Friday, July 21, 2017

Emily Dickinson challenges me, you, and orthodoxy

Here is something from Emily Dickinson. 

I will call it a carpe diem warning.
Tell me your understanding of the poem.

The Blunder is in estimate.

Eternity is there
We say, as of a Station --
Meanwhile he is so near

He joins me in my Ramble --

Divides abode with me --
No Friend have I that so persists
As this Eternity.


Postscript: I will be off the air for a while. 

Papa's birthday and his qualified praise of Twain

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

     It's the birthday of writer Ernest Hemingway (books by this author), born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). In July of 1925, he visited Pamplona, Spain, for the Festival of San Fermín, a weeklong celebration that included bullfighting and the famous Running of the Bulls. Hemingway and his wife arrived a few days early to get tickets, and he needed a way to spend the time; so on this day in 1925, on his 26th birthday, he began his first novel. He said, "Everybody my age had written a novel and I was still having a difficult time writing a paragraph." He wrote in the days leading up to the celebration, he wrote in bed every morning during the week of the festival, and when it was over, he continued writing. He wrote in hotels and bars in Madrid and the French town of Hendaye, and in an apartment in Paris. He finished the first draft just two months after he had begun writing. He told a friend years later: "Toward the last it was like a fever. Toward the last I was sprinting, like in a bicycle race, and I did not want to lose my speed making love or anything else."

     He titled his novel Fiesta, then revised the title to The Lost Generation, and finally to The Sun Also Rises. He sent the manuscript to Scribner's, where it was picked up by the editor Maxwell Perkins. Perkins wrote to Hemingway: "The Sun Also Rises seems to me a most extraordinary performance. No one could conceive a book with more life in it." The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, and Perkins became Hemingway's lifelong editor. The novel got a good review in The New York Times and other New York newspapers, but was generally disliked in the rest of the country, including in Hemingway's hometown of Chicago. His own mother wrote to him: "It is a doubtful honor to produce one of the filthiest books of the year. [...] Every page fills me with a sick loathing - if I should pick up a book by any other writer with such words in it, I should read no more - but pitch it in the fire."
     Perkins regularly defended Hemingway's writing to his boss, Charles Scribner. For Hemingway's second novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929), Perkins had a conference with Scribner to discuss Hemingway's use of four-letter words. Perkins himself did not use obscene language - his strongest expression was "My God," and even that was rare. Although he was defending Hemingway's right to use four-letter words, Perkins was so uncomfortable saying them that he had to write them on a memo pad for Scribner. In the end, three words were not included in A Farewell to Arms, but replaced by dashes. Hemingway wrote those words back in by hand on a couple of copies, including one that he gave to James Joyce. A Farewell to Arms became a best-seller, selling 100,000 copies in its first year, and Hemingway was able to make a living writing fiction.

And there is this from Ernest Hemingway:

"The good writers are Henry James, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain. That's not the order they're good in. There is no order for good writers.... All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.' If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." -- from Ernest Hemingway, "The Green Hills of Africa" (1934).

Finally there is this postscript:

I have plenty of misgivings about Ernest Hemingway's writing and life, but I will admit that his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, ranks as one of my all-time favorite's in literature, and I think Perkins was correct about the novel's qualities; as for the rest of Hemingway's novels and stories, I have not much enthusiasm. However, as for his praise of Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he might be right about the "real end" of the novel; I've never been comfortable with Tom Sawyer's late-action entry and Twain's deus-ex-machina ending, so Hemingway's assessment strikes me as an astute criticism. When I next read Huck Finn, I might stop reading at the "real end." Moreover, I should read more by all three "good writers" -- James and Crane in addition to Twain. But I might also return to poets of that same era; Emily Dickinson is the obvious (and only?) choice.

* * * * *

Now, as for my inevitable question(s) at the end of every posting, I have a surprise for you: I have no question(s). But the door is open, and you are invited to comment on Hemingway, Twain, or anything else that suits your fancy.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Going abroad as an innocent with Twain

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

On this day in 1869, Innocents Abroad was published, firmly establishing its author, Mark Twain (books by this author), as a serious writer. The book, Twain's second, was an outgrowth of an assignment from a California newspaper, which had sent him around the world to write travel sketches. It remained his best-selling book throughout his lifetime.

And then there is this personal postscript:

I suppose no other writer is more American than Twain. And I suppose no self respecting champion of American literature can avoid reading everything written by Twain. Moreover, I suppose any reader of Twain should also read about Twain. So, I guess I have no choice. I should read more by and about Twain. Perhaps I should start with Innocents Abroad. So I will. And all of this leads to an invitation: 

Tell me about your favorite experiences when reading anything by or about Twain.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Five burning convictions about literary classics

So, with some time on my hands this afternoon, after my unsatisfying encounter with Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (which you can read about in my previous posting), I just read the opening pages of a book that for some time has been collecting dust on my shelves, Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read (edited by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness), and I took note of "five burning convictions about the worth of the classics [in literature] and our responsibility to them." It is probably appropriate to note that the editors of the book are writing with a specific perspective, and they respond to literary classics from that perspective: they are followers of Christ. I will not be surprised if that point of view affects some readers' acceptance of or interest in what follows.

Well, here are the "five burning convictions." 

1. First, literary classics [many of them recommended and discussed in some detail in the 365 pages of the book] represent "the supreme value of words and their inescapable importance for the life of the mind and the human spirit."

2. Second, we "return to first things" when "we recognize the classics' lyric beauty, their aching tragedy, their probing intellectual inquiry, their profound imagination, sympathy, and wisdom."

3. Third, the "classics have an intrinsic human, cultural, and spiritual worth"; moreover, the classics represent a "great conversation" involving "the primary themes of life and death, right and wrong, triumph and tragedy, which we all confront in being human."

4. Fourth, in our contemporary society, "it is time and past time for a new championing of the great literary classics of our Western civilization."

5. Fifth, readers of literary classics, especially "individual followers of Christ and the church of Christ as a whole have a unique responsibility to guard, enjoy, and pass them on [...] because they are privileged to share the faith that animated the majority of these masterworks." 

* * * * *

There you have the "five burning convictions." Tell me your thoughts about the editors' arguments. As for my thoughts, perhaps those will become more clear in our discussions.

Sense and Sensibility -- a reader's response

First of all, this is not a review of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensbility.  It is instead a reader's response, one in which I hope to avoid any "plot spoilers."

So, subjective and brief, and probably not well received by some die-hard Austen readers, here is my response:

While I admire the author's good sense and sensibility in her elaborate narrative style and vivid characterizations, I come away from the reading experience disappointed in having spent time reading a novel in which love, marriage, and money dominate Austen's focus, and I arrived at the end not particularly interested in either Elinor's or Marianne's outcomes.

Now here comes the paradox: if anyone is interested in reading a well-crafted 19th century English novel, Sense and Sensibility is a first-rate choice; however, if readers would rather avoid reading all about good-hearted, single-minded, happy-endings characters whose lives are nearly too much determined by the cruelty, selfishness, and insolence of other characters, then avoid reading Austen's early novel. 

Perhaps I did not recognize and appreciate the ironies in Austen's novel. Perhaps I neither understand nor appreciate the society about which Austen writes. Indeed, perhaps I am an insensitive lout who lacks the good sense and sensibility needed to be an enthusiastic and appreciative Austen reader. 

Now, as I wait for the Austen fans' attacks upon my insensitive and superficial response, I will think about my next reading selection(s). I might give Austen another chance, but I will have to be in a different frame of mind before doing so.

So, Austen readers, it's now your turn.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miscellaneous musings from an over-the-hill reader

Here are some odds-n-ends (perhaps) worth pondering.

Today is William Makepeace Thackeray's birthday. Read more here.

Today is the birthday of Clifford Odets. Read more here.

Jessamyn West's birthday is celebrated today. Read more here.

Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was published on the 18th of July in 1925. Read more here.

And, just to wrap everything up here, I must note that Jane Austen died on 18 July 1817. Read more about her life and work at this Wikipedia article.

Now, here is a personal postscript:

I was reading the opening chapters in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility last night, and in an abbreviated reader-response statement, I offer you two words that encapsulate my assessment of the characters -- money and selfish.

Oh, I could offer many more words -- verbose, formal, detached, pointless, irrelevant, and boring -- but those words and anything I could say at this point about the novel must be combined to with two other words (both of which I need to keep in mind as I continue reading) -- irony and sensibility.

Well, now it's your turn.
Perhaps my miscellaneous links and musings will pique your interest.
So, fire away.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jane Austen 200 years ago (18 July) and today (17 July)

First there is this.

And there is this: 

After too many postponements, I am prepared now to read (and in several cases reread) Jane Austen's novels, and I begin this evening, one day before the 200th anniversary of her death. 

I begin at the beginning with Sense and Sensibility even though three other novels are contenders for my favorite. I will say more about my favorite(s) in future postings. As a matter of fact, the next several weeks here will be all about Jane Austen and her novels. Perhaps you will also be reading something by Austen. 

Now, though, I invite you to tell me about your favorites by Miss Austen.