March 2007 Archives
Since this has been a bad week for both Eddie (work, home remodeling, impending visitors) and me (relative in the hospital), not much has gone on with this month's discussion of Things Fall Apart. Ana has also mentioned that she has read the book and is unusually busy as well.
As a result, I'm going to make the discussion thread sticky for another week to see if the extra time can help us get something going. If you have read this book but have never left a comment here before, please do so. Everyone is welcome to participate. The more voices, the better.
the center cannot hold
_things fall apart_ is a tragic story about the effects of the white man on okonkwo, the hero, and his world. chinua achebe devotes the entire first book to building up, at least for the reader, the notion of order and harmony as it existed for okonkwo in his african village. his agrarian community had evolved to include such things as ancestor worship, polygamy, and certain societal understandings and (sometimes fierce) rules (about twins, the oracle, etc.) that had likely been passed down from generation to generation. even okonkwo's activity as a "superhuman" member of a council of elders was understood as part of his place in the world. the main character, however, is subject to the same boundaries and traditions he espouses. after a freak accident on a holy day, okonkwo is exiled to his motherland for seven years.
in this time, okonkwo maintains his resolve to not be the failure his father was. but despite his strength and determination, an even stronger and more determined force has arrived, at first as a christian mission. the white man is immune to the superstitions of the local people, and seem limitless in his power to subdue the forests and to attract, even value, the outcasts of society. the movement grows, okonkwo's son is converted (and subsequently disowned), and by time okonkwo returns to his homeland, what for him, and possibly generations, had been a clearly understood life had started to crumble.
"things fall apart; the center cannot hold."--w.b. yeats
the center of the story, of course, is okonkwo. the narrator effectively describes his predicament as his village is confronted by the white man, his religion, and his government. changes he never could have imagined are happening all around, and okonkwo, unfortunately, doesn't survive. how many other peoples, and their stories, have met the same fate in the face of a new culture? the growing influences of culture on (over) each other continues to feed debates on globalism today.
what is okonkwo's flaw?
how do rituals/religion in okonkwo's clan compare and contrast to christianity?
the coming of the white man was clearly not good for okonkwo, but what about the rest of his community?
the district commissioner considers titling his work, _the pacification of the primitive tribes of the niger_. what does that say about his views of okonkwo's people? are they also reflected by the other white men in the story?
why so much kola nut and palm wine?
I have noticed that, within the past week, my server logs have shown quite a few people clicking on my author name at the bottom of posts and doing searches for "marydell." For all those curious, I am none of the search results (on Google, at least) except for those linking back to BookBlog and my Blogger user profile.
In addition, there has been an exponential increase in clicks on "About" and "FAQ" in the above navigation bar. Both of those pages are in severe need of updating since I have done little with them since BookBlog's inception.
I'm not sure what is behind the sudden curiosity. But if you want to know something about me or the site, all you have to do is ask by sending an e-mail or leaving a comment.
I'm also immensely curious about you, too. Why not leave a comment, even if it's just to say hello?
More Book Trailers
Everybody Was Litblog Fighting
Last week on Brian's blog, I left a tongue-in-cheek comment suggesting that mano-a-mano writing combat would be a fun sport to watch. You know how sometimes once you clue into something, you start seeing it everywhere? I had no idea that after making the joke, I'd be paying attention to all of the recent literary-esque combat.
Tournament of Books
Like many folks, I have been following The Morning News' Tournament of Books, which pits title against title in March Madness-style brackets. My favorite round so far has been Colin Meloy's take on The Lay of the Land v. English, August. Channeling Mel Gibson from before we all found out he was a drunken, Jesus-loving, Jew-hating womanizer, the Thunderdome references made me laugh aloud. "Two books enter! One book leaves!" Killer.
Thinking Blogger Awards
Poor Maxine. She tried being nice by naming and complimenting a few of her favorite sites. Of course, someone always swoops in to ruin the fun. The bloggers awarding the "award" had good intentions. At the same time, John Baker surely had good intentions for exposing the nefarious "truth." If you perpetuate the meme, you are naive. If you scorn the meme, you are a killjoy. It's become a vicious circle.
Kid Lit Cliques
Chasing Ray has reported on a scuffle in the kid lit blogosphere over popularity and cliques. It didn't surprise me to find out that kid litbloggers also fight amongst themselves, since, well, they're bloggers. I was more amazed to see the Technorati authority groupings as defined by Kineda's popularity tracker widget. It establishes me as a B-List Blogger, which goes to show how meaningless popularity is since most of my inbound links are for the Gender Genie. The three of you reading this surely know that few care about what I have to say.
n+1 and the Litblogger Knee-Jerk Reflex
In response to my recent post about the dustup, n+1 has offered, based on my inability to find it in various sub-par bookstores, to send me a copy of the controversial issue. I'm looking forward to receiving it so I can draw my own conclusions, since I am not one to pass judgement based on hearsay.
Ed Champion, on the other hand, chose to leave a characteristically antagonistic comment. Sadly, he has no understanding of irony or author's intent and I have been forced to take him to school. Although the exchange boils down to a pair of litgeeks arguing over literary device [Snore!], it does make me feel kind of like Gulliver pitched in battle against a Lilliputian [Just so I don't confuse Ed more, this statement is laden with both irony and satire.]. I genuinely like Ed's blog, so I hope he learns some new things and becomes a better reader and writer from it all.
New Jersey: Birthplace of Literary Entrepreneurs
First, I recently read in the local paper about BookSwim's intent to break into the book rental business. Their business is located in Middlesex County.
Now, via Book Patrol, I hear that The Mayhem Poets, a Jersey-based slam poetry trio, have taken the prize in Microsoft's ideaWins. As winners of the contest, which sought the best small business idea from over 5,000 entrants, they will receive $100,000 and free retail space in New York. Although it's a shame their storefront will move next door, I can't fault them for following the money. However, their program, dedicated to bringing performance poetry into the classroom, travels. I am sure students in New Jersey will continue to benefit from The Mayhem Poets' most excellent cause.
Way to go, Garden Staters!
I'd have to be living under a proverbial rock to miss the n+1/litblogger controversy. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is an embarrassment to the entire litblogging community.
After Garth Risk Hallberg's response to n+1's article hit The Millions, I tried to acquire a copy in order to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, the stretch of highway I happened to be on only allowed access to a Barnes & Noble and Borders, the two worst places to find literary magazines not called The Paris Review or Glimmer Train.
At B&N, I reluctantly slinked over to the information desk when I couldn't find n+1 in the magazine racks. I still hold a small grudge against this particular store because of the time an employee sniggered at my book choices. Information called over the magazine manager, and he looked at me like I had two heads when I asked for n+1. If I can help it, I will never go to this store again.
I didn't even bother asking for help at Borders because their magazine selection was thin overall, no one was at the information desk, and no employees were walking around. In a retail store, I should not have to hunt down an employee. Their livelihood depends on customers, so they ought to be eager to help everyone inside spend money.
As a result, I haven't read "The Blog Reflex" and cannot comment on it. However, I have read The New York Inquirer's interview with Keith Gessen (here). And all the litblogger posts and comments at The Millions (here, here, and here), The Elegant Variation (here), and Return of the Reluctant (here, here, here, and here). And the group discussions at Long Sunday (here) and The Valve (here and here).
The ones who come out looking bad, due to unnecessary roughness, are the litbloggers. To make matters worse, this small, petty argument is being mislabeled as "n+1 vs. litbloggers" in many places. A few rash complainers do not comprise the whole of a community even if they are often cited as the representative sample. Popularity also does not necessarily signify quality. Though, as a fellow litblogger, I am embarrassed for all of us.
Eggers the Reneger
You know, I tried to tell myself that Dave Eggers was probably a lovely person despite the fact that I disliked his memoir and thought What Is the What was badly plotted and written. Thanks to Gawker, I have changed my mind. What a tool.
BookSwim: Netflix for Books?
According to The Star-Ledger, BookSwim, which hopes to become the "Netflix of books," is scheduled to launch any day now: "A Trip to the Library, Just Outside Your Door."
It's an interesting concept, and I wish them the best of luck since the founders are a pair of Jersey boys. But, come on, $15 to $20 a month for book rentals? Are they serious? I mean, I understand how people make Netflix or Blockbuster Total Access worth the price. Watching a movie takes only a couple of hours, so such rentals can be mailed back on the same day they're received.
Books, on the other hand, require a longer commitment for most people. I'm not sure if anyone—besides speed readers—would be able to return rentals fast enough to come out ahead on the BookSwim membership cost. With the same amount of money and some smart shopping, I could easily buy three or four books a month and keep them forever. Free from the public library is an even better deal.
Or I could be totally wrong. It will be interesting to see how this venture makes out.
When Chopping Wood, Life Doesn't Imitate Art
In A Box of Matches, Nicholson Baker writes:
Last year, Claire gave me an ax for my birthday, and I began using it to chop up the scrap wood that the contractors piled up where they were reconstructing our slumped barn. If you bring the ax down really hard, right in the middle of a six-inch board, the board will break into two longways, and the grain of the breakage will sometimes detour nicely around a knothole. Then you chop across the grain.
Having recently been the recipient of a large load of contractor's scraps, I can confirm the part about breaking boards longways. If you hit a board just right, it takes only one blow for a lengthwise split. Plus, the resonant cracking sound you get for your effort is a satisfying reward.
However, using an ax to chop across the grain is a waste of sweat and energy. I tried. And tried. It results in many, many fruitless swings, so no person in their right mind would use this method to cut boards into fireplace-sized lengths. Better to pull out the big gun, a circular saw.
I Am a Wreck Today
...so rather than attempt to write a real post for this slow-moving blog, you get:
An Autobiographical Poem Explaining What I've Been Up to During the Last Several Days Without Making Excuses for What Might Look to the Outside Observer as Self-Destructive Bad Behavior, Which It Is Not
The cat didn't drag me in last night at four AM.
I dragged myself.
Before crossing the threshold I looked up at the sky.
It was beautiful.
Moon hung low, letting the real stars steal the show.
Oh, my head.
I shouldn't have stayed out so late once again. But,
I didn't want to be in the house. Home is a mess, yet
I can't seem to make it clean.
Avoidance is a lifestyle.
Last night, I could have stayed right where I was.
Passed out cold.
When I unexpectedly woke up, the clock on the wall was a surprise.
Time to flee.
You seem to accept this guest at all hours, but the couch objects.
It's purposefully lumpy.
Distracted by Dirty Laundry
Last week included a Laundry Day. Although I wish I had a washer and dryer at home (someday, someway), I don't mind going to the laundromat. Precision timing allows several loads to be completed within seconds of each other. Ambient whirring and humming doesn't interfere with my concentration, so I'm usually able to get in a couple of solid reading hours in addition to making my whites white.
Laundry Day coincided with World Book Day. I loaded up the car with dirty clothes and authors from the British and Emerald isles, planning for some across the pond reading. Unfortunately—a word that too often accompanies my dreams of happy excursions—Laundry Day and its World Book Day Reading Extravaganza also happened to be Crazy Couple Furlough Day.
Crazy Couple is older, perhaps in their sixties. She has gray, pouffy hair, glasses, and is always decked out in the ultimate comfort of stretch pants. His hair is white and cropped short, and he wears two earrings in his left earlobe. He is named Henry, and I know this because she spends a fair amount of time yelling it. From what I understand, after witnessing many of their loud conversations, her name is What?
I encountered Henry and What? soon after choosing a particular laundromat as my clothing-cleansing venue of choice. The place always smells musty, but is big enough to never get too crowded. I've read many books while sitting on its molded-plastic chairs, which are jammed into every space not occupied by a washer, dryer, or folding table. On that first Crazy Couple Furlough Day, I was engrossed in Wuthering Heights as What? loaded up a washer while Henry dutifully sat in the chair she had designated for him. Upon closing the lid of the machine, What? suddenly shrilled, "They did it again to me!"
"What?" asked Henry, predictably.
"Took their clothes before it finished. Now I gotta wait!"
"How long do you have to wait?"
"Until it's done!"
My life—and there is no better word for it—is a travesty. Whenever bad things happen, I know I am the butt of a cosmic joke, the laughingstock of a higher power. The universe has a sense of humor, and lately Nature, one of its most capricious mob bosses, has been dropping a lot of gag doggie doo on my doorstep. I live steps from a large lake. Each day, I am awed by scenic mountaintops and panoramic valleys. The miles-wide forest, which borders the end of my street, is dense and primordial. I should be one with the natural surroundings, but Nature doesn't seem to like me.
For example, lots of people are plagued with bats in the eaves of their homes. I am, too, but how many fellow bat-landlords have been chased down the street by their unwanted tenants? Have you ever opened a kitchen drawer and saw what you thought was a large rubber band fall to the floor, only to be shocked into stammering baby talk when it moved? And then slithered under a cabinet? Some folks have mice, but I've never met another person who's had a dead baby mouse fall from the attic trapdoor and hit the floor below with a plop. I can't bear to even get started on the shrews (Yes, shrews.) that have been waging a territorial war from the crawlspace.
And, so, if the worst thing ever to happen at the laundromat was having to wait for someone else's spin cycle to finish before inserting my quarters, I would rejoice. That the gods chose to only steal a few minutes of time rather than let loose a hungry bear to tear my unmentionables apart before fleeing with a pair of my soiled granny panties on its head, it would be a relief from the constant terror.
Of course, What? doesn't live in my world. She didn't praise the powers that be as I would have done. Instead, she kicked the machine lightly more than once, rattled her laundry basket, opened and closed the lid (making the wait even longer), paced, and used an open hand to smack the offending washer. Satisfied with the corporeal punishment, she walked over to me for commiseration not knowing I had long abandoned my reading to watch the show.
"Somebody took their clothes before the machine finished. I can't do nothing."
I was suddenly paralyzed. Rather than respond, I stared mutely over the top of my book. After a brief once-over, What? moved on and experienced her next laundry trauma. She couldn't uncap the lid of her liquid detergent bottle, burped aloud, then called Henry in for the assist.
The above experience was the first, but not only, time Crazy Couple disrupted the reading I usually enjoy at the laundromat. So, as you can imagine, I wasn't too happy when last week's Laundry/World Book Day also turned out to be a Furlough Day. As I furtively tried to tear through the heart-pumping conclusion of The Wasp Factory, What? again ignored the mercy of the gods and freaked out over a blockage preventing her from adding quarters to a dryer.
"Somebody stuck a nickel in the dryer!"
"A nickel! There's a nickel in the dryer!"
Unsurprisingly, What? made the rounds seeking a sympathetic ear even though everyone in the room had already heard. She first hit up two women doing wash for a local hospice. She began walking around the folding tables to inform an unaccompanied gentleman at the far end. The first arc of her ellipsis complete, the next victims along the orbit were me, a half-asleep female patron, and Henry. But, very surprisingly, she skipped over me and abruptly jarred awake the woman on my right. She next asked Henry if he had his little screwdriver. Unhappy with his negatory response, What? circled again and skipped me again.
Although I'm glad What? has chosen not to talk to me, I can't help wondering if my previous silence played a part in her decision. That is, what was What? thinking when she deliberately passed me up for someone who was nearly unconscious? Regardless, even if she never speaks directly to me, her nonstop jibber jabber still disturbs my peaceful reading time. I'd do my laundry on days when Crazy Couple stays home, but I haven't been able to discern a pattern to their outings. A problem with the insane, as you must well know, is that they are unpredictable.
This Month's Selection: Things Fall Apart
Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.
The drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath. Amalinze was a wily craftsman, but Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water. Every nerve and every muscle stood out on their arms, on their backs and their thighs, and one almost heard them stretching to breaking point. In the end Okonkwo threw the Cat.
That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo's fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan. He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look. He breathed heavily, and it was said that, when he slept, his wives and children in their out-houses could hear him breathe. When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody. And he did pounce on people quite often. He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists. He had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had had no patience with his father.
—Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Seriously, read this book. If you've ever wondered what village life in Africa was like, before and after colonialism, you will learn quite a bit. A masterfully crafted main character, Okonkwo is both the epitome of an angry man and a tragic hero. Achebe's narration is decidedly unsentimental, yet the reader can't help but feel moved by the novel's story. Things Fall Apart is infinitely superior to that Eggers monstrosity.
We Have a Book for June
Brian of Dispatches from an MFA Seeking Writer has graciously stepped up to the plate and offered to moderate June for us. We will be reading Happiness by Will Ferguson, a satire on the world of self-help publishing, and the discussion will begin on June 25, 2007. Pick up your copy now.
Brian's site, by the way, hosts a fabulous weekly game called Haiku Saturday. I only just discovered it and have already experienced multiple haikus. Why not visit Brian's house and add another explosive gem of wisdom to yesterday's game? You know you want to.
So, slots are open for May and July. I will moderate one of them, but I'm holding off on picking a month. I'm here anyway, so either works for me. If you're interested in bringing a favorite work of fiction to the world's attention, you'd have your pick. Don't be shy. No one here bites unless provoked.
Reader For Hire
Anybody want to pay me to read and write an 800-word evaluation of an unpublished manuscript? The Publishing Contrarian says a professional reviewer will do it for $300, but I can be easily bought for $200 (negotiable). Despite being cheap-to-hire, I am always brutally honest. When I read crap, I say it's crap.
BookBlog's Upcoming Discussions
Three future discussions are currently on our schedule. No membership is required, so I encourage each of you reading this to participate and add your thoughts to the conversation.
March 26, 2007: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is an excellent selection to follow What Is the What. Now that I have read both, I personally feel Achebe's work is the superior novel about a tragic life in Africa. Set in a village in Nigeria and written by a Nigerian author, it has authenticity, a quality I found severely lacking in Eggers's effort. In addition, Things Fall Apart is a top twelve title from the list of Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century.
April 23, 2007: Last weekend we had a family dinner, and my sister, Joanne, brought by a couple of books to share. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks was one of them, and she has agreed to moderate a discussion for us. Surprisingly, I barely had to do any begging. If you like Chuck Palahniuk, I bet you'll like Iain Banks.
[Aside: Palahniuk has a new one, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, coming out in May 2007. Please-oh-please, someone send me an advance! BookBlog, PO Box 324, Budd Lake, NJ 07828. I love Chuck!]
May, June, and July 2007: We have open slots for each of these months. I am looking for a title to fill one of them. Anyone interested in leading us for the other two? Anyone?
August 20, 2007: Although August is a way away, Daisy is really, really nice in agreeing to have a second go at discussing Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff. Her work schedule is hectic right now, which is why it's being put off for a while. As soon as I finish my current read, I will gladly pluck this one off the nagging pile that sits next to my desk. I hope you will also chime in when the discussion rolls around.
World Book Day
In the UK and Ireland, it's the 10th celebration of World Book Day.
To honour our friends across the pond, I am carrying Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory to the launderette and will read it proudly whilst I wait for the spin cycle to complete. Since I am only 20 pages from the end, I will put a copy of Ian McEwan's Amsterdam in the bag with the washing powder to ensure I have something to read as my knickers dry.
I must ready to depart, so I leave you with this most excellent poem.
When You Are Old
by W.B. Yeats
When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.