I reviewed this book over on my other blog today; click on over and read what I had to say. Or better yet, just read the book. It's good. Really, really good.
Done! I did it! Thanks, Girl Detective, for a fun challenge that pushed me into reading a different way!
My final book was The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber. This is part of a series published by Graywolf Press, with each slim volume covering a specific topic in writing. I've been meaning to read this for quite a while, and this was a good final book. Interesting, thoughtful, and made me more appreciative of how authors use time to tell their stories. Specifically, I loved her discussion of Alice Munro's work, since I love Munro but often wonder how she arrived at her framework and timing decisions (wonder in a good way, as in, "wow, that's amazing, how'd she do that??").
So, a good challenge. I'd definitely sign up again if Girl Detective does it again. What did I read?
Library books - 3
Borrowed - 1
Owned - 11
Novel - 3
Memoir - 2
Poetry - 2
General nonfiction - 2
Young adult - 2
Short stories - 2
Graphic novels - 2
Not a bad mix.
And now I'm off to sink back into Wolf Hall.
Almost to the end!!
A Short History of Myth. One big gap in my education has been in the realm of myths. They're at the root of so much of the world's art and literature, yet I know very little. This is a pretty good introduction, although it wasn't quite what I was expecting--I was thinking it would be more specifics about different myths, but instead it's a rapid overview of different historical time periods, how myths in those time periods came to be, and what it all might mean.
Although it wasn't quite what I was looking for, it was interesting and persuasive, especially the last chapter, where she brings up the role 20th- and 21st-century artists play in creating and sustaining mythology in a highly scientific, logical world:
"Mythology, we have seen, is an art form. Any powerful work of art invades our being and changes it forever...
"If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest."
Makes me want to learn even more about mythology, which I would say was a desirable outcome for the author.
"For a long time I believed that it would be impossible to make a book out of these experiences; I could see no shape in them, no pleasing curve; nothing but a series of anti-climaxes, and too much repetition of what I had done, and written down, before...Was it for this that I had gone footsore, cold, hot, wet, hungry? climbed up, and scrambled down? covered all those miles? looked at all the goats? Surely not...How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone...I look back as through a telescope, and see, in the little bright circle of the glass, moving flocks and ruined cities."
For day 4, I made it--barely--through Vita Sackville-West's lovely Twelve Days in Persia. I say "barely" because it was a race to the end, and I'm not sure if it's because a 137-page book is my upper limit on a weekday, or if it's because this was such an enjoyable travelogue that I wanted to slow down and linger.
Sackville-West is, of course, a member of the Bloomsbury group along with Virginia Woolf, and I've been curious about her ever since my disastrous experience reading Orlando. When I saw another blogger (sorry, I've forgotten who, although I'd love to give credit) talk about this beautiful book, I thought it would be a nice addition to the 15/15/15 Project. And indeed it was. The lines quoted above are from the opening, after which she takes us directly into her experience spending 12 days hiking, donkey-riding, and camping through the most remote parts of Persia.
She was a gifted travel writer--I can almost feel myself part of her journey, the good parts and bad (and she makes no bones about the fact it was a physically demanding trip, nor does she spare the reader some of the more ugly sights). But overall, her sense of wonder and history (which I, as an American raised in schools that really didn't give a rip about the Middle East, am sadly lacking) over what she sees and experiences shines through.
As does more than a little bit of British snobbery. Towards the end of the book, she proposes that Persia be set aside as a utopia, kept isolated so as not to be spoiled. She notes that in order to fully create that utopia, some things would have to change, including teaching Persians basic hygiene (so as not to suffer from cholera and typhus by drinking water used to wash corpses), but she then goes on to suggest that the best way to keep the utopia functioning would be to prevent the lower classes from being educated. They can't want what they don't know, is her point; I'd disagree, but that is her belief, from her status in life, in her point of history. Without a doubt she'd set herself up on the upper end of the hierarchy, and of course she'd be exempt from remaining isolated, but she'd have the rest of the country held within itself to suit her needs. Ah, the needs of the elite.
But still, the book is a joy to read. Her writing is clear and lovely, and sometimes wry: "Those who have seen it, know that the beauty of a pastoral life is largely a literary convention. The truth is that nature is as hard a taskmaster as civilization, and that realities under such conditions are very bare facts indeed."
From the perspective of a reader in 2010, the final chapters, where she reaches civilization again in the form of monstrously large oil fields, has more than a twinge of hindsight. She creates a portrait of nature vs. machine that seems so innocent and naive, given what we know about the rise in power of oil nations and the problems it's caused internationally.
While I wish I had read this more slowly, I see she has another book called Passenger to Teheran. Perhaps I'll pick that up after the Project is done, and I can linger more with it.
One last note: the edition I read, linked to above, was published in 2009 by Tauris Parke Paperbacks. This is a lovely imprint, with a beautiful cover, and the text is produced in what looks like a font that would have been used in its original printing in 1928. I'd never heard of this publisher before, but it may become one that I look for more often.
Fellow book addict PoMoGolightly and I have hatched a reading plan. Inspired by the upcoming new production of The Diary of Anne Frank and last year's publication of the wonderful Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife
by Francine Prose, we decided to go on an Anne Frank binge. Join us!
I've read the Prose book, and it's fantastic, and of course the Diaries
are always worth revisiting. Check out our "reading" site here.
Rumor has it that we may read other books together too...
Three-quarters of the way through a book which attempts to solve the mystery of missing Amazonian jungle explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, the author interviews an elderly Indian woman who was possibly one of the last to ever see him alive. After the interview, this exchange:
"Before we said goodbye, she remembered something else about Fawcett. For years, she said, other people came from far away to ask about the missing explorers. She stared at me, her narrow eyes widening. 'What is it that these white people did?' she asked. 'Why is it so important for their tribe to find them?'"
That's a good question, and David Grann's book The Lost City of Z: a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon tells the story of Grann's own obsession with finding Fawcett, along with a history of others who tried.
Grann is hardly alone. Since Fawcett, his son, and his son's best friend left for South America in 1925 and vanished, explorers from all over the world have tried to find them, including Germans, Italians, Russians, Argentines, Brazilians, Americans, and even the brother of Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond). The obsession is easy to understand; Fawcett himself was a highly experience, extremely rugged and devoted explorer. How did he go astray?
There's also the heartbreaking angle of Fawcett's son and friend, both eager to explore--but neither of whom had ever explored before.
Finally, there's the point of the quest itself: the lost city of El Dorado (or, as Fawcett cryptically referred to it, the city of Z). He believed it to be a city not only of gold and treasures, but one that would disprove scientific beliefs of the time that held that the massive jungles could not provide a living space for Indian tribes, nor could it allow them to develop into advanced societies.
Fawcett made numerous attempts to find the city of Z, and all of them involved months of peril and hardship (not to mention many distressing encounters with all manner of dangerous creatures). He nearly bankrupted his family, focused on the goal of proving his hypothesis. Those who eventually searched for him were equally obsessed, both with finding him and finding the city of Z, yet time and time again, they failed.
Does Grann succeed? I'm not going to tell you--I don't like to give spoilers. He's written a book that's an engaging read, although veering back and forth from past to present at times is confusing, and it would have been interesting to hear more about what Grann's wife had to say of his travels, since she was essentially a modern counterpart to Nina Fawcett. Great literature? No. Fun, entertaining, informative read? Yes.