Monday, July 12, 2010

"Every individual existence revolves around mystery..."

I've been very lax about my daily reading of short stories this summer, but I'm going to try to be better during the second half of my summer vacation. I can't believe it's already half over! I'm feeling the need to get things done for the next four weeks, things that I had planned to do this summer. One of those things was to read a short story every day and tweet/blog about it.

This morning I read Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog." I'm not sure if I've ever read any of Chekhov's stories or plays before. In addition to being a constant reader, I majored in English as an undergrad and almost completed a masters in literature, so you would think that I had read something of his, but I can't remember ever doing so. My point is I've never studied Chekhov. I have read other Russian writers, and I thought this story pretty typical of nineteenth century Russian literature. (Please, correct me if I'm wrong.)

I enjoyed reading this story, but I wasn't surprised by its outcome. I did, however, find a statement in it that I really liked. Gurov, the main character, is a philanderer, and at one point he thinks "every individual existence revolves around mystery..." I think that a lot of people might disagree with this statement, or at least might be upset by the thought of it as a reality. However, I'm not sure if anyone can ever really know everything about another individual. We all have secrets of some kind, right? Some people like to claim that what you see is what you get, but I'm not sure that is even possible. Don't we all live a persona that we've created whether consciously or unconsciously? What do you think?

I'm going to ponder on this for a while and maybe I'll write more about it later. For now, I need to get some other things done. Later.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Giving up on American Gods (#1b1t)

I really don't like to give up on books, but I think I have to give up on this one. I'm not a fantasy fan per se, but I'm not sure that's the problem. I feel like the book is not that well written and it's all pretty obvious. I only chose this book because I wanted to participate in One Book One Twitter. However, ss soon as I saw many of the tweets about the book, I was reminded of why I don't read popular fiction very much. I am an admitted book snob and have no time for obvious questions/comments, but I'm not so horrid a snob as to post snarky comments, at least. Although that might have made my reading of this book more fun. ;-)

I have given American Gods a real chance. I have read seven chapters, so I'm not giving up without a fight. I liked the first chapter and was completely surprised by the grotesque ending of that chapter, so I thought that this book was going to be very interesting and fast paced, but I think the book went down from there. Despite it being a fantasy, there's nothing really new here. Sure, I'm not familiar with all the gods presented, but I am too familiar with some of the motifs and symbols. (Are symbols and motifs the same things? I can't remember right now.) Black birds, gangster type men in black limos with tinted windows, light vs. dark, ambiguously good guys vs. bad guys, etc. Even most of the commentary about American society seems tired.

I think the last straw was the scene where Shadow is grabbed by some men in a black truck in a restaurant parking lot and then he's in what seems like an interrogation room being questioned about the gods. The two men, Mr. Wood and Mr. Stone, doing the questioning are wearing dark suits and have dark hair and shiny shoes. This scene just seemed and felt a little too Men in Black to me, and I've never even seen the whole movie. I did finish that chapter and read one more, but now I think that might be as far as I care to go with this book.

I'm kind of sad about giving up on this book because so many people, including friends of mine, really admire Gaiman's work, and I want to share in that admiration. So, I'm not giving up on the author completely. I'll try at least one of his other books before I give up on him altogether. And maybe I'll read another chapter of American Gods here and there and eventually finish it. I haven't removed the book to the bookshelf yet or even removed the bookmark from it, but I haven't picked it up to read in several days. I have read other things this week instead. I started three different books Footnotes in Gaza, Never Let Me Go, and Middlemarch. I'll probably finish at least two of those next week. So for now, I'll say goodbye to American Gods and One Book One Twitter. Later.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Toni Morrison made me cry

When I finished reading A Mercy this morning, all I could think was "WOW!" I got up from the dining room table and walked into the living room to get my phone so I could tweet that "WOW!" As I was typing out the tweet, I just started sobbing. I mean crying really hard. I cried for at least five minutes before I could get myself under control. I haven't had that kind of visceral reaction to a book in a very long time.

I love Morrison's work. She is one of my two favorite authors, but I was still stunned by the beauty and sadness of this short novel. How could she say so much in less than 200 pages? I'm a relatively slow reader, but I read this book very fast, starting it yesterday afternoon. It's a real page turner. She interweaves several stories in this novel about a small group of slaves and their owners in seventeenth century America. There is one central thread that holds the stories together, but I never felt impatient when it was interrupted to tell one of the other story lines.

This novel is on its surface a story about slavery, but its also an indictment of religiosity. Both the Papists and the Protestants are shown to perpetuate not just the use of slaves but the racism that allowed it to exist. In addition, the novel is about identity, jealousy, and cruelty, which is too/most often the result of jealousy, I think.

I just kept wondering how people could be so cruel to other people. How does a group of people ever come to believe that they are automatically superior to another group of people and that the proof of their superiority is in the color of their skin? Even the benevolent wife of the benevolent slave owner becomes cruel in the end, which reminded me of Frederick Douglass's Narrative and his descriptions of the dehumanizing effect of slavery on the slave owner. Morrison touches on this idea in Beloved also.

At one point in the novel, someone says or thinks something like "we don't shape the world; the world shapes us." If that's true, then what kind of sad, cruel world do we live in? I'm not trying to be a Pollyanna here. Are humans inherently cruel? I don't understand why someone would ever be cruel to another human being, and I know that I've been guilty of cruelty at some point, probably more than one, in my life. Whether my cruelty was consciously intended or not doesn't change the fact that it happened. Whether I felt my actions provoked or reasonable doesn't change anything either. Maybe that knowledge is one reason this book affected me so.

I've read most of Morrison's works more than once, and I feel like I should read this one again very soon. I wish that I was still teaching AP Literature because my students would be reading this book in the upcoming school year. Now, I'm going to go to bed and read, but I'm not sure what I'll read because I think that no matter what I read tonight, it'll be a disappointing after having just read A Mercy. Later.