Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver was in Miami last night, kicking off the 2009 Miami Book Fair. I drove down in the afternoon, avoiding traffic, and had a nice stroll around downtown and the Bayside shopping area before heading to the venue. As it happened, my copy of Kingsolver's latest book arrived in my mailbox just hours before I set out on my expedition (thank you, Amazon!) so I just found a quiet corner and read until time to go into the auditorium. I got through about the first hundred pages. In one scene, the narrator discovers an underwater tunnel leading to an opening in the land. The word "lacuna" can refer to such a cave, or it can have various other literal or metaphorical meanings. Thus, the title is evocative and somewhat mysterious, giving us a clue that this is going to be a story with layers, that we can plunge into and use all our powers to explore.

The description of the lacuna lets us know, too, that we are dealing with an author whose mastery of language is indisputable:

At the end of the tunnel the cave opens up to light, a small salt-water pool in the jungle. Almost perfectly round, as big across as this bedchamber, with sky straight up, dappled and bright through the branches. Amate trees stood in a circle around the water hole like curious men, gaping because a boy from another world had suddenly arrived in their pool. The pombo trees squatted for a close look with their knobbly wooden knees poking up out of the water. A tiger heron stood one-legged on a rock, cocking an unfriendly eye at the intruder. San Juan Pescadero the kingfisher zipped back and forth between two perches, crying, "Kill him kill him kill him!...

It was like coming up in a storybook...

Kingsolver says that she wrote this book as part of an exploration of the relationship between art and politics. The three main historical characters are Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo, and Leon Trotsky. The geographical characters are Mexico and the United States.

Here are some other observations from Kingsolver:

"I was in Washington DC recently, and while traveling between bookstores I got stuck in traffic--held up behind the president's motorcade as he was going to deliver a speech about health care reform. I thought to myself, 'here I am, in the beating heart of democracy!'

"And then I came to Miami. And I realized that the real, true, beating heart of democracy is the place where people love books!"

* * *

"I consider myself an evangelist for literature. I am promoting forms of entertainment that wouldn't electrocute you if you dropped them in the bathtub."

* * *

"Literature is invented, but it's not fake. I won't waste your time with anything that is not authentic."

* * *

There's no test after you read a book. You can't do it wrong. Read it just for the plot. Read it for the characters. Read it for the deeper meaning. Read it just for the pleasure of being in that place.

The New York Times calls The Lacuna "dazzling." It's the latest in a body of work that is amazingly diverse--poetry, short stories, novels, essays, journalism--from a woman who is highly intelligent and imaginative, erudite and emotionally connected. The fact that she is one of the few American writers who is willing to be overtly political in her work is a bonus, especially since I happen to agree wholeheartedly with her political positions.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Armegeddon in Retrospect, by Kurt Vonnegut

I thought I'd never say this again, but I just read a new Kurt Vonnegut book. Not only that, but I'm starting another one now.

Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of writings about war and peace, some of which are previously unpublished. It starts out, after a great introduction by Mark Vonnegut, with a letter written by Pfc. K. Vonnegut, Jr. on April 29, 1945. The letter is probably his earliest attempt to put into writing the horrific experiences he had as a P.O.W. in Germany. Slaughterhouse-Five would be its culmination, years later.

If people were reasonable creatures, every veteran would be an antiwar activist, but alas, we aren't and they aren't. For that matter, if people were reasonable, we wouldn't need antiwar activists, would we. Here's what Vonnegut says about the movement to stop the Vietnam War: "We might as well have been throwing cream pies."

More later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Good People Do Bad Things, by James Hollis, Ph.D.

I have to blog about this book because there is so much important information in it. But it's difficult to know what to say because there is so much important information.

Nice connection I never made before: There's a children's poem called "My Shadow" -- "I have a little shadow / That goes in and out with me / ..." I've known that by heart since early childhood. I knew Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it, and in a separate part of my brain I knew Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But I never connected the two facts. Now they are filed away in the same folder. That Robert Louis Stevenson, he was really concerned about this issue of The Shadow.

According to James Hollis, who wrote this book, Why Good People Do Bad Things, the subconscious mind is the part of you that you don't know about; the Shadow is the part of you that you don't want to know about. And it's the answer to the question of why you don't always do what you know you should do, and you sometimes do what you know you shouldn't do.

Not only people have Shadows; institutions have them too, and even God can be perceived to have a dark side (for the full exposition on this idea, read Answer to Job, by Carl Jung.)

The solution to the problem of The Shadow is to confront it, to explore it, to accept its existence and pay attention to its influence in our lives.

As an old Eastern European story has it a village took pity on an elderly pensioner and, to give him a reason to live, appointed him to serve as sentinel at the entrance to the shtetl and wait for the arrival of the Messiah. After many hash seasons at his solitary post, he returned to the council and expressed a certain frustration over this project, whereupon he was told, 'But consider, it's steady work!' So, our ongoing effort to know the right thing, if it exists, and to do the right thing if we can, is steady work...-- p. 37
This is not some pop culture "self-help" book--but it certainly may be helpful, if it's read in that spirit. It's a good summary of Jungian theory and a well-organized exposition of the thoughts of an intelligent person who has been thinking about this subject for several decades.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I just read this book yesterday. It's a lovely mixture of romance and realism, which explores communication and celebrity in the 21st century.

I've enjoyed all of Hornby's work. High Fidelity is on my "favorite movies" list. A Long Way Down was clever and touching.

Besides providing amusement, the book fueled my anglophilia with the very English vernacular spoken by several of the characters. Here are some phrases:

--winding me up
--taking the piss
--having me on
--a one-off
--fair enough
--talking rubbish

...and so on.

Reactivating Blog

I must say, this appears to be an extreme example of procrastination. I haven't added anything to this blog for nearly a year. Amazing. I will reactivate it by jettisoning all ambition, becoming entirely humble and creating short entries, once a week or more. That's the plan. Today's project, changing the quote at the top of the page. Where is that, again? I'm off to search for it.