of his works.  He's never been one of my favorites, but I feel like I need to give him another chance now that I'm older. I still don't think I would have liked  him personally from what I know of him.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Noah Didn't Need A Compass

photo by Anna Reavis

Often when I finish a book that has truly engaged me, like Kafka on the Shore, I have a good bit of difficulty choosing my next read.  Last week after finishing my first Murakami,  I promptly ordered three more, but as they didn’t arrive for several days, and I wasn’t about to go bookless, I had to do something.  So I trekked down to the library to see what was new (to them) and found a copy of an Anne Tyler book that had been donated by another patron.  Noah’s Compass is a small volume in which nothing much happens, but I enjoyed it just the same.  I’d forgotten how approachable and likeable I find Anne Tyler’s voice.  

In Noah’s Compass, Liam is a 60 year old divorced man who has little contact with his family and who has just lost his job of many years.  After he is attacked in his new down-sized apartment and wakes up from a concussion, he begins to realize how much he has been coasting, out of touch with his own life.  While this was a small book and a quick read, it does touch on what I think is an important issue in our society:  the isolation and alienation born of the dissolution of marriage and family and of our loss of community.  Liam realizes that he, like Noah, hasn’t needed a compass, because neither of them was ever really going anywhere.   At the resolution of the book, though, Liam finds redemption in a way he never anticipated.  I do love a quick read with a happy ending.

And now the I keep reading Anne Tyler, or do I tackle my new Murakamis?  Any recommendations on favorite Anne Tylers?  


Monday, June 16, 2014

Is There a Kafka? Is There a Shore?

photo by Anna Reavis
"Memories warm you up from the inside.  But they also tear you apart."
Ms Saeki in Kafka on the Shore

The past, the it ever truly past?  Does time even exist?  How about identity?  Does it exist?  Is identity stable, stationary, immovable? Or are our identities just part of a grand stream of being that temporarily break off and become part of the physical world, only to be reabsorbed and recreated at different times?  Does anything truly exist within the boundaries we understand? Being? Nothingness?

If you don't like pondering questions like these that can make your head hurt, don't read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.  I feel like I would have to read and re-read the book multiple times to grasp some of what it's saying.  Borrowing from one of the themes of the novel, the best way for me to describe it is to say that there is a labyrinth inside each of us and a labyrinth outside each of us, and they are one and the same, and we are lost in them both. And while it took me forever to finish this novel, I enjoyed being tangled up in its web for a time.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Slices of Life

photo by Anna Reavis
 "Harmon realized by a shift in the girl's expression that this was what she feared--being without love.  Who didn't fear that?"  from Olive Kitteridge by Olive Stout

When I was younger and had more energy and more initiative, I thought maybe one day I would write a novel.  And if I did, I thought it would be set in a physician's waiting room in a small town and would take each person in that room and tell his story and then resolve back in the same waiting room on the same morning in the middle of the week, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of nothing, after having revealed the high drama, beauty and tragedy of each person's life.   Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout follows a similar premise. (Obviously the details are different.)  The novel uses multiple short stories bound together to reveal the truths behind the lives of multiple people, including but not limited to Olive, in a small town in Maine. 

Usually I don't like short stories or novels made up of short stories, but in this case the structure worked very well to provide the "slice of life" revelations of the characters' lives.  I read Olive Kitteridge in January, so it's a little difficult to write about at this far a remove, but I do remember liking it as my favorite book thus far this year and would recommend it without hesitation.  It isn't a long book, but there is a lot of life, love, beauty, sadness, tragedy, and triumph bundled into its small package.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Is the Devil in the Details?

photo by Anna Reavis

Today I've had reason to consider details and why they matter to some of us.  Personally, I don't care about them at all on a metaphysical, life-changing level, but you let my keys get put where they don't belong, and I'm like a hound on the scent of the ever-elusive rabbit.  I'm a very careful person when it comes to things like keys.  I'd like to think I'm a very careful person when it comes to things like hearts too.  But sometimes, things like hearts give me a hard time.  I try to be considerate, kind, loving, and patient.  I know how to be considerate, kind, loving, and patient.  Does that mean I always am? Nope.  But I am at least aware of these short-comings.  People are hard.  Interpersonal relationships are hard.  Love is hard.  So how do we manage it?

Well... I think we all need to realize that each of us comes from a different place, that each of us speaks out of a personal, past experience that none of the rest of us has had.  On top of that inlay our own personal belief system.  I think dates are stupid; you think dates are important.  You think remembering the details of exactly what is said matters; I think remembering the gist of it is what matters.  And so on.  Here what really matters is that you love other people enough to get beyond these kinds of differences, to understand that the truth of who you are matters more than the details of what has happened to you. 

What I personally believe is that the concepts matter, not the details. I suppose for some people, knowing the details helps in the understanding of the person, but not for me.  For me, it is enough to know if you are my kind of person, and if you are, that's all I need to know.  And what is my kind of person?  Kindness, peace, love, generosity, justice, mercy, humility...these are my nouns.  I don't care where you come from.  What has happened to you does not define you.  What you've done or not done does not define you.  What defines you is who you've become because of it, who you've chosen to become.  And that is what I care about.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Year of Introspection

photo by Anna Reavis

Instead of blogging this year, I've chosen to spend my writing time in my personal journal.  Most of what I've needed to write this year has been too personal to share publicly.  Sometimes I wish we could all have the freedom and the courage to share our deep personal thoughts, like characters do in novels or the long-dead are able to do in posthumously published journals, as I feel certain we could help each other so much in this way, but it's hard for the living to admit to less than perfection, isn't it?  I think maybe that's what's behind all these ridiculous "selfies" and "look how fab my life is" Facebook posts.  My life on Facebook looked fantastic a few years ago, and I was miserable.  My life on Facebook now looks mundane, and I am happy.  Go figure. I worry about the up and coming generation who seem to think their social digital profiles reflect some kind of truth about them personally, who don't seem to know how to be healthy and happy without their online connectivity.  I feel like maybe it's time for a new digital revolution, a revolution wherein we all admit publically that we are screwed up, all of us, but that we are still fabulous.  All of us.

I promise to try to have a book review ready for Sunday.  I've missed you all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Russian Literature 2014

I just found a challenge (here) that may push me to finish a personal project I've been putting off for years now.  One of the first blog events I ever happened upon was a challenge to read Russian literature.  Because I am often overly optimistic but always methodical, I promptly went to the library and checked out and read several books on Russian history, made a list in chronological order of what I felt I should read, and started reading. 

I started with The Complete Prose Tales of Pushkin, some of which I enjoyed and some of which underwhelmed me.  I moved on to The Collected Tales of Gogol, with which I had the same experience and attempted but couldn't get into Dead Souls.   I read and enjoyed A Hero for Our Time by Lermontov but got frustrated at this point feeling like I was stuck in Russian Literature land to the exclusion of everything else.  So I quit.  Since then I have read Lolita, which I unexpectedly loved, Crime and Punishment, which I liked but didn't love, and Anna Karenina, which I absolutely loved and want to re-read.  I've also read a few mysteries by Boris Akunin and a couple of poems by Anna Akhmatova.   I still have on my shelf to read:  Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, First Love by Turgenev,  The Brothers K, War and Peace, Dr Zhivago, and a book entitled Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes, which is a history of Russian culture.   I also want to read more of Anna Akhmatova's poetry, Oblomov by Goncharov, and the dystopic novel We by Zamyatin. 

With all these grandiose desires reigned in now by experience, I am going to sign up for the 2014 Russian Literature Challenge, Level One.  If I read more than three, Hallelujah,  and if I read only one, Amen.