Summer Reading!

With yesterday being the unofficial beginning of summer, I thought I would post a little about my reading plans for the next couple of months. As with any of my reading plans, they are subject to change without notice!

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Right now, I have begun John Irving’s latest novel Avenue of Mysteries. Irving’s novel  A Prayer for Owen Meany is on my list of favorites; however, I have not been able to get into his other novels. This one looks like it might be breaking that pattern.

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Next is Yann Martel’s latest The High Mountains of Portugal. I’ve been a fan of Martel’s ever since Life of Pi. I’m looking forward to more of his work.

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After that, I’m thinking about Junot Diaz’ Pulitzer Prize winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Diaz has long been on my radar but so far I’ve only read his great short story “Edison, New Jersey”.

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I would also like to read Alan Jacob’s The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. A great title that I’ve heard some interesting things about.

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After that, I plan to resume my adventures with Nineteenth Century Female British authors. George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss has been on my shelf for a few years, now. This is going to be the year I read it. In addition, I would like to round out my Bronte sisters expedition with Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I don’t own this one as of now so I’ll have to get a copy somewhere.

So there you have it! My reading plans for the Summer of 2016 – we’ll see how everything plays out. What books are you planning on reading over the next few months? I’d love to know!

 

 

Robert Penn Warren : Goodwood Comes Back (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 22)

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It wasn’t long before he got out of his chair, though, and lay on the grass, just like he always used to do, lying relaxed all over just like an animal. I was a little bit embarrassed at first, I reckon, and maybe he was, too, for we hadn’t sort of sat down together like that for near fifteen years, and he had been away and been a big league pitcher, at the top of his profession almost, and here he was back. He must have been thinking along the same lines, for after he had been there on the grass a while he gave a sort of laugh and said, “Well, we sure did have some pretty good times when we were kids going around this country with our guns, didn’t we?” I said we sure did. I don’t know whether Luke really liked to remember the times we had or whether he was just polite and trying to get in touch with me again, so to speak.

I love the sidekick narrator. Robert Penn Warren’s short story “Goodwood Comes Back” gives a great example of one. Unnamed, the narrator, as a kid, hangs out (or is allowed to hang out) with his more popular friend, Luke Goodwood. Luke also happens to be very good at baseball unlike the narrator.

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From the grown up narrator, the reader learns of Luke’s small southern town ways as well as his almost but not quite successful baseball career. Much of the story revolves around a little bit of childhood reminiscing on the narrator’s part and some brief encounters with Luke after he returns from his baseball career. The title implies Luke’s return home; however, he’s not the only one who has left. The narrator himself has left and only runs into Luke when he returns home to visit his sister. While the reader never gets answers, it seems as though the narrator perhaps has become more successful than Luke but still has a little bit of the childhood awe he used to feel.

This story is a great example of comparison and contrast between the sidekick and his friend. Warren’s writing style is simple, stripped down, with some southern dialect that works well.

I read this story when I selected the King of Diamonds for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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No, it was not regret which made Anne’s heart beat in spite of herself, and brought color into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!

I’ve always felt that I have to hand it to Jane Austen for achieving rock star status some 200 years after publishing her work. Her novel Pride and Prejudice introduced me to her close to two decades ago. When I flip through the copy that I read, I see that I was still writing in books. Numerous times I would put a “Ha!” next to a sentence or section that I found humorous. A few times, I even put a “Ha! Ha!”

Little did I know that years later, my teenage daughters (at my wife’s suggestion) would read that same copy. They find it funny that I wrote all those Ha!’s. I think it was before the days of “LOL”.

I could see the proverbial twinkle in Jane Austen’s eye as I read Pride and Prejudice. I’m probably the only person that would compare Jane Austen to Kurt Vonnegut but Vonnegut has that same twinkle in his writing.

Now all of these years later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Jane Austen again. This time it’s her final novel Persuasion which I have heard many in the blogosphere, in addition to my wife, say is their favorite and/or Austen’s best work.

Persuasion has more of a maturity about it than Pride and Prejudice while keeping with the same themes. Money, social status, and who will get married and why all still play into the plot. Throughout the novel, the word “persuasion” is used frequently to describe the influence various characters have over others in regards to the above list. The romance of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth is a much longer process than that of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It’s this length of time that might make this story the more realistic.

Yes, it’s realistic, mature and beautifully written with well developed characters; however, I didn’t find that same eye-twinkle in Persuasion that I did in Pride and Prejudice. That’s alright – not all great novels have to have humor. And I would consider Persuasion great.

 

 

Dean Cadle: Anthem of the Locusts (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 21)

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In Dean Cadle’s short story “Anthem of the Locusts”, Logan Roberts and Emily have a few things in common including their enjoyment of the noise that the locusts make during the summer in their Kentucky hills community. Most of their community find the sound annoying. Logan and Emily also have a physical attraction to each other that remains unfulfilled.

A big difference between the two is that Emily embraces and belongs to the community’s church life. Logan, while attending services occasionally, tends to stay on the outside of church life looking in. Of course, this difference tends to be the main reason for their unfulfilled physical relationship.

As this story was published in 1949, I envision Logan as a James Dean type character. Logan standing outside the church smoking a cigarette is a powerful image. I have to hand it to these Kentucky writers. They know how to bring tobacco smoking to great literary heights. I also find it interesting that Logan enjoys the music that comes from the church:

Logan sat on the porch listening to the singing long after the service had begun. The singing always sounded better in the camp than it did inside the church. The voices rose clear and musical, with the rising and falling rhythm of a stream tumbling over sandstone boulders in its swift descent down a mountain hollow, and flooded out over the camp like the golden voices of angels drifting through the nighttime; with the voices came the crying of the fiddle, and far down underneath, as though rising out of the dark earth of the camp, strode the unrelenting beat of a tambourine, not in time, not out of time, but setting a pace of its own that was a music to keep beat with the summertime pulse of one’s blood.

Cadle doesn’t portray Logan and Emily as extreme opposites – simply a relationship in which their society is a barrier between them. On which side is Cadle? The story itself is from the perspective of Logan so I feel there is at least a hint from Cadle that he sympathizes with him; however, Emily’s character is painted just as beautifully as the above description of the music but, like the music, she is being observed from the outside.

Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories

I read this story when I selected the Five of Hearts for Week 21 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It is included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. According to Grubbs’ introduction to this story, Cadle’s stories have not been collected into book form. “Anthem of the Locusts” was originally published in Standford Short Stories.  My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

 

The Fellowship

After reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings – J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski, I can’t help but imagine a little corner of heaven with an Oxford pub where a bunch of old British guys are still drinking beer, talking about literature, theology and philosophy, laughing and arguing and, at least from my perspective, having a good time.

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The authors in the title all belonged to a literary circle known as the Inklings and met together once a week for the better part of several decades. In the 21st century, Tolkien is probably the most well-known due to Peter Jackson’s film version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. 

Coming out of World War I, they all dealt with the disillusionment so much of the world felt, though they dealt with it differently than some of my favorite American authors. They are primarily known for writing fantasy and, in their writing, they never completely lost hope:

 

Yet underlying his pessimism about humanity was an indomitable hope, born, as surely as his pessimism, from his Catholic faith. Belief in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, logos over chaos, bestowed upon all the oppositions in his life – scholarship and art, male friendship and marriage, high spirits and despair – a final and satisfying unity, a deep and abiding joy. When Tolkien said of himself that “I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size),” he spoke the truth, not only about his material likes (trees, farms, tobacco, mushrooms, plain English food) and dislikes (cars, French cooking, early rising) but also about the disposition of his soul. He, like a hobbit, was at home in his shire; he like a hobbit, trusted the cosmos – but not necessarily the powers that held sway on earth.

While I still love the way so many American authors poured all of their disillusionment into their writing, I personally have difficulty “staying there”. I enjoy Tolkien and Lewis (I haven’t read Barfield or Williams) for the fact that they are “guilty of the heresy of the happy ending” as the Zaleskis put it.

This book was a complete joy to read for someone who has read Tolkien and Lewis since they were twelve; however, if one is not all that inclined to read about literary analysis, theology or philosophy, one might struggle through parts of the book but there’s still plenty of fascinating history and biography.

Philip Roth: Defender of the Faith (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 20)

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The next morning, while chatting with Captain Barrett, I recounted the incident of the previous evening. Somehow, in the telling, it must have seemed to the Captain that I was not so much explaining Grossbart’s position as defending it.

I admit that I’m not sure what to make of Philip Roth’s short story “Defender of the Faith”. It’s included in my copy of The Best Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike and in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. So apparently it’s considered a good story by many who decide whether stories are good. “Defender of the Faith” never went where I thought it was going and I thought it was going a number of different places as I read it. Perhaps this is why it might be considered a good story. Here’s my take on it:

There is a stereotypical idea that Jewish mothers are extremely adept at using guilt to get what they want. Roth takes that idea and applies it to a supposedly Orthodox Jewish Army private in basic training who guilts his nominally Jewish sergeant into allowing him special privileges – because he’s Jewish.

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There are points in the story where I think Roth is aiming for a theme of prejudice in which the private and a couple of buddies (also Jewish) are truly being discriminated against. Then, Roth moves to a theme in which it appears he is lambasting those who use their religion to take advantage of others.  Perhaps there is some path right down the middle? It’s just difficult for me to see.

I enjoy the confusion with which the sergeant reels at the constant demands of the private. I found myself saying several times “you’re the one in charge”! And I think there is a little bit of tongue-in-cheek in the title. It’s an interesting question as to who is the real defender.

I read this story when I selected the Eight of Spades for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Wendell Berry: Thicker Than Liquor (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 19)

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And so they waged the night, Uncle Peach striving with the Devil, Wheeler striving with Uncle Peach. It seemed to Wheeler that the two of them were lost together there in the dark house in the dark sky. He could not have told the time within three hours.

Once, after they had passed through yet another nightmare, Uncle Peach, who had momentarily waked, said slowly into the darkness, “Wheeler boy, this is a hell of a way for a young man just married to have to pass the night.”

“I thought of that,” Wheeler said.

For Week 19 of Deal Me In 2016, I drew the Six of Spades which corresponds to Wendell Berry’s short story “Thicker Than Liquor”. Wendell Berry is one of the more well-known Kentucky authors and shows up in my Hearts category as well (Hearts is the suit I have designated for stories by authors with a Kentucky connection); however, this one I included in my Spades list simply because it was sitting on my shelf. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

In “Thicker Than Liquor”, the reader gets to see ne’er-do-well alcoholic Uncle Peach through the eyes and the broad continuum of emotions that belong to his adult nephew Wheeler Catlett. From anger to pity to resignation to what could be called love, Berry seamlessly portrays the intricacies of a family relationship that is what the title suggests – thicker than liquor.

Set in 1930, Berry also hints at the economic problems that the nation is having. Wheeler, having just graduated from law school out east, comes back to small town Kentucky to set up a practice and he isn’t any different from the rest of the country in trying to make ends meet. Berry makes it clear that each dollar Wheeler has to shell out to rescue his uncle from a drinking binge in Louisville is more than just an annoyance.

Wendell Berry’s stories and novels all revolve around the small town of Port William, Kentucky. However, all of the stories I’ve read are able to stand on their own. Without having read anything else by Berry, the reader of “Thicker Than Liquor” can understand the roots these characters have that go back generations and the varying futures they and their families face. This story is included in the collection That Distant Land and the time placement of each of these stories is set anywhere from 1888 to 1986 giving the reader glimpses of characters and families as both children and elderly adults.