Monday, June 26, 2017

Help Wanted


Okay, I'm just not feeling it. (There! I've said it.)

A Brief History of Seven Killings is the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner. To complete my quest I am honor bound to read it.

But.

I am 107 pages in and not liking it one bit.

It's written in voices, so every chapter is narrated by someone different. There have already been plenty of beatings and killings and assorted other acts of violence described, not in gory detail, but in sufficient detail that I'm continually peeking around the turning of a page with anticipation of more words I don't want to read painting pictures I don't want to see.

In pursuit of the Bookers I've suffered through several books I didn't like (How Late It Was, How Late comes readily to mind). But this time I am just not willing to do it.

I don't want to be a quitter. But I do want to be discerning.

This is especially important because there are other books on my 2017 list that I suspect will produce a similar reaction, and because I committed to many of them through various challenge reading lists.

So help me out here, blog friends: What are your personal rules for disengagement, when a book just isn't cutting it for you?

And what I really mean is: how do I know when to quit?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Lists Upon Lists

I stumbled upon this interesting list of "future classics" and scanned it with interest. Is it just a sales pitch from Barnes and Noble? Or a clever way to spark conversations about what makes a classic and how one would recognize it in a contemporary novel that has not yet stood the test of time (one definition of a classic)?  Or maybe a little of both?

I'm proud to say that I've read quite a few of these--15, to be exact--and 9 more are on my TBR list. Thank you, list reading! You've really paid off by making sure I'm reading excellent books.

Life of Pi. Cloud Atlas. The True History of the Kelly Gang. Well chosen.

But also: A Brief History of Seven Killings. The Sellout. Even Bel Canto. Ummm, not so much.

Still, it's great fun to be nudged into adding just a few more books to the TBR list. And that's a classic experience, for sure!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Midsummer Dawn


Greeting the sun, as we turn toward winter.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Old Roses


White roses, tiny and old, flare among thorns
by the barn door.
                                 For a hundred years
under the June elm, under the gaze
of seven generations,
                                        they lived briefly
like this, in the month of roses,
                                                         by the fields
stout with corn, or with clover and timothy
making thick hay,
                                  grown over, now,
with milkweed, sumac, paintbrush.
                                                                  Old
roses survive
winter drifts, the melt in April, August
parch,
              and men and women
who sniffed roses in spring and called them pretty
as we call them now,
                                       walking beside the barn
on a day that perishes.

Donald Hall
"Old Roses"
White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 

(photo credit)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Adventures of the Very Best Kind


Now I understand why this is a classic.

In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey relates the high and low points of his circa 1957 summer spent as a park ranger at Arches National Monument, a fantastically beautiful and remote desert area near Moab, Utah.

Abbey has a reputation as a wild man of nature, as well as a man of letters, and both aspects are clearly on display here. While remaining in awe of the wilderness and its intimately complex relationships, he doesn't sugarcoat its dangers, such as the high-walled dry canyons that a far-away rainstorm can turn into a deathtrap, leaving only minutes for escape once the hiker hears the rumble that means a wall of red, sludgy water is rapidly approaching. Riveting descriptions of scenery and interactions with creatures, weather, and human companions make this so much more than a "nature book." Abbey clearly had plenty of time while in the desert to observe, to ponder, and to develop his voice--and it shows on every page.  

At the same time, Abbey relishes the deprivations of ranger life, including the oppressive heat that requires him to do most of his living outdoors, avoiding the sweatbox interior of his metal trailer, and extrapolates from his experiences the benefit that lack of civilization confers on those who encounter the wilderness on its own terms. Abbey's ideal national park system would be without roads, camping facilities, and comforts of any kind. He believes humans should meet nature where she lives and that ease of access to natural wonders cheapens the experience . . . or perhaps more accurately, makes the experience accessible to the undeserving, who enjoy the privilege without earning it.

In this Abbey is quite prescient. Today we have such phenomena as "glamping," humongous campgrounds with hundreds of sites, swimming pools, wifi, and other comforts of home, and mountain summits that boast gift shops and restaurants.

While I personally enjoy the easy access provided by, say, driving to a trailhead rather than having to walk several miles with my backpack before I start my hike, I largely agree with his point. Of the millions of people who visit the Grand Canyon each year, how many are inspired by their visit to become active in its preservation, or in the preservation of other parks nearer their homes? How many, instead, see it and return to their regular lives with another check mark on their life list, or form the opinion that more development in the area would be an improvement?

Regardless of whether you agree with his answers, the questions Abbey poses remain supremely relevant today.

Excerpt:

A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness, whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it's there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.