Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reader's Diary #295 - Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (up to Ch. 46)

I don't remember ever wanting to like a book as much as this one. When I put Austen up against other authors in the Great Wednesday Compare I was overwhelmed by the number of fans that showed up in her favour. Never had I met a bunch of people so devoted to a single author before. I had yet to read a Jane Austen novel and this was the sign I needed to rectify that.

And yet, I'm less than enthralled. I can't get into it at all! In the book's defense, I just took a trip to Ottawa and so maybe the distractions of traveling didn't help. But I don't think it's just that.

I've finding the language so stilted and dated that I'm not able to connect (this coming from someone who likes Shakespeare). I understand that a major motive of the book seemed to be to satirize many societal conventions at the time, but I'm not sure if that's the case with the language. Maybe it's just a product of its time and place. Maybe I'm just not open-minded enough.

I also find it hard to relate to any of the characters. Gossipy and judgemental, they're a difficult bunch to like. And again, this may be satire, but if so the point wears itself thin with me. Perhaps Elizabeth and her father are okay and Darcy seems to be coming around, but even then, I don't really care about the predictable ending just around the corner.

I really hope my indifference lifts soon. I so badly want to understand the appeal.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday/ Writer's Diary #35

I've been really enjoying Poetry Fridays, especially when people contribute their original work. I've added a few things of my own but lately I've been trying to find something a little more kid friendly. It's not that I write a lot of sordid poetry, but I've noticed that a lot of the other Poetry Friday participants seem to be more focused on children's lit. Having been a primary teacher and a parent of two, I've developed an appreciation of that literature as well and so I'd like my blog entries to reflect that love. I've written about kids' books from time to time, but I've never added my own poem aimed at young people. So here's my first attempt...

On The Other Hand- John Mutford

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #16- Ray Bradbury VERSUS Isaac Asimov

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (J. D. Salinger Vs. Ray Bradbury), with a final score of 12-2, was Ray Bradbury.

Some pretty enthusiastic love for Bradbury last week. Looks like I need to read Dandelion Wine. Up to now I've only read Fahrenheit 451, but you've all convinced me to read more.

This week's compare is perhaps a little obvious- akin to the whole Captain Kirk versus Captain Picard "debates". Nonetheless, I'm going to go down the predictable path.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (October 2nd), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Reader's Diary #294- Stuart Dybek: Brisket

Short Story Monday

I discovered flash fiction with John Gould's fantastic collection, Kilter- 55 Fictions. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, it's basically a short short story. The criteria varies, but I've never seen anything with more than 1000 words still considered flash.

I think fans of poetry are more open to the idea of flash fiction, as they are more likely to see the charm and purpose of succinctness. That said, I don't think a love for poetry is a prerequisite. They still read like stories, and when done well, it's amazing how much they fit in in terms of character development, plot, and so forth.

This week, I challenge you to read Stuart Dybek's "Brisket" (available here from SmokeLong Quarterly). It's just two short pages, so go ahead!

Now that you're back, let me know what you thought. After getting past the parts that made me hungry, I think it had a lot to do with striking a balance between "not sweating the small stuff" and "not taking the small things for granted." On the one hand, when he thinks of concentration camps, his problems look minimal and insignificant. But then on the other hand, when he minimized the importance of minor events, he ended up unemployed and alone. I guess it's as much about perspective as anything else.

Why did he choose to set this in a deli? I'm not sure. Perhaps deli meats are a good representation of character differences. They might all appear the same, but the flavours are all so unique. At least that's one theory. Any ideas?

Perhaps the only thing I wasn't fussy on was having so much dialogue saved up for the end. It somehow didn't balance the piece for me and it felt a little chopped off.

Still, great flash fiction.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reminder and Other Short Story Days

I just want to remind everyone that tomorrow is Short Story Monday once again. If you've just read a short story, a collection of them, or have a favourite you'd like to talk about, now's your chance. Tomorrow, however, instead of hosting it here, Raidergirl is going to take the reins (though I'll still be participating). Head on over there and submit your link.

Also, if Monday's not your thing, I just stumbled upon a couple guys who are doing short story posts on other days of the week. Go to Blogs Are For Dogs for Josh's Short Story Saturdays. Here you'll find entire short stories with a few related mp3s thrown in for fun. The most recent was D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner." Also, for those interested in Carl's R.I.P. II challenge, he's been leading Short Story Sundays. These typically are of the horror set and will run from now until...well, Halloween of course.

So if you're a fan of short stories, you've ample opportunity to praise them. Just remember to keep it short.

(Okay, that's an obvious and lame slogan, but what the heck.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poetry Friday- Anonymous Poems

It seems like every poetry anthology has at least one or two poems written by the versatile and seemingly ageless "Anonymous". Wouldn't it be nice to find an entire collection of Anonymous poems? An Incomplete Works of Anonymous perhaps? If it doesn't already exist, I think I shall start compiling. No need to worry about copyright, eh?

Here are some of my favourites...

There was a young bard of Japan
Whose limericks never would scan;
When they said it was so,
He replied: `Yes, I know,
But I make a rule of always trying to get just as many words into the last line as I possibly can."


Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

( This last one is often attributed to Mary Frye but that is disputed and I have seen it credited simply to Anonymous).

Any favourite works by the master known as Anonymous?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #15- J. D. Salinger VERSUS Ray Bradbury

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (J. D. Salinger Vs. William Golding), with a final score of 9-3, was J.D. Salinger.

Let me start off this week with an apology. I had no idea so many people despised Lord of the Flies so much. I love that book, and you can blame my 9th grade lit teacher for that. But any book that's been parodied at least a couple of times on the Simpsons can't be all that bad.

Hopefully, I'll be able to reach a few more people with this one.

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (September 25th), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reader's Diary #293- Michel Tremblay: Forever Yours Marie-Lou (FINISHED)

The first time I'd heard of Michel Tremblay it was concerning his book The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant. The title seemed hilarious and I made a point then and there to read something written by this Tremblay character.

Shortly after, and before ordering it online, I happened to find another Tremblay book at a library sale. It wasn't the book I wanted, but at 10 cents I thought it could serve as a Tremblay primer.

Forever Yours Marie-Lou is not, however, a novel. It is a play. It is also not funny. Nor does it try to be. But what it is, is wonderful.

Having only four actors, the plot is not overly complicated. However, the set-up is unique and I so badly wish I had seen it performed. Two daughters, Carmen and Manon, are at center stage (in a kitchen) and they are recalling an event with their parents that happened ten years ago. On either side of the stage are the two parents: Marie-Lou (sitting in front of a T.V.) and Leopold (in a tavern).

Here's where it gets tricky. Despite being at either ends of the stage, Leopold and Marie-Lou are actually having a conversation- a conversation that by now is ten years old. Intertwined with it is the present day conversation of Carmen and Manon. Essentially, the parent dialogue feels like the memory that haunts the daughters. Perhaps I should give an example:

Carmen: If I'd known you were serious, I'd have strangled you on the spot.

Marie-Louise: I'm going to have a baby. You know what that means, six months of it.

Leopold: I don't want to hear about it.

Marie-Louise: That's right, shut me up. You'd like that, wouldn't you, to spend the rest of your life blindfold?

Manon: Say what you like, I couldn't care less.

What makes it so captivating is how the conversations usually flow together. Often the mood matches perfectly: when the parents are at their angriest, so are the girls. Occasionally the girls even seem to respond to something, or use some of the exact words, that a parent said so many years ago. Surprisingly, it isn't confusing at all.

As a facade, it might be called a mystery. What did happen all those years ago? But really, at the heart of this story is the family, the cycles of history, and defining moments in our characters. Mostly, it is easy to elements of the mother in Manon and the father in Carmen. But from time to time, we see the opposite. Both daughters have inherited their personalities, whether they choose to believe it or not.

Forever Yours Marie-Lou is masterfully crafted, taking rather old themes and presenting them in a novel way.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Reader's Diary #292- Nikolai Gogol: The Cloak / and various plugs

Short Story Monday

I've covered so many Russian writers lately I'm expecting to get a call from Smirnoff any day now looking to take out ad space.

Today's short story is Nikolai Gogol's "The Cloak," or as it is sometimes translated, "The Overcoat".

I know I've been complaining lately over the seriousness of Russian literature, but thankfully Gogol offers up something with a sense of humour. This is not to say that it is a frivolous piece, but at least there's a chance to smile amidst all the philosophy and social commentary.

I loved the narration in particular. While the story is presented almost as a serious critique on various facets of bureaucracy and of the working world in general, the tone is undeniably satirical. Imagine Frasier narrating the Office.

At the center of the story is Akakiy Akakievitch, a serious individual who lives to work. This is not to be confused with ambition, for he has none. He is mundane to the point of being comically so. However, through the use of office bullies, Gogol made sure I still had sympathy for the guy. It's okay to laugh behind his back, just not directly at him.

It is only when faced with the task of affording a new coat that Akakiy shows any spark at all. He scrimps and saves, and actually shows signs of being excited about the prospect of the coat. When he finally gets it, things look like they might finally be looking up. This is not to be, however, and the story takes a somewhat strange turn. Personally I see the ending as a bit of poetic justice. I think Gogol plays it safe by making the reader question the authenticity of the conclusion, but it works either way.

(I'm again reminding my fellow bloggers that if you, too, write a short story post, please consider submitting the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in November.

This month's carnival is hosted by Book Nut. Her theme is classics. Check out all the great links- including one by yours truly- here.

And since I'm in a plugging mood, for all you writers or aspiring writers out there, please consider entering Patricia's "Good Granny/ Bad Granny" writing contest over at BookLust.

Also check out Raidergirl's SSM post: Stephen King's "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away")

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reader's Diary #291- George Jonas: The Happy Hungry Man (FINISHED)

Perhaps best known for Vengeance, his book about the 1972 Munich massacre and basis behind the movie Munich, George Jonas didn't start off writing such controversial and political books. He began as a poet.

The second of his forays into poetry was entitled The Happy Hungry Man. If I have interpreted the title and opening quote attributed to Dibil el Khuzai correctly, Jonas was of the opinion that a hungry man is potentially happier than one with food. The hungry man, it is argued, has a focus- a focus so strong that all his other worries are no more. That man has drive.

If that seems a little like a rich man telling a poor man that money can't buy happiness, it is. But oddly this compels me to Jonas's book even more. Ever been down or unhappy for no apparent reason? I hesitate to say it, but I get that way quite often. And then of course, when I take stock of everything I have (family, shelter, food, etc) I realize that I don't have much to complain about compared to some other unfortunate souls. Yet instead of cheering me up, I feel even worse. I feel guilty for feeling sad in the first place. The one thing I don't have is a reason for feeling blue, and that depresses me. I guess I can't have it all.

These are ugly, selfish thoughts of course, but Jonas seems to have found the humour it them, dark as they might be. In the opening poem, "Wakes up in a good mood one morning," he talks about all that life has to offer. You can sit down and eat, there is the air to breathe in and fly through, you can build houses, learn foreign languages.... which leads him to conclude, "Sometimes one is almost tempted to go on living."

Plenty people I'm sure would not be amused by this depressing tone, but I personally find the self-mockery behind the lines quite pleasant. So what if he doesn't offer up a solution to Western, middle class pseudo-depression? At least he drags it out into the open and lets us point and laugh at it. At ourselves.

I also love the format of the book. Alongside many of the poems are black and white photographs. Many are humorous, many are depressing, and they capture the feeling of the book wonderfully. Also, the titles (if I should call them that- they are in the margins rather than atop the poems) are quite intriguing in style. Together, they tell the literal story of what the poet is currently doing, while the poems themselves elaborate on his thoughts or offer a poetic interpretation. For instance, these three titles occur in sequence, 1 "Dials a number then changes his mind" 2. "Thinks of adapting a poem by Brecht" and 3. "Changes his mind and dials the number again." They create a small narrative (though without a plot) that gives the overall book a sense of character- one that I can relate to all too well.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday- Theodore Roethke: My Papa's Waltz

This is one of those poems almost everyone who's ever taken a poetry class has learned. Usually used to discuss (and debate) tone and/or the writing process (using Roethke's notes and revisions as a guide), there's not a lot more I can add to the chatter. Still, it's a favourite of mine and so I present it here- plus, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

You can also listen to an audio clip of Roethke reciting this poem here and you can buy his collected works here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reader's Diary #290- The Good News Bible: Judges (FINISHED)

Maybe I just have short stories on the brain, but The Book of Judges almost seems like a book of short stories. Rather than carry a single plot throughout, we get stories of battles between six prominent Israelites (including Samson and Gideon) and their various foes.

Warning, Graphic account to follow:
And what violent tales they are! The next time anyone suggests that the world is getting more violent or that the media has a newfound preoccupation with gore, simply refer them to the Bible. In one of the frightfully more memorable scenes, Sisera, an army captain, is attacked in his sleep with a hammer and a tent peg. It is struck with such force that it goes "right through the side of his head and into the ground." In another Tarantino-esque moment some "perverts" show up at a man's house demanding to have sex with a traveling Levite man who is staying there. Instead, the men inside throw the Levite's concubine to them, and she is raped and abused until the morning. When the Levite comes upon the concubine's body the next day, he cuts it into twelve pieces, sends them to the tribes of Israel, and basically requests their help in seeking vengeance. I don't remember the last time I read anything as gruesome or horrific.

Steering away from those tales, I also want to comment on a particular sentence from Judges 7.12: "...the desert tribesman were spread out in the valley like a swarm of locusts, and they had as many camels as there are grains of sand on the seashore." In a single sentence there lay a simile and an exaggeration. I appreciated this unusually clear figurative language and longed for more obvious declarations that many parts weren't meant to be taken literally. But that almost goes down into religious debate category and I only want to explore the Bible on a surface level: based only on its merits as literature.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #14- J. D. Salinger VERSUS William Golding

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Irving Vs. J. D. Salinger), with a final score of 9-5, was J.D. Salinger.

Thanks for all the great ideas and kind words last week. As you can tell, I'm continuing on with the comparisons for the time being.

This week I've decided to somewhat incorporate one of Siew's ideas: to pit book against book. I say somewhat, because as you can see by the header, I'm still technically using authors. However, of Salinger most people stop at Catcher In The Rye (though I have read Franny and Zooey as well), and of Golding most people have only read Lord of the Flies (self-included). If you're one of those people, feel free to vote book versus book. If not, and you've read others, which ones?

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (September 18th), and please spread the word!

Who's better?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #289- Eknath Easwaran: Gandhi The Man (FINISHED)

The best biography I've ever read (and you should keep in mind that I haven't read many) was Jon Anderson's Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. This is not a matter of relating more to one man than the other, or supporting either's ideals; it's just that Anderson's book was what I look for in a biography: a (relatively) objective book that looks at many facets of a life and let's me decide on how I interpret that information.

At only 200 pages to Anderson's 832 pages, Easwaran's book is less intimidating. But, when you consider the impact both of these individuals in history, the trade off with a short Gandhi book is obvious: an insufficient picture.

It is very clear that Eknath Easwaran is a fan of Gandhi, and that's okay. I don't think a biographer needs to be totally detached from his subject. However, he should have let me come to the conclusion of Gandhi's greatness on my own rather than be expected to simply take his word for it. On several ocassions, references are made to his opponents (ex. "How did he become a magnetic leader whom even his avowed opponents could not resist?") Yet- and this was the most frustrating aspect of all- he skimped on why he had opponents and detractors in the first place. In some cases it was easy to read between the lines and guess why some people would hold negative opinions, but I don't see why there should be any guess work.

And it wasn't just the negative details that Easwaran left out. Sometimes he oversimplified events, leaving the impression that Gandhi's accomplishments came easy and/or purely as a result of his actions, ignoring other factors which may have played a part. Read the comments one reader left in my previous post to see what I mean.

Finally, the appendix left a bad taste in my mouth. Written by Timothy Flinders, this part is entitled "How Nonviolence Works" and is an explanation of how satyagraha "can be applied to contemporary problems." It is fair enough to say that this is an appendix and as such should probably be considered optional. Still, I don't remember any "how to be a communist" sections at the back of the Che Guevara book.

Even as an introduction to Gandhi, I still feel that this book came up short. Instead it smacks of propaganda. Compared to the other aforementioned biography, I guess that's a bit ironic.

Keeping on the themes of biographies, any favourites?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reader's Diary #288- Grace Paley: A Conversation With My Father

Short Story Monday

(The bulk of this post will also appear on A Curious Singularity tomorrow. A Curious Singularity is a short story blog, featuring multiple bloggers posting about a single short story per month. It's a great idea and I was very excited to be asked to participate.)

For those of us into labels, Grace Paley's "A Conversation With My Father" could probably be described as metafiction. It tells the story of a narrator, presumably Paley herself, visiting her elderly father who "offers last-minute advice and makes a request."

The request? That she write a simple story for a change, one with recognizable characters.

Of course this set up immediately makes us, the readers, contemplate the story at hand. While the narrator attempts, perhaps half-heartedly at first, to come up with a tale to appease her dad, comparisons to the frame story are inevitable. (Interestingly, the narrator's tale revolves around a son and his mother instead of a daughter and her father.)

I think a lot of the heart of the story revolves around optimism versus pessimism. After telling her father a quick, six-line story, the father rebukes the daughter for her brevity and she gives it a second shot, working in more details. I suspect the father simply wanted to connect to and accept the tragedy- a nearly impossible task when one doesn't get to know the characters at least a little.

Yet after the father declares it a tragedy, the narrator once more edits her piece. This time, instead of ending on a tragic note, she takes the story farther down the line and redeems the protagonist. It must be a dilemma for any writer to decide where to end a story, just as where to begin it (as we all know, there are no such constructs in real life).

The father, however, balks at this addition and demands that she accept that tragedy exists, no matter how far you skip ahead to find the next positive turn.

One is left to wonder if this was the father's lesson on writing as much as it was about his present circumstance.

This was a beautifully written, thought-provoking piece and I suspect every reader will take away something different.

*Also check out Rob's SSM post about Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Gentleman From Cracow" and Raidergirl's post about Stephen King's "The Man In The Black Suit" from Everything's Eventual.

(I'm again reminding my fellow bloggers that if you, too, write a short story post, please consider submitting the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in November. This month's carnival will be hosted by Book Nut. Her theme is classics. If you've written a post about classic literature, or would like to, consider submitting your post link to her: mmfraf [at] sbcglobal [dot] net before September 14th.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #287: Susan Musgrave: What The Small Day Cannot Hold (FINISHED)

It's often the case that when artists are asked about their own favourites, we're presented with a list far more critically acclaimed than they; or at the very least quite different stylistically. Therefore it's not always a good idea to pick a book recommended by your favourite author.

Working the system in reverse is likewise not a great idea. My first experience with Al Purdy's poetry was after hearing Susan Musgrave on the radio go on and on about him. Al Purdy has become one of my favourites so I thought it was time to give the poet who recommended him a chance. If she's a fan of Al Purdy, there's a good chance she's a decent poet right?

If you were to believe the hyper-hyperbole on the back of What The Small Day Cannot Hold, she's not only as good as Purdy- she's better! Okay, so it doesn't actually say that but it's pretty over the top. As a collection of her seven poetry books originally published from 1970-1985, I'm told I now have "the lost canon of one of the country's most vibrant and original national voices." (The word "canon" is thrown around like confetti.) Apparently it is also a "must have literary opus" that has "unprecedented dramatic appeal." I don't know how much say Musgrave had in those words, but she has posted them on her own website when I'd have thought she'd have found them embarrassing.

I won't even bother saying if her work lived up to the idol worship on the back- no one should even have to. But I will say that after a very rocky start, I came to enjoy her poetry a lot. It begins with Songs of the Sea Witch, first published in 1970 when Musgrave was only nineteen. Comparable to Dylan Thomas, plenty of people would take that as a pretty big complement. I, however, am not a big fan of Thomas either. Musgrave seems to have a preoccupation with bones, knives, darkness, and blood and these words pop up every bit as often as fuse, worm and sky appear in Thomas's poems. Perhaps taken in isolation this would not present a problem, but when reading an entire collection those words become annoying, like finding oleo in every single crossword I've ever completed. Furthermore, Songs of The Sea Witch is vague yet melodramatic. I understand that at nineteen thoughts are usually more vague and melodramatic, but that doesn't mean it makes for good poetry:

There you will remain,
at the memory of it all,
unable to penetrate
a similar heart as you own
- from "Songs of The Sea-Witch"

With Purdy's vivid descriptions and ability to find poetry in the most mundane places, I was taken aback that these words came from a Purdy fan.

But then came the strawberries...

Three books in, Musgrave began to take more risks and the result was "Selected Strawberries." Basically, Musgrave replaces thoughts, objects or people with the word "strawberry" and the results are very entertaining:

The average life span of a strawberry in captivity is 32 years.
-from "A Strawberry Miscellany"

Strapped to a gatepost, flapping in the wind, the strawberry is being punished for frightening the pigs.
-from "Strawberries as Pests"

In Japan every newlywed couple is given a richly illustrated book showing every imaginable variety of strawberries.
- from "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Strawberries"
I found it very interesting that even when she is very obviously talking about something else, the learned meaning gets in the way so that I still pictured the berry originally. I had to consistently rework my definition. It says a lot about the power of language.

And while it is arguable that she wears that particular "trick" a little thin after 34 such poems, it is a pivotal point in the book after which she begins experimenting a little more, varying the voice, tone (finally adding some humour), and images (finally getting out of the woods!) and I was glad to have stuck with it. As a collection, the earlier poems are perhaps admissible to show her growth as a poet. Still, you have to eat an awful lot of green to get to the ripe.

A personal favourite is "The British Migraine Association Poetry Competition"in which the rules for the competition, supposedly found on the entry form, comprise the poem itself:
Winning poems will be published
in the anthology.
The title of the anthology will be
and this will also be the
theme of the competition.
I could share the rest, but you get the picture.

Reader's Diary #286- Eknath Easwaran: Gandhi The Man (up to 111)

Gandhi The Man, by Eknath Easwaran, has been a pleasant enough read so far. It's an unpretentious easy book, filled with loads of great photos as well as excerpts from speeches made by Gandhi himself. In short, it's a good introduction to the man for someone like myself who, until now, only knew that he was Indian, Ben Kingsley once portrayed him in a movie and his Clone High character was a party animal. Needless to say, my ignorance needed to be corrected.

However, the book is not without its flaws. Primarily, I don't think Easwaran adequately captures the man's appeal. For instance, he describes when Ghandi met with the out-of-work mill workers in England and they were at first filled with resentment. Ghandi had led a boycott of their products back in India to protest the exploitation of Indian cotton and so the English people blamed him. He met with workers, explained the situation from the Indian perspective, and they ended up cheering the man who brought about their unemployment.

Was that all it took? Is it just a problem of my cynicism that I don't believe people would be that understanding today? Is it a fact at all that the world has changed that much or did, perhaps, Easwaran fail to capture the moment? In his defence, is that even a possible task?

Obviously, I'm left with a lot of questions up to this point (not the least which are about myself)- which I suppose is more than fair for an introduction.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Great Wednesday Compare #13- John Irving VERSUS J. D. Salinger

The winner of last week's Great Wednesday Compare (John Irving Vs. Ian McEwan), with a final score of 10-4, was John Irving.

First order of business: I initially began these comparisons as a fun summer activity, and I have really enjoyed hosting them. However, I have noticed that the numbers have dwindled. I realize that I'm unlikely to ever match the success of the Jane Austen challenges in terms of numbers, and while I'm fine with that, I also don't want to wear out this idea. So, as you cast your vote this week, please let me know (honestly) if these are something you'd like to see continued year round or simply as a summer project.

Next: Despite Bybee's early prediction that McEwan would win, John Irving won hands down. Still, Atonement remains on my TBR list.

This week, I'm putting Mr. Popularity up against The Recluse...

Remember, vote simply by adding your comment below, base it on whatever merit you choose, voting does not end until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. (September 11th), and please spread the word!

Who's better? (They have similar eyes don't you think?)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Reader's Diary #285- Jean-Paul Sartre: The Wall

Short Story Monday

Initially, Jean-Paul Sarte's "The Wall" reminded me of Chekhov's "The Bet." After reading both stories for the first time, the endings seemed disappointing, almost irrelevant to the preceding stories. I found it very hard to shake the feeling that the story format was an inconvenience, like they wanted to wax philosophical but had to wrap their thoughts in fiction to reach a larger audience.

I've since lightened up on the Sartre story. The story of three prisoners taken during the Spanish Civil war, the wall was where each man was to face the firing squad. It thus becomes a symbol for any impending death.

With their impending deaths, Sartre uses the three prisoners to highlight the various psychologies of men in such circumstances, the most interesting of these being that of the narrator, Pablo Ibbieta (though arguably, had Sartre decided to write from the vantage point of the others, either one could have been equally as fascinating.) Pablo begins to question the life he had led and the meaning of his past existence, almost as if it had all been a colossal joke. It isn't until the end, however, that he's presented with a punchline and finds any humour in life. He laughs so hard he cries.

I wouldn't rank it among my favourite short stories, but it was better than I first realized.

I'm again reminding my fellow bloggers that if you, too, write a short story post, please consider submitting the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in November. September's carnival will be hosted by Book Nut. Her theme is classics. If you've written a post about classic literature, or would like to, consider submitting your post link to her: mmfraf [at] sbcglobal [dot] net before September 14th. Also in an attempt to lure other people on board for Short Story Mondays, I've decide to place Mr. Linky below for the next few editions. If you want to post about a short story today, feel free to advertise your link here by signing up! What's your story?

Update: Mr. Linky has now moved on, but thanks to Raidergirl for her contribution, a post about Stephen King's short story "Autopsy Room Four." Hopefully next week a few other people will jump on board as well. These first few runs will just be a trial basis anyway.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Reader's Diary #284- Boris Pasternak: The Last Summer (FINISHED!)

My copy of Boris Pasternak's The Last Summer was published under the Penguin Modern Classics banner but I question if it warrants the title of a "classic." While Pasternak was responsible for Doctor Zhivago and he did win a Nobel Prize, I don't think The Last Summer deserves many accolades. Perhaps something was lost in George Reavey's English translation but according to Lydia Slater who wrote the introduction, the translation was surprisingly close.

It was far from the worst thing I ever read, but if it had been longer than 93 pages I have a feeling this assessment would be harsher. My major issue was the heavy language. Every minute detail and thought seemed drawn out and tedious, like complexity for its own sake. A typical example:
...each time anyone thinks it does not matter, which way these carpet fictions fall- head or feet South or North of the Pole, then descriptions and similes of of prodigious magnetic sensitivity manifest themselves.
How many times did I simply decide to read on without the slightest idea as to what he was talking about?

Fortunately, however, there were moments of clarity, and those I quite enjoyed. In particular I loved the beautiful and poetic way he continuously described the setting. A favourite line comes the morning after a storm:
[The poplar trees'] felled leaves speckled the pavement like soiled scraps of torn receipts.
I often have a problem when authors use the setting as a consequence of the action, as if the weather, for example, depends upon our moods and not the other way around. Pasternak seemed to realize he has been guilty of that as well, but subtly acknowledges that it is the way weather is perceived by someone that counts. If you're in a bad mood, the day might be humid. If you're in a good mood, it might be sultry. The connotations are what matter.

I also appreciated the occasional glimpses into his craft. Apparently The Last Summer is quite autobiographical and it was nice to get some insight into his inspiration and methods. It was interesting to note that he sometimes added fictitious words into his first drafts. He didn't want to be slowed down to find a better word and this approach allowed him to keep going. I really enjoyed one of the excerpts that Serezha (the protagonist) worked on and found myself longing to read that story instead- it certainly had more of a plot!

All in all, The Last Summer was okay- not remarkable one way or the other. Much like the one that's now ending.