Friday, March 26, 2010

To Me, Anton Chekhov was Russian Mark Twain

I have good evidence to support my claim, that Anton Chekhov was Russian Mark Twain. Whoa, waitaminute, that was almost poetic in meter and rhyme. I mean, not "good poetry" poetic, but let's not lose focus by burying the lead. I'll save that for another time, when trying to write of good meter and rhyme. ERGH.

(An aside: Chekhov is now the most recent on my tour of the 19th century Russian authors whom I've read and who fascinate me / are good, enjoyable writers, but enough about that.)

The topic at hand is Russian Mark Twain, aka "Anton Chekhov" to the uninitiated. Twain cared about little people and so did Chekhov, and both brilliantly satirized the hypocrisies and inequities that were thriving in the nations and cultures to which they belonged. In Russia, it was antediluvian feudal treatment of the peasant class by the landed aristocracy and czar. In America, it was the mistreatment of the working class, yes, but more specifically the recently freed slaves in the post-bellum American south, which marked the external circumstances of the greater part of Twain's writing career, circa the latter 19th century.

But that's the obvious and easy stuff to point out. What's even more obvious as they were like the Bizarro World versions of each other, physically-speaking. How do I know this? Because, look at their faces. Stately, dignified Anton Chekhov and Southern genteel, somewhat rustic and rough-around-the-edges looking but still gentlemanly, Mark Twain. Plus, "Anton Chekhov" was not Anton Chekhov's real name -- it was Samolfsky Clementoevskis, but because of his fondness for the Russian game, checkers, viz. chekers in the origional Russian, he chose "Chekhov" as his nom de plume.

HAHAHA, of course I am lying -- "kidding" as jocular and sometimes mean-spirited liars will say. I'm lying about all after the "Plus, Anton Chekhov . . ." If Anton Chekhov's name were not really "Anton Chekhov" he sure did a great job of hiding it! Because now he is dead and there is no record, probably, so we can never be certain. (And also I'm not mean-spirited on the whole, in my opinion.)

In "Anton Chekhov: Selected Stories," what becomes immediately apparent is the range of thought and empathy which Chekhov had in his repertoire. But despite his skills, he didn't hesitate to tell a story in honest terms, sketching characters who weren't romantic visions of what he felt people should be. Like Twain, he seems to have a penchant for showcasing the reality of the lives and the struggles of the people he wrote about, be they wealthy or poor, peasant or gentry, foreign or native born. He also had a more satirical bent, that mocked the existing conditions of society he must have considered travesties, at the least. There are a number of Chekhov short stories that immediately bring to mind the humorous written stylings of Mark Twain: "The Confession," "A Nincompoop," "Surgery," "A Cure for Drinking," "Marriage in Ten or Fifteen Years," and "The Father." I encourage everyone to check them out, and I'm fairly certain most will be available for free online. (None of those listed are terribly long, either, if that helps.) A good Mark Twain short story that concerns itself with similar themes of social injustice and racism / xenophobia is, "Goldsmith's Friend Abroad Again." It's the story of a Chinese immigrant excited by the American Dream of everything being "completely free and completely equal." You can imagine that things don't work out entirely as the Chinese immigrant hoped.

Chekhov is definitely one of those writers who faired exceedingly well with the short story, of that there is no debate (i.e. there's always debate but I'm a fan of his short work and not interested in debating it). However, one of his works I especially liked was "Three Years" -- which qualifies as more of a novella or novelet (or anything indicating size greater than a short story but falling short of novel length). "Three Years" is also more akin to his contemporary Russian writers in its seriousness of tone and subject matter, and notwithstanding a great deal more philosophizing by his characters than that which is found in his other short stories. "Three Years" brings to the fore the stultifying power of the political economy in Russia on even its presumed benefactors, the wealthy class, and demonstrated by the impotence and fraility of its main character, Laptev, and his aristocratic, working-man's family of entrepreneurs, in which his father is the virile, patriarchal quintessence of that ideal and, likewise, a very human realization of its flaws / morbidity. It is a far less ribald tale than his more satirical works that bring to mind some of Mark Twain's best short stories and novels.

But in that way it does also represent the other dimension of Chekhov's work, one that seemingly reflects the very earnest distrust he felt for the establishment, and how the present, oppressive conditions of his homeland were damaging to all who lived by them. It's hard to satirize something so starkly and unmitigatedly abysmal as 19th century Czarist Russia, which would be like if you were trying to satirize Nazism or Stalinism (although Orwell did well in the latter case, but it took animals and allegory, something so ironically innocuous as a children's fable). I'm not of course saying that Chekhov was purposely telling things like they were, in less than satirical fashion, in the case of "Three Years" and in other stories, because that's the only way conceivable / appropriate to describe the situation. He blurred the line, doing both satirical and dramatical representations. I just understand the motivation to decide transparency is the better course in certain cases, and to remove any abstraction. To say what you mean, to the extent that that is doable.

Bravo, Chekhov, bravo! (And bravo, Mark Twain!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Coming of Age Stuff: "Black Swan Green"

David Mitchell rules. There, I said it. Seriously, he is one of the most pleasantly readable authors writing at this present time in world history, which may sound a bit hyperbolic, because it is, but not because Mitchell isn't great, because he is. I first encountered him with "Cloud Atlas" -- a vivid tapestry of several stories cohering to tell something uniformly significant (but I won't give any more of that away; simply put, it's a highly recommended read).

I love his ability to meld eastern culture with west, which is a feature of much of his work to this point. But if that was the semi-gimmicky and singular attribute of his writing worth mentioning I'd consider him merely a very talented author. "Black Swan Green," his most recently published work (2006), (although his latest "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet" is forthcoming this year) is a notable departure from his previous novels, and one that definitely showcases his versatility. It's the coming-of-age story, a bildungsroman -- if you prefer a more pretentious-sounding turn of phrase -- of Jason Taylor. The novel follows him through a year of his life, spanning from January 1982 to January 1983, from age thirteen to fourteen.

I don't think it's fair to assume the story is in any way autobiographical. However, the odd similarities of timeframe -- David Mitchell is a 1969 birth year -- name -- Jason Taylor is a name as similarly commonplace as David Mitchell -- and interests -- Taylor is a talented young writer, specifically in the way of poetry, a fact he hides from his peers for fear that he will be judged "gay" or another emasculating label (aside: I don't consider it emasculating to be gay, simply a fact of life for the characters in "Black Swan Green"). Ultimately, I would not be terribly surprised to learn that Mitchell drew the character Jason Taylor from some of his own life experiences.

If Taylor is not at all related to a young, real-life David Mitchell, it's really no matter, just further testimony of what Mitchell does so well: create fully-realized characters, characters that might as well be living and breathing. His deftness with language, words having their logical place in every sentence he writes, is something akin to Nabokov, in my mind. I'd also say Mitchell's ability to get the reader to identify with the motivations, or passions, of his characters is similar to Michael Chabon's.

Mitchell captures the anxiety of youth completely -- the fear of rejection, of being an outcast, of falling to the lowest stratum of the social tiers, of struggling to find yourself and behave as whatever it is that is. Taylor also possesses a stammer, which becomes an awkward problem for him, on the occasions of his needing to read in front of the rest of his class. He doesn't want to be labeled a "stutterer" -- knowing full well the boys will smell blood in the water and come thrashing.

And as much as you might hope for some transcendent moment of apotheosis for Taylor, the story doesn't stretch the boundaries of what's believable with respect to the subject matter. At the risk of sounding trite, living occurs. Things happen and Taylor is forced to deal with them in whatever way he can manage, however it seems appropriate at the time to proceed. He's a smart kid, a fact he acknowledges at the outset, but a fact he attempts to conceal to whatever degree he's able. He has clear problems at home -- he butts heads with his sister (though they ultimately find common ground), and he watches as his mother and father do the same without end. I don't think it's giving very much away to say that Mitchell seems to intimate that Taylor's parent's marriage is on the doomed side of imminent failure, while simultaneously keeping Taylor hopeful and naive about what is clearly inevitable. Mitchell does reality so-called very well, keeps you wanting to know what happens to his characters.

It's masterful story-telling, kept me gripped from start to finish. I highly recommend "Black Swan Green" to you, too. Especially if you enjoy stories of children like "The Catcher in the Rye " or "Project X."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Back to the Familiar, Kurt Vonnegut & "Jailbird"

Honestly, I can't remember the last Kurt Vonnegut novel I read. Wait, that's a lie. It was "Dead-Eye Dick," and I read it back in late 2008, September, if I'm not mistaken. Vonnegut was my first "favorite writer." I finally got to reading him late in my undergrad years, and before him I thought writers could be interesting, exceedingly so actually (George Orwell being for me the paragon of that idea), but not that I could imagine conversations with them, or crazier yet, aspire to follow in their footsteps.

But Vonnegut changed that. He broke down the abstraction of a writer on a pedestal. And he's without question the one who got me thinking I'd like to write narrative fiction of my own. His stamp on my subconscious (and probably my complete consciousness) is all over my first serious story attempt. Pithy, paltry attempts at characteristically Vonnegut-style asides / interjections are hard to miss, if ever you were to read it.

Still, despite his immovable place in my mind as the writer of writers (whom I admire), I have had stylistic issues with his storytelling for quite a while now. I was underwhelmed by "Dead-Eye Dick" in truth, and others of his later career, which like many who express misgivings about his work, have left me feeling like he'd let himself become a caricature of sorts, parodying his own approach to writing, the noted metafictional elements and all -- and the best possible outcome of his doing so is he'd be aware of it, at least, which I do hope he was (and I believe he was, or at least disappointed by it).

I feel there's evidence of this in quotes like his reference to aging novelists such as himself from "Timequake", in which he said:

Johannes Brahms quit composing symphonies when he was fifty-five. Enough! My architect father was sick and tired of architecture when he was fifty-five. Enough! Fifty-five is a long time ago for me now. Have pity!

He made similar, more specific statements of the sort that most writers completed their best work by age fifty-five in interviews and so forth, one interview in particular with Charlie Rose in which he made said comment was seized on and creatively edited into what became his infamously slanderous televised obituary by FOX News, a media dispensary that evidently and not terribly surprisingly didn't miss him even days after his passing. But returning to the point, which is not that FOX News is awful (although it is), but that Kurt Vonnegut seemed, if even jocularly, dissatisfied with what he was writing more or less after the time of "Slaughterhouse-Five."

Still, every career has its summit. And while I believe he had long since reached it and begun his ascent, I was particularly pleased by Timequake, which seemed to return to the Vonnegut of old in all the right ways while deftly including anecdotes told with that inimitable and cantankerous Vonnegut clarity that of itself contributed greatly to his popularity. In other words, for one book he cleanly melded old and new, and in my view produced a memorable work -- at approx. age 77 no less! Who knew? Yes, yes, I know he's inimitable, sorry. Won't happen again.

So what of "Jailbird" then? How does it factor into what was ostensibly meant to be its review (if the title of this post should carry any weight)? Maybe I'm just in a mood to like Vonnegut right now (I suspect this might be a lot of people's default setting; it's probably mine), but I really enjoyed "Jailbird" not that it did anything unusually well per Vonnegut's standard.

Nevertheless, it was told with the usual eye for happenstance and genuine concern for humanity that bleeds through his narratives -- and with plenty of humorous asides and anecdotes (particularly funny are main character Walter F. Starbuck's first one-on-one encounter with Arpad Leen and the circumstances surrounding that meeting, and a science fiction writer with whom Starbuck is acquainted (happened to be imprisoned alongside) writing a fictional account of Albert Einstein's entering Heaven -- with a twist that in Heaven the primary concern of the angels is absolving God of responsibility for the failure of humans to profit monetarily while alive. They do so by demonstrating the many opportunities, outlandish though they may have been, presented to each and every man, woman, and child who passes through the pearly gates.

Does "Jailbird" add anything special to Vonnegut's corpus? Well, no, but neither does it take anything away. Is that a profoundly ringing endorsement? I suppose not. So it goes.

(Ah, go to hell for judging me!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

James Crumley's Mystery: i.e. "The Wrong Case"

I didn't like the ending of "The Wrong Case" to start with. I hate being negative right out of the gate, and I generally enjoy the work of James Crumley (I enjoyed most of "The Wrong Case" -- just not the end so much). Crumley does something fascinatingly real in his story, too, which may just redeem the fact that even though I didn't terribly care for the conclusion, his effort with regard to the story's outcome was understandable and though not to my taste still inarguably crafty / clever.

In all of the synopses of "The Wrong Case" I've come across, the prevailing attitude seems to be that the story's protagonist, private detective Milton "Milo" Chester Milodragovitch, is unusually flawed and human -- a drunk, a deadbeat, and operating on the notion that he possesses none of the superhuman cunning / guile and perceptiveness of a Sherlock Holmes or even Raymond Chandler's archetypal private detective, Marlowe. I suppose I'd have an easier time believing that if I didn't think it was all a rouse, a suggestion by the character who believes it in part, believes his own misdirection -- that he is not to the caliber of the best detectives. Which brings us to the most effective motif of the novel -- illusion-crafting, myth-making. The characters all seem bound by their desire for the world to be either not what it is, or as I think is true of Milo, they're deluding themselves into believing something false about themselves, something that makes their own failures easier to cope with. The sort of "life mulligan" everyone who thought at one time they might be better than their circumstances tries to claim, mostly with affected indifference or affected-turned-to-actualized-by-rote-effort indifference.

But Milo is nobody's fool. He's depressed and he's an alcoholic. He wants somebody to give a damn about, which makes him interesting in the rough-around-the-ages way typical to antiheroes. As a character study, he's especially fun. Because of his insecurities, which are present from the very first, he never feels like a character you can pin down entirely. Will he choose cowardice? Perhaps, but for the most part he always confronts his attackers, detractors, interrogators, et al, head on -- the only one of these he seems to avoid more often than not is the even more unflappable police lieutenant, Jamison, who's also married to Milo's ex-wife and stepfather to his natural son (Milo has, what's more, an adopted son, a biracial ex-junky who goes by the handle, "Muffin"). Milo's a friend to the dregs (bums and winos, usually they are one and the same) of Meriwether, a fictional town located in the Pacific Northwest and in and around which all the action of the novel takes place.

Some mild spoilers forthcoming:
The impetus of the plot belongs to the entrance of Helen Duffy, a young woman whose looks and charms are enough to insure, in spite of himself, that Milo will assist her in finding her missing brother, not by direct relation but adopted, named Raymond. (The inanity of this exceedingly common mystery trope is undone somewhat humorously with a frazzled Duffy tripping out the door of Milo's office at the end of their initial meeting.) Raymond does turn up later, but dead of an overdose, which Helen refuses to accept was anything but the result of a purposeful murder and continues to use Milo's services to find the culprit. Milo is aided by one of the town's preeminent and most senior drunken bums, Simon, a friend of Milo's deceased father who in certain respects is a surrogate in that way to Milo, although because he shows such a tendency for haplessness in his own right it is more often Milo's responsibility to take care of Simon than receive any useful tutelage from him. Still, their bond is evident right away, and becomes a big part of the pathos that contributes greatly to Milo's character.

That's all I'll say for the essential plot elements, any more would give away too much, I think. And giving away too much is probably the worst thing you can do when describing a mystery novel. Besides, as mentioned already, I'm more concerned with the philosophical elements of the plot -- of what Raymond was vs. what Helen wanted to believe about him, of what Milo wanted to believe about Helen and himself, and so forth. The one thought you are struck by, throughout reading this story, is that there is no way this can end in a conventionally happy way, which that may very well be the case, although I'm not telling.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How TV and Dan Chaon Taught Me About Good Writing

Listen, I don't pretend that there is a "right way" or a "wrong way" to write. I mean, yes here's my opinion to appear in short order, and which opinion does tend to reflect the highfalutin dint of all things belonging to the literati and that which is canonical or that which is loitering around nearby what's canonical's seven boring circles (the irony of joshingly insulting the canon with the use of a reference to one of its more noted works is not lost on me, either). Ironies abound, even if in the latter example -- as with any joke overly explained -- humor is lost.

But nevertheless there's my first point about writing well, ironies usually abound. Good, thought-stimulating ironies. There cannot be enough of them. The thing of it is, though, they can't just be the ironies for irony's sake which have ironically been normalized, co-opted if you will, by mainstream media. Try watching television commercials without running aground ironic-style: GEICO offending cavemen (and spawning a mercifully short-lived television show), Bud Light parodying eHarmony commercials and so forth, McDonald's being ironic in advertisement unintentionally (which might be the worst of all the "irony vis-a-vis commercialization" phenomena), etc.

How long can we continue to be subversive with the implementation of irony? Probably forever, because no matter how hard the so-called establishment tries, there will always be limits to what they are willing to say and do, because of how decorum will insist they behave for the "greater good" of moving merchandise (or whatever superficial coda may / will one day supplant said notion). People will always be looking to the past, in other words, for good or ill (I don't consider this to be a uniquely bad human inclination), looking for acceptable methods for conducting oneself in public and private life, thus a sort of "cultural coda" will always embody this effort.

The only way it will differ from your standard definition of "coda" is insofar as it will not signal a conclusion to anything, but merely the hope of conclusion by a reasonably large segment of the population (this is assuming we don't give into our baser urges and appoint a dictator to insure absolute finality of this concluding thought). But this definition of the term, which I've pulled from, essentially expresses my point apropos of coda and meaning derived from it:

a concluding section or part, esp. one of a conventional form and serving as a summation of preceding themes, motifs, etc. as in a work of literature of drama

So "cultural coda" is therefore, in my terms synthesized with a never-ending process of our free society to maintain status quo themes and thoughts and attitudes (of literary variety or otherwise, just normative values sweepingly), and every couple of decades this coda is updated but nevertheless continues to aspire to reversion, muddled only slightly by the progressive changes it has chosen to adopt and incorporate.

But I do not want to go all "Chuck Klosterman" on you, though, and let my presumed "big ideas" spiral away from the topic at hand (am I the only one who sort of sees this in Klosterman's work? No disrespect), so let's see if I can bring this full circle in a manner I find efficient and appropriate. So Dan Chaon (see title of this post) figures into what I'm talking about for a couple of reasons. The first is he is actually a good writer. The second is that before I knew he was a writer with credentials I knew he was a good writer. It came through in spades. It came through in a short story he wrote that appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, which is called, "Raymond Carver." (Give it a quick read; it's only a smoke long, so they say.) I read this story and thought Chaon had writing chops -- which is not what I thought of a whole lot of others I read on the same Internet-lit site (no disrespect). I won't rehash the plot since the story is very short, so just read it yourself. And I hadn't heard of him at the time, though. He's famous, as I say. And for good reason, I say. Ask me to explain. Well, I don't know -- there's just something about the story. He does things that suggest talent. What things? How about this line:

"How much do you smoke?" he says conversationally, and since I know that he was supposed to have died of lung cancer, I feel apologetic.
First, it takes a little boldness to try and render a writer you admire in story form, which in this imagined conversation, Chaon does to good effect, I think. Second, cutting to the quick with an awkward moment involving cigarette smoking, and the acknowledged dramatic irony (which there's irony again, this time especially good for nuanced subtly)? I thought and think it's good. But you tell me. Is it? I love being self-aggrandizing / patting my self on back. Probably this is not the way to conduct oneself. Instead, I will encourage you to read a Chaon short story, because in that way at least, he does remind me stylistically of a writer whom he was clearly inspired by and a fan of in Carver. I've since read Chaon's "Among the Missing" and can avow its goodness as well, i.e. in my view.

But you won't see Chaon in cultural coda or on TV.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Airships and Barry Hannah and Coincidences

Barry Hannah passed away on Monday. A weird coincidence for me, once again, as I had only just finished reading his seminal book of short stories "Airships" about a week and a half prior. This has happened to me a couple times before, as I have mentioned on this blog before (if not very clearly -- I consider those authors I've "cursed" to be J.G. Ballard, Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace -- Ballard it was "Concrete Island" and Wallace it was "Infinite Jest" and Vonnegut I'd actually read a number of his works in the span of the first several months of 2007 prior to his passing in April).

To be clear: I don't consider myself to be some harbinger of doom, reading the works of famous writers and causing their subsequent deaths. There are too many I've read who remain very much alive, even after I finished a great number of their novels, but still I will say no more of it because of a tiny ember of fear in the back of my mind that burns with: I could be wrong. Not likely, but I'm open to possibilities. Think of my attitude in the same terms you would of the lapsed-Catholic-cum-atheist who still mildly fears various sins and transgressions for the inculcated possibility of eternal damnation. Moreover, that pretty much describes my attitude in relation to superstitions just generally -- fear of supernal punishment.

The real result for me of Barry Hannah's passing is it changes a little of the critical bent I was going to approach his work with, i.e. critical in a more negative sense. I enjoyed "Airships" quite a lot actually, but there were problems I had with it that I can't simply brush under the rug of "artistic license." Maybe nows not the time, but does anyone understand his inclination towards liberal use of the "N-word"? I'm being sincere here, and if you've read "Airships" then you know near every story contains numerous appearances of a word that makes the bleeding heart, PC liberal in me cringe. So what gives? You tell me. I haven't read enough Faulkner or Walker Percy to know if this is a white southern writer thing. Please, enlighten me.

And I'm not opposed to frank or crass terms in literature, not by a long shot. I'd say, over all, I've got a rather anti-PC sensibility. I enjoyed reading a number of David Foster Wallace essays on something near this subject from "Consider the Lobster" -- which remains one of my favorite books all time for the shear and evident erudition brought to bear as he tackles issues in that non-combative, broad-minded but also subtly and subversively internecine Wallacian way of his. I found this especially effective in his last essay in which he sits-in on a local conservative broadcaster's (John Ziegler's) radio show, picking apart the many incendiary moments with really thought-provoking analysis, for example an issue of being "PC":

. . . [F]or what it's worth, John Ziegler does not appear to be racist as "racist" is generally understood. What he is is more like very, very insensitive . . . Actually, though, it is in the very passion of his objection to terms like "insensitive," "racist," and "the N-word" that his real problem lies. Like many other post-Limbaugh hosts, John Ziegler seems unable to differentiate between (1) cowardly, hypocritical acquiescence to the tyranny of Political Correctness and (2) judicious, compassionate caution about using words that cause pain to large groups of human beings, especially when there are all sorts of less upsetting words that can be used . . . If it causes you real pain to hear or see something, and I make it a point to inflict that thing on you merely because I object to your reasons for finding it painful, then there's something wrong with my sense of proportion, or my recognition of your basic humanity, or both. (322)
Now certainly there is a difference between a self-righteous, bloviating radio talk show host decrying his / her inability to use such terms as the "N-word" without people making a stink about it, and the artistic implementation of said word in literature, as Barry Hannah most assuredly had done. But call me "cowardly" and "hypocritical" and so forth with regard to PC terms, but when Hannah writes things like, "This nigger was eating a banana, hanging his leg out the front seat on the curb," I get a little discomfited.

Now especially in the preceding example from "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa," but throughout the book of short stories, I realize a strong argument could be made that he is attempting to undermine the very notion that blacks represent any kind of servile underclass through the very indictable way they are perceived by the various white protagonists who tell his stories, but I guess in the same way someone might consider it untoward if a German were to write a contemporary-ish story of Jews being referred to with the same pejorative slurs that defined a culture of discrimination and genocide in the '30s and '40s, so too does it unnerve me when a white southern author does a comparable thing with the "N-word" -- inarguably the paramount disparagement of the Jim Crow-era (and continuing today, more or less) American south, with so much historical weight loaded to it. (And when so often its use in his writing seems superfluous, anyway.)

Furthermore, I realize that lynching was not a phenomenon unique to the south, and so my northern hands are anything but clean (especially with Chicago's less than superlative history of black-white race relations), but maybe that's even more reason for why its use makes me uneasy -- I'm no less complicit. People will say that words are just words, and to an extent I agree. But the "N-word" -- not our understanding of the history behind it -- is one I'd prefer went the way of "Coolie" or "Pickaninny" and exited the vernacular in toto.

I guess what I'm ultimately saying is I wish it hadn't bothered me so much, because all told, I really liked what I read in "Airships." It at times in my mind definitely betokened a southern George Saunders, with ribald tales and their very present moral underpinnings, such as in "Eating Wife and Friends," "Our Secret Home," "Testimony of Pilot," and "Coming Close to Donna." In the end, the above description of a humorous but even-handed and thoughtful story-teller is how I'll choose to regard the work of Barry Hannah, but if there's a singular reason I cannot place him among my favorites, it has got to be as I have stated, just something in the diction, and liberality of its employment. The effect perhaps was lost on me, as maybe I'm too sensitive. I never thought that was so.

Monday, March 1, 2010

And What I've Been Thinking

Keeping up with any kind of consistency on this blog has proved to be, once again, a tricky thing for me. I say "once again" because I'm not sure what number blog this is in the litany I've had up to now. It's gotta be around the fourth or fifth, although I do think it has the clearest focus and for that, should be maintained with greater ease than the others I've attempted. But while this blog is necessarily about me and how I relate to literature, I really want to state concretely, here and now, that I wish to hear your opinions, too, world. Whoever you are, if you've had an opinion about a book I've named, or an author, or either of these brings to mind another book / author that had you feeling something -- let's talk about that, too. Leave a comment, share thoughts.

See I've been working towards why I care about literature, what drives me to read and purposeful discussion / analysis thereafter. I have a firmer grasp on why these days, I think -- and it's not purely unselfish. I would never pretend to be purely unselfish. Modesty is a nice personality trait but it's hard to imagine anyone who exists completely devoted to that ideal -- and if they do it's hard to imagine it's not for some hope that they live in the esteem of others for upholding that ideal. I could be wrong, but I think it's contrary to our programming to be unequivocally modest, especially from a purely biological standpoint. Instead, I think humans are meant to be dichotomous, one part living for others and the community at large, and another part living for themselves and their own individual (i.e. apart from the lives and livelihood of even their nuclear family) sustentation.

It's what allows us, possibly, to contain the multitudes Walt Whitman writes of in the poem, "Song of Myself." We are large, as Whitman also writes, and we are complex beings, so although it complicates our lives, our lives are gray and filled with questions not easily answered with yes or no. But I'm not writing of that as a disparagement of the human condition; I could, so could you, but I will take a stand here -- decide, if you will -- to view it as a positive. You don't have to agree, and in fact I encourage your dissension.

If this is beginning to sound like a Reader's Manifesto that's because maybe it is.