‘ahems and ahahs’

Literature, & Etc.

Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

Jodi Picoult and the Tragic:

leave a comment »

reynold47Reading an article in the New York Times about Jodi Picoult and the Anxious Parent, a look at a recent book trend:

THE ENDANGERED OR ruined child has emerged as a media entity within a culture that has idealized the responsibilities of parenthood to a degree, as has been exhaustively noted, unprecedented in human history. The more we seek to protect our children, the more we fear the consequences of an inability to do so. Increasingly over the past decade, writers of crime fiction — Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane among many others — have made a recurring subject of children violated by predation, abandonment, neglect.” […] ““I think I gravitate toward these subjects because I’m looking for answers and I don’t have them,” Picoult told me. “But mostly I think it is superstition. There is a part of me that believes that if I think about these issues, if I put myself through the emotional ringer, I somehow develop an immunity for my own family.”

Picoult’s thoughts on putting herself “through the emotional ringer” is something that I often think about when reading literature. I’ve had many different discussions with my friends, most of whom are as passionate as I am about literature and one thing that consistently comes up is how the stories that resonate the most with us, as people, are the ones that are often the most violent, most emotionally crippling, or tragic.

There is no doubt that we all enjoy light comic reads from time to time, but personally, the stories that I re-read over and over again center on the tragedy. Two books that I can read over and over again, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas & The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien both rely heavily on tragic and often destructive story lines that take characters into intense and often destructive places. Yet, I turn to these books whenever I seek comfort because I take comfort in these characters and their ability to face these situations, whether they win or lose.

It seems that literature often depends on the Tragic, a way of working through these issues. Random thoughts.


Written by thebeliever07

June 23, 2009 at 8:48 am

leave a comment »

I have a large collection of books and my library is constantly overflowing: onto the floor and off of the shelves. I have a pretty good memory when it comes to the books that I own and the memories associated with those books. I know that certain books are gifts from certain people and this is a pleasant thing. There are some books that go beyond a simple association with a friend or relative and this then is one of the pleasures of owning so many books and collecting them in a personal library. I’ve had people ask me why I insist on owning books and there is a very simple answer. I collect books because they are very much like family to me.

It’s amazing how I can look at my library and see certain periods of my life: that was when I was obsessed with fantasy, that was my science fiction age, that was only a few years ago when I was all about biographies, etc.

I thought I’d share one book in particular that is bound up in memory.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Sadly I do not own the actual book that is associated with this memory, as I most likely gave it away, something I tend to do as a result of my need to share passion of literature with all I meet. I must have been about 11 or 12 when my Aunt, my Massi (mah- seee) and her family took me on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. At some point on our way from Dallas to Utah we ended up at a small airport waiting for a transfer onto a smaller plane and I did not have anything to read, so my cousin said that she would let me pick any book in the airport book store. I think the cover of Dune is what caused me to pick it up.


Let’s be honest, that is an intriguing book cover and if you saw that on a rack you would pick it up and at least consider it.

I am so very glad that I picked this book up as it was my first introduction to the power of science fiction. Dune still resonates with society today (extremist faith and ideology, economic dependency on a single product, war, revolution, justice, etc.). I was unable to get my face out of the book for the rest of the trip. Anytime I see Dune in a bookstore this memory jumps right into my head and makes me smile.

Written by thebeliever07

June 21, 2009 at 8:58 am

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

with 3 comments

This is my first introduction to Cormac McCarthy who is best known for his Border Trilogy which comprises of one book that I think many have at least heard of it not read, All the Pretty Horses. It is hard for me to talk about his style as this book is different from many of his previous which seem to predominantly focus on an aging western landscape. The Road is an amazing book that will be hard to put down. The writing is fragmented and sparse which reflects the narrative, a tale of a boy and his father as they traverse a barren landscape. Some kind of natural or man-made disaster has decimated the entire population and its landscape. In this world everyone is homeless and all men are thieves to some capacity.

roadSome walk on the road struggling to live. Some eat others. Some capture others. Some wish only to be left alone. To own something is to be burdened and these are some of the issues that this father and son confront as they walk this landscape, struggling to make sense of their lives. Life consists of a rather dull routine for these two: wake up, find food, walk, find more food, eat, hide, sleep; repeat.

The subject of the story is depressing and rather serious, so this is not a light read, but rest assured it is also short, only 287 pages. The pacing as I said is quick and the writing is broken up which makes the reading flow much smoother. Just as these two characters, who are simply referred to as Man and Boy, break up their day into small segments, so too is the writing.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pass it along to you. Also, as a side note: the book has already been adapted into a film starring Viggo Mortensen, Charlise Theron, Robert Duvall, and Guy Pierce. From what I’ve seen of the trailer, it looks to be fairly faithful to the original story.


Written by thebeliever07

June 15, 2009 at 12:34 pm

A Half-Finished Marilynne Robinson is a Terrible Thing to Waste

leave a comment »

A few years ago I took a Valuing Modern Fiction course. Now while the course work and lectures were of a quality and standard that I did not appreciate, the one thing the course did provide me with was an exposure to some wonderful contemporary authors. The selection of the books reflected the various awards that had been given out that year in the industry: [ Pullitzer, Man Booker Prize for Fiction, Giller, CBC Canada Reads, Hugo Award, National Book Award, etc ]. The following books were selected:

  • A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toewes
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy
  • Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

A nice selection of books, some I enjoyed more than others,  but the reason I am writing this post is that I’m now kicking myself in the ass for not having read one book in particular. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. She has made quite a name for herself, notably with her most recent publication: Home. Home is a sequel to Gilead which was just awarded the Orange Prize for fiction. It has also been featured as a book that President Obama recently read which has drawn some attention to the work as well.

Gileas is a story about a small, dusty prairie town in 1956, written in the form of a letter from a 75-year-old preacher to his six-year-old son.

I remember enjoying the writing and the premise but I did not finish the book in the time that we were given, what with other English course loads, and life distractions. The sequel Home takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend. Apparently the books are independent and can be read as stand-alones on their own, but I hate knowing that there is another book that preceded this one as I feel I would be missing out on certain insights and conclusions drawn from the prior book by jumping into this one. Do I go back and re-read half of a book that was enjoyable so that I can read this book which is drawing so much buzz?

Lesson of the Day: Finish your assigned readings, so you don’t get annoyed the way I am with this issue.

Written by thebeliever07

June 8, 2009 at 8:45 am

What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs?

leave a comment »

Over at the Washington Post Book section I recently read two articles that can essentially be summed up by the following two bullet points:

1. Males don’t read. (Only 20% according to the article.) 

2. It’s because we no longer have strong masculine fiction, we’ve moved away from the Hemingways, Roths, Updikes, & Bellows of the world. 

Let me explain.

The first article is a review of a book entitled The Signal by Ron Carlson. It’s not so much the content of the book that is the focus of this post but the type of ideological critique of how men read and how women read (as if we still need to gender reading and intelligence in the sexes, so glad we’ve learned from our past mistakes and history). 

Ron Charles, not to be mistaken with the author of the book that is being reviewed, starts his article by citing that he has accepted the fact that men do not read any more and that this battle was lost long ago as he writes: Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his “Pygmy” vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

But not to worry my fellow men, those 20% of us that are capable of reading intelligence, there is a solution. Take Ron Charles’s advice and read The Signal by Ron Carlson because there are some books out there just for us. This is when Mr. Charles refers to an article posted sometime last week by Michael Lindgren who seems to be mourning an older style of masculine fiction that he sees missing from the world of fiction and literature today. As he states: 

What ever happened to the American Man? You know, the one who bullied and swore and drank his way through novels full of cigarette smoke, big cars and red meat? The one who’d abandon his family for a prostitute, or coerce his girlfriend into a threesome, or sleep with the housekeeper after murdering his wife? What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs? And does anyone really miss them?

Apparently Mr. Lindgren and Mr. Charles both miss this style of fiction. Both men seem to agree that what is missing from our literature is that rugged masculine style of fiction, the type referenced above. I think these gentleman fail to see something about all of the canonical American authors they cited above. People enjoy reading Hemingway, Roth, Mailer, Updike, not because of the types of rugged, misogynistic, arrogant, often homo-phobic male characters that they present to the reader, but IN-SPITE of them. LethemChabon1

Their fiction and writing is beautifully crafted and enjoyable to read, the only problem is that often they seem to be a product of their generation which for the most part has seen fit to perpetuate patriarchal systems of authority and socially constructed roles of gender. 

I take offense to the fact that first off, men do not read, and secondly, when we do, we need to have fiction at less than 200 pages and that it must be focused on rugged outdoor activities or some antiquated notions of masculinity that rely on violence and sexuality as primary themes of interest.

Why are Mr. Charles and Lindgren mourning the fact that as a society, writers today have moved beyond these issues. I am certainly not saying that we couldn’t use more writers like Roth or Hemingway, god forbid, the more the merrier. But, that style of writing was appropriate back then, writing today should reflect our current concerns and issues, and I would like to think that as a society we’ve progressed beyond these types of gendered readings and associations. Sadly, these two writers for the Post have simply reinforced and reminded me that we have not. 

Mr. Lindgren writes: that men want to be bad boys, kind of, but they can’t quite get there. They’re too comfortable, and they like women too much, to be engaged in all that operatic despair. Why is this a bad thing?

Read and form your own opinions but I for one could do without this type of gendered bigotry. 

Written by thebeliever07

June 5, 2009 at 10:17 am

leave a comment »

I’ve been fighting with Anthony Burgess for many days and his book The Pianoplayers is just not going to happen, at least not right now. Instead I’ve opted for Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor which I have a feeling might be my favorite summer read, here’s hoping.

Written by thebeliever07

May 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm

200 & etc…

leave a comment »

Reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon instead of Ecrites. I should probably start soon. 


200. This is my 200th posting on this blog. I have a fairly decent web following and one hopes that all of you continue to be entertained by my random musings on all things literary and some things not. Happy 200 Blog!

Written by thebeliever07

May 22, 2009 at 8:59 am