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“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.

 

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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/

 

 

 

 

Great Authors to Read Before They Die

May 9, 2011 5 comments

Here are some of the great living American authors I would like to read more of before they die.

Don DeLillo (b. 1936)- Haven’t read yet but would like to read: White Noise (1985)

Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933)- Have read The Road (2006); would like to read No Country for Old Men (2005) and Blood Meridian (1985)

Toni Morrison (b. 1931)- Have read Jazz (1992); would like to read Beloved (1987) and Song of Solomon (1977)

Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937)- Have read The Crying of Lot 49 (1966); Would like to read Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

Philip Roth (b. 1933)- Have read The Ghost Writer (1979); would like to read American Pastoral (1997)

Life as we DON’T know it: Dystopian and Post-Apocolyptic novels to read

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Through some internet browsing I came up with a pretty good list of books in the Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic genres that I have not read yet.  These were suggested on various sites by columnists and bloggers.  If I read one I will update this list with the date read.  

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1960)

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess  (1962)

A Gift Upon the Shore by M. K. Wren (1990)

Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin (1985)

Anthem (1937) by Ann Rand

Armageddon’s Children by Terry Brooks (2006)

Blindness by Jose Saramago (1995)

Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)

Crash by JG Ballard (1973)

Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson (2005)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)

Idoru by William Gibson (1996)

In The Country of Last Things by Paul Auster (1987)

Iron Heel by Jack London (1908)

Logan’s Run by F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (1967)

Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven (1978)

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler  (1993)

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1963)

That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis (1945)

The Book of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1980-1983)

The Children of Men by PD James (1992)

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)

The Dark Tower by Stephen King  (1982-2004)

The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson (1995)

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard (1962)

The Faber Book of Utopias edited by John Carey (2000)

The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card (1989)

The Postman by David Brin (1985)

The Running Man Richard Bachman (1982)

The Sword of Spirits trilogy by John Christopher (1971)

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1980’s-1990’s)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1921)

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (2006)



Books Read 2007-2010

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I didn’t actively keep track of what I read for most of 2007-2008 but towards the end of 2008 I tried to remember what I had read and then I started my list.  I thought I would share it on here so others can comment if they would like on my reading selection.  Many of these books were required reading for my English Lit classes in college.  The first half of the 2010 list definitely is.  Once you get past Bounty, by George Saunders it has all been reading at my own leisure, which is nice, but I do miss the critical class discussions.

2007-2008

Wuthering Heights– Emily Bronte

The Age of Innocence– Edith Wharton

1984– George Orwell

The Red Tent– Anita Diamant

Good Harbor– Anita Diamant

The Picture of Dorian Gray– Oscar Wilde

Atonement– Ian McEwan

A Wrinkle in Time– Madeline L’Engle

The Other Boleyn Girl– Philippa Gregory

Flowers in the Attic– V.C. Andrews

Angels and Demons– Dan Brown

Lucky– Alice Sebold

Burning Bright– Tracy Chevalier

The Lovely Bones– Alice Sebold

Twilight– Stephenie Meyer

The Da Vinci Code– Dan Brown

 

2009

My Antonia-Willa Cather

The Scarlet Letter– Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Bell Jar– Sylvia Plath

Brave New World– Aldous Huxley

Animal Farm– George Orwell

Fahrenheit 451– Ray Bradbury

Pride and Prejudice– Jane Austen

O Pioneers!– Willa Cather

Ashes to Ashes– Tami Hoag

The House of the Seven Gables– Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Queen’s Fool– Philippa Gregory

The Time Traveler’s Wife– Audrey Niffenegger

The Blithedale Romance– Nathaniel Hawthorne

Moby Dick– Herman Melville

Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate– Walt Whitman

Clotel, or The President’s Daughter– William Wells Brown

Ruth Hall– Fanny Fern

The Lost Symbol– Dan Brown

The City of Ember– Jeanne DuPrau

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite– David A. Kessler

Open– Andre Agassi

 

2010

Dubliners– James Joyce

Angela’s Ashes– Frank McCourt

Invisible Man– Ralph Ellison

Rabbit, Run– John Updike

The Ghost Writer-Philip Roth

Jazz– Toni Morrison

Angels in America– Tony Kushner

Oronooko– Aphra Behn

Billy Budd, Sailor– Herman Melville

The Metamorphosis– Franz Kafka

The Aspern Papers– Henry James

Ethan Frome– Edith Wharton

The Crying of Lot 49– Thomas Pynchon

Bounty– George Saunders

The Road– Cormac McCarthy

Animal, Vegetable Miracle– Barbara Kingsolver

The Handmaid’s Tale– Margaret Atwood

New Moon– Stephenie Meyer

Eclipse-Stephenie Meyer

Breaking Dawn-Stephenie Meyer

Gone, Baby, Gone– Denis Lehane

And the Band Played On– Randy Shilts (half)

Shutter Island– Denis Lehane

The Song of the Lark-Willa Cather

The Deep End of the Ocean-Jacqueline Mitchard

The French Lieutenant’s Woman-John Fowles

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire-Steig Larsson

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone-J.K.Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets-J.K.Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban-J.K. Rowling

One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Steig Larsson

Speak-Laurie Halse Anderson

The Hunger Games– Suzanne Collins

Gabriel’s Angel-Nora Roberts

 

It is so fantastic that I can read the titles of these books and remember where I was, where I lived, who I lived with, who I was friends with and what time of year it was when I read it.  I really value how keeping this list of books read will help me stay in touch with my past.  I don’t want my life to move along without me remembering how I got to where I am today.

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!