Thoughts of an Author in Training
I can’t believe we’re in to December of 2014. I’m due to finish my goal of reading 52 books this year in exactly 30 days. Though I’m just publishing September I have in fact read through October, but have been lazy to publish my thoughts and the holidays are offering a wonderful distraction to completing my goal. I’ll get there I just have to binge read this month, but alas here are the books I read so many months ago.
Once again I’m delighted to collect another of Sedaris’s works for my bookshelf. He’s witty and lively in this book, but in trying to rate it among the other collections of work it’s hard to classify them together. There obviously not a series and neither do they really have to do with one another other than that they are all about the life and stories surrounding one individual. The state of mind in which this one was written feels different. It feels more mature, more about dealing with mid-life transitions. Not crisis, but just adapting to the changes of human behavior. Most notably “Smoking Section” sticks out in addressing a dramatic life change and mature understanding that if you don’t take care of yourself, you will die. I’m not a smoker, but my father and my lover both smoke. It’s always been inherently a part of my life. But until I read Sedaris’s personal essay I never really understood on a level without some sort of judgment what if felt like to be a smoker. He gracefully takes 84 pages, the longest essay of his I’ve read so far and outlines the rise and fall of his smoking regime. The length alone cues me in on the significance of this portion of his life. The temptations, the need, the comfort is all described with wit and hysteria but given every ounce of serious emphasis.
He says, “I don’t know why bad ideas spread faster than good ones, but they do,” (256). This sentence is so beautiful and funny because in context he’s describing the bad idea of banning smoking in hotels and restaurants but on a larger scale, smoking is the bad idea that spread. From two different standpoints, the smoker and the non, we get the same complaint. His worked this intelligence in to his writing so well that as a non smoker I feel comfortable and adherent to stepping in his shoes. Other favorite and well thought out essays include “Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool,” “The Man in the Hut,” and “Keeping Up.” He manages to make such an extravagant lifestyle so relatable to the everyday person. He does this by attacking the average quarrels and problems of life using anecdotes and flawless humor. This is a great pick up and read anytime book as it’s perfectly segmented in to short essays.
I found this in the Boulder Bookstore smiling at me with a half off sticker. It had obviously been waiting for me because it’s the exact type of novel I would read: dystopian, end of the world, humanity crisis. It has elements of Golding, hundreds of blind individuals much like children try to set up a power structure to rule themselves peacefully but is corrupted when one group sees they can control the others. They must function among one another in quarantine which eventually turns in to a disturbing power oppression between the weak and the strong.
The epidemic of white blindness slowly effects an entire population in supposed Spain. There is only one woman that we know of and follow as the protagonist that isn’t blind. She’s the humble wife of the third victim of blindness, an optometrist. The book varies back and forth between an overseeing narrator and the perspective of the doctor’s wife. Witnessing the decay of the world through the only functioning eyes among the blind was hard to process. Knowing that someone is dead in front of you and seeing that person murdered are very different and this was a constant struggle for our protagonist.
The author perpetually brings up ideas in which knowing that others can’t see you, results in another level of blindness. We rely on the reflections of others, the affirmation of existence to know that we are present. The wife reviews that without understanding what others are void of seeing she feels blind, she feels there sense of loneliness but on a scale of being the only one to witness the decay of the world. Saramago connects being without sight to a level of death, that you are walking, lost, and without purpose as everyone is blind. Without the distinctions of awake and sleep, reality and non, how are you to distinguish between life and death? Sight plays a key role in Saramago’s plot forcing the reader to look in to our societies actions of vanity and consider that without seeing could we believe in hope for survival or happiness?
Saramago was justifiably awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature after writing this piece. The book was translated from Portuguese so the grammatical style of the book is very different and requires close attention. The quotations for dialogue are removed and periods are seldom used which takes some adjustment when you first begin reading. But what I thought was most fascinating was that characters were withheld actually names and simply given titles as to their role previously in society or based on their introduction to the story. For example: doctor, doctor’s wife, the boy, girl with glasses, police officer etc. In the decision to leave out the names of characters, I wondered if it was a stylistic move according to Saramago’s culture. But I decided it was intentional in order to further strip away any sense of humanity from the situation. In a time so devoid of human distinction, as everyone acts like animals in terms of survival and community, why not take it a step further and remove their identity as human? The characters themselves even address that there is no point in remembering or giving names, as if sight and surnames go with one another.
I enjoyed this book for its insights about how we qualify what’s human and attacking the weakness of vanity in our culture. I do have to warn future readers of the novel that it does get extremely graphic as one power group decides that currency for food would further be sex and they fully abuse and take advantage of the desperate blind women. That was hard to read but I have to give the author credit for taking that step further in to diminishing any human decency to make a point. Read delicately, but definitely read this book.
This book was a classic, literally. I kind of new the premise but this ‘60s novel was more than I could have expected. From the first chapter to the last stand, this book was badass. I do admit and I think some would agree it gets a little dry in the middle but it’s all necessary plot points in building the empire of respect for Vito Corleone and eventually his successor Michael Corleone. There were so many things that I respected about this book. First of all was the determination to give an accurate portrayal of the Italian family structure from Sicily to the US. The Italian-American revolution in the ‘60s was a popular topic for civil rights onlookers as the reputation of the crime-families had labeled all Italian-Americans with a violent and thieving name. Some were being discriminated against simply for being Italian-American and I think this book really delves in to the foundation of why these crime-families were so successful. Yes, they did handle disputes with violence at their most desperate moments but tracing back their traditions and culture it wasn’t simply out of spite or crazed intentions. You had family to protect, obey and respect and that came first in their culture. If you needed anything you went to the head of the family and he did what was best for everybody to get you what you needed.
I also enjoyed the character building of the three Corleone brothers. You don’t expect Michael, the youngest to take over his father’s place because he’s spent his whole life being resilient to the family business, choosing to follow a more American life style serving a duty to your country rather than your family. But after the death of his oldest brother and attack on his family personally, he fulfills an honor to his father by avenging his family and regaining control of the cacaos in the gangs of New York.
This book, though written some 40 years ago is still very present to today touching on ideas of power hungry systems, the dynamics of family and the struggle to balance respect and duty. I would recommend this book. Not only is it a good story, but it’s based on true events and important moments in history.
I realize that starting in a logical order, beginning with the original year of the Best American Essays (1986) would have been a good approach, but this is what I could get my hands on and luckily it isn’t a sequel. Though I do like the thought of started at the beginning and tracing how essays have changed in the last couple decades. I can imagine that the emphasis and crisis of topics would be very different jumping from decade to decade. An essay from the ’80s would look very different from that of 2014, but I can’t say the structure would be too entirely different. Both distant time-piece authors exercising the ability to share their thoughts and research- something that I hope never goes out of style.
The beauty of this collection and many of the things I read, is that they stand on their own. Each essay is an explanation of its own accord and doesn’t need any other support to offer a voice. This was a new type of essay compilation for me in that each work had a different author, where as I usually read a compilation of one authors voice over and over again. This was refreshing at most times and a little frustrating at others. I would get accustomed to one voice examining a topic or presenting research on a subject and as I adjusted it was time for a new essay and new voice. I think it was only frustrating as I wanted to read several essays in a row, but I think separating them would have allowed a better digestion of each voice.
There were a great range of topics, some of which I didn’t care for but others I was fascinated by and would never have found otherwise. There was beauty in each essay even ones about marathons and cricket racing, but bar usual I had favorites. “Becoming Adolf” was an examination of the pencil mustache and how it lived and died with Adolf Hitler. “The Lesbian’s Handbook” was a funny and enlightening insight to planning a wedding for two women and what social expectations of weddings they’re suppose to follow- very funny and full of voice. “The Way We Age Now” was an intriguing look in to the physical deterioration of aging and our obsession to try and stop it. “The Renegade” I found to be one of my favorites simply because I have recently traveled to the home country of the protagonist, Bulgaria and because the social issues of discrimination and integration were very touching and well written.
I intend to read more compilations of The Best American Essays and to one day be included, but until then I urge you to check them out and pick out some new styles of writing.