Read

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At the beginning of the year, I set a goal on Goodreads to read 50 books this year. When I was working on my bachelor’s in English literature, reading 50 books in twelve months was no problem. I can remember one particular semester where I had to read 35 books for all of my classes combined. But since navigating full time employment is a new experience for me, I figured 50 would be a pretty good, low-stakes goal to set for myself. So far, I’ve read 22 of the 50 books and wanted to share a few that I particularly loved.

  1. Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. JD Salinger is one of those love him or hate him authors, and personally, I love him. No one does a first person narrator quite like he does. Franny and Zooey is told using multiple perspective narration, and in typical Salinger fashion, these narrative voices are really well done and are the devices that drive the story. Franny and Zooey follows the two youngest siblings in a family of intellectual prodigies as one of them experiences a spiritual and existential crisis and the other attempts to talk to her out of it. The entire novel centers on this one plot point, but because of the distinctness of the voices, it’s a dynamic and fascinating read.
  2. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. As a genre, I adore poetry, but a lot of modern print poetry really frustrates me. I know these are unpopular opinions, but I’m not a fan of poets such as Rupi Kaur or Michael Faudet. I don’t like love poems or those trendy typewritten poems you might reblog on Tumblr. What I do love are poems that are complex and beautiful and ugly and painfully real. And I think Ocean Vuong’s collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds is exactly that. This collection explores the poet’s painful early domestic life, the challenges of coming into his identity, and the wounds inflicted upon his Vietnamese heritage. These poems are the type of poems you want to read out loud so you can hear them as you see them. I loved this collection so much I read every poem twice.
  3. The Crown Ain’t Worth Much by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib. Another one of my favorite modern poets is Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib who explores race in modern America through the motif of music and stories of his own life and growing up in Columbus, Ohio. In my degree, I focused on nineteenth century British literature, the canon for which is comprised mainly of wealthy white guys. The result is that, while I read an insane number of books and poems in college, the selection of authors was not incredibly diverse. Now that I have a few months when I’m not constantly reading for school, I’m trying to read more works from writers of different races, ethnicities, genders, etc. I think it’s important to do so. I believe that literature confronts us with different perspectives and experiences that we may not be privy to ourselves and that it’s important – especially now – to listen to those perspectives and experiences, because that’s how we love each other. I highly, highly, highly recommend this collection. For one thing, it’s incredible in terms of poetic merit, but also because it’s brutally honest. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I imagine it’s relatable to many people in a way that much canonized literature isn’t. And for those of us who cannot directly relate, it challenges us to listen – really listen – to a reality other than our own. I would also recommend listening to some of Willis-Abdurraqib’s performances on YouTube so you can hear his inflections and the lyricism of the poems.
  4. Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith is so well-known and celebrated that you likely don’t need encouragement from me to read her work. Swing Time is her latest novel and it follows a nameless narrator from childhood to adulthood, the competition between her and her childhood best friend, her employment as a personal assistant to a pop star, and her relationship with her mother. Threaded throughout the nonlinear narrative is the narrator’s evolving understanding of race, and this exploration is rooted by the motif of dance. It seems to me that several of the characters represent distinct types of people that are characterized by their responses to and opinions on race. Zadie Smith is a ridiculously intelligent human and talented writer, and this is one of those novels that stayed on my mind for a while after I read it because I was trying to work out in my mind everything that the novel was saying and doing (which is a lot).
  5. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. I love everything Jonathan Safran Foer writes, because all of his novels leave me with that punch-in-the-gut sad feeling. Just read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and you’ll see what I mean. I picked up Here I Am on principle and was not disappointed. The book follows a Jewish family as they experience domestic tragedy and natural disaster and the narrator explores what it means to be Jewish in modern America versus Jewish in modern Israel versus Jewish in the Holocaust versus Jewish in biblical times. What really moved me about this book was how Foer explored the idea of constructed meanings and inherited narratives and how those things affect the ways in which we grieve tragedies. There’s a scene in the novel where a rabbi deconstructs the story of Moses floating down the river in a basket in order to demonstrate the effects of Jewish history upon modern Jewish identity and grief that left me literally crying at my desk at work. Overall, this book is complex and moving and definitely worth reading despite how heavy it will make your purse or backpack or whatever.

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What have you been reading lately?

– Lauren

1.30.17

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A word. A picture. A sound.

Lay your palms upward and gently crepe-ing upon these static spaces between us, and I’ll show you wonderment in fingertips stained blue. Our bodies wear and tarnish as even facades of magnificent cathedrals must. Another day, another rain shower eroding the stone pillars. Another day, another layer of grime. Invisible from one day to the next until one day becomes a hundred days becomes ten years. One Alabama January, I looked down at my hands on a steering wheel and realized I was moving much faster than I thought. “We’re getting old,” you said in the last letter you sent to me, and I imagined that it was snowing when you wrote it and that you were wearing the sweater with the moose on it. “We’re only twenty,” I replied in the last letter I sent you, and I put on three sweaters to write it because I wanted to feel close to you and also because you scare me. The Alabama winter did not demand such armor, but I left them on until I fell asleep and woke sweating in the early hours of morning, when I removed them one by one. I thought this an appropriate metaphor. In the lamplight, indigo ink gathered and settled in deepening skin canyons, and I started to cry.

Future People – The Alabama Shakes

– Lauren

5.31.16

6.16.16

A New Name

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It seems like lately, every time I’ve written a new blog post, I start off by saying I’ve been so busy that writing has fallen by the wayside and been buried beneath a pile of school work and my job, and that would not be untrue. But there are some other things at play here, too.

Three and half years ago, after I graduated high school, I started this blog as a way to document the upcoming changes in my life. I had the idea around midnight one night, Googled “free blogs,” made a blog, and wrote my first post all within about an hour. The whole thing was really exciting, but I had no idea about the direction I wanted to take with it. Since then, I’ve written about all sorts of things from clothes to food to books.

Now, three and half years down the line and with a better conception of what I want to say on this blog, I want to create better content. I considered switching blog platforms and quickly realized that I can’t currently afford to do that. Then, I tried to redesign this blog, but couldn’t find the time to really commit to it, and so I still haven’t found an aesthetic I’m thrilled with. And for all of these reasons, I haven’t posted in about a month.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’re a regular reader of my blog, my blog has undergone a little bit of re-branding in the form of a name change. Until I have the financial means to buy my domain name, that will have to do.

Bluestocking: an intellectual and literary woman. But of course, with a name like Bluestocking, there is the connotation of clothes. Denotation and connotation combine to encompass the brand I want to promote: a stylish and intelligent and compassionate woman.

So what exactly does that mean for this blog? Stick around and find out.

– Lauren

Read

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Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. I read two of Joan Didion’s memoirs earlier this summer and couldn’t put them down, so when I saw Play It As It Lays, one of her fictions, on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, I had to pick it up. The novel is set in 1960s Hollywood and explores the position of women in society and mental illness, among other themes. It’s very poignantly written, and the reading experience was disturbing and affective despite the fact that the plot isn’t overly momentous or action-driven. Didion is one of my all-time favorite writers, and I highly, highly recommend this novel.

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Though I’ve only read two of his books, Herman Koch is another one of my favorite writers. I read The Dinner last summer and adored it, so I picked up Summer House with Swimming Pool to read on a recent trip to the beach. The novel follows a doctor and his family as they spend their summer vacation at the beach house of one of his clients, a famous but sleazy actor who we know from the outset will die by the narrator’s hands before the novel’s conclusion. Koch is really great at using nonlinear narratives, unreliable narrators, and unlikeable and controversial characters to create his engrossing psychological thrillers. Koch says in interviews that one of his goals in writing his novels is to be controversial, push boundaries, and make readers question societal values and judgments, and this novel definitely does all of those things. Koch plays with the idea of moral absolutism, the boundaries of sexual behaviors, misogyny, and the absurdity of fame and privilege.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. My Brilliant Friend is, hands down, my favorite read of the summer so far. Lately, I’ve been trying to read a more diverse selection of writers, including those whose works have been translated into English. My Brilliant Friend falls into this category (along with Summer House with Swimming Pool), as it was originally published in Italian. I’ve heard so many intriguing things about Elena Ferrante and her writing and was not let down my My Brilliant Friend. My Brilliant Friend is part of a series by Ferrante and tells the story of friendship between two girls, the unspoken competition within their friendship, and their struggles to feel worthwhile and follow dreams that are different than what is expected of them given the social politics of their poor Italian neighborhood. Definitely read this novel.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. In a moment of nostalgia for last summer when I studied abroad in England, I decided to read some Shakespeare so I could annotate a play or two while I drank tea and pretended I was in Oxford and not spending the summer working at home in Alabama. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is hilarious and tackles some real-life concerns under the guise of lightheartedness. It has magic, fairies, star-crossed lovers, a man with the head of a donkey, love triangles, and it reads with the ease and flow that is typical of Shakespeare’s other plays. References to this play are so pervasive in popular culture, which, combined with the merits of the play itself, makes A Midsummer Night’s Dream a must-read.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. I started reading this book back in high school and abandoned it about halfway through. An Object of Beauty is a novel based in the New York City art world and follows a recent college graduate for a period of several years as she manipulates, schemes, and uses her sexuality to get ahead in the art world. After taking several classes in art history and becoming more familiar with renowned artists, their work, and the nature of the art market, I decided to give An Object of Beauty another try. I did not love this novel. I found the characters to be flat, uninteresting, and cliche, and I thought the ending wrapped up a little too neatly for all the characters involved, but Martin, who is an art lover himself, offers some interesting opinions on the nature and value of art. My advice for you if you decide to read this book is to read it for Martin’s insights about the art market and not for the plot, which I found rather lackluster and contrived. I wouldn’t go so far as to not recommend this book, but I think it’s very much geared toward people who have a better-than-average knowledge of art and artists.

What have you read this summer?

– Lauren

Read

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The Pocketknife Bible by Anis Mojgani. The Pocketknife Bible is Mojgani’s self-illustrated memoir in verse that talks about his experiences growing up down South. It has the really mystical and swampy feeling of his poetry collections, and I highly recommend it.

Crush by Richard Siken. I knew of Richard Siken solely because of his poem “You Are Jeff,” which is one of my favorites. I had this collection in my “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads and finally picked it up when I stumbled across it at Barnes & Noble. I loved it so much that I read every poem twice. If you’re someone who wants to read poetry but is intimidated by the “classics,” check out Richard Siken. Personally, I find his work to be very beautiful, but also very accessible. And even when I have no idea what he’s talking about, I’m strangely okay with it.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I don’t think I have adequate words to describe my love for Joan Didion. I will seriously read anything that she writes. The Year of Magical Thinking is her memoir of the year following the unexpected death of her husband, and it absolutely destroyed me.

Bark by Lorrie Moore. Like Joan Didion, Lorrie Moore can do no wrong in my eyes. She writes incredible short stories, and this collection did not disappoint. Moore has this knack for writing these stories that are simultaneously the most hilarious and most devastating things I’ve ever read. And she does it all within the span of about 30 pages. From this collection, my favorite is “Paper Losses.”

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know I absolutely rave over Kristopher Jansma’s novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. When I found out he was writing another book, I preordered it on principle. The story follows a friend group of twenty-somethings after one of them is diagnosed with cancer. I’m very hesitant when it comes to books about people with cancer, because 1.) they make me sad and 2.) they’re often full of annoying tropes. But I read it anyway. It did make me sad, but I didn’t find it frustratingly contrived. I really enjoyed how it was structured and the multiple perspective narration.

What have you read recently?

– Lauren

Thrifty

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It is an indisputable fact that I come from a family of professional thrifters. Every Saturday, my parents scavenge yard sales, estate sales, and antique stores to find some good deals on vintage items, and when I’m at home, I go with them. Luckily, they passed their love of old things and their knack for scoring a deal on to me. I’ve found some really great things on my thrifting adventures, from clothes to furniture to books, but some of my favorite finds are some that I found this week.

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This past week was my Spring Break, and I spent half of it in Georgia and the other half at home in Alabama. While in Georgia, I went to some antique stores and a vintage clothing store, and in Alabama, I stopped by some estate sales and a flea market.

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At the Georgia antique store, I hit the book jackpot. They had a ton of rare, first edition books. I found an edition of some Robert Browning poems that was published during his lifetime (which is so cool) and a copy of James Joyce’s letters, both of which I’m really excited about. Later in the week, I headed to Little Five Points in Atlanta to visit my favorite vintage shop, where I snagged a few rompers and dresses for summer. If you’re ever in Atlanta, check out the Clothing Warehouse for some amazing vintage finds.

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Back in Alabama, I went by an estate sale and found a vintage coffee grinder. To be honest, I didn’t know what it was at first, but when I found out, my coffee-loving self couldn’t let it go. Antique coffee grinders are selling online for over $100, but I snagged mine for $22.50.

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Finally, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect vintage suitcase for a while. I found one last summer at a flea market, but I waited too long to buy it and someone else got it. I was pretty disappointed, but there is no shortage of old suitcases at flea markets. I knew that if I just held out long enough, I would find the perfect one. And I was right. I finally found it at the same flea market where I found the first one. It’s so cute and in nearly perfect condition – no rips or weird smells or anything – and I can’t wait to take it on a road trip.

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Needless to say, I love old things, and I love thrifting. It’s a great way to find some unique items without breaking the bank. Finding a cute romper from the 80s or bedside table from the 70s is so much more fun than getting something that’s been mass produced for any old store.

What’s your favorite thrift find?

– Lauren

Read | December 2015

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Novels

  1. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. When I heard Harper Lee was publishing another book, I knew I had to read it. However, as the controversy surrounding the circumstances of the book’s publication surfaced, I was unsure. After a few months of going back and forth, I ended up picking it up and read it on a recent car ride to Washington DC. It reads really quickly and is intelligently-written. I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it, mainly the new characterization of Atticus which I found disappointing. Though it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, it works as a continuation of the story. In keeping with the themes from To Kill A Mockingbird, the novel deals with racial tensions during Civil Rights. But instead of centering the novel on an actual racial  altercation, the tensions lie mainly in Scout’s and Atticus’ differing ideas on the proper ways to confront racism and Civil Rights.
  2. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The only Kurt Vonnegut I had read before Slaughterhouse Five were short stories from my middle school literature book. I picked up a copy of this book from a used book store, and I couldn’t put it down. It is assumed that the narrator of the story is Vonnegut himself, and the novel is his attempt to tell of his experiences of the Dresden fire-bombing. However, the story is science fiction, following Billy Pilgrim as he is abducted by aliens and learns to travel back and forth in time. Vonnegut inserts himself into the narrative at several points, making himself a character. It plays with concept of time, as well. Billy is able to travel back and forth in time, or rather, exist in many different moments at the same time. As a result, the narrative jumps forwards and backwards. It is nonlinear. Similarly, at the end of his “introduction” to Billy’s story, Vonnegut tells the readers what the first and last words of the narrative will be. In this way, he establishes time as cyclical rather than linear. In doing so, he comments on the futility of attempting to impose order, rationality, or intelligence on something like the Dresden bombings, a “massacre.”

Graphic Novels

  1. Maus Vol. 2 by Art Spiegelman. I read Maus Vol. 1 for one of my classes last semester and loved it. In it, Spiegelman tells the story of his father’s experience as a Polish Jew during World War II. Vol. 1 ends right as his father is captured, leaving the reader hanging. I had to find out what happened to him, so I ordered Vol. 2, which follows Spiegelman’s father’s life in Auschwitz and his eventual liberation. Spiegelman does a great job humanizing his father and representing an event that is unable to be truly represented. I highly recommend it.

Magazines

  1. Kinfolk Vol. 16. I buy Kinfolk on principle. Vol. 16 is the Essentials Issue. It argues against the minimalism fad by presenting the idea of essentialism. Basically, it embraces simplifying one’s life but leaving room for superfluous things that bring joy. As usual, the design of this issue is flawless. What really struck me about this issue, though, were the photographs. There are some really incredible black and white photographs in this issue that I kept flipping back to.

 

What did you read this month?

-Lauren

Read | August and September 2015

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As usual, I’ve been reading quite a bit these days. I love all of my classes this semester, and the reading lists for most of them are phenomenal and include some books outside the sphere of what I would typically choose. The books and short stories I’ve listed below are my favorite reads of the past two months, and I highly recommend all of them, particularly Pale Fire and Maus. Enjoy!

Novels

  1. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. Because of my slight Sherlock obsession, A Study in Scarlet was a reread for me. I’m taking a class on detective fiction, and to begin the course, we read two authors who paved the genre: Poe and Conan Doyle. This novella serves as the introduction to the Holmes adventures, but it differs from all the stories that follow it. It is split up into two sections that don’t seem at all cohesive until the very end. One minute you’re reading about Holmes and the next minute you’re reading about Mormons. It almost seems like two completely separate short stories until you start recognizing the names from the first section. It seems weird, but it works in my opinion.
  2. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Holy. Moly. Everyone, stop what you’re doing, and read this book. Pale Fire is, by far, my favorite thing I read all month. I read Lolita last year, so I knew that Nabokov is brilliant, but Pale Fire blew me away. The time and thought he put into this novel is glaring. I can’t even understand how he managed to pull it off. The novel pretends to be a scholarly edition of a poem written by the narrator’s next-door neighbor. It opens with a forward by Charles Kinbote, the unreliable narrator, and is followed by the poem by John Shade and the commentary by Kinbote. Throughout the novel, Nabokov weaves together several different narratives threads: Kinbote’s, John Shade’s, a king’s, a killer’s. By intertwining these narrative strands, Nabokov challenges the conventions of narrative and leaves the reader uncertain of the reality of the narrative (but in a good way). It’s one of those books you have to read over and over again, because you uncover something new each time. For instance, the nature of the narrative suggests that Kinbote, the editor of the poem, is also the author-narrator of the commentary. But when I finished reading, I wasn’t convinced that he was either. I think it’s safe to say that Pale Fire’s made it on my list of all-time favorites, and I highly, highly recommend it.
  3. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. In my detective fiction class, I’ve been reading a lot of hard-boiled, noir novels. Red Harvest is your typical 1920s gangster novel. It follows the Continental Op who comes to Poisonville to clean up the corruption. This type of detective fiction differs from the classical detective fiction by Conan Doyle or Poe. Instead of the classical detective such as Holmes or Dupin, the idiosyncratic genius who is largely removed from the crime and solves it by noticing and piecing together what the police overlook, the hardboiled detective like the Op is involved in the action. He is not absurdly smart or unflinchingly moral. Rather, he is portrayed as an ordinary person whose morality and motivations are often called into question. Overall, it is an entertaining and socially aware novel that addresses the anxieties of the late 1920s/early 1930s.

Graphic Novels

  1. Maus by Art Spiegelman. Up until about a month ago, I had never read a graphic novel, but by a happy accident I unknowingly signed up for a graphic novel class for my creative writing minor. Previously, I had always associated graphic novels with superheroes or manga, neither of which are my cup of tea, but this class has proven me wrong. I recently read Maus, which is incredibly famous and renowned (it won a Pulitzer). Art Spiegelman is essentially telling the story of his father’s life in Nazi Poland, his experience in a prisoner of war camp,  hiding from the police, and eventually being sent to Auschwitz. Spiegelman makes himself a character in the story. We see him having conversations with his father and writing down the stories he hears with the intention of putting them into a novel. What is really interesting about the book is that though all of the characters are drawn as animals, Spiegelman manages to humanize the Holocaust. The Jews are mice; the Poles are pigs; the Nazis are cats; the Americans are dogs. Regardless, we are acutely aware that Vladeck was a real person. The animals remove the reader a degree from fully sympathizing with him, which allows us to individualize the Holocaust rather than seeing it as a blanket experience.

Short Stories

  1. How to Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien. How to Tell a True War Story is a chapter from Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried. This chapter comments on the line between fiction and nonfiction in prose, specifically prose about war. The short story is framed as a first-person narrative, but despite the fact that O’Brien is a Vietnam veteran, it is unclear whether or not he is the narrator. Throughout the piece, the narrator instructs the reader on how to tell a true war story or how to tell if a war story is true. In doing so he tells stories from his experiences in a war, witnessing death and being in such psychologically straining experiences. It is unclear whether or not these stories actually happened, but it doesn’t matter. Over and over again the narrator says, “This is true,” however, at the end of the short story, O’Brien-as-the-author says, “None of it happened. None of it.” He blurs the lines between truth and fiction, separates us into readers and hearers of stories, and makes an argument on how truth plays into it all.

What did you read this month?

-Lauren

Read | Summer 2015

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Today marks the first day of fall classes at my university, which inevitably means I will soon be overwhelmed by the extensive reading list that accompanies upper level English courses. I literally have thirty-five required books for the semester. Thirty-five. But don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally excited for my classes this semester. I’m taking British Literature from 1900-1945, Narrative Theory, American Detective Fiction, Chapbook Publishing, and The Illustrated Narrative. With lots of required reading in my future, I thought I would take this time to talk about some of my favorite reads from the summer.

Novels

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book is probably one of my favorite things I read this summer. It takes place in the aftermath of an epidemic that wipes out most of the world’s population and forces society to revert to a more primitive style of living. The story follows a traveling Shakespearean acting troupe that has an unfortunate run-in with a misguided religious fanatic. What originally drew me to this book was the Shakespearean acting troupe, but what kept me drawn into the novel was the style of narrative. The narration is nonlinear and told from multiple perspectives, which forces the reader into a role of constructing the  plot.
  2. The Dinner by Herman Koch. The Dinner is another novel whose narration really captured me. This book was on a list of recommended reads for my narrative theory class. Again, the plot is nonlinear and told largely through flashbacks. The present in the novel takes place at a restaurant, and what I found really interesting about the text is that its progression corresponds with the courses of the meal. In other words, instead of being divided into parts or books, the text is divided up by course. The plot follows two families and a conversation they are having over dinner about their children. Like Station Eleven, the nontraditional narrative style of The Dinner forces the reader to piece everything together and discover the tragedy that has occurred. The novel also has somewhat of a psychological aspect as well in its morally ambiguous characters and ominous undertones Koch evokes before the reader is even aware of the novel’s conflict.

Short Stories

  1. The First Forty-Nine Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway. About a year ago, one of my friends came across a collection of some of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories while she was browsing a used book store, and knowing how much I love Hemingway, picked it up for me. This summer, I finally got around to reading it. I really enjoy Hemingway’s writing style and how he can say so much in so few words. Also, though there are 49 short stories in this particular collection, they aren’t entirely separate entities. There are certain characters, places, and events that carry over into other stories. I tend to prefer short stories that feel like snapshots of fleeting moments that could have been taken from a larger work, which I believe Hemingway does extremely well, particularly in this collection.

Drama

  1. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. I read this play for a class I took this summer called The Uncomfortable Shakespeare, which explored the aspects of Shakespeare’s plays which were perfectly acceptable in Early Modern society but that a modern audience finds to be troublesome. The Merchant of Venice contains primarily issues of race and religion. When analyzing the plays through the lens of the uncomfortable, one must question whether Shakespeare was drastically ahead of the thinking of his time or simply playing devil’s advocate. He humanizes the “othered” characters to a degree that was virtually nonexistent among his contemporaries. Check out the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, and you’ll see what I mean. Although the play is called The Merchant of Venice, I tend to sympathize most with Shylock, the outsider, the “undesirable.” Throughout the play, Shakespeare explores the concepts of justice and mercy and who is allowed to experience those things. The icing on the cake for me was being able to see this play performed in Stratford by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was performed in modern dress with a completely bare stage, except for a giant pendulum in the background. I could go on and on about the production, but I will suffice it to say that it was one of my favorite stage performances I’ve ever seen.
  2. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is known as the father of modern drama and a major founder of realism and Modernism in drama. In one of my classes last semester, we briefly discussed Ibsen and his impact on works written for the stage. Furthermore, one of my favorite novels makes several allusions to Ibsen, so I decided I should check him out. A Doll’s House is his most famous work, so that’s the one I went with. It explores gender roles and freedom in marriage. At the time, the ending was critiqued as scandalous and antithetical to what society believed at the time to be a woman’s disposition. Overall, it is an interesting commentary on femininity and masculinity, their relationship to one another, and the roles that accompany each one.

What did you read this summer?

-Lauren

Read | April 2015

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Because of final papers and the end of the semester, April was a really slow reading month for me.  I read three novels and a handful of poems, but for the most part, I spent the past month huddled up in bed writing.  Of the three books I read, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner really blew me away.  I was lucky to have a brilliant teacher guide me through this book (which is so easy to get lost in), and as a result, I’ve settled on an interpretation of As I Lay Dying that is quite different from most people’s interpretation of it, and I just have to talk about it.  This post is going to be a little different from others on my blog, so buckle your seat belts and hold on tight.  The literature student in me is about to come out.

If you had asked me a month ago my opinion on William Faulkner, I would have promptly told you that I hate that guy.  But that was before As I Lay Dying.  This book converted me into a Faulkner lover.  Warning: there will be spoilers, so if you’re planning on reading this book at some point, don’t read any more of this post.

If you Google what the underlying themes of As I Lay Dying are, the internet will tell you that the book deals with issues of social class, and that, in my opinion, is an insultingly oversimplified interpretation of this novel.  If you had to place Faulkner into a school of literary criticism, he would fall in with the structuralists. He is obsessed with the relationships between words and actions, what is written and what is heard.  That is why there are so many typographical inconsistencies (not errors!) throughout the text.  He randomly switches to italics or “forgets” to include beginning quotation marks or doesn’t capitalize names, but if you don’t read the book, if you simply hear it, you won’t notice these things.  Through these inconsistencies, Faulkner is telling us that the monologues that comprise the story weren’t spoken monologues.  They were inscribed.  They rely on being seen, because that’s the only way these shifts in form can even be noticed.

But the question is why is it important that we know that the monologues were written, not spoken?  I’m going to do my best to answer it, but first I’m going to point out some weird, but important, things that happen throughout the novel.

  1. Darl is able to see things happen even when he isn’t there to see them.  He also describes himself as “are” not “is,” which suggests that sees himself as existing in a divided state.
  2. Each character has a specific idiom, or way of speaking, but sometimes that idiom is disrupted.  For example, Vardaman’s inner monologue and outer monologue don’t match.  At some points, he thinks much more eloquently than someone of his age and educational background should be able to, but he speaks in dialect. Dewey Dell, a backwoods country girl who can hardly form a grammatical sentence, is somehow able to quote Shakespeare.  Darl knows what cubism is.
  3. Cash and Vardaman refer to events that happen in the future but that they could not possibly know about at the time (Mrs. Bundren, the bananas, the toy train).
  4. Addie Bundren, who is dead, has a monologue.  Dead people can’t talk.
  5. Dewey Dell is pregnant, and Darl knows.  Jewel is mad throughout the whole novel and has only one monologue.  Vardaman is young but knows a secret.  Cash is stupid.  And Anse just wants a set of false teeth.

The premise of the story is that the Bundren family is traveling to Jefferson to bury Addie Bundren, their mother, who dies at the beginning of the novel.  Along the way, they encounter some challenges and aren’t able to bury her until nine days after she has died.  One night, the family stops at Gillespie’s to break up their trip, and in the middle of the night, the barn burns down.  Darl is accused of starting the fire, and after Addie is buried, he is carted off to an insane asylum without any evidence or trial to implicate him.

Here’s the thing.  I am not convinced that Darl set the fire. Most people would disagree with me, but I don’t think the text supports that Darl set the fire.  He had no motive, unlike Jewel, who had to give up his horse and disrupt his life for the trip to Jefferson.  Jewel also demonstrates at several points in the novel that he is prone to violence.

As I mentioned earlier, Faulkner is a structuralist.  He pays attention to words.  In the scene describing the fire, there is a recurrence of the word “glare.” The first time it’s used, it describes the fire.  The second time, it is described as reflecting off of Jewel’s eyes.  The third time, Jewel “glares” at Darl.  There is a linguistic evolution in the function of this word that suggests that Jewel and the fire are tied to one another.  This leads me to suspect Jewel.  And it is not insignificant that Darl’s monologues pay particular attention to Jewel, but Jewel himself has only one monologue.

If Jewel set the fire, why does everyone blame Darl?  Simple.  Darl’s family has a vested interest in getting rid of him.  If Jewel started the fire, he needs a scapegoat.  Dewey Dell is the one who blames him.  Darl’s getting locked away benefits her, because it removes from the picture the only person who knows about her pregnancy.  Without Darl, she can get an abortion and no one will ever know she was pregnant in the first place.  Vardaman is too young to understand the situation, although he says over and over again that he witnessed something that Dewey Dell made him promise to keep secret.  If this secret is that Jewel set the fire, not Darl, it is not in Dewey Dell’s interest that the truth should get out.  Cash is too stupid to know any different, and Anse is just in it for the teeth.

Now let’s go back to the question of why does it matter that the monologues are written rather than spoken, and consider who is inscribing the monologues. Who is the only person who has the motive and ability to write all of this down?  It can only be Darl, who now spends his days in an asylum, where he has the time to learn about grammar and cubism and Shakespeare while he waits to die.  As I Lay Dying serves as his vindication of himself and his implication of his family.  This is how Darl is able to see things when he isn’t physically there to see them.  He exists in a divided state: the Darl who experienced the events in the novel and the Darl who writes about them.  It is also how Dewey Dell is able to quote Shakespeare when she can’t entertain any other grammatically correct thought, and Vardaman can think, but not speak, eloquently.  It is also how the other characters can think and act outside of the chronology and how dead-as-a-doornail Addie Bundren can have a monologue.

If the book is comprised of spoken monologues, everything I just wrote is irrelevant.  Throughout this novel, Faulkner harps on the importance of doing over speaking.  He is meticulous in making sure we understanding the importance of physically looking at this text with our eyes, because that means it was written.   This is getting a little meta, but bear with me.  We can see this importance in Addie’s philosophies about words and language – doing something versus speaking something – and Cash’s obsession with the graphophone.  The root words of graphophone literally mean “written” then “heard.”  The book itself is a graphophone, elevating the role of doing over the role of speaking, because language is arbitrary.  Faulkner was a structuralist.  He believed this.  The lines of text in this novel are like grooves in a record, but we see them rather than hear them.  To fully understand this text, we have to understand that the narration is written, not spoken.

In conclusion, this book is incredible.  Faulkner is incredible.  And as nerdy as it sounds, I’m gong to immediately start rereading As I Lay Dying because I feel like I have so much more to glean from it.

Wow, this has turned out to be a much longer post than I intended.  Props to everyone who made it this far.  I don’t know too many people who get on blogs to read literary analyses, but I hope you found this interesting or helpful.

Let me know your thoughts on the novel or what your favorite book of the month was.

-Lauren