I’ve recently given up on Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Henry James’ A Turn of the Screw. Look, there are only so many hours in a day. And the older you get, the more valuable those hours become to you.
What am I reading now? Well, the days have been getting darker, both literally and figurately so I needed lighter fair. So I’m reading I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane because I was thinking of writing another of my Jake Gibb stories and I’m also reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe because I never have.
This isn’t my first time reading Faulkner. I’m reading As I Lay Dying now. It’s not one of the hard ones, as if there should be a hard novel. It’s twenties century American English. I’m a twentieth century American English speaker. He was a southern. I am half ‘southern’ and spent a good deal of time ‘down there’. It should come to me easy enough.
But I still need to consult Cliff’s Notes online to ‘get it’. I don’t think that makes me a rube or functionally illiterate. I’ve read older novels from other cultures and enjoyed them. I’ve read dense text books and philosophy and understood them. Maybe Faulkner is just b.s.?
I’ll admit to having a hero worship for Cormac McCarthy. con’t below
Intimidation, if I’m being honest. A decade and a half ago, I read a couple of his books and refused to read any more or to re-read the ones I had for fear of being disappointed in what was to come. I guess it goes along with the rule of never meeting your heroes.
But I finally am now reading All the Pretty Horses. And am a fool for delaying it. The problem for not reading a book when you’re young is that it prohibits you from re-readng a book at different points of your life and comparing it. Books you come to in your twenties are not the same as in your fifties. And the difference reveals to you something about yourself you would have never known otherwise.
But not reading more McCarthy when I was younger, I’ve deprived myself of that.
When I was a kid, my writing style was all Hemingway. I’ve drifted from that but his “The End of Something” is still a lodestar for all my writing. If you’ve not read it, it’s on-line here as well as other places.
I few years ago I came across the poets of World War I, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson, Rupert Burke, etc. These poets made a war that was obscured by not having a distinctive narrative or the benefit of film into a visceral event that shaped and warped lives. Yes, I knew some of the history of the war and it’s aftermath, but not I couldn’t empathize with the impact it had on the lives of those at the time, until I read the poets. …continued below…
The same occurred when reading the sections of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway that contain the character Septimus Warren Smith and his wife, Rezia. Woolf, no stranger to mental breakdown, herself obvious, shows Smith’s degeneration and his ultimate end, capturing it perfectly. I’m giving away the climax of the book here but it’s been 95 years so get over it.
In this passage, Septimus has had it with the doctors, hearing one approach, he looks for escape, anyway he can.
Septimus could hear her talking to [Doctor} Holmes on the staircase.
“My clear lady, I have come as a friend,” Holmes was saying.
“No. I will not allow you to see my husband,” she said.
He [Septimus] could see her, like a little hen, with her wings spread barring his passage. But Holmes persevered.
“My dear lady, allow me . . .” Holmes said, putting her aside (Holmes was a powerfully built man).
Holmes was coming upstairs. Holmes would burst open the door. Holmes would say “In a funk, eh?” Holmes would get him. But no; not Holmes; not Bradshaw. Getting up rather unsteadily, hopping indeed from foot to foot, he considered Mrs. Filmer’s nice clean bread knife with “Bread” carved on the handle. Ah, but one mustn’t spoil that. The gas fire? But it was too late now. Holmes was coming. Razors he might have got, but Rezia, who always did that sort of thing, had packed them. There remained only the window, the large Bloomsbury-lodging house window, window, the tiresome, the troublesome, and rather melodramatic business of opening the window and throwing himself out. It was their idea of tragedy, not his or Rezia’s (for she was with him). Holmes and Bradshaw like that sort of thing. (He sat on the sill.) But he would wait till the very last moment. He did not want to die. Life was good. The sun hot. Only human beings—what did they want? Coming down the staircase opposite an old man stopped and stared at him. Holmes was at the door. “I’ll give it you!” he cried, and flung himself vigorously, violently down on to Mrs. Filmer’s area railings.
I have a character in the book I’m currently writing who writes a book like Virginia Woolf. So to get the feel write I thought I’d better read some Virginia Woolf. Admittedly, it’s not for everybody but you should give it a try.
In high school I carried around a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude but I wasn’t able to read it until much later.
Magical realism wasn’t something a suburban Indiana teenager could handle. Later I read it and it changed the way I knew I could right – not that I did anything about it. I was still under the spell of Hemingway and the like. But I was slowly growing and I think now I’ve fully loosened Papa’s grasp.
So now my second Marquez novel. And there is almost no dialogue. He’s taken the “Show, don’t tell” dictum and thrown it out the window.
And I’m loving it so far. Marquez is teaching me again.