23 May 2008

In my younger and more vulnerable years...

Recently I decided that instead of listening to the comedy stations on Itunes radio or any of my music while working, I would listen to the The Great Gatsby audiobook I bought for my drives from Corvallis to Seattle. This version is read by Tim Robbins, whose soft, melodic voice matches perfectly the lyrical prose of Mr. Fitzgerald. I've told people before, in only half-seriousness, that Gatsby is the reason I became an English major and then later decided to pursue an MFA. It was half-seriousness because this book represented the first time I really dug into a book enough for it to dig into me, there was never any conscious thought process about wanting to be the next Fitzgerald or write the next Gatsby. Anyways, I listened to Tim Robbins guide me with his sing-songing voice past the eyes of Dr.TJ Eckleburg and onto the shore of Gatsby's lawn, staring at that unreachable green light, knowing what would happen next until before I was ready for it, I heard him reading:

"It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And then one fine morning-
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

I was startlingly close to tears at my desk. At first it was a sort of shock at the beauty of the words themselves. Even though I've read and heard them many times before, there was something cutting in my unprepared state. Then the more I thought about it, I realized something: this is why I want to write. Fitzgerald was somehow able to capture hope, failure, and beauty in the span of two sentences. Yes yes of course the rest of the book is quite perfect (even though Fitzgerald wrote in his letters that the Gatsby has its flaws that he simply covered in "blankets of excellent prose"), but come on, two sentences! That's my American Dream right there.

My high school teacher that taught Gatsby to me was also my high school coach, a gruff, mean-looking softie who totally knew his literary shit. During a discussion of the importance of Dr.TJ Eckleburg's eyes or why Daisy was always wearing white, a girl asked him, "Do you think he really thought about all this, or are we just reading too much into it?" After a brief and intense moment of silence, Mr. Nickerson simply pointed at the door and said, "Out."

19 May 2008

Neat Books!

I'm a huge nerd. I like books. I like good books even more, and I like good books with awesome cover designs even more than that. Which brings me to this:

What this picture doesn't show is the awesome cartoons on the back cover and interior flaps that illustrate a sort of table of contents for the book. Beautiful. Apparently this specific edition of Kafka's Metamorphosis was published this year, so I think this is a new thing in the Penguin Classics series. After looking through their website, I discovered they've released a bunch of other books with great cover designs. Here's a small sample of my favorite designs.

Candide. Fairy Tales. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And while this may not be the easiest image to look at, I think this cover may be one of the most effective and beautiful book covers I've seen - The Jungle.

16 May 2008

Book Review

I'd read a few of Englander's stories before, and each one had been about antisemitism. What was most interesting about the small selection of those stories was the way the characters somehow embodied generations of struggle. A quick example is the group of Jewish boys in "How We Avenged the Blums." I was so impressed I decided I had to read his novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, which is about a family struggling through Argentina's Dirty War. I don't know much about antisemitism and nothing about the Dirty War (except what I learned in this book), but I'm a sucker for generational stories. Practically every character, no matter how large or small a role they play, is given a full family history in this book.

I wasn't sure about this at first. I wasn't overly impressed with the writing itself; there didn't seem to be any poetry in the prose, if that makes sense, but getting deeper into the story I realized any rhythm or lyricism in the words would seem inappropriate to this type of story. I ended up swallowed by the story. For awhile I wondered how the novel would end, and that kept me reading, until I realized there was only one way it could end. Then that kept me reading. It's at that point Englander's prose takes over. I felt pulled along, compelled to finish, if for no other reason than to witness the emotion of the novel's main characters, Lillian and Kaddish Poznan. To say I identified with the characters would be wrong, because I've never been a Jewish person in the middle of an unsafe military state. That being said, Englander portrays them so well that I seemed to feel what they felt; I hoped when they did, had faith when they did, and lost both when they did as well. What's amazing is how the story makes the reader have hope and lose it all simultaneously. I finished it on a train ride/walk home from work, and I think I was almost hit by a car because this novel creates its own world, surrounds you with it, and makes it seem as if nothing else exists but the words on the page.