Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway

Part One: The Original

I love Paris in the summer, in the spring, and in the winter. Before each and every trip there, I re-read Hemingway’s great work on his years in Paris between the wars. When I heard about the restored edition, I could not wait to compare it to the version I know and love. First, I re-read the original.

This memoir never grows old. Someday I want to spend a long period of time in Paris, and wander through the streets and visit the cafes Hemingway mentions. Some of them I have sat in and watched the boulevardiers pass along with strolling musicians, magicians, and mimes. I always made time to have a drink at Aux du Magots – a favorite hangout of writers, artists, and philosophers. Montmartre, the artist’s quarter, also played a role in his story. I still love this book.

Part Two: The Restored Edition

Two chapters have been moved another two deleted and replaced with another two. Other than that not many changes to the book. A casual reader might barely notice the differences. The additional chapter on F. Scott Fitzgerald added another incident to that tragic life. The chapter entitled “The Education of Mr. Brumby,” Hemingway and Hadley’s son, was interesting, because it revealed something of Hemingway as the doting father.

The best part of the revisions, however, came in a collection of fragments not included in the earlier version. One involved Hemingway’s assignment to follow a young Canadian boxer fighting for the first time in France. Another involved numerous fragments of a preface, which he never finished. The stops and starts and restarts of these show an interesting insight into the process of writing. The introduction provides a history of the manuscript. Apparently, Hemingway worked on this while he was in Paris between the wars, then lost track of it until the late 50s. He was still revising the manuscript when he died in 1961.

As I said, one of my all-time favorites, and the new material hasn’t changed my mind about that. If you plan on visiting Paris, read it on the plane to France. Make some notes and visit some of the places which are still there, visit some new spots, and you can create your own “Moveable Feast.” 5 stars

--Chiron, 11/29/09

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Be Happy by Monica Sheehan

My World Lit class gave me this little book the last day of class along with a thank you card. This is quite unusual, but the sign of good chemistry among dedicated students.

Happily, most of the sixty, simple line drawings and words of inspiration confirm my life style and things I do on a routine basis.

One of the pages says, "Read." Five stars

-Chiron, 11/20/09

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Another book I have often read, but this time I have a clearer purpose: I am reading it to a group of senior citizens as the entertainment portion of their annual Christmas banquet.

This book embodies what Annie Dillard meant in the paragraph I quoted from The Writing Life. This is literature, and the characters come to life – each time a bit different – but more than wonderful every time. It never grows old. It always has something I want and need – it exemplifies and justifies my reasons for reading.

Maybe I need a new shelf in my library. I will call it “Evergreens.”

--Chiron, 11/25/09 (Reading aloud 12/5/09)

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

I read this book ages ago, and its quiet simplicity makes it one I return to again and again. If you like reading and writing, this slim volume will surprise and please you to no end.

Here is an example of Dillard’s delightful style: “Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen? Because a book can be literature. It is a subtle thing – a poor thing, but our own. In my view, the more literary the book -- the more purely verbal, crafted sentence by sentence, the more imaginative, reasoned, and deep – the more likely people are to read it. The people who read are the people who like literature, after all, whatever that might be. They like, or require, what books alone have” (19).

You need this book. You need to sit down some quiet afternoon and read it. Then, keep it close by and read it again when the fancy strikes you! 5 stars

--Chiron, 11/24/09

Windflower by Nick Bantock

Nick Bantock has a mysterious originality in his work. His series beginning with Griffin and Sabine, allowed the reader to peek into the private correspondence of a designer of stamps who lives in the South Pacific and an artist who lives in London. By “peek,” I mean that literally – some pages have envelopes pasted to the page, and the reader must lift the flap, remove the sheet and read the letter. Fascinating, thrilling, mysterious, and completely absorbing.

In Windflower, he has written a more conventional tale about Ana, a young woman forced into marriage for economic reasons by her parents. As the ceremony is about to reach its conclusion, a violent wind sweeps in, and Ana takes the opportunity to run away. Her grandfather has told Ana her destiny lies in another direction.

This adult fantasy has the feel of something placed in the middle ages, but a few times we are reminded it is firmly in the present, or at least the near past. Ana suddenly has a “torch” or flashlight, and she sees then flies in an airplane. His characters are as interesting and mysterious as the story itself.

Along with the wonderful mesmerizing prose, Bantock’s illustrations have a warmth and beauty all their own. His illustrations alone make his books collectible.

Except for some instances hokey, clichéd dialogue, an almost perfect piece of literature. 4-1/2 stars.

--Chiron, 11/22/09

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Humbling by Philip Roth

No one dissects, probes, and analyses a character’s angst, fears, hopes, and dreams like Philip Roth. This “three-act play” involves three stages in the life of Simon Axler, a well-known, well-respected actor of stage and screen.

This novella might compare well to an epic tale in the mold of Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero’s journey. In Act One, Axler separates from his talent; in Act Two, a helper tries to smooth the path to the climax of the tale; and Act Three is the “return,” the denouement of his life. Roth has skillfully taken the reader on a close examination of the later stages of Simon’s life when all seems lost.

This work of fiction contains graphic scenes of sexually activity – in one case, the scene disturbed me a great deal. In another, only the most tender words and images found their way onto the page. Another scene perplexed me, but, at the same time, titillated me just a bit. These scenes are definitely rated NC-17. Roth always has some sexual activity in his novels, but these are more intense than most others he has written. I won’t offer a sample, but take my word for it – Philip Roth is a master of description, and his skills are nearly at the top in this tight, brief story. Four stars

--Chiron, 11/09/09

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Interrogation by J.M.G. Le Clézio

My second read by the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature has as many peculiarities as Onitsha, which I read last year. I have little interest in detective novels or murder mysteries, but that does not mean I do not enjoy a good puzzler.

Le Clézio has provided me with a mysterious story of a young man in the form of experimental fiction with alternating narrators and viewpoints, gaps in the narrative with only brackets to mark the beginning and the end – sometimes a paragraph, and in one instance, more than a page. The 18 chapters are lettered from A through P, then R. A news paper, inserted after 17, fills in some of the details of the main character’s story, but bears no letter. Why did Le Clézio skip the letter Q? My first thought led me to think he wanted to write a novel without using the letter Q, but several words in “R” had that letter.

Adam Pollo, by his own admission, has either escaped from an insane asylum or deserted from the army – he is not sure. Adam lives alone in an empty house on the shore of the Mediterranean near Marseille. He spends a lot of time scrounging for discarded newspapers and magazines. Adam also writes letters in a notebook to a woman named Michelle. He seems to have some sort of relationship with her, but the details are as murky as the rest of Adam’s life, and as difficult as his relationship with his parents. He may have amnesia, he may be hallucinating, he may be depressed, he may be hypochondriac, he may be obsessive-compulsive, he may be a pack rat at best, or a disposaphobe at worst, and he may be schizophrenic. The eponymous interrogation in Chapter “R” may or may not eliminate some, or any, or all of these possibilities.

I can only describe Le Clézio’s prose as “hypermicrocosmic.” He doesn’t only mention Adam seeing his reflection in a store window, he sees “two eyes, one nose, one mouth, ears, a trunk, four limbs, shoulders and hips” (185). His descriptions verge on the hypnotic. At one point, Adam sees a young woman, and he notices her beauty: “she had the soft cheeks of a little girl in quite good health, nut-brown hair, and her best feature was a pair of full lips, not made up but very red, which were now parting silently so that a pearly drop sparkled in the middle of the warm cavity of her mouth; her voice would certainly flow from deep down in her throat and, with four vibrations in the upper vocal chords, put an end to that faint quivering at the corners of her mouth, complete the most recent of human apotheoses, half desire, half habit” (102).

One line particularly caught my attention. Le Clézio wrote, “He who writes is shaping a destiny for himself” (116). That line might need to be my new e-mail signature. If you enjoy a novel which requires heavy concentration, and if you enjoy deep and thorough psychological journeys in search of the self, then The Interrogation is a must read. 5 stars

--Chiron, 11/6/09