• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
    travellinpenguin on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,059,726 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,717 other followers

  • Advertisements

Reading “The Sellout”

1carered

The opening paragraph, satirical, provocative and funny, decides the purchase of this book. The book looks like a madhouse of insight into race in America.

This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly…

These are some of the most snarky and electric opening lines. I’m sold immediately.

Advertisements

Reading Sula

1carered

Pamuk’s My Name is Red is too dense to read all in one sitting, so I set it aside for Sula. In Morrison’s Sula, women experience adversities generated from the idea that women should project a certain image in society and maintain a specific role in the home. Most commonly, masculinity is defined by aggression and dominance, whereas femininity is portrayed as emblematic of passivity and submission. The need for women to be submissive in a male-dominated society causes many women to suffer from a lack of individuality and self-expression. Sula and Eva suffer from the victimization of patriarchy, even though the victimization may sometimes be self-inflicted. Morrison portrays the strength perseverance, and determination that reside in women.

[785] A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

1carered

“So he had invented some solutions, for small memories—little slights, insults—you relived them again and again until they were neutralized, until they became near meaningless with repetition, or until you could believe that they were something that had happened to someone else and you had just heard about it.” (Part IV, Ch.3, 380)

To summarize in one phrase, A Little Life is relentless suffering. It is extremely dark and disturbing, beyond excruciating, but has so much beauty in it. The novel follows a diverse crew of four friends, all graduates of a prestigious New England college, tightly bound to each other, who move to New York City to make their way. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; Malcolm, the biracial scion of a wealthy family who is stuck in an architect firm; JB, the child of Haitian immigrants, a painter in pursuit of fame in the art world; and withdrawn, brilliant, and enigmatic Jude, who really is the center of gravity of the story. As Jude’s harrowing, mysterious past is revealed in a restrained manner, mainly because Jude is determined to curb those horrible memories, the relationships between the four friends deepen and darken, each f whom is challenged by Jude’s unspeakable trauma in his childhood.

His brain was vomitting memories, they were flooding everything else—he thought of people and sensations and incidents he hadn’t thought of in years . . . He had tried—all his life . . . he had tried to make himself clean. (Part IV, Ch.3, 391)

As narrative exhausts on the camaraderie, the ensemble recedes and Jude comes to the fore. A Little Life is Jude’s story; it’s a long meditation on sexual abuse, suffering, self-injury, and the difficulties of recovery. What childhood trauma that had befallen him ultimately defines his life—his fear of life and relationship. He’s inclined to self-injury, to cutting himself so that he’s numb from pain. The cutting becomes a leitmotif, recurring and queasy. Cutting is both a symptom of and a control mechanism for the profound abuse Jude suffered during the years before he came to university. The depiction of abuse and physical suffering at the hand of a priest is so graphic that would make some readers queasy.

The book is long, but what Yanagihara does in chronicling Jude’s battered past is balanced by lighter stretches. Some of the most moving parts of the novel are not its mos brutal but its tenderest ones, moments when Jude receives kindness and support from his friends, his adopted parents, and especially from Willem, who loves him and does not treat him as an object. In a way, friendship is the only solace available to him and friendship alone makes it possible for him to conceive life. The book doesn’t offer any possibility of redemption and deliverance beyond the tender moments, but it does give us the moral that however sad life is, one goes on to search for solace. It’s a book about the limits of friendship and the bright humanity of people.

720 pp. Picador. UK Paper Edition. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[783] Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller

1carered

“The cancer of time is eating us away. Our hero killed ourselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, thus, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death.” (1)

Tropic of Cancer doesn’t adhere to fiction’s convention. The 1934 controversial book, banned until the U.S. Sepreme Court lifted the ban, is more autobiographical in style, written in stream-of-consciousness that captures the details and nuances of a particular moment in history in as intense a way as possible. It’s filled with Miller’s anecdotal tales that are exuberant and obscene. The book is set in Paris in the years after World War One, a time when most young people, like Miller and those he encounters, have turned permanently cynical and nihilistic, so horrified as they aptly were over what exact carnage humans have proven themselves capable of to the business of warfare.

Even as the world falls apart the Paris that belongs to Matisse shudders with bright, gasping orgasms, the air itself is steady with a stagnant sperm, the trees tangled like hair. (166)

In Miller’s hand the world is an impasse, on the verge of annihilation, with people lining up to the prison of death. In search for some kind of utopia, these young expatriates, feeling anachronistic with the time they live in, plunge into such bawdy adventures intertwined with sex and substances. Down and out in Paris, Miller lives hand-to-mouth, eking out a living with a variety of jobs. He’s at the mercy of rich patrons for whom he writes pseudoymous letters and books. The artistic pursuits do not make their lives easier. But they take life lightly. The result is an entire neighborhood that becomes boisterous, drunken melting pots, packed to the gunwales with bohemians from around the world and all stations of life who no longer give a crap about anything. they embrace such things as casual sex and exotic drugs in a way no other generation has embraced them before, as they party the way to apocalypse they are all sure is right around the corner.

The book reflects on a generation lost in the underworld of seed sex. For Miller who arrived on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1930s, he was the quintessence of abject failure. All he had going for him was creative rage, mixed with some artistic vision of the truly avant garde. But those he ecounters are borderline hopeless cases and psychopaths, all of whom are trying to make the best of Paris and making sense of their lives.

318 pp. Grove Press. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

“Roots”

1roots

Oreo leads me to Roots by Alex Haley. After I finished the book, I read the introduction:

While Oreo may have been one of the least-known novels of the decade, Roots went on to become the single most popular novel of the decade [1970s], black or white. It occupied the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for twenty-two weeks. It was adapted into one of the most-watched television miniseries of all time. –Danzy Senna

Now I’m very curious about Roots and it’s on my reading list. Have you read?

[755-2] Atlas Shrugged (Part II) – Ayn Rand

1atlas1

***Read in conjunction with Tina at Book Chatter***

“…if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders—what would you tell him to do? . . . To shrug. ” (Part II, Ch.III, White Blackmail)

Part II, titled “Either-Or,” focuses on Dagny Taggart’s struggle to resolve a dilemma: either to continue her battle to save the crumbling railway network, an artery of the country’s economy, or to give it up and grant the “looters” sanction. The middle section of the novel sheds light on the new directives that, what were meant to boost economy by encouraging competition and eliminating monopoly, actually leads to the collapse of the nation’s oil industry. Following the disappearance of Wyatt who imploded his oil fields, Rearden, refusing to cede the rights to Rearden Metal to the State, is indicted for secret sales to a coal magnate, a transaction made illegal by the equal opportunity directives.

It seemed to her that some destroyer was moving soundlessly through the country and the lights were dying at his touch—someone, she thought bitterly, who have reversed the principle of the Twentieth Century motor and was now turning kinetic energy into static. (Part II, Ch.II)

Equally perplexing Dagny is the continuous disappearance of industrialists for no conceivable reason. Francisco d’Anconia, heir of the largest copper core who has turned a playboy, reveals that he has deliberately destroyed his company to harm the looters who are profiteering on his abilities. He coaxes Rearden to renounce the State by quitting. By continuing to work under such dictatorial circumstances, Rearden is granting a moral sanction to the looters, a sanction they need from him in order to compromise his rights and his mind. At his trial, Rearden is unapologetic for his success and defensive of his right to produce for his own stake. His sound reason only leaves the court speechless and panicked. But it’s Rearden’s wife Lillian, upset at his affair with Dagny, uses this as a weapon to deliver him to the State.

There had been a time he had been required to do his best and rewarded accoringly. Now he could expect nothing but punishment, if he tried to follow his conscience. There had been a time when he had been expected to think. Now they did not want him to think, only to obey. (Part II, Ch.VII, The Moratorium of Brains)

Part II sees further deterioration of the railway, punishment of Rearden’s success, and a rapid, chilling assimilation of a society in which all talents and ambition are curbed and the citizens become indistinguishable. Bussinessmen use government power to loot competitors, they gain in the short run while greater losses are spread throughout the society. The “aristocracy of pull” in the book rules through access to Washington, trading favors and back-stabbing in a destructive political competition that eventually leads to economic collapse. But the most porous damage is the death of brain—gone are reason and individual thinking. The virtues that made life possible and the values that give life meaning become agents of its destruction.

Reading Louise Erdrich

image

Love Medicine is like One Hundred Years of Solitude all over. A multi-generational story spun around two Native Indian families. Family chart should be kept at arm’s legth the whole time the novel is being read. Once reader gets over the complicated relationships, the reading is a magical realism of the native land and traditions.

Love Medicine opens in 1981 with the death of beautiful but broken June Kashpaw. June stumbles from a truck cab and runs from a stranger who calls her by another woman’s name as he makes love to her. She sets out for her home on a North Dakota Chippewa reservation, following her instincts through a later winter storm. But her sharp survival skills, honed in a lifetime of living out-of-doors, cannot overpower the snowstorm or keep her warm in a pair of jeans and a thin jacket.

It is challenging to keep straight the shared bloodlines and histories. I believe later editions contain a family tree of sorts. But Erdrich explains these connected lives in a way that you realize they are like the root system of an aspen tree—one tree, standing alone, is really part of a vast forest.