February 7, 2010
Good morning and happy Sunday Salon! Today is a clear, crisp winter day with cerulean blue skies and a bit of frost on the ground. We’ve got the coffee on and a fire in the wood stove – a perfect morning for catching up on my reading. Later today we’ll be working on our bedroom. While I was gone to New Hampshire, my wonderful husband tore out the old, ratty carpets in our bedroom and put in hardwood flooring. Yesterday we started painting the walls a nice, soft sage green; then we’ll install some white 6″ baseboards and a little crown molding. And I’m also getting a new closet overhaul (we’re going into Home Depot later today to pick up some pre-forms for that). Yay!
Last week I told you about Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini (read my review). I really enjoyed this book which was full of good food and wonderful stories – all a part of showing us how our traditions around food can help us heal in times of crisis. If you have read the book, you might be interested in Lisa’s discussion of it on her blog for the Winter Reading Series…and don’t forget to catch the author there for a live chat on Monday, February 22nd at 5:00 PM PST.
I also finished The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer last week (read my review). If you love suspense-thrillers, you probably should read a book by Palmer sometime. He knows how to write this genre well, keeping the story moving forward at warp speed and filling it with enough violence to keep most fans of the thriller happy.
My current read is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel who won the Booker Prize this year for this historical fiction set in 16th century England and focusing on Thomas Cromwell. I have mixed feelings so far about this doorstopper. Mantel uses the present tense, which is not my favorite tense…but it works surprisingly well for this novel by putting the reader firmly into the story and making things feel immediate and contemporary. But Mantel is also having a little fun playing with the rules of grammar in her book – and that style is not sitting as well with me. Mantel is using an ambiguous pronoun (specifically “he”)…and she does not seem to care if the pronoun matches the subject of her sentence or not. Let me give you an example:
Once the boy has gone to bed he sweeps his papers out of the tidy stack he has made. – from Wolf Hall, page 143 –
Notice that Mantel has two instances of the pronoun “he” in this sentence. The subject of the sentence is “the boy”…so as a reader we at first read this sentence as “the boy sweeps his papers out of the tidy stack the boy has made.” But that would be wrong. Actually the first “he” relates to Thomas Cromwell, whereas the second “he” relates to the boy. It is a convoluted sentence…and the book is full of these kinds of sentences. Sentences which make the reader stop, think, back up and figure out who is acting or speaking. I find it mostly annoying as it breaks the flow of the reading.
I’m discussing this book in a book group, and some people don’t mind this butchering of English grammar. They feel that it is creative and effective, and done purposefully to make the reader pay more attention to Cromwell. One poster said that this is a new trend in modern literature – that teachers are telling students now to disregard grammar in their writing and be more creative in sentence structure. Really? I have to say, if that is so, I am going to pull my hair out.
Here’s my opinion: Most grammar is there and universal so that communication is clear and effective. As a reader, if I cannot understand what the author is trying to say, how can I understand the story I am reading? I suppose a writer could write every sentence in a book backwards and eventually the reader would probably figure it out and begin to understand…but would the book be enjoyable? I don’t think so. I read because I love characters and story. I don’t read to be necessarily challenged in my ability to figure out what the author is writing on the most basic level. I hate to feel like I’m reading – I want to be IMMERSED in the story, not constantly having to perform an analysis on the structure of the sentences. I don’t like experimental fiction for just that reason.
So what do you think? Do you want more writers to do what Mantel is doing? Do you think grammar is something we should toss into the wind? Do you like books which make you constantly have to think? Or does this kind of writing make you feel manipulated as a reader? Have you read Wolf Hall yet? If so, did this style bother you or not? Inquiring minds want to know!
I hope to finish this book sooner rather than later (although it is going incredibly slow for me at the present). And then I’m picking up another chunkster: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.
What are you doing today? Whatever it is, I hope it involves a great book!