December 16, 2007 archive

Sunday Salon – December 16, 2007

December 16, 2007

7:00 AM

It is the perfect day for reading – dark clouds hang in the sky threatening snow, the thermometer hovers around 20 degrees, and I have just built a roaring fire in the woodstove. I have an abundance of reading materials laid out for myself: a novel (I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak), a short story (Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera, by Ben Fountain – published here), and a toppling stack of magazines I have been looking forward to perusing.

In the last week, I finished two novels: The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud AND Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. These two authors have very different styles. Messud is a bit verbose, her sentences tend to run on and she uses a lot of commas. Coetzee’s prose is spare, often unemotional. But they share an ability to create complex characters and subtle tension that keeps the reader turning pages. I liked both books – Messud’s for its sharp wit, and Coetzee’s for its powerful exploration of race, sex and generational differences.

I began reading I Am The Messenger on Friday and am about a half way through the book. I wonder why I have waited so long to open its pages after reading Zusak’s The Book Thief last winter? I was blown away by Zusak’s use of language – his insights and way of turning a phrase. The man is brilliant. I Am The Messenger is quite a bit different from The Book Thief, but Zusak’s talent is clearly on display.

More later…

2:15 PM

I just finished reading Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera – a short story by Ben Fountain. Fountain’s writing is ironic and pointed. The main character of the story is John Blair, an ornithology student from Duke University who finds himself a hostage of Columbian rebels. When Blair tries to point out that kidnapping is a crime, the Commandant – a man named Alberto – responds: “This isn’t a kidnapping, this is a retencion in the sociopolitical context of the war. We merely hold you until a fee is paid for your release.”  Blair later convinces Alberto to let him continue his studies of the birds…and discovers a flock of rare, nearly extinct parrots. Fountain captures the futility of the war, and the hypocrisy of the situation throughout this short story.

In the evenings the officers gathered on the steps of their quarters to listen to the radio and drink aromatica tea. Blair gradually insinuated himself onto the bottom step, and after a couple of weeks of Radio Nacional newscasts he understood that Columbia was busily ripping itself to shreds. gargantuan car bombs rocked the cities each week; judges and journalists were assassinated in droves; various gangs, militias, and guerrillas fought the Army and the cops, while the drug lords, and revanchists sponsored paramilitary autodefensa squads which seemed to specialize in massacring unarmed peasants.

I found this to be a powerful story, one which explores the limits of our natural resources, environmentalism in the context of war, and the role of our government and financial institutions in the destruction of the rain forests and their inhabitants.

In other reading today, I made some headway in the Zusak book. I love Zusak’s prose, the way he make inanimate objects come to life…little gems like this one:

I’m about to speak when an argument breaks out in one of the neighboring houses.
A plate smashes.
Screams jump over the fence.
The fighting intensifies, voices slam, and the doors shout shut.
– From I Am The Messenger, page 142 –

I’ve also thumbed through the November 2007 issue of Bon Appetit magazine and torn out some amazing looking recipes for fattening desserts and comfort food.

More later…

10:00 PM

Well, I didn’t finish I Am The Messenger – but I made a significant dent in it and should complete it tomorrow. Stay tuned for my review of this interesting book.

See you next week, Sunday Saloners!

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