Busy, Busy… Booksale!

Now that I am officially graduated, I can take a breath. A very transcendent, relieving, fulfilling breath. I am celebrating with the books I have bought at the big AAUW book sale, plenty of iced tea, and returning to work. Life, for the meantime, is relatively simple… the way I like it. I think I have enough books to finish out the year without having to buy any more. While that is at once saddening, it is also a grand challenge. I feel that I have found many excellent and tantalizing reads.

Just today I spent my day off wandering all over with my family. It’s weird to actually have some time with them. It fills me with a lot of joy to be with my family. I know some think I’m strange for liking my family so much. I don’t mean it in a weird, Duggar-esque “We stick to our own” way, but more… Little Women. We went to the Way Cafe for lunch, and then went down to the park for a sweet snack and playtime. Even though my family is on the Ultimate Frisbee team scale, I don’t ever feel overwhelmed or disgusted. Annoyed, yes. I do have an eight-year-old brother, after all.

I am still trucking away on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It has come to a boring, drama-less part right now, which is terrible. I think if I persevere, I will get to the good stuff again. Today I am typing up the titles list and adding the book names to my TBR Jar. I will, however, leave out Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, as I think I will read it this afternoon. It’s a surprisingly short book, so stay on the lookout for my review. I have been wanting to read it for a long time, and I’m thrilled to find the exact edition I wanted to read at the book sale.

It has been a very busy few days in between graduation, returning to work, and running all over. I am excited for this next chapter in my life to unfold. While it may be a full year before I am able to attend graduate school, I feel finally ready to start perusing it full-force. There’s so much I want to learn between then and now, though- so I have to start being on the lookout for textbooks to read. I am so glad that you have stopped by today, and I will see you again soon!

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

theroad

Vintage International, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-307-38789-9

Summary, from back of book:
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food- and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, The Road is an unflinching meditation on the worse and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

My thoughts:
The Road is an empty, yet heralded novel about the least interesting characters of an otherwise attractive plot situation. The Road is a boring read, as it lacks essential descriptions and exposition. The author expects the reader to “be in the know” with what happened to the world, and how it came to be. While The Road had potential, this book is an example of how an author can get away with poor writing and be thought of as the creator of a “moving story of a journey.”

My biggest problem with The Road is that it is fake deep. It tries to be a great book, but fails. There is no lesson or moral to be learned. The book is pretentious for expecting the reader to understand with the minimal face-value information it holds. The style of writing is an obtuse choice- in a situation where description is the most important ingredient, there is such a lack that the reader feels like they are reaching into a grey and ashy void. I can’t believe this book was selected for a Pulitzer, or even the Oprah Book Club. At first, the book appears as if it will hold a great lesson on love in times of struggle, but it has no lesson. The events do not appear to teach the characters anything- the protagonists continue to make the same mistakes, and the reader continues to wonder why.

I really hated The Road. I kept reading out of spite- I wanted to know why so many people think this book is great, but I was left feeling unsatisfied. I have read books where there is purposeful Spartan style, but here, it feels lazy. The choice of words and events is repetitive, lacking any symbolic or significant meaning. I had so many questions that I resorted to checking Google for answers and was disappointed when I saw so many other readers outraged by the same problems. I hate this book on a level of hating The Catcher in the Rye. It’s loathsome how a book expects me to just know about the state of the world when I very obviously do not. The Road had the chance to open up a vision of post-apocalyptic America, but it shuttered me out with presuming that I had the same level of knowledge as the author.

Aside from this complaining, I have nothing else to say. I was disappointed. This is definitely a book that will not stay on my shelves. I think this is the first book I have hated since reading The Catcher in the Rye as a high-school student! I don’t think I will peruse any more of McCarthy’s works. If this were to be his masterpiece, then I can’t expect anything out of his other books.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

enchantedapril

Penguin, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-14-310773-6

Summary, from back of book:
Escaping dreary London for the sunshine of Italy, four very different women take up an offer advertised in the Times for a “small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April.” Among them are disheveled Mrs. Wilkins and sweet-faced Mrs. Arbuthnot, both fleeing unappreciative husbands; ravishing socialite Lady Caroline, sick of lovestruck men; and Mrs. Fisher, a formidable widow who reminisces about the “great men” she knew in her Victorian childhood. As each blossoms in the warmth of the Italian spring, quite unexpected changes occur. An immediate bestseller upon its first publication in 1922, The Enchanted April set off a craze for tourism to the Italian Riviera and inspired the beloved 1992 film of the same name.

My thoughts:
At first, I did not enjoy The Enchanted April, but after making it through halfway, I started to enjoy it. I disliked Lady Caroline throughout the whole book. Yet, Lady Caroline held a lot of power over the narrative. Like Elizabeth and her German Garden, this book was full of stunning imagery. By the end, Mrs. Wilkins was my favorite character, and I am glad that each woman “bloomed” in her own right.

In the beginning, I felt as if von Arnim was warming up to writing rather than actually writing. The first five chapters (up until arrival to San Salvatore) were slow and dreary. Upon further thought, this may have been a writing tactic on von Arnim’s part. The rest of the book, in increasing measures, has an airier and lovelier vocabulary. Sentences changed from being tedious descriptions of preparation to airy, delightful thoughts. I imagine this reflects the difference in character’s lives before and after arrival. Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot led claustrophobic lives in London- and then an open and adoring lives in San Salvatore. Much is true for Lady Caroline and Mrs. Fisher, but it’s most evident for Lotty and Rose.
 
Lady Caroline annoyed me from beginning to end. I loathed how she held an absolute power over the characters and the narrative. While beautiful, Lady Caroline is also very selfish. She doesn’t respect Mrs. Wilkins or Mrs. Arbuthnot in the slightest. I felt that Lady Caroline was mocking Mrs. Wilkins by laughing at her, treating her as amusement and not a friend. The only blooming moment for Lady Caroline was at the very end. Her “manly manner” in treating Mr. Arbuthnot as a friend revealed how generous Lady Caroline could be... but also how little she respected the others until she needed to.
 
As the summary suggests, the Italian Riviera became popular after publication. According to Wikipedia, von Arnim used Castello Brown as an inspiration for San Salvatore. I hadn’t looked anything up about the Italian Riviera before this book- and boy, does von Arnim do it justice! From a quick image search, the city of Portofino (the location of Castello Brown) is gorgeous. The Enchanted April is supplemented by luxurious descriptions of the many gardens of San Salvatore. While reading, I felt as if I could smell and feel the flowers underneath my fingertips. The only misfortune is that I couldn’t go out and see these flowers with my own eyes!
 
Mrs. Wilkins was my favorite character. I felt that she needed San Salvatore the most, even if she opened up straight away. None of the events would have ever happened if she hadn’t acted upon the advertisement. She was the most open-hearted character in the whole book. If San Salvatore was a person, Mrs. Wilkins would be it! She blossomed in San Salvatore, speaking and acting as freely as she could. Mrs. Wilkins definitely wanted the respite and freedom of San Salvatore. Her actions throughout the book came from a place of total joy. Even inviting her husband- and she was even right about him needing San Salvatore! Mrs. Wilkins was full of action, and kept the narrative moving.
 
Overall, I enjoyed The Enchanted April. While it was not my most favorite book of the year (so far!) it comes as a Top Five. My misgivings with Lady Caroline were eliminated by scenery and Mrs. Wilkins. I am even glad I read this book in the month of April- it gave me hope that eventually, spring will reach Pennsylvania!

Openings: Poems by Wendell Berry

Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. First Edition

Summary, from front flap:

The poems brought together in Openings are those of an American, a countryman, a husband and a father- a man who is deeply concerned about the pass to which his nation has come.

As a countryman, acutely and continuously aware of the natural world, Wendell Berry writes not just to celebrate the satisfactions it offers, although he does this notably well; he speaks about the use and abuse of our environment, about the violence we arrogantly inflict upon it to the increasing peril of all life on the planet. As a citizen he writes about a man’s responsibility toward himself and his fellow men, and about certain manifestations of American power, most notably in Vietnam. But if there is anger in some of these poems, there is no despair, and in others there is hope- and humor, too. As husband, Wendell Berry writes love poems that are both tender and passionate; as a father, he writes of parenthood. And in an extended sequence entitled “Window Poems”- possibly the most substantial and impressive poetic work he has yet achieved- he weaves into a kind of fugue all the dominant themes of his book.

Subtleties of thought and language open out beyond the surface simplicity of these poems, whose lucidity, directness, and moving eloquence give them an uncommonly strong and wide appeal.

My thoughts:

I don’t know how to phrase my thoughts about Openings. This volume blended antiwar poetry with illuminating poems, like “Before Dark” and “October 10.” As the final installment of my Wendell Berry poetry adventure, Openings is my favorite due to it’s enlightening nature.

The antiwar sentiment expressed throughout this volume comes across loud and clear. “Dark with Power” was the poem that is the most angry of them all, even next to “Against the War in Viet Nam.” This is because “Dark with Power” is raw and unforgiving. The last stanza of the poem, Fed with dying, we gaze/ on our might’s monuments of fire./ The world dangles from us/ while we gaze calls the ugliest pictures to my mind. Berry, such a lover of nature, conjures an image of burning valleys, villages, and people, which reveals his hatred of what was happening. Berry despairs at the lack of empathy in the government and humanity. Instead of outright calling the perpetrators of Vietnam monsters- he says We are carried in the belly/ of what we have become. The reader is left to imagine a great howling monster prowling the countryside. Berry does not deny himself the guilt of Vietnam, but he does allow himself the grief of being a part of a people capable of such despicable destruction.
With this said, the beauty of other poems in Openings can’t be denied. “October 10” is a poem early on in the volume, and it brings alive the transition from summer to fall. “April Woods: Morning” gives life to early spring and “The Meadow” is about life in a place where there was none before. One of the love poems in this book, “Marriage,” showcases the adoration Berry has for his wife. “Before Dark” was my favorite poem in this whole book.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts about Wendell Berry’s poetry over the last few weeks. While there are a great many volumes of his work I have yet to read, this was the limits of my local library. I encourage you to recommend me other poets I may enjoy- and I hope to explore more poets like this in the future.

Findings: Poems by Wendell Berry

findings

The Prairie Press, 1969. First Edition.

Summary, from front flap:

Reviewing Wendell Berry’s first book of poems, The Broken Ground, in The Kenyon Review, Robert Hazel wrote that it “announces the beginning of a career in poetry that probably will be more durable and on a larger scale than that of any other poet of about thirty years I can see coming up the pike.”

Since then Berry has published a second book of poems, Openings, and now Findings, his third, is before you. He has also published two novels, Nathan Coulter and A Place on Earth.

In point of time, the poems in Findings overlap the latter part of his first book and the earlier part of his second, but Findings stands alone as a very important period in Wendell Berry’s career, a career which now gives clear evidence of becoming that of a major American writer. The two long sections which comprise the bulk of Findings have been constructed with great skill and that forceful delineation inherent in directness and simplicity which the voice is fresh and strong and clear. Berry has woven into these two sections, “The House” and “The Handing Down,” a vital sense of family, a rare feeling for the continuity of life through generations and an affirmation of the goodness and rigorousness of life. On an essentially elemental base, in a style that is quiet an assured, he constructs two sequences that are impressive in their range, totality and unity. Three fine elegiac poems complete, and in a sense sum up what goes before.

My thoughts:

Findings had not moved from its space on the library shelf until I touched it on Tuesday. I struggled through all 63 pages in an hour before bed that night. Findings, unlike Wendell Berry’s other works, is dark, dipping deeply into themes of death. While reading, Berry’s true voice would shudder through, shine, and fade back into the shroud of pretentiousness… or was it grief?

Usually, I have no issues with understanding the messages Berry is trying to get across to the reader. Yet, while reading this book, I had to stop and reread passages to understand them. Due to reading this way, I had no clear favorites or least favorites of the bunch. To me, all were mysteriously beyond my understanding, so I waded through the words until the very end.

At first glance, I thought the way Berry was writing was because he was trying to be a different kind of writer. At first, I believed his words were pretentious and overrated- a work that matched the hyperbolic summaries from before. As I finished the elegies at the end, I realized the way he was writing was because of grief.

When you begin to think of the book as written in grief, every discontinuous aspect comes together. The odd, stuttering words make sense- they are coming from a mind addled by sorrow. Whomever the old man was, he was clearly of the utmost importance to Berry. His grief is plain in how his stanzas fragment and dance across the page.

There is not much else I have to say about Findings. Even though I struggled with this volume of poetry, I will continue on my Wendell Berry reading journey. I have Openings on loan from the library, and some others I can loan in short order. I am excited to keep reading and learn more about Berry as a person, now that he revealed himself in Findings.

 

Farming: A Hand Book by Wendell Berry

farmingahandbook

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc 1970. ISBN 0-15-130408-4

Summary, from inside flap:

Thinking, working, writing, Wendell Berry continues to grow, and his poetry, always more distilled and disciplined, always plainer; achieves more and more often an absolute clarity with a corresponding gain in resonance. Farming: A Hand Book, his fourth volume of poems, is at once the most homogeneous and the most varied he has produced; it is also the strongest.

This time almost all of the poems are pastoral, springing directly from Berry’s life in the part of Kentucky where he was born and where, with his wife and children, he now lives and farms. There are many lyrical or reflective poems, ranging from flawless quatrains such as “Sleep” and “To Know the Dark” to the strange, somewhat extended, yet economical “Meditation in the Spring Rain,” a venture unique among Berry’s poems. A somewhat protean personage called the Mad Farmer, written in his own voice (“The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”), makes a number of memorable and entertaining experiences. “The Birth” is a narrative poem out of Kentucky which, in its vividness and colloquial ease, bears comparison with the New England narratives of Robert Frost; and a verse play, “The Bringer of Water,” complete and moving in its own right, is a kind of coda to Berry’s fine novel A Place on Earth.

Many people, and many different kinds, are coming to see Wendell Berry as being close to the heart of things, as expressing what America would like to believe that is, isn’t now, but perhaps has not lost all chance of becoming. There will be a wide and grateful public for the voice that speaks with such sanity and such moving eloquence in Farming: A Hand Book.

My thoughts:

What is with Wendell Berry’s books always having such hyperbolic covers? Each one sounds like the work of an uncaring, bullshitting, college student reviewer. (Myself aside, of course.) These summaries don’t reflect the actual nature of the poems inside. Farming: A Hand Book is a much more simple, yet powerful work that brings the Mad Farmer alive. The variety of poems show all aspects and natures the Mad Farmer has inside him.

The poem that struck my heart the most was “Awake at Night.” Often I am the same way the speaker is- restless and trying to reach for the healing that earth brings. This poem also coincides with the Mad Farmer archetype that Berry has created. “Awake at Night” shows the Mad Farmer as a restless man yearning for healing through earthly work. However, as the poem ends, the speaker has calmed and is ready for a night’s rest… only to prepare for the next day.

“The Wish to be Generous” would be the Mad Farmer’s mantra. This poem reveals how deep the Mad Farmer wants to share his world. He wants to understand the world around him so he can rest easy. He sees how beautiful the world is, how hard he works, and how brilliantly his life shines. The Mad Farmer is not truly contrary, this poem it showcases his adoration for his humble, hardworking existence. “The Wish to be Generous” paints the Mad Farmer as salt of the Earth, a servant of the world around him, ready and willing to return to his roots.

A last poem, “The Silence,” is an example of the actual “madness” of the Mad Farmer. You see- the Mad Farmer is not the Mad Farmer because he is angry, but because he lives so wholly for the world. This poem shows his struggle with the actual work he does for himself. The work he does for himself is how he deals with his actual self. The Mad Farmer, in perfection, has no self- he would be one with the land. This poem is how the Mad Farmer is getting past all of it and being embraced by the land. I think this poem ties in well with “The Wish to be Generous.” 

I know these are only three poems among many, but they are the ones that stood out to me when it comes to defining who the Mad Farmer is. The pompous summary on the flap does not describe how Farming: A Hand Book is a guide to understanding the Mad Farmer. There is no frivolity in the poems themselves, but the simple song of a man in love with the earth.

Leavings: Poems by Wendell Berry

leavings

Counterpoint, 2010. ISBN 978-1-58243-624-1

Summary, from cover:

No one writes like Wendell Berry. Whether essay, novel, story, or poem, his inimitable voice rings true, as natural as the land he has farmed in Kentucky for more than forty years.

Leavings, Berry’s first volume of poetry since the widely praised Given, offers a masterful blend of elegies, lyrics, and letters, with the occasional short love poem. Alternately amused, outraged, and resolved, Berry’s welcome voice is the constant in this varied mix. As he looks back on his long life, his works resonates with a renewed depth. The book concludes with a new sequence of Sabbath poems, works occasioned by Berry’s Sunday morning walks of meditation and observation.

Berry’s life is a long witness of love and celebration, and he writes as a poet of deep intimacy with the natural world and the lost heart of our country. With his family and friends, he continues the devotion that had him saying almost thirty years ago, “What I stand for is what I stand on.”

My thoughts:

Once you get through that harassing, brown-nosing summary from the cover, the insides of this volume of poetry are equally disturbing and stunning. There are golden drops of printed summer on these pages, and there are black coal-miner’s tears. If you want to stay peaceful, do not read this book. If you want a part of yourself uncovered and heard, read this book.

My favorite poem in this book was poem XVI from 2005. The poem speaks about birds and Berry’s relationship to birds. This was the poem that knocked the collection into place in my heart: I have always had this long-held belief that I don’t belong in a place where I can’t hear the birds sing. I have been to many places in my life and at every single place I didn’t like, I could not hear the birds sing. I feel like Mr. Berry would have a similar sentiment after reading this poem.

Poem VI from 2007 was the hardest poem for me to read. It was not hard because of the structure or sound, but because the topic was intense. This poem is both sobering and renewing- hope is hard, life is dark, but to have hope shines light on life. To struggle through life with a sliver of hope in your spirit is much better than living easily without. This poem persuades you to try- to keep your spirit alive, to keep the land alive, to keep hope alive.

Two poems come in third as my favorites- poem X from 2005 and poem VII from 2007. Both poems are those aforementioned golden drops of summer. As I read them both, the sun was beginning to dip in the sky and the light was drifting along the pages. They make me think of running my hands over goldenrod and having the pollen on my palms- to smell earthy and have grass stains on my knees. Walk, poem. Watch, and make no noise.

Wendell Berry continues to astound me with his writing. He is firmly my favorite poet, right alongside Mary Oliver. His poems are equally brusque and velveteen, making the reader aware of both the beauty and the goriness of our world. Mr. Berry teaches the reader to look past the momentary beauty and see the destruction wreaking havoc on life… and then to resist and have hope. I am not sure what volume of his work I will be reading next, but it will be hard to displace Leavings as my favorite Wendell Berry collection.