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Summer Stack: A Lover’s Discourse

I’m almost two weeks behind on the reading schedule I set for myself because I got really caught up with this one. But listen: every “extra” day spent with Barthes was totally worth it. I initially was most interested in how A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is constructed as a text. Y’know, the container, the form, more so than the actual content and ideas communicated by it. Lover’s Discourse is precisely what its title says: fragmentary. In my work on my creative thesis, I am preoccupied by these kinds of fragmentary and/or hypertext-inclusive books – such as the “Dictionary of Accepted Ideas” chapter in Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, and Barthes’ Mourning Diary – in which the reader is able to construct a unique experience of the story from a pool of numerous potential stories. Where you don’t have to necessarily read the whole thing in order, or even read the whole thing at all, maybe just sticking to the entries that you find particularly captivating.

As such, my writing about Lover’s Discourse will be a bit fragmentary as well. I usually write in the books I read, but since I borrowed this from a professor (who generously let me borrow many, many books this past spring), I made notes on separate sheets of paper, jotting down certain lines I wanted to think about a little more, and some lines that I just thought were beautiful. Occasionally I even note my professor’s notes (as he writes in his books, too) – “H writes: ‘What does this mean?’ Perhaps…” – and extrapolate my own line of thought from there.

And we’re on our way.

Continue reading “Summer Stack: A Lover’s Discourse”

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Summer Stack: A Man Called Ove

Ove is the sort of man who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick.

Yesterday, I was catching up with one of my professors, and he asked me what I thought of Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. I responded: “I’d forgotten how nice it is to read a book that isn’t challenging.” At the time of that assessment of the novel, I was still about 75 pages from the end. Having finished the book last night, I can safely say that I stand by my answer. Ove was an easy read, and a welcome break from the mental aerobics I’ve done this past semester reading Woolf, Lawrence, performance theory, narrative theory…which is not to say that Backman’s book is better or worse than any of that. It was different. And difference can be good (refreshing, even) when it arrives at the most opportune moment.

My cousin, from whom I borrowed Ove, told me that the ending would make me cry. I was skeptical. I vacillate between not giving even half a shit about anything or anyone one day, and caring entirely too much about everything and everyone the next. The possibility of me crying at the end of the book would really depend on what kind of day I was having when I finished it. But I cried, y’all. I cried like a baby. A hungry, angry baby.

I thought the structure of Backman’s novel was quite effective, as was his economical use of dialogue. There wasn’t a lot of speech in quotes, but when it happened, it did a damn good job, particularly during the scenes in which Ove communicates with Sonja, his wife, before we learn that she passed away. When it’s revealed that all of the one-sided conversations Ove has with Sonja are actually him speaking aloud, alone in front of her grave, it works. (I cried there, too. And again when he rescues a “Cat Annoyance” and brings it to Sonja’s grave with him; he gets emotional and the Cat Annoyance pushes its face into Ove’s knee – goodness gracious. I was WEAK.)

Backman provides for the reader little bits of information that are expanded upon in the repetition of the same kinds of scenes. We seem to learn about Ove at the same slow pace as his new neighbor, Parvaneh, does – although we get quite a bit more than she does, and she mainly figures him out on her own. Quite perceptive, that one. That being said, I had a hard time staying invested in Ove’s story. His past was easy for me to attach to and feel for – he was orphaned and became perhaps too self-reliant, then he fell into such a beautiful love with a phenomenal woman whose death brought Ove’s life to a complete halt. But Ove’s present action was where I ran into trouble.

An old fiction-writing style guide I have tells me that you never give a character a serious “hang-up” without giving him a chance to get over it. Ove in the present has a lot of serious hang-ups, and much of his getting-over-it does not happen until the last hundred pages or so. (Here I must note that the novel stands at 337 pages.) And even then, I’m not sure I buy into his growth. It happens so slowly until those final chapters, and then it rushes together in an instant. For me, it didn’t feel like he actually changed and opened himself up to Parvaneh’s family and other people in the community (Jimmy, etc.). It seemed more like he let them all run roughshod into his life because he eventually figured he couldn’t stop them from doing so. Ove couldn’t make them go away, so he allowed them to infiltrate his carefully-ordered world. It benefitted them, sure, but I’m doubtful that it benefitted Ove enough to fully overcome his “hang-up.”

Growth. That’s what it was all about. Ove believed that men were what they did, not what they said. This echoes a Terry Goodkind quote I adore: “Mind what people do, not what they say, for deeds will often betray a lie.” Therein lies the explanation of why Ove is so disdainful of just about everyone and everything in the ‘modern’ world – it’s full of people saying things, but not so full of people doing things and fighting for things. So when I finished the novel and thought about what Ove did, and the things for which he fought, his growth is packed into those final chapters before he dies.

The ending, with all its beautiful prose and effective organization, felt almost too neatly tied up. Ove grew because, for the novel to end satisfactorily, he had to, at least a little. But, I suppose, a little is better than nothing at all.

It was nice to read something purely for pleasure. I mean, I find all my reading to be pleasurable, but by “reading for pleasure” I mean that I read something that was not selected for me. I wasn’t assigned this, nor did I have to write anything about this. (I’m doing these posts to synthesize my thoughts and keep my brain working over the summer.) I enjoyed Ove very much, despite my uncertainties expressed here. I was moved by it emotionally, as a reader, and also stylistically as a creative writer.

Sometimes you come into a book thinking, “Ah, yes, a break from learning,” and it ends up teaching you something anyway. Funny how that happens.

Next up on the Summer Stack is Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. Expect to see something for that around Wednesday next.

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The Grad School Glo-Up: Reflections on Year One

I have a lot to say about my first year of graduate school. Perhaps the hilariously small section of the internet that reads this blog will be kind enough to indulge me?

(*crickets chirp*)

Great. Thanks.

And we’re on our way.

Since August, I’ve been keeping a commonplace book in which I record lines from texts I’ve read this year, as well as the occasional line from a film, show, or performance piece I’ve watched. One such line from the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer stands out when I think about my first year as a grad student:

Even if you see them coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. […] The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.

I wasn’t as ready for this as I tried to be. The big moment came. I was here. I made it. But what to do afterwards? Who was I, in all this? Continue reading “The Grad School Glo-Up: Reflections on Year One”

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Thus begins the slow reading of my Summer Stack

I’ll most likely update the blog as I finish each one. So expect a short little entry as I progress through these two piles, book by book.

□ A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
□ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments – Roland Barthes
□ Story and Discourse – Seymour Chatman
□ The Unfortunates – B. S. Johnson
□ The Rainbow – D. H. Lawrence
□ Sons and Lovers – D. H. Lawrence
□ The Problem of Pain – C. S. Lewis
□ The Four Loves – C. S. Lewis
□ The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
□ The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
□ The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
□ When You Are Engulfed in Flames – David Sedaris
□ To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
□ Anti-Oedipus – Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari
□ White Noise – Don DeLillo
□ The Story of Kullervo – J. R. R. Tolkien
□ The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun – J. R. R. Tolkien
□ Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

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Spring Break 2017, Part Four: “VIPA”

Bit of a day. I slept until noon, read until four, then went out for a beer at five. I think the weariness of the drive out here hit me on a delay. I’ve just been going rather non-stop and it definitely took a toll. I’m grateful for the rest, but I’m now a day behind on the reading schedule I’d set for myself, so that’s disappointing.

Due to my sleeping half the day away, I don’t have much to report or any pictures to share, as I simply didn’t go anywhere except a bar a block away for twenty minutes to get one beer. That said, while at the bar, I did have a strange new experience. Continue reading “Spring Break 2017, Part Four: “VIPA””

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Spring Break 2017, Part Three: “You’re Doing Well”

It rained today. No hiking. Instead I walked into my old campus. It’s funny; when I moved in as a freshman in 2012, it rained; when I graduated last May, it rained; today when I walked my old path from the performing arts building to the English building, it rained. My mom once told me that rain was the universe’s tears. It cried when I arrived: “We’re so happy you’re here.” It cried when I left: “What if we never see you again?” It cried when I returned: “You’re here, and we missed you.” Continue reading “Spring Break 2017, Part Three: “You’re Doing Well””