Sunday, July 25, 2010

I had to try it . . .

I haven't read anything by him yet, but apparently I write like him:

I write like
Chuck Palahniuk
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Off to the library I guess!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Paco's Story Chapters 1 and 2

This post is part of a read-a-long in July hosted at War Through the Generations.

I actually attempted this a couple of times before forcing myself to continue.  The writing style seemed unnecessarily crowded with words, including curious word choices that just didn't hit home for me, and a generous dose of profanity.  But I've got to get out of my comfort zone every now and then, and I would expect that any depiction of the Vietnam War is going to be lacking in comfort.  I was braced for violence and language, but I find myself wishing the story could be told in a more straight-forward manner.  I am getting used to it as I go along, and perhaps I will discover a way that the writing style lends to the theme of the book.  I always like to give the author the benefit of the doubt.    Here are this week's discussion questions:

1. Who do you think the narrator is?
I'm picturing the narrator as one of the dead from Alpha Company.  He seems to be unlimited  in his knowledge as far as time or place goes, sort of a ghost narrator.  At the end of Chapter 1, he says "Oh, we dissolved alright, everybody but Paco, but our screams burst through the ozone . . .,"  including himself in the attack.

2. What do the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1 tell you about the narrator?
Well, he's a talker.  A storyteller.  If I'm understanding what he's saying, he seems bitter about those who do not want to hear about the war, or who want to sweep the stories under the rug.

3. How do you think Paco’s survival impacted the medic’s world view? And how did that change the medic?
It seems like he becomes overwhelmed by the pointlessness of it all.  When he encounters Paco, he gets to the end of his rope and can't handle it anymore:   "He was suddenly, finally, ready to admit that no matter what he did or how much, it was never enough . . .the wounded always died."  It sounds like his life consists of eating hard-boiled eggs with salt and mustard and getting drunk.  He says he would have been a good doctor, if not for Paco, the "guy not dead." 

4. Is Paco’s Story narrated in a way that is “too” honest?
I don't feel like I'm a good judge of "honesty" without any personal knowledge of a particular event.  I think more of it as a case of TMI.  Did I need to know about his "pecker practice"?   About how the dancer's breasts reminded him of lumps of greasy hamburger? I haven't quite decided yet. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Author:  Robert Penn Warren  
Published:  1946  
Length:  661 pages  
Source:  Local Library  
Award:  Pulitzer Prize
Challenges:  1930's Mini Challenge, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Personal Enjoyment Factor:  5/5

"The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know.  He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him."

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is one that wowed me.  The writing gave me an adrenaline rush, and pleasure not unlike the ecstasy of deliberately savoring a Godiva truffle.  (Yikes, I'm making my mouth water.) 

Chocolate similes aside, the story focuses mainly on two men:  Willie Stark, an idealistic, but simple  lawyer turned corrupt politician in 1930's Louisiana, and Jack Burden, the guy who does much of his dirty work for him--digging into the past to uncover information to use against his political enemies.  As Stark satisfies his lust for power, Burden is searching  for knowledge and truth--sometimes passively, sometimes actively--not only about the people he is investigating, but about the whole meaning (or lack thereof) of life and morality and love and responsibility and identity.  

For me, Jack Burden's philosophical ramblings were the most satisfying part of the book, but Warren knows just when to pull out and get back to the story, which was compelling.  The characters were vividly drawn and memorable.   There's a touch of melodrama here and there, but it has just the perfect effect.   I humbly proclaim All the King's Men a masterpiece.  Modern Library was not quite as enthusiastic as me--they named it the 36th best English-language novel of the 20th century.  Not bad, but I'd gladly kick one out of the top ten and replace it with this one.  Like Ulysses or Sons and Lovers.  I would not be sad to see them go.  They're more like brussels sprouts, not gourmet candy.

Here's a chocolate sample, or at least food for thought:
"Perhaps the only answer, I thought then, was that by the time we understand the pattern we are in, the definition we are making for ourselves, it is too late to break out of the box.  We can only live in terms of the definition, like the prisoner in the cage in which he cannot lie or stand or sit, hung up in justice to be viewed by the populace.  Yet the definition we have made of ourselves is ourselves.  To break out of it, we must make a new self.  But how can the self make a new self when the selfness which it is, is only the substance from which the new self can be made?"

I'm still digesting that one.

For a collection of reviews of other books about the 1930's, check out this post at Things Mean A Lot.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vietnam Reading

I know it's already the middle of the year, but I'm joining the War Through the Generations 2010 focusing on Vietnam. My goal is to read five books, which I haven't chosen yet, other than a couple for group reads.

The first is a group read for Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann, hosted by the War Through the Generation ladies.  Details can be found here.  The set of discussion questions will be posted tomorrow, and I just picked up the book from the library minutes ago.  I may be late getting going, but I'm getting used to that by now.

I am also hoping to join in on a discussion about The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, hosted by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness.  Details can be found here.  There will be a Mr. Linky available July 26 to post reviews and see what thoughts everyone has. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Once Upon a Time IV Wrap-up

Once again I have greatly enjoyed taking part in the Once Upon a Time reading challenge hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  I only planned on completing one book for The Journey, but ended up upgrading to a loftier Quest.  
I did not realize that all of the novels I read had one word titles until now.  Spooky!  Now I'm already in the proper mood for R.I.P. V coming up in September.

Beauty by Robin McKinley
Dingo by Charles de Lint
Gifts by Ursula Le Guin
Savvy by Ingrid Law
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Author:  John Milton
Originally Published:  1667
This Edition:  Barnes and Noble 2004
Introduction and Notes:  David Hawkes
Length:  442 pages
Source:  Bought from BN
Challenge/Event:  Milton in May

Personal Enrichment Factor: 4/5

Disclaimer:  If I have not comprehended correctly any part of this epic poem, or interpreted any aspects of it in error, it is only as to be expected from a descendant of Eve, as "all higher knowledge in her presence falls/ degraded, wisdom in discourse with her loses discount'nanc'd" (VIII, 551-553).

Maybe Milton is right--I should just give up on trying to read this high-brow, intellectual stuff.  Perhaps my feminine faculties can't handle it. But it calls to me sometimes, and I can't resist discovering for myself those works deemed as "literary masterpieces" by those who are in the know (both male and female, Mr. Milton.)  Here are a few of my thoughts, however skewed they may be, on my first reading of Paradise Lost, with some clumsy attempts at citing books and line numbers:

On Eve:  Man, I had such an urge to go burn a bra while reading this!  I know nothing more could have been expected of Milton given the time and place in which he lived, but it was hard for me to see Eve, the "fair defect of nature" (X, 891), get slammed over and over and over.  Her only redeeming quality according the rest of the cast--she's easy on the eyes.  But even her beauty is twisted into a dig.  She is "too much ornament, in outward show/ elaborate, of inward less exact" (VIII, 538-539). Go ahead and say it, Milton--you think she's a dumb blonde.  Eve, "th'inferior in the mind and inward faculties (541-542),  is only  looked upon favorably when she accepts her place as the "weaker" beside Adam.  After partaking of the fruit, Eve considers withholding it from Adam,  to "render [her] more equal, and perhaps,/ A thing not undesirable, sometime/ Superior" (IX, 823-825) to him.  She just wants a little respect, I think.  But fears of "another Eve" (is this our very first almost love triangle? Are you Team Eve #1 or Team Eve #2?), convince her to share the fruit with Adam.

On Adam: I feel kind of bad that I don't have too many thoughts on Adam as he is presented in the poem.   With his leanings towards falling prey to Eve's feminine wiles as "from about her shot darts of desire/ Into all eyes to wish her still in sight"(VIII, 62-63), it's hard for me to not to place him (and his relationship with Eve) in the context of contemporary stereotypes.  Once he and Eve partake of the fruit, the blame game begins.  Why, oh why, Adam asks, did Eve have to be created?  Wasn't there another way to "generate Mankind? (X,895).  But then she weeps at his feet, he remembers how beautiful she is, and decides to make his way in the world with "that bad woman."  I almost can't wait until she beats him up during childbirth.

On Satan:   Despite his grand introduction, he's not a really a heroic figure--he's a just pawn. Any power he has is derived from the Omnipotent One he is fighting against.   When he does get a bit of an inkling of the futility of his grab for power, he ignores it.  It's like a compulsion for him.  Even when "horror and doubt distract/ His troubled thoughts"(IX, 18-19) and he admits that "pride and worse ambition threw [him] down" (40),  his abhorrence for any act of submission and his vain pride drive him in his efforts to thwart God's plan for Paradise.  He is so proud of himself that in persuading Eve to partake of the fruit, he will have destroyed in one day what took The Almighty almost a week to build.  Does he really think that's the end of the story?

On the poem as a whole:  Without going into my religious beliefs, I should note that my thoughts are directed only at Milton's depiction of these characters.  Much of the poem is beautiful and his ideas about free will are right-on in my book. I could have done without the hundreds of allusions and comparisons, and learned to skim through areas where I detected lots of proper nouns.  But it was worth it to find several nuggets of striking poetry and stunning images.  There are potentially many things to discuss, and debates to be gotten into, but one thing is undeniable--it is amazing that the blind Milton dictated this mammoth epic poem to others to transcribe, including his daughters.  I have to admit if I had been one of his daughters, I might have been tempted to edit a little bit.  He would never have known!

Here's a quote that I have taken to heart:

That thou art happy, owe to God;
That thou continuest such, owe to thyself.
(Book V, line 520)