Anyway, as happens with my other such favorite influential authors — Kafka, Vonnegut, Melville, Hemingway, London, Conrad… (I know, I know. This list is very male and very white… I’m working on that. I promise.) — I, like clockwork, begin jonesin’ for a Camus fix at least once a year.
Right now I’m in the midst of satisfying my most recent Camus craving by plowing through several of my perennial favorites of his — The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall.
However, yesterday I began reading for the first time a short story collection of his called Exile and the Kingdom, and I’m saddened and a bit embarrassed to report to you that, after three stories in, I really don’t have a clue what’s going on in any of them. They, after the first read, just don’t make any sense to me. Hopefully they will after subsequent reads.
In my last post “Hey Reader, What’s Your Angle,” I invited you all to share a link to a book that you’ve reviewed that provides some insight, via your writing, as to how you apply your critical thinking strategy towards the books you read.
I’m so happy that MB BLISSETT was kind/brave enough to take me up on the offer; for, not only did he introduce me to THE FEVER by Meg Abbott with his interesting and insightful review of her work, he introduced me to a new eclectic world of creativity and intellect that can be found all throughout his website.
After reading his review that I introduce here, I strongly urge you to then head straight to his About page as it is most interesting and entertaining – I read it and I feel a strong kinship with his outlook toward writing and his literary taste.
Comments are closed here so that you can share your thoughts directly with MB at his website.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs posits that when base needs are met, then your desires become more refined. Which usually means that your fears probably work on the same level. If you’re not risking death every single time that you give birth, then you’re worried that they will live to be healthy adults and when they’re healthy adolescents, you’re worried about any number of factors. Within the haunted house of parenthood and adolescence, Megan Abbott knows where the ghosts live and shows them to you.
The Fever ably captures the beauty and passion, the terror, the contradictory desire for freedom and privacy, the secrets that women keep from themselves and one another. She uses social media and how it intertwines and defines the worlds of young people subtly and effectively. In the iconography of the modern world, the online video is the sermon, the blowing of the whistle or in this…
Probably the most influential and impactive course I took during my college years (and for me, “college years” do not mean four coming-out-years of raucous partying and occasional studying, it means thirteen long and tedious years of night school, transferring to this college or that college depending on where the military assigned me, and all of which were completely dependent upon the sacrifice and commitment from my lovely and loving wife) was a Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism (or something to that effect) course while attending Tidewater Community College in Chesapeake, Virginia, oh so long ago.
It was this course, taught by an instructor mild in manner but powerful in purpose and ability whose name I sadly cannot remember, in which I was instructed and inspired to become an active reader — a reader who brings to a book not just a desire to be entertained, but desires to seek within the work deeper and hidden meanings, as well as to impose upon the work a personal agenda.
I quickly learned that being an active reader by itself takes more than a little bit of effort; but being an active reader with an angle, so to speak, is an exhaustive work out.
No really… thinking burns significant calories, my friend. Ergo, the harder you think, the more calories you burn, ergo once more… the more exhaustive – and rewarding – workout you have. Don’t believe me ask the Google God.
If you aren’t aware, I happen to be an excessively white, less-than-excessively (nowadays, anyway) WASPy kind of dude who was socialized as a youth in and by an excessively white and WASPy home, church, school, television, books, etc. kind of way. And one thing about us white, WASPy dudes — and if you are not a white, WASPy dude you probably understand this much better than we ever will — is that we have a very strong tendency to see the world through rose-colored glasses.
I mean, come on, the industrialized world we now live in pretty much has grown out of the minds of past and present white, WASPy dudes so why wouldn’t all the rest of us white, WASPy dudes think all life is just grand and peachy keen, right?
Anyway… we can have a much longer discussion about the pros and cons of white, WASPy worldviews later, but the point about it here is, when it came to being an active reader with an agenda, well, I just didn’t have one to inherently apply to the literature I was reading, since most of the literature I was reading came from the minds of those with worldviews similar to mine.
Can you dig?
Which is why the book the course was based upon was so important to the success of the class, and why, even today, it continues to be so important to me.
Long story short – kind of: The book provides a survey of all the major schools of literary criticism and the coursework involved reading short stories and having to critique them by applying the various critical schools. This, of course, meant that yours truly here had to think, read, and react to the work not like a staid white, WASPy dude that I was and, much to much of the world’s dismay, still am, but as a Deconstructionist, or, gasp, a Marxist or even, deeper gasp… a Feminist!
Needless to say, I survived the severe disruption to my cozy worldview. But I didn’t just survive it, I thrived from it. It really opened my eyes to all the many ways – good and not so good – works of literature can and are interpreted and understood by those with worldviews quite dissimilar to mine.
I’ve come to find that life is much more thoughtful and clear and understanding once those rose-colored glasses were removed and seen as others without them see it.
So, I ask you, Dear Reader, what’s your angle?
Are you an active reader?
Do you bring an agenda to a body of literary work when reading it?
My guess is most of us don’t because being an active reader is tough work.
Even though I intend to go into a body of work with purpose, I more often than not find myself being a “casual reader,” a reader easily lured into passivity by the cozy confines of verisimilitude, until I’m wrapped up – held hostage – by the telling of a good story. And once I finally am able to break free from the stories grasp, I’ll have to go back and try once again to read critically what I had just read mindlessly.
As Kurt Vonnegut so wisely, and often, said: So it goes…
However, if you, Dear Reader, are an active reader with an agenda, or even if you are not, I’d like to know about it. Drop me a line in the comment section and let me know about your reading strategy, or lack thereof.
And if you are a book reviewer with an agenda, please provide links to some of your work. I would love to read it and, perhaps, reblog it here to share with others.
When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun–a small single-barrelled shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time. I was not able to hit anything with it, but I liked to try. Fred and I hunted feathered small game, the others hunted deer, squirrels, wild turkeys, and such things. My uncle and the big boys were good shots. They killed hawks and wild geese and such like on the wing; and they didn’t wound or kill squirrels, they stunned them. When the dogs treed a squirrel, the squirrel would scamper aloft and run out on a limb and flatten himself along it, hoping to make himself invisible in that way– and not quite succeeding. You could see his wee little ears sticking up. You couldn’t see his nose, but you knew where it was. Then the hunter, despising a “rest” for his rifle, stood up and took offhand aim at the limb and sent a bullet into it immediately under the squirrel’s nose, and down tumbled the animal, unwounded, but unconscious; the dogs gave him a shake and he was dead. Sometimes when the distance was great and the wind not accurately allowed for, the bullet would hit the squirrel’s head; the dogs could do as they pleased with that one–the hunter’s pride was hurt, and he wouldn’t allow it to go into the gamebag.
In the first faint gray of the dawn the stately wild turkeys would be stalking around in great flocks, and ready to be sociable and answer invitations to come and converse with other excursionists of their kind. The hunter concealed himself and imitated the turkey-call by sucking the air through the leg-bone of a turkey which had previously answered a call like that and lived only just long enough to regret it. There is nothing that furnishes a perfect turkey-call except that bone. Another of Nature’s treacheries, you see. She is full of them; half the time she doesn’t know which she likes best–to betray her chid or protect it. In the case of the turkey she is badly mixed: she gives it a bone to be used in getting it into trouble, and she also furnishes it with a trick for getting itself out of the trouble again. When a mamma-turkey answers an invitation and finds she has made a mistake in accepting it, she does as the mamma-partridge does–remembers a previous engagement–and goes limping and scrambling away, pretending to be very lame; and at the same time she is saying to her not-visible children, “Lie low, keep still, don’t expose yourselves; I shall be back as soon as I have beguiled this shabby swindler out of the country.”
When a person is ignorant and confiding, this immoral device can have tiresome results. I followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable part of the United States one morning, because I believed in her and could not think she would deceive a mere boy, and one who was trusting her and considering her honest. I had the single-barrelled shotgun, but my idea was to catch her alive. I often got within rushing distance of her, and then made my rush; but always, just as I made my final plunge and put my hand down where her back had been, it wasn’t there; it was only two or three inches from there and I brushed the tail- feathers as I landed on my stomach–a very close call, but still not quite close enough; that is, not close enough for success, but just close enough to convince me that I could do it next time. She always waited for me, a little piece away, and let on to be resting and greatly fatigued; which was a lie, but I believed it, for I still thought her honest long after I ought to have begun to doubt her, suspecting that this was no way for a high-minded bird to be acting. I followed, and followed, and followed, making my periodical rushes, and getting up and brushing the dust off, and resuming the voyage with patient confidence; indeed, with a confidence which grew, for I could see by the change of climate and vegetation that we were getting up into the high latitudes, and as she always looked a little tireder and a little more discouraged after each rush, I judged that I was safe to win, in the end, the competition being purely a matter of staying power and the advantage lying with me from the start because she was lame.
Along in the afternoon I began to feel fatigued myself. Neither of us had had any rest since we first started on the excursion, which was upwards of ten hours before, though latterly we had paused awhile after rushes, I letting on to be thinking about something else; but neither of us sincere, and both of us waiting for the other to call game but in no real hurry about it, for indeed those little evanescent snatches of rest were very grateful to the feelings of us both; it would naturally be so, skirmishing along like that ever since dawn and not a bite in the meantime; at least for me, though sometimes as she lay on her side fanning herself with a wing and praying for strength to get out of this difficulty a grasshopper happened along whose time had come, and that was well for her, and fortunate, but I had nothing–nothing the whole day.
More than once, after I was very tired, I gave up taking her alive, and was going to shoot her, but I never did it, although it was my right, for I did not believe I could hit her; and besides, she always stopped and posed, when I raised the gun, and this made me suspicious that she knew about me and my marksmanship, and so I did not care to expose myself to remarks.
I did not get her, at all. When she got tired of the game at last, she rose from almost under my hand and flew aloft with the rush and whir of a shell and lit on the highest limb of a great tree and sat down and crossed her legs and smiled down at me, and seemed gratified to see me so astonished.
I was ashamed, and also lost; and it was while wandering the woods hunting for myself that I found a deserted log cabin and had one of the best meals there that in my life-days I have eaten. The weed-grown garden was full of ripe tomatoes, and I ate them ravenously, though I had never liked them before. Not more than two or three times since have I tasted anything that was so delicious as those tomatoes. I surfeited myself with them, and did not taste another one until I was in middle life. I can eat them now, but I do not like the look of them. I suppose we have all experienced a surfeit at one time or another. Once, in stress of circumstances, I ate part of a barrel of sardines, there being nothing else at hand, but since then I have always been able to get along without sardines.
Seriously folks, if you love classic literature and love to listen to classic voice actors, you need to check out Bob Neufeld’s grand body of work.
Seriously folks, I’ve been a fan of Neufeld’s ever since I found him at the beginning of my First Commitment to Emerson (yes, that’s still a thing – stay tuned).
Seriously folks, I just finished Neufeld’s reading of a Heart of Darkness and I’ve never experienced the book so deeply and movingly. More to follow on this reading.
Seriously folks, go to his page, load up your Kindle with all books Neufeld has narrated, and spend your summer, like intend to, listening to the greatest literature being read by one great voice actor.
So, instead of using the time to write like I always wish I had upon realizing that the morning has passed, I usually spend my mornings reading stuff off the web. I start with the news but end up flitting around the data pond like a water bug. A highly caffeinated water bug.
So, yeah, coffee in hand I settle into “the chair,” aka “the command center,” and begin a dereliction of my writing duties with sleepy anticipation. First I fire up my NPR One app so that I can have the settling drone of my favorite morning voices lulling me with all the day’s tragedies in the background, then I fire up my MSN News app. It’s pure awesomeness. What I like best about it is that it’s always feeding New York Times articles and they don’t count against the ten free articles I am allowed monthly. Yes, alas, I am too cheap to pay for a NYT subscription, which, of course, further promotes quality journalism’s fast march to death.
From that point on, your guess is as good as mine as to where I will end up…
Admittedly, mindless flitting can lead me to some highly dangerous and corrupting places.
So, because I can think of nothing better to post about right now (surely not because I assume you were wondering), here is a very quick cut of what a typical morning of mine looks like.
I have a tailored section in my MSN News app that pulls in everything “literature” related. Pretty handy. This morning it pulled in this article:
Despite the philosophical questions, Wood’s book is not really a metaphysical inquiry so much as a reflection on inquiry in writing. “The Why? question is a refusal to accept death,” he argues, and storytelling itself is almost a satanic act of rebellion given that the “ability to see the whole of a life is godlike.” By playing God, he argues, “we also work against God, hurl down the script, refuse the terms of the drama, appalled by the meaninglessness and ephemerality of existence.”
Interesting article; though I’m not sure it answered the question why fiction and criticism matter. Probably missed it since I’m constantly flitting around the internet which is causing my brain to unlearn its ability to learn.
But from the article, I did discover this by Thomas De Quincy:
Here I pause for one moment, to exhort the reader never to pay any attention to his understanding, when it stands in opposition to any other faculty of his mind. The mere understanding, however useful and indispensable, is the meanest faculty in the human mind, and the most to be distrusted; and yet the great majority of people trust to nothing else, which may do for ordinary life, but not for philosophical purposes.
A rather awesome essay; as is evident, I’m certain, even from the selected quote above.
So, yeah, after reading the De Quincy essay, can you guess where I’m flitting off to next?
Yup, you got it…
Off I go for a reread of this, which should easily take me to the end of the morning…
And the beginning of my dereliction of writing regrets.
The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.
Give me the Forest
give me the forest
where only the keening call of the morrow
dare break the sacred calm of the sylvan now
the ritual of the soaring hum
give me the forest
where there are no rules
but the rooting scrawls of the cloven beast
unearthing pagan creeds
blasphemous guides to the dark
to the place where all the fears are found
all the magic
give me the forest
where the haunted howls of midnight
call to worship
all the pious and profane
all the naked unbelievers who mock the baptismal of the moon
give me the forest
where the tattered persona is stripped away
ripped away and hung from the treetops
desperate semaphore signals for the dire
where the anima dances on fresh laid graves
sodden with tears of the holy
Having moved slow and steady through two readings of Nature, with nightly accompaniments of Librivox audio readings that would lull me away to sleep with visions of all the vast universal wonderments dancing in my head, it is now time to sift through my sporadic notes and swirling thoughts to try to make use of what I have come across, as I look to somehow apply to my life all that which Emerson teaches with his complexly simple essays as found in Nature.
However, as I consider such intellectual derring-do, I find myself drawn back to one of the first opportunities for learning the work provides me; one found in a most bold and faith-requiring passage from the introduction:
Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable.
We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds,
the order of things can satisfy.
What a wonder of a statement – Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable.
What a brave, perhaps reckless even, proclamation – We must trust the perfection of creation…
Do you believe that?
Undoubtedly – without any doubt?
Do I believe that?
As wonderful and bold as this passage may be, alas can it possibly be true?
Can it be possible that the order of things can satisfy completely my curiosity? Can this perfection answer all my questions, from those of the most simple and mundane to those of the most metaphysically profound?
And even if it can be possible, will it?
Only time will tell, I suppose.
Until then, for answers to all my seemingly unanswerable questions, I rely upon the only thing the perfection of creation presently allows me…
And that is my less than perfect Faith.
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Edition 003-15 is germane.
Our good friend in literature and life, Paul Xylinides, author of the powerful and finely crafted novel THE WILD HORSES OF HIROSHIMA, among other works, has taken on the noble challenge of standing up a literary review site that I encourage each of you to visit regularly and enjoy.
The site is called theliteraryreader ~ Reviews of the written word and you can find it at theliteraryreader.com.
So please join me in congratulating Paul on this new adventure of his and thank him for furthering the recognition and advancement of the written word.
Congratulations, Paul, and may you enjoy a success such that we all may be rewarded and enlightened by it.
The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor by Kurt Brindley
Review by Paul Xylinides
Kurt Brindley joins forces with Herman Melville
Before I begin this review, let me first recommend to anyone whom it persuades to read The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor, that after doing so they further benefit themselves by looking again at their copy of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor that I shall, however, quote from extensively. Kurt Brindley’s accomplishment should come into even greater focus when looked at through the lens of the nineteenth century classic novel.
Anyone who has ever experienced the injustice of being condemned by those who characterize their sensitivities in ways fundamentally at odds with their true identity will respond deeply to the travails of Kurt Brindley”s protagonist in The Sea Trials of an Unfortunate Sailor. From a tellingly different perspective the same fate befalls Melville’s hero. One cannot help but…
While I had resolved myself to reading Emerson deeply, I had not expected to find myself meditating and reflecting so deeply on individual passages of his writing. I assumed it would be more like me reading an essay and write a summary essay in response. However, what I find is that his writing is so powerful so frequently that I am just as frequently compelled to expression from it; which is why you find my written responses to my reading so focused on and specific to only single passages or even just a sentence or two.