Monday, July 30, 2012

Lazy Sunday of Reading

Yesterday was lazy Sunday. I enjoyed every bit of it, except at one point I was hungry but couldn’t pull myself away from my reading. I became light headed. I finally ate. Lazy Sunday was a day of reading and I slipped in one movie based on the short story, Don’t Look Now.

On a recent visit to the library I went in search of a book that sounded interesting from my daily calendar. It led me to another book that I saw on the nearby shelves: A History of the Breast by Marilyn Yalom. This wonderful book is providing me a view of the breast from a historical perspective, which I am finding fascinating so far. I already have opinions about female beauty and the differences in beauty and the power of the female body, etc., Yaloms’ book, though provides an interesting analysis as we follow the progression.

From the new section I selected A Journey through American Literature. I started reading Captain’s Courageous. I saw the movie long ago at the insistence of a friend’s father who had a selection of his favorite movies that he always wanted to share with others. The movie touched me immensely and now years later, I am reading this short work. I’m happy that he had me watch the move. I should have finished the book yesterday, but I wanted to give the other books my attention too, and I must say the dialog bogs me down a bit with the different dialects, so I read it slower than usual.

I also picked up where I left off on Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction. A question had come up about outlines for writing novels in general. Someone shared a website link, and then I shared a website link, as well as a passage where Rand shares her views on outlines and plotting. The statement that struck a discordant cord from one person was my final sharing on Rand’s opinions that though there is not a dead set rule on outlines, some prefer more details, others less detail—or no outline at all—Rand did have one strong opinion being that, “The only absolute rule is that, whether you write from the beginning or the end or the middle, you must start plotting from the end” (pg. 50).

I like being open to all views, to all modes of approaching any situation. I also tend to see where a story or essay will take me, but my strongest work has been when I have an idea of an end in sight—that of which I wish to convey. I don’t write from the end, but I have had the end in mind. I don’t feel that I’ve done this lately; however, after reading Rand’s statement, and I know she’s not the first to say it, but it resonated with me in my reading other’s people’s work, published novels or even short stories that often fall flat at the end as though there wasn’t a clear picture of what direction the author was heading. Therefore, I see that by having a purpose, the end in mind—in some cases—only makes a work that much stronger. Alternately, there may be times when it’s best to allow a story to shape itself without an end in sight, leaving the story to chance, to the characters, etc.

The bottom line is there are so many choices. We don’t have to follow the same every time. And what works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another. We can experiment and be open to all angles.

There is one piece that I wrote and in trying to find its larger truth that one reader nudged me toward (thank you, Vincent), even though it is already written and posted as a travel piece, I am going to revisit it and try to apply a framework of looking toward the end and figuring out where to go from there. I’m not sure how successful I will be, but I will give it a try.

While reading The Art of Fiction, just as Rand’s own words about Atlas Shrugged convinced me to read that novel, I now want to read The Fountain Head. I’ve downloaded a sample copy and am pretty sure I will be hitting “buy” before long. I have also downloaded a sample of her essays, Philosophy Who Needs It? I suppose I am drawn to her because of her strong opinions. I don’t agree with everything she says. I admire that she’s a thinker and she stands by her words. I admire her characters and her writing, as well as the little bit of her biography I’m aware of, how she taught herself, how self-sufficient she is, how devoted she was to her husband and how he supported and loved her and how though she said she didn’t believe in dedications, she decided to dedicate The Fountain Head to him: “Frank was the fuel. He gave me, in the hours of my own days, the reality of that sense of life which created The Fountainhead.”

Rand speaking of her decision to dedicate the novel touch me deeply:

“I had been opposed to the practice of dedicating books; I had held that a book is addressed to any reader who proves worthy of it. But, that night, I told Frank that I would dedicate The Fountainhead to him because he had saved it. And one of my happiest moments, about two years later, was given to me by the look on his face when he came home, one day, and saw the page-proofs of the book, headed by the page that stated in cold, clear, objective print: To Frank O’Connor."

More from Yesterday’s Reading

Don’t Look Now – A collection of short stories by Daphne Du Maurier selected and with an introduction by Patrick McGrath. Because I don’t usually put too much focus on the types of books I read, rather if the story sounds interesting, I will read it. I have read a couple of Patrick McGrath’s books and enjoyed them very much, especially Asylum. I found it browsing the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble at least fifteen years ago. I hadn’t given thought to the fact that I was reading a work of Gothic Fiction. The only reason it now dawns on me and I experience an “Aha” is that Daphne Du Maurier is categorized as Gothic and here McGrath has selected these pieces, a name I recognize. I do enjoy reading about the dark nature of humans, as long as it’s done tastefully, beautifully—and with a larger purpose.

A Journey Through American Literature by Kevin J. Hayes. I found this slender book on the “New” shelf in the library. It explores American literature in a digestible way, allowing me to easily see the connections in the writers that the author, Kevin J. Hayes, professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, has chosen. The book is organized by the following chapter headings: Beginnings, Travels, Autobiography, Narrative Voice and the Short Story, Poetry, The Drama of the Everyday, The Great American Novel, Endings. I am about to approach the section on poetry. I enjoyed all the chapters before that. This really is a gem. Afterthought: I think this book is what brought me back to Captain’s Courageous.

The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeir. I first came across this book about a year or two ago. I think I took a snapshot of the cover in my mind and remembered part of the title because of the number seven and then layer stuck too. And then another synchronistic book experience was that recently almost the same time I was trying to remember the childhood book that I thought was lost forever, I was trying to remember a short story that I read and loved. Certain images circled. The end, portions of the middle , but especially the end were cemented in my mind. I did a google search, typing in words: birds, sound, music, death, older man. I came up dry. I wondered if the story was from a collection by Haruki Marakami. No, that wasn’t it.

I tried to imagine what book had I checked out from the library years ago that could have had this story I was looking for. Why didn’t I write it down like I usually do? Then I saw the cover of The View in my mind: A planet, layers, colors of dusk . I didn’t know for sure, but I checked it out anyway. And well, it was the book! It’s the first story in the collection: A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets. I won’t say much about it, only that in these seven pages, those pages came to life. It was music and it stayed with me and I won’t forget this time and I want to keep reading it over and over. It’s an unexpected, understated beauty. I plan on finishing the collection this time. The title story was lovely, yet disturbing. It took me a few days to pull out of the feelings I felt. Subtlety. So that you don’t realize what’s happening until one gesture and then…you wonder if what you think occurred did occur or if it’s the other possibility. I was disturbed. It was effective, surreal, dreamlike.

I came back to Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. I read, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “A Stroke of Good Fortune.” I’m still digesting the stories. O’Connor seems to be in a class all her own. She leaves me thinking and sometimes she leaves me wanting to know more. It’s as though she’s taken me as far as she wants to and then leaves me there—as though the rest is up to me, the reader, to fill in. She’s done her job. Now, I have to do mine.


ZACL said...

That's a massive amount of literary delving.

I take time these days, to read, partly because there are other distractions around. So, I find it difficult to allocate a slot to it each day. On the other hand, I am reading for personal interest, dare I say, even for my own pleasure, and not for study. I do get to a point though, where, I have to focus to 'push' on to the end, as it can take too long to get there. :)

Other books await.

Rebb said...

ZACL, I don’t have a whole lot of extra time these days for reading either, at least not for hours and hours. And then if it's an evening weekday, my eyes won't stay open. I try to read each morning, even if only a half hour. There is so much that I want to read, which is why this past Sunday was perfect. My significant other had errands to do and I took advantage of the time and tried to read as much from the books that called to me that day. There are others books in limbo too. I need to take some of your focus and ‘push’ myself—even if for pleasure. Sometimes I just leave a book mid-way, wanting to go on, but stop for a while.