Monday, December 5, 2011

Birth Year Reading Challenge - Time Machine: J.G.'s Reading Wrap-Up

At least I finished my own challenge! Pride simply would not allow me to fail on this one.

The "Time Machine" landed me in 1954 and I must say, there was a huge contrast in the books I chose. Perhaps that is due to the fact that one was a novel, one was a collection of essays and short fiction, and one was a book of poetry. Even so, you'd think there would be some common trends. Mostly, there were contrasts.

Both Basso's The View from Pompey's Head and E.B. White's The Second Tree from the Corner were written very traditionally. No sign of the experimental fiction that was just around the literary corner. When characters were under social or emotional pressure, they continued to respond in fairly traditional ways. Even the most futuristic and hallucinogenic parts of White's book were grounded in reality. For example, if the narrative was loosely associational and rambling, it was made clear that the narrator was having some kind of a crack-up (in contrast to modern fiction in which plenty of characters talk and think like they're having a breakdown but they are actually what passes for normal these days). Mine the Harvest was by far the most modern of the three in form. Once again, a poet takes the lead.

It was also interesting how dated the Basso book sounded. Details make a work rich, but hearing about ashtrays, pay phones, and women in hats and gloves somehow interfered with the timelessness of the story itself. Funny that this doesn't happen with, say, Wharton (carriages and whale-bone stays) or Shakespeare (daggers and doublets), or even Homer (greaves and sailing ships). Maybe it's because the dated details are so close in time to my own era. Perhaps it's that the older works don't have a chance at being modern, so I don't expect them to be so.

Anyway, the White collection held up the best to this kind of disorganized scrutiny and it's the one I would recommend, of the three. White's send-up of the Classics Club, Walt Whitman style (excerpt here), is enough to earn it a place among my favorites on the permanent shelf.

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