September 6, 2016

Follow-up to preceding post re: The Help

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 7:25 pm by chuckredman

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help seems to provoke thought by those who read the book and even those who don’t. On my bus ride home tonight, about the time we got to Ventura County, the fellow sitting behind me leaned forward and apologized if his brief phone call had bothered me. It hadn’t. I’d apparently been engrossed in the book. I’m almost finished. We talked about the book and the movie, and he was very familiar with both, despite having personally perused neither. “I don’t wanna read anything about those times. I lived through it, that was enough.”

He’d grown up in Memphis, Tennessee and, being about the color of Minny in The Help, had experienced Jim Crow first hand. “I read Tom Clancy,” he told me. He loves the action and geopolitical intrigue.

I hinted at the irony that he could read about war and the world on the brink of destruction but not about the plight of maids in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi. He shrugged, and I assured him that I understand completely.

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August 30, 2015

Pithy lines from things I’ve read recently. . .

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:51 pm by chuckredman

We quickly understood each other and became friendly, because I am not capable of true friendship. — Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time (1841)

Sir Ethelred opened a wide mouth, like a cavern, into which the hooked nose seemed anxious to peer. — Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent (1907)

. . . it seems to them the friendly memories of that year and of their whole long life winged visibly through the transparent blue. Herman Hesse, Beneath the Wheel (1906)

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. — G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

He grabbed the nickel and legged it away as fast as he could kelter, Molly’s shrill laughing pursuing him as though it ran on feet. — Jack Conroy, A World To Win (1935)

When a man’s overcoat is whiter than flour, why should his shadow be blacker than soot? — Vladimir Korolenko, The Day of Atonement

Not I, old man; nothing that crawls the earth is for my sport. — James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie

“Stop that, Jim, d’yeh hear? Leave yer sister alone on the street. It’s like I can never beat any sense into yer damned wooden head.” — Stephen Crane, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets

It was a torrid morning, hazy, the sky veiled as if with medicinal gauze. — The Church of Solitude by Grazia Deledda

On another small table stood Zuleika’s library. Both books were in covers of dull gold. — Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson (1911)

You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by standing a flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men. — Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson (1911)

It is not love that is blind, but jealousy. — Lawrence Durrell, Justine (1958)

. . .the shining city of the disinherited—a city now trying softly to spread the sticky prismatic wings of a new-born dragon-fly on the night. — Lawrence Durrell, Clea (1960)

He was a fairly humane man toward slaves and other animals; he was an exceedingly humane man toward the erring of his own race. — Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson

We must make a stand, not for the penny, but for justice. What is dear to us is not our penny, because it’s no rounder than any other penny; it’s only heavier; there’s more human blood in it than in the manager’s ruble. That’s the truth! — Maxim Gorky, Mother (1907)

They’ve turned men into weapons, into sticks and stones, and called it civilization, government! — Maxim Gorky, Mother (1907)

Luka: If you believe—he does. If you don’t—he doesn’t. Whatever you believe in, exists. — Maxim Gorky, Lower Depths (1902)

Our emotional life is shared with the animals; we flatter ourselves that human emotions are so much more complicated than theirs. . .We have to wonder. — Doris Lessing, The Memoirs of a Survivor (1975)

February 22, 2015

Stephen Crane’s legacy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 6:08 pm by chuckredman

“Stop that, Jim, d’yeh hear? Leave yer sister alone on the street. It’s like I can never beat any sense into yer damned wooden head.”

That short passage from Stephen Crane’s story Maggie, a Girl of the Streets may seem trivial, at first glance. But after reading Maggie, that bit of banal dialogue proved to be a perfect window into the icy irony and social criticism that Crane put into that classic story, and into his body of work as a whole. There is no question that Crane broke new literary ground in two important ways, at least if we consider this side of the Atlantic.

His prose, in the words of Hamlin Garland, was “astonishing”. He wrote in a style more modern and, I think, more poetic, than any earlier or contemporary American prose writer. He almost certainly inspired the next generation or two of story writers, and they were an innovative bunch indeed.

The other quality that Crane pioneered was the gritty realism of his settings and subjects. He told it like it was, long before that expression became a cliché. He had the most amazing ear for vernacular speech. Add to that a sharp understanding of human nature. The characters and their dialogue are so lifelike that one can’t help but enter their world and identify with their problems.

Despite illness and death at 28, Crane left us a sizable collection of novels and stories. We all read The Red Badge of Courage in high school. I remember nothing about it, sadly, and did not read other Stephen Crane works until now. That is my loss. Besides Maggie, I have now read many of his collected short stories. The Monster was powerful and ahead of its time in social consciousness, and The Open Boat was impossible to put down. In a very few short but prolific years, Stephen Crane made himself into one of the best American writers, of any era.

 

November 3, 2013

Honoring Peace

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 5:34 pm by chuckredman

It’s only right that we honor the people who have fought for us against tyranny and aggression.  But please remember that going to war is not always right or justified.  We have been wrong just as many times as we have been right, I’m afraid.  We must make better decisions.  And we must honor peace more than war.  Books I have read in the recent past have said it much better than I could ever say it:

 

And some day we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1950)

 

The soldier never becomes wholly familiar with the conception of his foes as men like himself; he cannot divest himself of the feeling that they are another order of beings, differently conditioned, in an environment not altogether of the earth. — Ambrose Bierce, “A Son of the Gods”, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1892)

 

. . . all the scenes he had since been through had not dimmed the horror, the terror of that moment, when his boy comrade fell, with only a breath between a laugh and a death groan. — Hamlin Garland, “The Return of a Private”, Main-Travelled Roads (1891)

 

In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles, and the enemy.  In winter on the Zaragoza front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last. . . The real preoccupation of both armies was trying to keep warm. — George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938)

 

One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting. — George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938)

 

It was like an allegorical picture of war; the trainload of fresh men gliding proudly up the line, the maimed men sliding slowly down, and all the while the guns on the open trucks making one’s heart leap as guns always do, and reviving that pernicious feeling, so difficult to get rid of, that war is glorious after all. — George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938)

 

It is doubtful whether our soldiers would be maintained if there were not pacific people at home who like to fancy themselves soldiers.  War, like other dramatic spectacles, might possibly cease for want of a ‘public’. — George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)

 

Above all, innocence alone

Commands a kingdom of its own.

This kingdom needs no armed defense,

No horseman, nor that vain pretence

Of Parthian archers who, in flight,

Shoot arrows to prolong the fight.

It has no need of cannon balls

And guns to batter city walls.

To have no fear of anything,

To want not, is to be a king.

This is the kingdom every man

Gives to himself, as each man can.

Let others scale dominion’s slippery peak;

Peace and obscurity are all I seek. . .

Death’s terrors are for him who, too well known,

Will die a stranger to himself alone.

— Seneca, Thyestes (1st century A.D.) – translation by E.F. Watling

 

October 11, 2013

Under the Yoke

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:45 pm by chuckredman

Since it’s the only Bulgarian novel I have ever read, I’m not exactly in a position to say that Under the Yoke by Ivan Vazov (published 1889) is the greatest Bulgarian novel.  But, if there’s a better Bulgarian novel, I’d like to read it!  Under the Yoke is one of the most powerful and enthralling books I’ve read in recent years.  It is beautifully written, and the translation was excellent, with only a handful of words that may have been imperfectly translated.  Vazov creates a richly real setting and scenario, with wit and sensitivity.  In style, he approaches George Eliot.  The epic subject and story are more akin to For Whom the Bell Tolls.  It is equally powerful as Hemingway’s classic.

After reading Turgenev’s On the Eve recently, which featured a Bulgarian patriot as a leading character, I became interested in that part of Bulgarian history and literature.  The L.A. Public Library fortunately had Under the Yoke for loan, so I borrowed it.  It has taken a day or two to shake the effects of the dramatic ending.

Now, I need something lighter, so, in one of the more extreme reverse leaps that one can attempt on the literary spectrum, I have turned to Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.  The Yoke is slowly starting to lift.

June 22, 2013

Old words, still true

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:02 am by chuckredman

Above all, innocence alone

Commands a kingdom of its own.

This kingdom needs no armed defense,

No horseman, nor that vain pretence

Of Parthian archers who, in flight,

Shoot arrows to prolong the fight.

It has no need of cannon balls

And guns to batter city walls.

To have no fear of anything,

To want not, is to be a king.

This is the kingdom every man

Gives to himself, as each man can.

Let others scale dominion’s slippery peak;

Peace and obscurity are all I seek. . .

Death’s terrors are for him who, too well known,

Will die a stranger to himself alone.

— Seneca, Thyestes (1st century A.D.) – translation by E.F. Watling