Archive

Archive for the ‘Social Commentary’ Category

“Correcting” our Miserable Lives

I just finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I found my attention wandering the duration of the novel but somehow I kept on reading it until the end and rather enjoyed seeing what miserable thing was happening next to the characters.  I was interested in what happened to them but felt there was something missing in my connection to them.  I may have just disliked them.  I don’t know.  I did like them as well.  I did like the book but it just isn’t really my favorite style of literature.  Perhaps I should have taken a pencil to this book to alleviate some confusion but I just didn’t feel all that interested in digging very deep.

The ending was somewhat promising except for poor Alfred who at the end of his life just wanted death to take him.  I felt kind of bad that Enid, at 75 was just beginning her life of freedom and I would like to know if she was able to find happiness in her life.

Franzen’s imagination for situations his characters must endure is to be applauded.  As we traveled through each character’s life something new and unanticipated always happened.  Most of the time I was bewildered at what I was reading.  Not sure if I am totally in agreement with modern literati hailing this as one of the best novels of recent years.  But then again I am just not totally into modern literature nor am I qualified to review it.  Like in one of my recent posts I have decided to focus more on recent literature.

I can obviously tell the difference between The Corrections and the next book I started, The Lottery Winner by Mary Higgins Clark… The plot of the mystery stories are so laughable and simple.  I kind of like trying to figure out a  good whodunnit novel once in a while.  But more along the lines of Denis Lehane than M.H.C.   I only chose this one because I wanted an easy no-brainer after Franzen’s novel but all I had in the box of books I was unpacking were this one and a bunch of  hefty 18th and 19th century British novels that I knew I could never focus on at the moment.

So I guess the point of Franzen’s novel was that our lives are spent in the pursuit of happiness.  Wow…  I have never read a book with a theme like that before.  There never was a more American theme in modern literature than that one.  Well this was one of the better ones I suppose and told with 5 truly unique perspectives from a modern American family.  I wonder if he was trying to write T.G.A.N (The Great American Novel).  Will people ever stop pursuing this?  Doubt it.

 

What is the Current State of Literature?

I asked my friends on the popular Duluth blog Perfect Duluth Day (PDD) what they thought the current state of literature is. I was pleased to find 35 responses to this query, though it turned into a bit of a debate over e-readers, which I did not really intend to start…Here is my initial post and some of the good responses.

“What is the current state of literature?
By stephaniejt on May 11, 2011 in Bitching

I am asking all opinions on the state of literature today. Does it exist? Is there a difference between Literature and what most people read today (if they do happen to read).

It makes me sad that many men see reading as a “women’s” activity. Don’t we all appreciate a good story? Why is any novel that has an “Oprah” symbol on it now seen as weak fluff that is not suitable for men to read?

I hate buying books that have the movie cover on the book. Most of the time I have never even heard of a really good book until it is set to come out as a movie. Is that the only way books actually sell?

I am not sure if I will ever own an e-reader but I know I will never give up my books.”

Response:

Literature does exist today. Very much so.

Finding great literature is a lot like finding great music. You have to actively seek it out — find sources you trust and follow them. You can’t wait for the entertainment industry to dole stuff directly to you, otherwise you’ll end up reading the literary equivalent of Katy Perry.

Who knows about the stigma of the Oprah O and what that even means. If you avoided that, you’d avoid one of the best novels of the past few years, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Franzen actually denied the O the first time around because of exactly what you’re saying. Eventually he caved.

I’m biased, but check out Minnesota Reads for perspectives on what’s being published these days. It’s a site for voracious readers, so you’ll find everything from literary fiction to graphic novels to celebrity memoirs.

Barrett Chase | May 11, 2011 | New Comment

 

Response:

Good questions, Stephanie! Re Oprah — I do not see her book club choices as fluff at all. In fact, her novels oftentimes are a little too intense for readers. She loves to read books about people going through tough, tough times. Her choices are sometimes too dark for me. For instance, Toni Morrison is not an easy read, by any stretch of the imagination! And contrary to Barrett, I hated Freedom, but I may have been influenced by a personal encounter with Jonathan Franzen. But that’s a story to be told over lots of liquid refreshment, not here on PDD.

In terms of finding good books, I’d check out the DNT’s Sunday bestsellers list, which they get from the Midwest Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Booksellers Association — both are organizations of independent booksellers in the Midwest who report the books selling best in their stores. Since indie booksellers choose their inventory (rather than someone in NYC doing the selecting) and often handsell the books they most love, this list always has some amazing reads on it. If you want to know what’s a good read, ask your local independent bookseller, I say. I always ask some indie booksellers I know whom I trust, like this one bookseller in Milwaukee who is always spot on.

And I so agree with you about e-books. Not my thing at all.

Claire

Response:

Literature exists…more so than most of can probably fathom. But you have to seek it out, hunt it, search in deep dark places for it.

Pretty much, we – human beings – live in societies were we are inundated to the max with media, advertising, marketing, economic influences, social pressures, trends, blah blah blah (we started out as foragers that spent less than 4 hours a day gathering our quota of calories. Imagine that..4 hour workdays? No wonder were now overpopulated, huh?) Anyways, this mass blast of information that comes our way, totally overloads our cognition and gives us undesirable societal problems such as mental illness and postal shootings.

It also distracts us from things of the past, like great literature. And while I don’t know who oprah is, and can’t knock him, I’m sure he is a product of the mass media conglomerate and the books that his club pushes are potentially wish wash that the marketing dept at penguin thinks is a great money maker (no knock to you, Barrret, either. When I think ‘O’, I think Million Little Pieces…and I cringe – hard..real hard).

Sooo, the moral of the story is: seek out great literature in places where you wouldn’t expect to find it – garage sales, basement used book stores, friends, musty professors offices, the amazing alonzo, that huge antique shop next to the Acoustic Cafe in Winona, etc.. The older, the less pop hysteria will influence you to read it for the wrong reasons. The best book I have ever read, by far, is ranked 24,129 in sales on amazon. Either I suck, or go figure (rhetorical)?

And props to the previous comments. I’m bad at keeping up on whats current. Considering literature has been around ~4500 years, I put myself in a fickle as to where to even start. Nice thread.

Blazer | May 11, 2011 | New Comment

 

 

My Response:

You guys are fantastic. I love all the answers and suggestions and the conversation that has been started. I feel like one day the only people left who read are going to be this underground group who secretly hoards and trades books. Because all books are out of print and there are no more trees for paper…this may be coming from my liking of post-apocalyptic novels….haha.

I think it is great that Oprah has reintroduced so many people to classics and it just makes me a little mad that she gets negative feedback from it. I am actually reading Freedom by Franzen right now and had looked up the history on the whole Oprah thing. I am about 200 pages in and I just can’t imagine what is going to happen over the next 350 pages. Is there really that much to talk about? We will see I guess.

I actually LOVED the YA series The Hunger Games but I am kind of disappointed that it is going to be a movie because those who only like it because of the movie aren’t really “real fans” of the written story.

I was an English major as well and always had the good stuff presented to me. Now I have to dig around for the really great stuff on my own.

I heard some really interesting stuff about gender during childhood and in school and how boys will start doing poorly in school because doing well in school is a “girl” thing. Probably similar with reading. Sad.

stephaniejt | May 12, 2011 | New Comment

 

 

To view more of this post and other amazing Duluth, MN conversations visit: http://www.perfectduluthday.com/2011/05/11/what-is-the-current-state-of-literature/

 

 

 

 

My Sister’s Keeper? Meh…just glad to be done so I can get back to Twitter and following Paul McDonald!

April 3, 2011 Leave a comment

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult kept me mildly interested when reading it.  I got a new computer when I was 1/3 into the book so that took my attention away from it for 2 weeks.  I am just stuck to the computer now and am not reading as much as I was when my old computer wasn’t working!  There are just so many interesting things on the internet to be learning about.  Oh yeah and checking my Twitter all day.  Now I am not only following Paul McDonald on Twitter, I am following all of his fan Twitterers…which is at least 10.  Some are called @PaulyMcDsGals, @fansforpaul, @PaulMcDLover, @PaulMcDsArm, @PaulMcDsTeeth, @PaulsSexyVoice and so on. 

 It is quite amusing actually and I find myself getting sucked into the realm of fanatacism.  Really people…they are just people who happened to be lucky and talented enough to get on T.V. and made into overnight national celebrities.  I do really like Paul though…he has some major talent as depicted from my T.V. screen.  And of course pretty damn easy on the eyes as well.  He is so adorable and I think that plus his singing really gets the ladies and the fangirls going.  I downloaded this wallpaper and now have it on my background…I know…pathetic.  But it is just so fun! 

I voted 47 times last week….and Paul was in the bottom 3…I must do better this week!

History is Disturbing in so Many Ways

April 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I just saw the movie Amistad (1997) this evening.  I cried my frickin eyes out during several parts of the film.  When Cinque remembers what happened on the Tecora and the Amistad I could hardly stand it.  A few weeks ago I watched In the Heat of the Night (1967).  I could barely stand that either.  Racism and the subjugation of people makes me so angry and sad about humanity. 

I have been doing some research on slavery in America, the slave trade and abolitionists.  I came upon some historical documents and found this one.  It is quite lovely…yeah right.  Is it wrong if I blame Christianity for causing so much suffering in the past 2000 years?  The whole religious paradigm people live in directs their whole vision of the world.  Ever since I had a Native American teacher for U.S. History in high school have I hated seeing Jackson’s face on the $20 bill.  Here is a tiny part of why:

Andrew Jackson’s Second Annual Message

It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.

The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves. The pecuniary advantages which it promises to the Government are the least of its recommendations. It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; to enable them pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.

What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion?

The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process. The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites. The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward, and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange, and, at the expense of the United States, to send them to land where their existence may be prolonged and perhaps made perpetual. Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but what do they more than our ancestors did or than our children are now doing? To better their condition in an unknown land our forefathers left all that was dear in earthly objects. Our children by thousands yearly leave the land of their birth to seek new homes in distant regions. Does Humanity weep at these painful separations from everything, animate and inanimate, with which the young heart has become entwined? Far from it. It is rather a source of joy that our country affords scope where our young population may range unconstrained in body or in mind, developing the power and facilities of man in their highest perfection. These remove hundreds and almost thousands of miles at their own expense, purchase the lands they occupy, and support themselves at their new homes from the moment of their arrival. Can it be cruel in this Government when, by events which it can not control, the Indian is made discontented in his ancient home to purchase his lands, to give him a new and extensive territory, to pay the expense of his removal, and support him a year in his new abode? How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions! If the offers made to the Indians were extended to them, they would be hailed with gratitude and joy.

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.
A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908, Volume II, by James D. Richardson, published by Bureau of National Literature and Art ,1908

All of my highlighting, obviously.  The words are such utter bullshit I can hardly stand myself and I am literally laughing over it.

Articles found here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/index.html

Books Can Speak to You

December 20, 2010 1 comment

Saturday I reread an old favorite of mine from junior high and high school that had opened up my world a tiny bit to the experiences other people have.  The way Melinda thinks in the novel felt so real that it seemed like I was absorbed into a journal.  It shows the simple, undeveloped thought of a 14 year old but still manages to go to new levels as we follow her through her year from Hell.

Title: Speak

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Year: 1999

Genre: Young Adult/Teens

Themes: Life Struggle, Rape, Depression, Social Status, Fear, Loneliness, Teachers, High School.

I really appreciate the genre of young adult fiction that actually means something profound to the people who read it.  It is books like these that change the way people view the world.  These books speak to the humanity inside all of us.  I commend the author for creating this work and helping to connect young people with their confused feelings.  So many have dealt with difficult things and do not know how to proceed with their lives.  Melinda was extraordinarily strong even though she became withdrawn and depressed.  She clung to what she could in her life.  It only takes that one special person to keep someone from going over the edge.  Her teacher, through very subtle ways, was that place of stability for her.  He gave her an outlet for her fear and anger and without being overbearing he helped her.  It is truly a sad story but you have a feeling Melinda will get through it and she will be okay in the end.

Steig Larsson’s Crime Thrillers

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The Millennium Triology

I LOVED these books.  I read them each in less than 4 days.  And they are 500-600 page books.  Wow.  I have never been so sucked into a mystery before as I was throughout this trilogy.  Lisbeth Salander is one of the most interesting characters in modern literature that I have read before.  I am not going to say that these will go down as examples of the best literature of the age but their popularity and bestseller status may.

Finishing the third novel I don’t think I have ever cheered out loud as much I as I did when Advokat Giannini was bringing that bastard Teleborian down on the stand!

Eroticism of the Past

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is a novel unlike any other I had read before.  The way he tells the story of 1867 with the hindsight of 1967 knowledge creates a lens with which to critically look at the social customs of the time.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)

One of the aspects of this novel that stands out and begs for attention are the contrasting female figures of Ernestina and Sarah.  Ernestina is the suitable woman for Charles to be betrothed to but Sarah, the one who defies conventions is more sexually attractive to Charles.  She has something deeper within her than he can see in Ernestina and he cannot control it and he longs to.  This entire novel is about Charles’s efforts to achieve sexually and emotional gratification.  Ernestina does not appear to have any motive towards sexual gratifcation and Sarah’s gratification only comes from knowing she has conquered Charles by seducing him.

I would just like to pull out a few quotes I found interesting.

“…Ernestina was very prettily dressed; a vision, perhaps more a tactile impression, of a tender little white body entered Charles’s mind.  Her head turned against his shoulder, she nestled against him; and as he patted and stroked and murmured a few foolish words, he found himself most suddenly  embarrassed.  There was a distinct stir in his loins. There had always been Ernestina’s humor, her odd little piques and whims of emotion, a promise of certain buried wildness…a willingness to learn perversity, one day to bite timidly but deliciously on forbidden fruit. What Charles unconsciously felt was perhaps no more than the ageless attraction of shallow-minded women: that one may make of them what one wants. What he felt consciously was a sense of pollution: to feel carnal desire now, when he had touched another woman’s lips that morning!” (264).

The part I am most interested in is what I have put in bold. Here Charles is realizing his own selfishness and shallowness.  He is sexually aroused by Ernestina because he wants to have control over her sexuality and the idea of that power turns him on.  Depth of mind was not a value often looked for when men were choosing women to be good wives to them.  They weren’t a good investment.  A wife a man can mold to suit his needs was valued.  However, there is still that carnal desire that is not appropriate for a man to release onto his pure wife.  He must find a “woman” to fulfill these desires.  Thus, a prostitute or an already scandalized woman like Sarah.

This novel is brilliant and is chock full of commentary on how our society has developed in relation to social class, the passage of time, the changes in tradition, stereotypes, sexuality, gender, and money.  I thought it was amazing how Fowles incorporates theories of the great social theoreticians and rhetoricians into his work and at the beginning of each chapter.