Absalom, Absalom

Faulkner’s dizzying style of talking around and about and underneath a subject makes it a slow march to the end of the story. However, I’m hanging on to the end, halfway through and trudging onward. This kind of writing is good for the brain; I need to be slowed in my consumption of words and Faulkner throws up roadblocks that have me reading and re-reading paragraphs.
The story so far, as told from various perspectives (Quentin, his dad Mr. Compson, Miss Rosa, college-pal Shreve) is the Civil War-era family tragedy of Sutpen (the demon), his wife Ellen, her sister Miss Rosa (who marries Sutpen when Ellen dies? I can’t quite figure out that narrative thread), the daughter Judith & son Henry who kills Judith’s finance Charles Bon because Bon is already married to an “octoroon” (1/8th black blood) with a son in New Orleans. Clytie is Sutpen’s other daughter, sired by a black mother, who shadows Judith to the end of her days. Bon’s son appears white, but he rejects his white blood and courts a black wife, causing all sorts of chaos by being the white man in the black hangouts.
There is much discussion on female nature– how women rise up for occasions like death, are capable of handling pain beyond imagine. “They lead beautiful lives–women. Lives not only divorced from, but irrevocably excommunicated from, all reality. That’s why although their deaths… are of no importance to them… yet to them their funerals and graves… are of incalcuable importance.” (p156)
I’m also intrigued by the idea that Bon & Henry had the closer, more passionate, connection, and used Judith as the safe vessel through which to consummate that relationship.
I am constantly confused by who the narrator is– I don’t know if that Faulkner’s intended effect, but it’s a whirl of narration and words words words and it slips very easily between Mr. Compson (who I have no idea what his relation to the story is) and Shreve and Miss Rosa. Quentin does no narration, but is simply the listener, the recipient of the story who will later transcribe it?
*** Update– Quentin is now narrating the story of Sutpen’s youth, coming down from the mountains of West Virginia to the flatlands of the South, seeing blacks for the first time, as slaves who were better fed and clothed than his free family. Faulkner dives headfirst into racial interactions:
“But you did not want to, because they (the niggers) were not it, not what you wanted to hit; that when you hit them you would just be hitting a child’s toy balloon with a face painted on it, a face slick and smooth and distended and about to burst into laughing and so you did not dare strike it because it would merely burst and you would rather let it walk on out of your sight than to have stood there in the loud laughing.” p 186
*** Finished, finally.
Not the most pleasing reading experience, but the dizzying, sultry atmosphere of the South comes through his words and drives you to gasp for breath and push onward. Bizarre interactions between Shreve and Quentin– how was the Canadian Shreve able to tell the story better than hometown boy Quentin?
“That was why it did not matter to either of them which one did the talking, since it was not the talking alone which did it, performed and accomplished the overpassing, but some happy marriage of speaking and hearing wherein each before the demand, the requirement, forgave condoned and forgot the faulting of the other…”
The story took a twist in the 2nd half– the reason for Bon not being able to marry Judith was actually due to the fact that Bon’s father was Sutpen (from his first wife).
Faulkner provides a genealogy of the characters at the end, wherein he has Quentin die in Cambridge, MA in 1910, the same year that Shreve & he are telling this story. But no other details about Q’s death. The last lines of the text have Q reiterating that he doesn’t hate the South, “I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

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Why does this make me nauseous? (Books for women)

Hyperion is starting a new brand, Voice, aimed at women. WTF?! What follows are some incoherent grumblings about this idea:
51% of the US population is female. This is the majority. Why do we need a niche book brand?
From the NYT article: “People are overwhelmed by choice, and what they want is someone who is self-selecting for them.” Again, WTF?! I absolutely don’t want someone self-selecting books for me. I prefer to ask for recommendations from trusted sources, or dabble in first lines at the bookstore. What I don’t want is to be herded to the backroom where all the women’s books are. Imaginary conversation: “Oh miss, put that [Moby Dick] down. That’s a man’s book. You would be more interested in these bodice-ripping romance novels or sappy love stories in the corner.”
From the NYT article: “When I go to a bookstore I’m looking at a million books, and I’m not quite sure where to go unless I get a recommendation of a friend. But I can look at all of the books that are published by Voice and see it as somewhat of a guide for women.” A guide for women. Because all our tastes are quite similar, right? And Voice is just like a friend whose opinion I trust. Gak. The whole bookstore should be considered a guide for women.
What I don’t want: book segregation by gender. I know what I like, thankyouverymuch.
What I want: good writing, gripping stories, characters I care about. I’d love to see more females producing and consuming this stuff. Or perhaps I am ignorant of the masses of feminine talent hidden in the stacks? Where is my next Paula Fox discovery?

Writing hacks: How to start

Scott Berkun slams writers’ block as a sham: “It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s its fear of not writing well; something quite different.” He then outlines several “hacks” to get you started writing.
Some of my favs:
* Write about how it feels not to be able to write
* Make lists of ideas
* Whiskey
* Rummage through old ideas

Nick Hornby’s thoughts on how to read

Great advice for readers-– if you’re not enjoying it, put it down!
“If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity – and there are statistics that show that this is by no means assured – then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits.”
“Dickens is literary now, of course, because the books are old. But his work has survived not because he makes you think, but because he makes you feel, and he makes you laugh, and you need to know what is going to happen to his characters.”

Is the OED useful?

The sheer volume of volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary solidifies its reputation as a weighty reference guide. But is it cost-prohibitive at $300/year for online access or $2,000 for physical copies? I feel well served by free services like Merriam-Webster or dictionary.com to satisfy occasional disputes over meanings of words (e.g. “fraught”– Who knew you could use it without the everpresent “with”?).
Using my old friend BugMeNot, I gained access to the OED site and poked around (greenhs/greenhs was the user/pass combo that got me in). The cumbersome, ancient interface looks 1000 years old in internet years. Despite having the same graphical elements on each page, the entire page refreshes as you move from word to word. You’re given a scrollbar on the left to peruse words before and after the word you’ve searched, but this function doesn’t dynamically keep pulling in more and more words as you scroll, you’ve got to click to refresh the list once you’ve reached the end. Usability of the pay-to-play site aside, I’m not so keen on the content of the definitions. Final rant– why can’t these dictionary sites wise up to the beauty of feeding out their Word of the Day on RSS?
I suppose the real star of the OED is the earliest usage examples. And perhaps those historical records are worth the subscriptions by word geeks with spending money.

Midnight’s Children

Why does everyone love Rushdie so much? I’m giving into the hype again and trying him on, but it is not smooth sailing so far. 100 pages in and it’s a struggle to convince myself to pick it up and keep reading at the end of the day.
Basic premise is autobiography of a man born on the day of India’s independence, a glimpse of life in India in the 1940s, concern over Pakistan’s creation & England’s power subsiding.
As if you couldn’t sense it coming, I’ve stranded this one. Not finishable in my current state of impatience.

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Never Let Me Go

Devoured this story in a cross country flight. This was my first taste of Ishiguro, I was lured into the work by the seductive display at the Mission branch library. Easy, facile writing style; excellent use of foreshadowing or clue dropping or seeding of the story. I imagine it to be extremely difficult to write a story set in a “current” setting with a couple crucial details changed without sounding hokey, but he pulls it off.
The story is written from Kathy H.’s perspective, as a carer and future donor. The story revolves around the golden age growing up at Hailsham with Ruth & Tommy. The children were clones, thus bred to donate organs and to care for those who were undergoing organ donation prior to “completing” (e.g. dying). They are encouraged at Hailsham to explore their art, to compete to see whose work gets chosen by Madame for the mythical “Gallery”. This is a coming-of-age story, with a twist. Kathy & Tommy always have a connection, yet Tommy & Ruth end up as a couple. Years later, Ruth reveals her worst action was to keep them apart when they were clearly meant for each other.
The title comes from a song on Kathy’s cassette tape long lost (all lost items end up in Norfolk) then rediscovered in a 2nd hand shop by Tommy & Kathy in Norfolk during the road trip with Ruth, Chrissie & Rodney to find Ruth’s “possible” (e.g. possible model for her cloning).

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Advice for authors

Nineteen tidbits of advice for aspiring authors from marketing guru Seth Godin. Sad to note that 58% of adults don’t read another book after high school. And this is my favorite piece of advice:
“Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.”

A conspiracy of paper

Historical fiction is tricky, but Liss pulls a rabbit out of a hat on this 18th century tale on the beginnings of the stock exchange in London. Spun as a memoir by one Benjamin Weaver (nee Lienzo), ex boxing champ of England then turned thief catcher/detective, it takes place in the early 1700s and traces the seemingly unrelated murders of two men (Ben’s father and Sir Balfour), while luring Ben back to his Jewish roots in Dukes Place. Liss does well to insert historical details (riots, rotting flesh, Bevis Marks synagogue*, coffeehouses, fear of national debt) along with dialogue that doesn’t drag with old timey speech and dialect.
*Special note on Bevis Marks–I visited London during the weekend when historical buildings were opened to the public and was able to visit the synagogue. Over 300 years old and still in use, with a tiny courtyard and intricately detailed decor, I sat within meditating on life and other sundries and had an overwhelming sense of spiritual currents flowing through me. That experience will stay with me although it now smacks of bland new-age nonsense.
Recommended by The Max

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