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Monthly Archives: January 2013

100 Greatest Novels: Invisible Man, Native Son, & Henderson the Rain King

These next few books from the 100 greatest novels mainly focus on race. We hear a lot about the Civil War and the freeing of slaves and we hear a lot about the 1960s, MLK, and the fight for equality. What many people forget is that there were 100 years of oppression, discrimination, and abuse between those events. That is where these novels fall.

That said, I’m not going to talk about the race issues of the novels. As a middle class white guy historically, socially, and racially removed from that era, there’s not much I could add to the conversation. So I’ll talk about the novels from a literary point of view.

165px-Invisible_ManInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This novel follows an unnamed narrator from graduating high school and starting college to leaving college and moving to New York and trying to find his way. He becomes a speaker for an organization named the Brotherhood, speaking about race and social issues. Then he falls into a manhole.

The story is consistently engrossing and always somewhat entertaining and depressing. Ellison’s writing sometimes glosses over events to the point that I wasn’t sure if it happened or not (“Wait, what just blew up? Did they have sex or not?”). There’s much philosophy and social issues hashed out between characters and inside the narrator’s head. This could turn some people off but I enjoyed it. I never thought it detracted from the overall storyline but actually pushed the story forward. These moral and philosophical arguments are what made him and other characters do what they did, whether it was right or not. His ultimate decision is to become invisible. Not physically, but because others refuse to see him and he accepts that.

200px-NativeSonNative Son by Richard Wright

I have never read a novel that did so little to make a protagonist likable but ended with me fighting for his life so passionately. This is a story of Bigger Thomas, a poor African American living in Chicago in the 1930s. He’s a bully. He’s mean to his family, he beats up his friends, he masturbates in movie theaters, and he refuses to keep a job, preferring to make his family live off of government help. What a lovable person! And yet. Keep reading. By the end I was praying, demanding, hoping, and crying for his life to be spared. Only a masterful author like Richard Wright could pull off a task like this and he does it beautifully.

220px-HendersonTheRainKingHenderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Reading through the 100 greatest novels, this is the first novel that has really inspired me to write. I loved the writing style of Saul Bellow. It reminded me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut: a very conversational 1st person narrative. As for the story, what an incredibly enjoyable adventure. Henderson, middle-aged and somewhat dissatified with life (he explains it as an inner voice that repeats, “I want, I want,” without ever saying what it is it’s wanting), decides to travel to Africa with a friend. He leaves his friend and hires a guide to bring him to far off African cities. He finds one and gets in trouble and leaves. He finds another and befriends the King, becomes the Sungo (the rain king), and acts like a lion. And that’s about it. It’s a great story with some incredible narration. I was tweeting and facebooking quotes from the book left and right. Henry Miller described this novel perfectly: “It made me dance.”
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On a side note, I discovered a great series of eBooks. They’re called History in an Hour and they are just short, concise histories of different topics. I read Henry VIII’s Wives this past week and loved it. Anyways, thanks for keeping up with this. Next up is Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara.

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in 100 Greatest Novels, Book Review, Literature

 

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100 Greatest Novels: Slaugheterhouse-Five

If I had to pick an author that I consistently love their books no matter how many I read, it would be Kurt Vonnegut. He takes on dark subjects (death, war, loneliness, etc.) and treats them with incredible humor and wit. His fiction, his short stories, and his essays are all equally great literature. But what we’re talking about today is #18 of the 100 greatest novels: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade.

SlaughterhousefiveThis novel is a conglomeration of science fiction, semi-autobiographical storytelling, and wartime fiction. Well, here’s how Kurt Vonnegut opens the novel: “All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.”

Following Billy Pilgrim’s life, the novel focuses on three main events: Billy being a prisoner of war in and during the bombing of Dresden, Billy being abducted by aliens and taken to Tralfamadore, and Billy becoming outspoken about his abduction after living through a plane crash. The story is not told in chronological order because Billy becomes “unstuck” from time and jumps back and forth between different years and locations, never knowing at one point in his life will he appear next.

Here’s the hard part: why I love this novel. The attitude of the novel is more fatalistic and accepting of death and war than I am. Every time death, dying, or mortality comes up in the novel, Vonnegut uses the phrase “So it goes.” to lighten the weight of the issue and to move on to another subject. I used to love this phrase. This reading, I found it more depressing. But having read more of Vonnegut’s writing, especially his essays later in life, I know his strong anti-war attitude and his desire for something better in America. The fatalistic attitude doesn’t completely represent Vonnegut as a person. Also, I’m not a huge fan of science fiction. Even with aliens, abductions, and time travel, it’s not too overpowering here. The novel doesn’t read like a science fiction because Vonnegut treats the fantastic with as reserved an attitude as everything else.

Well, that wasn’t a very good paragraph about why I love this novel. Let me try again…

I like war novels. I like that it’s about the bombing in Dresden because us in America don’t hear about it very much. It wasn’t taught in any of my history classes. I like Vonnegut’s allusions to other novels, his own and other writers’. I like how he carries characters across numerous novels. I like the conversational tone of the writing, the short and simple phrases used. I like the humor, even in the darkest moments. I enjoy reading the stories disjointed as it is because it plays down the important moments and focuses on smaller, more intimate ones. Actually, the “climax” of the novel is given away in the first paragraph.

Anyways, if you haven’t, please read this book. It’s a quick read and oh so fulfilling. Let me finish with the maybe-Vonnegut narrator’s description of the novel that he gave his publisher:

“It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

 

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The Lone Bellow

577945_306146779504503_913128390_nSo a few years ago I stumbled upon an album on NoiseTrade. It was Story Time by Zach Williams and after downloading, I quickly fell in love. I showed everybody the album and to this day I consider this my greatest find on NoiseTrade. Sometime last year, I found out Zach Williams and The Bellow were having a Kickstarter campaign to help record a new album. Without hesitation, I gave them $10 so I could have the album as soon as it was released. Nearing the end of the year, they changed their name to The Lone Bellow and announced the new album would be released in January of 2013. Yes, please.

That history told, their self-titled album was released today and it is a beautiful thing. The melodies, the harmonies, the folk instrumentation, the South-meets-New York feeling, it’s all perfect. Let me see what videos are on the interwebs because nothing I could say does this band justice…

Here’s an incredibly touching live performance of You Never Need Nobody:

Alright, now walk through the snow with Zach in Two Sides of Lonely:

Okay, okay. Enough. Click on the album cover at the beginning of this post and BUY. IT. NOW.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Music Review

 

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100 Greatest Novels: An American Tragedy & The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Here’s what I thought about two books that I was not familiar with prior to this list, #16 and 17 of the 100 greatest novels.

200px-AnAmericanTragedyAn American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

This is a long novel. Dreiser dissects the thought process of each and every character before and after an action. So it takes a long time for things to happen and you can see most of what happens coming. That said, this is an enthralling story based on actual events leading to a highly publicized murder trial. It’s worth the time and effort to read because Dreiser does such an incredible job of making every character very human and you feel strong emotions towards them no matter what their actions are or how other characters see them. Sometimes you’ll be disgusted by the actions of a character. Sometimes you’ll feel pity for a character you should be disgusted by. It’s slightly emotionally confusing. Yet, still a rewarding read.

200px-HeartIsALonelyHunterThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

John Singer is a deaf-mute. There’s something about him that attracts everyone in the town. His eyes have a sense of understanding in them. This novel follows four characters that are loosely connected but are all inexplicably drawn to Singer. They pour their heart out to him. And he nods and smiles. This novel was the easiest read I’ve come across in this list. The writing is simple and to the point. The 4 intertwining story lines are simultaneously intriguing and somewhat depressing. I really enjoyed each and every chapter of this novel and look forward to reading more of McCullers’ novels. In a side note, the author was 22 years old when this novel was written (1940) and the writing is just lightyears ahead of her age. Her understanding of poverty, race, old age, and music is baffling.

Next is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This novel and this author are a huge favorite of mine and I’m excited to reread it and finally put my thoughts down. Thanks for reading!

 
 

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Hello 2013!

Well, 2012 is over and now we have 2013 facing us. I don’t know about all of you but I’m very excited about this new year. There will be many big changes and I can’t wait for them.

-This weekend Halie will be moving to Houston to start her externship at Memorial Herman Southwest. I hope to follow her to Houston very soon afterwards (as soon as I find a job).

-In August, Halie and I and some close friends and family will be heading to England. On the 5th, Halie and I will be married at Thornbury Castle with honeymooning in Paris to follow. I am beyond ecstatic for this trip for two reasons. Joining my life adventure with Halie is a dream come true and traveling is always something to look forward to.

-I started this hyphenated list and don’t really have much of anything else to add. The first two are big enough changes to talk about, right?

Anyways, enjoy celebrating the new year and I hope you have a great 2013. I know I will.

Cheers!

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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