April 27, 2008
A cerulean sky peeking between the branches of the pines greeted me when I woke up this morning. Temperatures are predicted to hit 80 degrees this afternoon – a perfect day for working outside or taking a walk…and maybe I’ll squeeze in some late in the day reading out on the porch.
I made a dent in a couple of my challenges this week by reading Lost & Found, by Jacqueline Sheehan (read my review) and The World Below, by Sue Miller (read my review). Sheehan’s novel is a very quick read – and it has a dog in it, so it was the perfect choice for a busy week. Miller’s book was more of a thoughtful read which grew stronger as I made my way through its pages. Next up: Independent People, by Halldor Laxness…which was slated to be read two months ago for Books In Translation Yahoo group. It’s a chunkster at 500 pages, and was written in 1955 – earning its author the Nobel Prize for Literature. I made a little progress last night before drifting off to sleep and have already marked a couple of passages. Here’s one where the protagonist is walking and talking to his dog as he surveys his new land:
“Take my word for it, freedom is of more account than the height of a roof beam. I ought to know; mine cost me eighteen years’ slavery. The man who lives on his own land is an independent man. He is his own master. If I can keep my sheep alive through the winter and can pay what has been stipulated from year to year – then I pay what as been stipulated; and I have kept my sheep alive. No, it is freedom that we are all after, Titla. He who pays his way is a king. He who keeps his sheep alive through the winter lives in a palace.” -From Independent People, page 13-
This is the type of book I usually enjoy, so I have high hopes for it.
Many thanks to J.C. Montgomery from The Biblio Brat who recommended I read two essays in particular from the E.B. White collection. I took your advice, J.C., and was not disappointed. The Ring of Time (penned in March 1956) is masterfully written. White places the reader ringside at the winter quarters of Mr. John Ringling North’s circus where he treats us to a young girl’s ride around the ring on the back of a horse. White writes:
“She is at that enviable moment in life [I thought] when she believes she can go once around the ring, make one complete circuit, and at the end be exactly the same age as at the start.” Everything in her movements, her expression, told you that for her the ring of time was perfectly formed, changeless, predictable, without beginning or end, like the ring in which she was traveling at this moment with the horse that wallowed under her. -From Essays of EB White, page 182-
White then makes an abrupt departure from the circus and takes us to the south – to Florida – where he ruminates on the idea of separate but equal. How, I thought, will he connect this idea to the previous one? And it is through this concept of the passage of time which he does it. White writes:
The sense that is common to one generation is uncommon to the next. Probably the first slave ship, with Negroes lying in chains on its decks, seemed commonsensical to the owners who operated it and to the planters who patronized it. But such a vessel would not be in the realm of common sense today. The only sense that is common, in the long run, is the sense of change – and we all instinctively avoid it, and object to the passage of time, and would rather have none of it. -From The Essays of EB White, page 185-
And this is the beauty of White’s essays – he takes you on a journey along a crooked path and leads you where he wants you to go. This particular essay is beautifully written and delivers a message the reader cannot ignore.
The second essay recommended by J.C. was Once More to the Lake (penned in August 1941). I loved this piece because it catapulted me back to my own youth when my family would visit with friends ‘on the lake.’ White’s description of the summer cabins (‘…the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and of the wet woods whose scent entered through the screen. The partitions in the camp were thin and did not extend clear to the top of the rooms,…’) was a perfect rendition of my own memory. White tells of re-visiting the lake of his boyhood, only this time he is an adult and takes his young son with him. The essay is about the passage of time, and the blurring of the generations. It is a short, completely satisfying read.
This week I was spurred to think about the books we choose to read after having read a couple of blog posts. Sam from The Book Chase posted an article about Anne Perry’s past. Apparently Anne Perry (who is really Juliet Hulme) participated in the gruesome bludgeoning murder of her best friend’s mother when Anne/Juliet was only sixteen years old. She served a brief time behind bars, and now is the best selling author of murder mysteries. The discussion that ensued at Sam’s blog is worth reading. Some readers cannot separate the author from her crime; others are not terribly bothered by it.
Then, earlier this week, I read Laura’s brief review of In A Free State, by V.S. Naipaul. Laura didn’t especially like the book, and she wrote: ‘I found it impossible to get past Naipaul’s misogynist history, having psychologically abused his wife for many, many years.‘
Last year I read Zelda, the biography of Zelda Fitzgerald (read my review). I gained a not too flattering view of F.Scott Fitzgerald, and have since had no desire to read any of his novels.
So, I began to wonder – how often do we, as readers, steer clear of an author’s books because of what we know about the author. Does an author’s past interfere with the enjoyment of their work? I believe my own views are influenced by the fact that I am also a writer – and I understand that a writer uses their own experiences and belief systems when crafting their work. Fiction always has a bit of reality woven through its pages. After learning about Anne Perry’s criminal past, I am not too interested in reading her novels (especially since they revolve around murder which apparently Ms. Perry knows quite a bit about). I will be reading Naipaul, but Laura’s words will echo in my brain as I do so. What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.