Thursday, December 31, 2015

Scorched Amalgamation Shout Out

On my other blog, I just posted a review of my year of reading. My 2015 reading review. I didn't post it here because I didn't feel like it was literary enough, but because it is about books, and a lot of readers of this blog enjoy reading books, I figured I would post a link to it.

http://scorchedamalgamation.blogspot.com/2015/12/2015-reading-in-review.html

Enjoy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Another Hiatus

mrbarbaricyawp will be taking another break. Finals Week has hit our school and then after that we will go on Winter Break. Enjoy this time with your family and we will see you back in 2016.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

McCarthy's Use of the Complex Sentence

Still reading The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy. Got into part two and my reading just really slowed down. It's not that it isn't interesting, just that there is a ton to process. Here is a quote from part 2, page 129:
"They rode the high country for weeks and they grew thin and gaunted man and horse and the horse grazed on the sparse winter grass in the mountains and gnawed the lichens from the rock and the boy shot trout with his arrows where they stood above their shadows on the cold stone floors of the pools and he ate them and ate green nopal and then on a windy day traversing a high saddle in the mountains a hawk passed before the sun and its shadow ran so quick in the grass before them that it caused the horse to shy and the boy looked up where the bird turned high above them and he took the bow from his shoulder and nocked and loosed an arrow and watched it rise with the wind rattling the fletching slotted into the cane and watched it turning and arcing and the hawk wheeling and then flaring suddenly with the arrow locked in its pale breast."
If you have ever read McCarthy (or Faulkner, or Morrison for that matter) you know that he likes the long sentence. Part of his style. In this case I believe that McCarthy is using this to suggest that time is passing, but it seems that all of time is sloughing into itself. You cannot really tell when things are happening; it seems that it is all happening at once. All at one time. His use of the conjunction "and" accomplishes this task. The sentence isn't incorrect, just very long and drawn out. It helps the reader to feel the exhausting nature of this journey. And this happened, and this happened, and this happened. I don't think that most writers should use this style. This is reserved for those masters who are allowed to break the rules.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Explain: Wolves by Joe Wilkins

I have to admit it: I am a Joe Wilkins fanboy. My first exposure to Wilkins was in The Sun where his wonderfully beautiful essay, You, All of You, appeared. I've loved his writing since then and whenever I see something published by Wilkins I just have to devour it. So, I knew I would be blogging about this newest poem from Wilkins that just got published today on the Linebreak website. This poem is also interesting from the standpoint of the other things I have been reading. There has been a lot of wolves in my read as of late. Anyway, on to the poem.
-----------------------------------------------------------

JOE WILKINS

Explain: Wolves


OR-7, also known as Journey, is the first confirmed wolf in western Oregon since 1947, and the first in California since 1924. Since the wolf left his pack in September 2011, he has wandered more than 1,000 miles […] through Oregon and Northern California.
–Wikipedia
The wandering wolf OR-7 appears to have a mate.
–The Oregonian, May 12, 2014
She wanders heavy-bellied, full of milk & knives.
Lowers the barrel of her body like this, forepaws soft & sure as motherwings against the infant earth.
When finally she takes flight, she falls to gnashing the neckmeat of deer, one last upwelling of arterial blood the very blush of certain bodies in the near heavens.
When mountains gather their snap & shatter, when down comes the wind & winterlong, even wolfbones leak their autumn grease, wolfeyes go lonesome & sallow, & for warmth every wolf snouts the yeasting fleshpockets of those they run with & love.
I’m telling you capped & nightgowned like that the story is not the wolf’s but ours, our fear not of being devoured but blinded, lied to, made complicit in our own undoing.
-----------------------------------------------------------
The images in the poem are strange and beautiful.

  • "She wanders heavy-bellied, full of milk & knives." The odd part of this image is the knives. Her belly is full of a wolf pup(s), but metaphorically Wilkins is calling the pups knives. These unborn pups will grow up to become wolves: dangerous animals. Knives helps us to see the wolf pup's potential.
  • "When mountains gather their snap & shatter, when down comes the wind & winterlong, even / wolfbones leak their autumn grease." When I was listening to the reading of this poem that phrase, "wolfbones leak their autumn grease," made me stop in shock. What an interesting image. When winter comes even the wolves lose some of themselves, in the struggle to stay alive during those tough months.
Then the poem has it's poetic turn, in the fifth stanza. "I'm telling you capped & nightgowned like that the story is not the wolf's but ours, our fear not of / being devoured but blinded, lied to, made complicit in our own undoing." Yes this poem is about wolves, but it is also about that animalistic nature inside each of us. We are the wolves.

Joe Wilkins does it again people! 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Last Our Town Post

I don't want to belabor Our Town. Like I said in my review, I really do think that this is just an average play with some good lines and an semi-interesting theme. It is uplifting though, which doesn't happen often in classical literature. We love talking about death, depression, and not getting the girl in AP Lit. But there are some wonderful, poignant lines in Act III.
"Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."
"Do any human beings every realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?"
The Stage Manager's answer to these questions is no. Humans do not realize how wonderful life is. Simon Stimson seems to agree later on the next page. But them Mrs. Gibbs provides the counter-voice.

And I think that I agree with Mrs. Gibbs. There are times in our lives when we do realize how wonderful earth and life is. That might be a moment when your first child is born. Or perhaps when a second child is born. Or perhaps when you marry your best friend in the world entire (as Cormac McCarthy would phrase it). Maybe when you read something and it touches you to the very core. But maybe it can be something as simple as looking at an old photograph, posing for a new photograph, reminiscing about the 80's with your Mother on Thanksgiving, or hanging out with those people who you love. I think that Wilder just wants us to have one of those moments while reading or watching his play. He wants us to stop and realize that life is wonderful..."every, every minute."

I do find it interesting though that as I was reading this play my favorite youtubers put out the following two videos about uncontrolled excitement, which I believe is connected to all of this. Sometimes the vlogbrothers are heady and seem to like to push their brand of nerdom on the rest of us. But other times they really have something interesting to say. These two videos give us some amazing analysis of these ideas. Watch them both!



 And then we get this wonderful line from John Green:
 "Okay, so I would argue that you are both never and always truly alone." 
And sometimes you have to just stop and be thankful for the genius that is John Green and how he can, in one simple sentence, encapsulate everything that I feel when the sky is grey and clouded over, and my feet are freezing, and I just feel yucky inside.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review of Our Town, by Thornton Wilder

Our TownOur Town by Thornton Wilder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Yes, now you know. Now you know! That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those...of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at th mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know--that's the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness."

Just finished Thornton Wilder's Our Town. I had never read the play before and I have been preparing it for my AP Literature and Composition students. This play will become their reading over Christmas break. I will say that I enjoy this play better than the old play we used to assign which was The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, which I felt didn't offer much in the way of literary interpretation. Our Town certainly does a better job of offering students something to discuss and interpret, but overall I felt that it was simplistic and heavy handed.

I mean I get the message, I understand the theme that Wilder is trying to put down. And it is a good theme, but at times (especially during the third act) I felt like Wilder was stuffing it down my throat.

I mean what else can I say. It was an average play about an average group of people, living in an average town.

But, like I said, I think it will serve well for a Christmas break reading assignment.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 20, 2015

Short Hiatus

mrbarbaricyawp will be taking a break during the week of 11/23-11/27 for Thanksgiving break. We will return with more literature based content on the 30th.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parents, tell your children how you feel

I was reading Our Town, by Thornton Wilder to prepare for my AP Lit students Christmas reading selection and ran across the following passage in ACT I.
     EMILY:Mama, am I good looking?
     MRS. WEBB:Yes, of course you are. All my children have got good features; I'd be ashamed if they hadn't.
     EMILY:Oh, Mama, that's not what I mean. What I mean is: am I pretty?
     MRS. WEBB:I've already told you, yes. Now that's enough of that. You have a nice young pretty face. I never heard of such foolishness.
     EMILY:Oh, Mama, you never tell us the truth about anything.
     MRS. WEBB:I am telling you the truth.
     EMILY:Mama, were you pretty?
     MRS. WEBB:Yes, I was, if I do say it. I was the prettiest girl in town next to Mamie Cartwright.
     EMILY:But, Mama, you've got to say something about me. Am I pretty enough...to get anybody...to get people interested in me?
     MRS. WEBB:Emily, you make me tired. Now stop it. You're pretty enough for all normal purposes.--Come along now and bring that bowl with you.
     EMILY:Oh, Mama, you're no help at all.
No help indeed. I am embarrassed for Mrs. Webb. She had the opportunity, an opportunity to build her daughter's confidence and show her how much she is loved and valued. But instead he gets annoyed, passes off Emily's concern, and scolds her. Not the best parent in my opinion. Mrs. Webb has things to say about her own beauty, but chooses to just tell her daughter that she is "pretty enough for all normal purposes." Gee, thanks Mom; whatever that means.

People, don't be like this parent. Tell your children that they are beautiful and handsome and pretty and wonderful. Heaven knows they need that kind of affirmations, especially when they enter their formative teenager and early adult years. Don't be a "Mrs. Webb."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

P6: I felt a funeral in my brain CCCR

P5: Because I could not stop for death CCCR


Poetic Turns

The newest poem from Linebreak is a great example of poetic turns. Here is the poem:

Against Aristophanes

by Jacques Rancourt

                                                  No e-mails can reach you.
                                                  No texts. Here, a smokestack

                                                  chokes up soot intermittently.
                                                  Cloud-makers, I once called them,

                                    (5)         and what a world if that were true.
                                                  At the window I tap from

                                                  the interior and wait for the ghost
                                                  to write back. Only the willow,

                                                  starved for water, responds
                                    (10)       by clicking a beaded branch

                                                  against the glass. At one end
                                                  of a parking lot, a Target bag

                                                  skims the pavement,
                                                  drifts before a thing whose stillness

                                    (15)        I took to be a truck at rest,
                                                  moonlight on chrome,

                                                  its driver asleep across the seats.
                                                  How his mother, if she lives,

                                                  must worry. I wake and wait
                                    (20)       for you to call at this lavender hour.

                                                  Nothing strange inside
                                                  your heartbeat, irregular as it was,

                                                  nothing but your blood's drum,
                                                  your mysterious body

                                     (25)      more mysterious now,
                                                  more foreign for being

                                                  outside of me. I thought
                                                  we were made of water,

                                                  one soul split into two,
                                     (30)      but we are made of canyon,

                                                  a sky unpolluted by light
                                                  and thus filled with light,

                                                  a moon so full
                                                  if reveals the desert to be

                                      (35)     in motion: a coyote stalking
                                                  a trickle of water,

                                                  a wren skipping nail to nail
                                                  on the arm of a cactus.

I see two distinct turns in this poem. The beginning of the poem has these wonderful images, all of them charged with some imaginal energy. I like the image of the smokestack smoking away. The narrator taps against the glass, watching a Target bag drifting through the parking lot like some wrath--"At one end / of a parking lot, a Target bag / skims the pavement, / drifts before a thing whose stillness /  I took to be a truck at rest, / moonlight on chrome," All very beautiful! The poem is focused on describing all of these images, a very image heavy poem. And then it turns in line 19-- "I wake and wait / for you to call at this lavender hour." Now we are inside the narrators head again and he (I'm assuming it is a male) is dreaming of "your mysterious body" (which I am assuming is a girl).

But it doesn't stop there. In his contemplation he continues to look inward. To examine this relationship and how it effects him and his sense of self. On this inward journey, the narrator turns the poem again in line 27--"I thought / we were made of water, / one soul split into two, / but we are made of canyon," Now we turn into a metaphor. These two people, man and woman, are "made of canyon." They cannot be further from each other; they are different.

Some wonderful final images as well.

  • "a coyote stalking / a trickle of water, / a wren skipping nail to nail / on the arm of a cactus."


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Hero Cycle in The Crossing

One of the immediate things I noticed while reading the beginning of The Crossing was McCarthy's use of The Hero Cycle. So, I thought it would be interesting to analyze the events of the novel through this lens.

The Call to Adventure: Billy Parham's "call" comes early on in the novel. In the first few pages, Billy wakes in the middle of the night to the cries of wolves. He dresses, careful not to wake his little brother, and goes outside to follow the wolves, to watch them in their graceful circles. Their howling calls Billy. In that moment you can see Billy Parham dedicating himself to the wolf--that he will be intricately connected to these majestic creatures. But Billy's call doesn't end there. A short while later, Billy's father calls him to help trap the she-wolf that is eating members from their herd. This is the final moment of his call. Billy ultimately accepts the call to go out and interact with these animals.

1st Threshold: Billy crosses the border into the world of adventure in three places. One could interpret that his trips with his father are crossing a threshold. He goes out to experience the wild and find the she-wolf. Or, you could interpret the part when Billy goes out alone to track and trap the she-wolf without his father. Finally, the first threshold could be when Billy actually crosses the border into Mexico.

Mentor/Helper/Wise Old Man: Billy visits senor Echols during his journey to trap the she-wolf. Echols has scents that will attract the wolf and acts as almost a mystical helper for Billy. The fact that Echols speaks in Spanish adds to the mysticism. He gives Billy advice, but more than that he helps Billy to understand the nature of the wolf. That the wolf will be inextricable changed once Billy traps it. That to trap the wolf is to end the wolf. But he also knows that Billy will be changed in the process as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sometimes you need to just stop and savor language.

This is one of those times. When we need to just stop and revel in the beauty of literature. Some quotes from McCarthy's The Crossing:

page 31--
"Before him the mountains were blinding white in the sun. They looked new born out of the hand of some improvident god who'd perhaps not even puzzled out a use for them. That kind of new."
page 45--
"He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in the world save that which death has put there."
page 46--
"You catch the snowflake but when you look in your hand you don't have it no more. Maybe you see this dechado. But before you can see it it is gone. If you want to see it you have to see it on its own ground. If you catch it you lose it. And where it goes there is no coming back from. Not even God can bring it back."
Little Prediction:
I think that Billy is going to catch this stinking wolf that they have been tracking and trying to trap since the beginning and then he is going to want to keep the wolf. He will train the wolf to be a pet, domesticate the wolf. But then it really won't be a wolf anymore, will it? He will take the wolf out of the animal. He'll have a pretty wicked pet, but it won't be the same. Just like the snowflake McCarthy talks about. You can look at a snowflake, but once you touch it, once you catch it in the palm of your hand you change the snowflake forever. It cannot be undone and it is no longer a snowflake.

page 46--
"The wolf is made the way the world is made. You cannot touch the world. You cannot hold it in your hand for it is made of breath only."
See what I mean?

page 47--
"He said that the boy should find that place where acts of God and those of man are of a piece. Where they cannot be distinguished."

Thursday, November 5, 2015

McCarthy and the Mundane

Beautiful passage on page 22 of The Crossing:
"He took the deerhide gloves our of the basket and pulled them on and with a trowel he dug a hole in the ground and put the drag in the hole and piled the chain in after it and covered it up again. Then he excavated a shallow place in the ground the shape of the trap springs and all. He tried the trap in it and then dug some more. He put dirt in the screenbox as he dug and hen he laid the trowel by and took a pair of c-clamps from the basket and with them screwed down the springs until the jaws fell open. He held the trap up and eyed the notch in the pan while he backed off one screw and adjusted the trigger. Crouched in the broken shadow with the sun at his back and holding the trap at eyelevel against the morning sky he looked to be truing some older, some subtler instrument. Astrolabe or sextant. Like a man bent at fixing himself someway in the world. Bent on trying by arc or chord the space between his being and the world that was. If there be such a space. If it be knowable. He put his hand under the open jaws and tilted the pan slightly with his thumb."

Couple of ideas here.

McCarthy excels at the complex compound sentence, like Faulkner and Morrison before him. His repetition of the conjunctions makes the sentence go on and on and on.

But at the end the image of a man bent against the shadowy sky, "fixing himself." That image is illuminating. Billy and his father are out setting traps to catch a wolf that is killing members of their herd. This "quest" (more on that later) is completing these men. Billy's father is becoming himself while doing this semi-mundane and pedestrian task--setting traps. But all of a sudden it becomes the most important task in the entire world. Maybe because he is passing knowledge on to his son. Or perhaps because man needs a quest; man needs something to do. Billy sees his father in a much more ancient light. Like he is some renaissance man measuring the universe. And why can't he be?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Speak-House, by Carolina Ebeid

Wonderful new poem today. Well, it was actually published on Linebreak on Oct. 6th, but I am just now getting around to read it. Speak-House, by Carolina Ebeid. Check it out here. I encourage you to go out and read it. A very powerful poem. I want to quote from just one stanza to highlight the beauty of this poem.

"say something about yourself  
: I had a doll named January First
: her eyes were marble blue
: tip her back & they would shut
: like an ode to hinges, openclose
: a backslash ode
: stop/go     goodbye/hello"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fight Club is The Great Gatsby

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE GREAT GATSBY
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

In the afterword of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk states:
"Really, what I was writing was just The Great Gatsby, updated a little. It was 'apostolic' fiction--where a surviving apostle tells the story of his hero. There are two men and a woman. And one man, the hero, is shot to death."
Now, Palahniuk simplifies things a bit. The Great Gatsby is at it's heart a story of a love triangle and in the end the "hero" does indeed get shot to death. The Great Gatsby is about so much more than that, but I get what he is suggesting. I am not the first one to look at these comparisons either. There is a terrific article by Reece Choules entitled, Fight Club vs. The Great Gatsby: Was Palahniuk's Novel a Modern Update which you should check out.
But I do think that it would be interesting to dig into this idea a little further.


First, we could spend some time sussing out who the characters connect to in The Great Gatsby.

Choules states that Tyler is Gatsby, Marla is Daisy, and the narrator could be a sort of Nick Carraway. Then the Fight Clubs and Project Mayhem would be Tom Buchanan since they stop the main characters from getting what they want. This is a fine interpretation. I can see how Tyler could be Gatsby. He wants things--Marla, destruction, but most importantly he wants a world that is different than the current one he live in. Gatsby could be said to share that desire. He wants to live in a world in which Daisy never loved Tom and Gatsby is willing to do everything in his power to create this world. Tyler also does not hold back in his attempts to achieve his dream.

I think you could also see the characters in a different light, with the narrator as Gatsby, Marla is still Daisy, and Tyler Durden is Tom Buchanan. Gatsby gets shot in the end and Tom (essentially) is the one that makes that happen. The narrator is shot at the end of Fight Club and Tyler pushes that event. Marla is the sexual desire of the narrator, even if it is just subconscious. Like Gatsby, the narrator deeply wants Marla. And Tom Buchanan is a definition perfect man-child, just like Tyler.


Of course, these character analyses become muddled when we get to the end of the book and it is revealed that the narrator is Tyler Durden. So they the narrator is both Gatsby and Tom Buchana? Or the narrator is both Gatsby and Nick? See what I mean? Not quite as interesting anymore.

Choules then discusses the themes of both books and I totally agree with his assessment.
"The Great Gatsby was about a vacuum in the soul of society after WWI, or the downside of the American dream and the struggle of the classes; then Fight Club is about the rejection of that dream. In the world Palahniuk creates everyone has become cocooned in the pursuit of perfection. Perfect catalogue houses, impossibly sculptured bodies, designer clothes, rock god status, and fast cars are the dreams on sale, and everyone is told to believe in these."
Choules is absolutely right. The characters in The Great Gatsby are just beginning to understand the problems inherent in the American dream. Which they all become very disillusioned with at the end. The characters in Fight Club outright reject the American dream as many people in society are doing today. 

But on a very simplistic level, I can agree that Fight Club could be seen as an updated Great Gatsby.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fight Club Review

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One wouldn't think that Fight Club would be an overly literary book, but it is. Palahniuk uses the strange, dark world of Fight Club to comment on society.

The narrator can't sleep. He works as a car recall inspector and is faced with gruesome death everyday. He is the one who inspects vehicles and decides whether to prompt a recall on the cars or not. He has a very scientific approach to this--a mathematical formula to decide when to pull the trigger. Because of this torture, the narrator develops insomnia. He begins going to support groups for the human contact. He doesn't have any of the diseases that they rest of the group does, but he pretends. When he cries in the arms of another person he then is able to sleep. Eventually, the narrator meets Tyler Durden, who is everything that he isn't. Tyler is smooth and manly and aggressive and rebellious. Through this interaction with Tyler the narrator helps to create Fight Club which becomes a new way of life for Tyler, the narrator, and a whole generation of men.

I really do not want to spoil anything, but this book is excellent. I have a colleague who says that Fight Club should be required reading for every teenage male, and I tend to agree with him. This book is more about what it means to be a man than anything else. How society has bastardized that idea and modern men stray far away from their primal roots.

I enjoyed Palahniuk's writing style. He uses repetition and short, crisp sentences. After the big reveal you can even go back and see how the surprise is hinted at all the way through the book because of the writing style. Now that takes skill and a really good editor to accomplish.

I don't know if I will read anymore books from Palahniuk. I have heard that this is pretty much his pinnacle and wonder if they would really be worth my time. But maybe. This book certainly was fueled many blog posts for me.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On the Popularity of Poems

It fascinates me to see what students decide to do when given choice. Of course, you have to stand back and allow them to make those choices...and get the subsequent consequences of those choices. You try to help them to see the best course of action, but it is always better to let these growing people ultimately make those decisions for themselves.

Thus we come to Poetry Response #2, which was just due this last weekend for my AP Lit students. I was very surprised to see so many people choose Margaret Atwood's tiny poem, You Fit Into Me--just four lines of poetry. The jaded teacher in me wants to analyze this and say my students were just being lazy and choosing the shortest poem. Or maybe they chose it because I had told them that it didn't get chosen very often. Or maybe they all got together and decided to do the same poem. Who really knows?

I find very short poems very difficult to analyze though. I hope my students experienced that too, hopefully not to their detriment. When you are analyzing it is better to have more content to work with. I don't know if I would have chosen a four line poem just because of the difficulty inherent in filling an entire page of analysis. I don't know if I would have had enough to discuss. The brevity makes this poem difficult.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fight Club is Oedipus Rex

Super interesting article about how Fight Club is really just a retelling of Oedipus Rex. I won't go into all of the details on this one like I did with Marla Singer Doesn't Exist. But you can read the article for yourself here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Marla Doesn't Exist

While I read Fight Club, and more so while I was viewing the film, I kept thinking that something was up with Marla Singer. Her character just seemed strange to me. After, I did some research and I am not the only person to have these ideas. There are many people who subscribe to the theory that Marla Singer does not exist! You can even read another article, by Rob Conery, which you can read here, and I will be quoting and paraphrasing heavily from Conery's article. But let me break it down for you...


The Marla Singer Didn't Exist Theory

Our narrator is messed up, there is no doubt about that. He is having a difficult time sleeping and his job is such that he moves all around the "country staring at death and destruction." Eventually that has to have some sort of effect on a guy. Because of all this stress, our narrator creates Tyler Durden, another side of himself--a split personality if you will. Tyler represents the animalistic, destructive side of our narrator. But Tyler created another split personality earlier on in the story, before he created Tyler, he created Marla. Marla could represent the narrator's remorse, his guilt, his lies. This first split personality was the result of his work and lack of sleep. How all the death and destruction first affected him. First he created a persona who feels and wants to deal with her emotions and her own mortality. I find it very interesting that the narrator's first persona is a female. But when that persona doesn't work, the narrator creates a new persona that just wants to embrace all of the destruction and even expand it.

So, enter Marla Singer. The narrator first "meets" Marla at a support group for testicular cancer. I'm pretty sure that if Marla was real she would not have testes and probably would be seen as strange attending a support group for testicular cancer. I can't say for sure because I haven't ever attended a support group like this, maybe they just welcome everyone regardless, but Marla should probably be at a different cancer support group. Then she is found smoking through the entirety of the meeting. Fight Club was published in 1996 and if I remember correctly, most states were passing strict no smoking laws during that time. Growing up in the 90's I don't remember people being allowed to smoke inside buildings unless it was a bar or bowling alley. Maybe people smoke at support groups like this, but if I were there I would at least say something, or move to the other side of the room so I would not have to breath in her smoke. But no one seems to notice. She just smokes and no one says anything, not even the narrator. Maybe because she isn't really there? And if Marla Singer didn't actually exist I think that makes the part where the narrator goes to hug her at the meeting and confront her all the more interesting. If she isn't there then he is embracing and arguing with himself. 

After the testicular cancer meeting, the narrator chases Marla out into the street arguing with her. She crosses the street several times in the midst of heavy traffic and walks into a laundromat and steals some cloths. In both instances no one seems to notice. The cars don't honk at her, she isn't hit by them. No one yells, "thief!" when she steals the clothing. Maybe because she isn't really doing those things. You can really see this in the film. Fincher did a wonderful job in this scene and it is probably one of the biggest pieces of evidence for this theory.

What becomes very interesting and could spark whole essays about this book, is the fact that Marla and Tyler copulate in the book. I don't want to go into details, but I believe that suggests something interesting about our narrator.

Once the narrator falls deeply into the Tyler persona, Marla moves out of the lime light. The narrator has chosen to pursue the animalistic side of himself and he doesn't need the grieve and guilt side anymore. He doesn't want to feel those emotions, he wants to feel pain. So, Marla isn't apparent for many chapters, but she is still there, waiting in the corners of the narrators mind.

One more clue that really convinced me was the fact that Marla and Tyler can't be together in the kitchen scene. After Tyler copulates with Marla, they both come down to speak with the narrator in the kitchen, but they never come down together. The book even takes a moment to explain that Tyler cannot be in the kitchen when Marla is there and vice versa. I believe that is because they are both persona's in the narrator's head and he can't have more than one persona at a time occupying his mind.

Eventually, the narrator figures it out. That Tyler isn't real and he begins to try to bring the whole thing down. Tyler has set it up so that the narrator will be unable to do it, he even has instructed the Project Mayhem lackeys to harm the narrator if he tries to stop them. And who comes to his rescue, when his other persona isn't working out anymore? Marla Singer. His guilt and remorse returns to hold his hand and help him through the final moments of his life. In the film she holds his hand while they watch the destruction of another building in the distance. Giving him the comfort that Tyler was unable to.


Marla isn't an animal and she cannot compete with Tyler and so she just fades into the background. But Marla knows that the narrator cannot embrace the animal forever. He is using the animalistic persona to mask his feelings instead of dealing with them. And when he is finally ready to deal with his emotions, once Tyler is gone, she reappears. Unfortunately, the narrator never actually does deal with his emotions, with troubling things he has seen and done in his life. Both of his made-up persona's have failed him. He decides that all he can do is take his own life.

Now, there are plenty of things that could refute this idea, but that is why it is a theory and not fact. The biggest thing to remember is that Fight Club is an incredibly fun book to think about.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coming Soon 3--I Changed My Mind

I can do that right?

So, I will save James Joyce for another day. It has been a long time since I have read McCarthy. I think I am going to enjoy this one immensely. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fight Club ch. 20

Just a short post this time. I thought Palahniuk made some interesting choices in chapter twenty. 

In Chapter twenty, the narrator goes out on a homework assignment for Project Mayhem--Tyler has asked his groupies to bring him twelve driver's licenses to prove that they had made twelve human sacrifices. The narrator targets a Korner Mart (convenience store) employee named Raymond Hessel. He points the gun at Raymond's face and starts rummaging through his pockets. 

I like this scene for two reasons: first, the narrator lets Raymond go. He doesn't kill Raymond like I assume Tyler has instructed him to. The narrator looks through Raymond's wallet and discovers little details about him from the contents--a library card and a college student ID. He asks Raymond why he isn't going to school anymore? What he was studying? What he wanted to be when he grew up? They he lets Raymond go. The narrator tells Raymond that he will be watching him and if Raymond doesn't get back into school and begin working towards being a veterinarian (like he dreamed), then he will come and kill him. I love this. I love that the narrator decides that this young man needs this in his life. All he needs is a little push to get back into the right path. Which is very interesting because the narrator has rejected that same path. He walked what he is asking Raymond to walk and it didn't bring him any fulfillment. At the end, the narrator decided that it was all a lie and he really had nothing in his life; nothing made him happy. And yet, he pushes Raymond to seek after this dream. I love the last couple of lines...
"Now, I'm going to walk away so don't turn around."This is what Tyler wants me to do."These are Tyler's words coming out of my mouth."I am Tyler's mouth."I am Tyler's hands."Everybody in Project Mayhem is part of Tyler Durden, and vice versa."Raymond K. K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you've ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your entire life."
I'm sure that meal was the best he's every tasted.
They add Tyler Durden to this scene in the movie, which is an interesting choice.
The second thing that I really like about this chapter is the use of the second person. I usually don't like it when authors use "you" in their writing because it is so difficult to get right. Palahniuk gets it right in this chapter. You can feel the tension because this is happening to you
"You gave me your wallet like I asked.
"Your name was Raymond K. Hessel on your driver's license. You live at 1320 SE Benning, apartment A.
[...]
"Raymond K. K. K. K. K. K. Hessel, I was talking to you."
The use of you draws the reader in and after a while you really get into the scene. At the end when you are let go, you can breath again.  Because you realize that you've been holding your breath the entire time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fight Club and the Man-Child

My mind keeps going back to my chapter 6 read along of Fight Club, and how Palahniuk talked about a generation of men raised by women. How men don't know how to be men anymore. Those thoughts reminded me of several articles (even a book) written about this very subject; the foremost being an article by Kay S. Hymowitz entitled Where Have the Good Men Gone, published in 2011 in the Wall Street Journal.

Essentially, Hymowitz details the decline of the modern American male. She discusses the societal phenomenon wherein men become stuck in this limbo--pre-adulthood. These "pre-adult" men "talk about Star Wars like it's not a movie made for people half their age; a guy's idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his band mates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends." They wait longer periods of time before starting a career, getting married, settling down, and having children. And this problem is perpetuated by our society. Mom and Dad say, "why not, he can move into the basement." "Getting a job right now is tough." Hymowitz doesn't necessarily blame these "pre-adult" men, but more points the finger at American society. Although, I would make sure these "men" do understand that this problem isn't out of their control--they could make the choices to become responsible...anyway.


I wonder if Palahniuk is concerned about this same thing. Let's go back to chapter 6 and look at a passage one more time:
   "My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what?
     "My dad didn't know.
     "When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn't know, so he said, get married.
     "I'm a thirty-year-old boy, and I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer I need."
Sure sounds like the same thing that Hymowitz is talking about. The narrator drags himself through the milestones of life, not quite sure what should be next. He has a job, a nice apartment, beautiful furniture, and a top-of-the-line car. But he isn't happy; in fact, the narrator is miserable--he can't sleep, he doesn't seem to have friends, he drunkenly spins through life. He consults with his "father," but even then he doesn't get any certainty. There used to be a set plan and now that plan has been thrown out the window and set on fire. Men (and especially the narrator in Fight Club) don't know where to turn, where to go, what's next.


The narrator creates Tyler as his new father-figure, but Tyler is part of this problem. Tyler is the epitome of the "pre-adult." Tyler is the frat boy with ideas of anarchy. Tyler doesn't have a career, he has a series of jobs. Tyler squats in an abandoned house in a shifty part of town. He cuts in scenes of pornography into family movies because he thinks its funny. He drinks and fights and plans to shake the world up. But does Tyler contribute anything to society? I would argue that he doesn't. "Pre-adult" men don't contribute, they just take.

Fight club, the group of "pre-adult" men who gather in the basement of a bar to smash each other's faces in, is a definition perfect example of what Hymowitz is talking about. I like to think that Palahniuk is writing this as a rejection of the idea of the man-child. He creates a narrator that simply cannot do the work of an adult. Because of his failure, the narrator reverts back to this man-child ideal and ruins his own life and the life of those around him. For a while he is happy, but he continually has to find more extreme things to occupy his time. This all leads to his eventual suicide. He doesn't like what he has become. The man-child destroys the narrator.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fight Club ch. 6 Read Along

Still really enjoying this book. Such a delight to re-read. I look forward into jaunt into this world each evening. 

My thoughts for this read along are in no particular order:
  • "I did this to myself." 
    • More on lines like this later.
  • "Maybe at lunch, the waiter comes to your table and the waiter has the two black eyes of a giant panda from fight club last weekend when you saw him get his head pinched between the concrete floor and the knee of a two-hundred pound stock boy who kept slamming a fist into the bridge of the waiter's nose again and again in flat hard packing sounds you could hear over all the yelling until the waiter caught enough breath and sprayed blood to say, stop."
    • Now this is a sentence. While some people may slap the hand of people who write sentences like this, I really love them. Thus why I am drawn to authors like Faulkner, Joyce, McCarthy, and now I guess Palahniuk. You can see this happening though. The description is simple and beautiful.
  • "Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer." and "Maybe self-destruction is the answer."
    • But between those two lines is this one, "Tyler never knew his father." Now this idea comes up several more times in this chapter, but we are beginning to see this theme formulate throughout the novel. Now-a-days we have a lot of young men being raised without a male figure to look up to, to learn from. Who is teaching these men to shave, to fix things, to fight, to take a punch, to throw the ball. I don't think that I am the best person to answer these questions as I am not the manliest of men (I mean I read and discuss literature for a living--nothing better than curling up with a good book), but there is something to be said about the modern man and what we have devolved into. Maybe this is why Mr. Warren says that every young man should be required to read Fight Club.
  • Then we get the famous rules of Fight Club that every knows from the movie.
  • "What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women."
    • Nothing inherently wrong with being raised by a woman. Many great men have been raised by women. But like I said before, do we lose something by not having a male figure to look up to?
  • Then Palahniuk talks about football on television and it occurs to me that we are used to watching other men doing manly things rather than doing manly things ourselves. He has this great line, not entirely appropriate, but the point is made: "After you've been to fight club, watching football on television is watching pornography when you could be having sex." The point is this...that we watch people being manly and never get out there and do man things for ourselves. We don't hunt for our own food. Heck, I hate working in the yard. Building my shed in the backyard was probably one of the worst experiences of my life, I hated it. But that is what a man would do, right? He would get up and build something out of wood, build it to last.
  • "The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men."
  • "I'm a thirty-year-old boy, and I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer I need."
    • Another good point to my whole argument about men. The narrator talks about walking through his life, just jumping through the hoops. Graduation high school because that is what is expected of you. Going to college to get a degree. Upon graduating, what comes next? Get a job. Get married. Have children. Work until you can retire. Our lives are scripted these days. Everyone follows the same formula. But are we really happy? Living our lives which are the copies of every other life, are we really happy? Palahniuk would say no, I think. And what will break the mold? Being a man.
  • "You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club."
  • "Fight club isn't about words."
  • "Sometimes, Tyler speaks for me."
    • Again, hints at things that will come later.

I agree with all of this to a point though. Palahniuk is trying to make the point that we are all the same and that men are no longer men. But if we all attending fight club and "become" men, then don't we have the same problem again? The meathead cliche of men is one I actively reject, and I spent a lot of time trying to dispel when I used to teach All Boys English. Men are just a varied as any other group of people and I believe that is a good thing. Being a man can mean so many different things. I especially like the renaissance man ideal--a man that is strong, smart, artistic, and sensitive. Hey Palahniuk, how about a fight club of the mind?


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fight Club ch. 2

Introduced to Marla Singer in chapter two and Palahniuk shows his description chops in this chapter.

"Short matte black hair, big eyes the way they are in Japanese animation, skim milk thin, buttermilk sallow in her dress with a wallpaper pattern of dark roses, this woman was also in my  tuberculosis support group Friday night. She was in my melanoma round table Wednesday night. Monday night she was in my Firm Believers leukemia rap group. The part down the center of her hair is a crooked lightning bolt of white scalp."

"Skim milk thin" and "buttermilk sallow" are just the most awesome of descriptions. I don't think she is supposed to come across a beautiful or anything. Maybe androgynous? Her features don't scream gorgeous; more like sickly

And she seems to be smoking the entire time the narrator is watching her in this scene. I find that interesting and would like to come back to it later.

The other thing I would like to revisit in a future blog post is the fact that the narrator is at a support group for men who suffer from testicular cancer. And the group is called Remaining Men Together. I find it very ironic. Plus Marla is there.

Like I said, I want to circle back around to this one, but I find it very interesting.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Drowned, by Al Maginnes

Another beautiful poem this week from Linebreak, The Drowned, by Al Maginnes. It also includes a wonderful reading of the poem by Penelope Pelizzon.

The Drowned
by Al Maginnes

                              Already the first of the year has entered
                                        the calm prayer of the lake and become
                              a part of it, his last essential song trapped
                                        forever below the surface, blued syllables
               (5)          slipped from the vessel of his body.
                                        They remain though the rest of him was
                              raised, pale, a creature of half-land, half-water.
                                        Spring and summer claim their share
                              of drunken boaters, careless fishermen.
               (10)                  But rarely this early in the year, this close
                              to shore. I know that bend of water, how shallow
                                        it stands close to the bank. Only
                              the very drunk or unlucky, only one determined
                                        not to rise would slide under and stay.
               (15)        When I was fourteen, a minister who professed
                                        a home-brewed faith of his own sent
                              blurred photos of himself walking on water
                                        to a newspaper. When a covey
                              of reporters came to see the feat repeated,
               (20)                  the minister announced he could not
                              perform miracles in the face of such doubt.
                                        He left the brown river untrod, returned
                              to his congregation whose prayers would
                                        rise like floodwaters, unstopped by doubt.
               (25)         Deep in the gummy mud that is the lake's floor,
                                        the last words of the drowned burrow
                              deeper than any prayers can reach, preserved
                                        in water where no miracles come to pass.


I just want to focus on the first sentence of this poem, which spans several poetic lines. 

"Already the first of the year has entered / the calm prayer of the lake and become / a part of it, his last essential song trapped / forever below the surface, blued syllables / slipped from the vessel of his body."

Maginnes has some interesting language here--interesting use of pronouns. 

In the beginning we have the "first of the year" entering "the calm prayer of the lake." So the actor is the "first of the year," the action is entering. And what is the "first of the year" entering? "[T]he calm prayer of the lake." It isn't entering the lake, it is entering a prayer. 

Then the "first of the year" "become[s] part of it." What is it? The lake? The calm prayer? The calm prayer of the lake? I think the answer is yes. Can you really separate a lake from it's calm prayer?

Then Maginnes uses the male pronoun--"his." As in "his last essential song trapped / forever below the surface." I am assuming that the his refers back to the "first of the year" since that is our character. The first of the year is a he?

Well, regardless, it is a beautiful, interesting line of poetry.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: The Dinosaur Lords

The Dinosaur Lords (The Dinosaur Lords, #1)The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Many people have talked about this book by saying that it is a cross between A Game of Thrones and Jurassic Park, which could not be further from the truth.

The Dinosaur Lords follows four protagonists in different parts of this world. One is the daughter of the Emperor of the land, a daughter who doesn't always agree with her father, or the way the empire is run. The second is the Princesses lover, who is the darling of the empire--a poet, leader of a religious order of dinosaur knights, and one of the most brilliant military commanders of his time. He is pushed by an unflinching sense of duty to the empire. Then we have Rob and Karyl whose story is really one because they are so intertwined. These two are charged with helping a small defenseless town prepare for raids from a much larger, aggressive kingdom. Giving that part a very similar vibe to the film Seven Samurai.

There were parts of this book that I liked. There were other parts that I didn't really care for, thus why I only gave the book a three star rating.

Milan's world building is interesting. I liked this world and especially the little bits of world info at the beginning of each chapter. It seems to me that people from our world, many ages ago, were transported to this new world. They brought some things with them--cats, ferrets, horses...etc.--but they went to a world where dinosaurs were not whipped out. This was extremely interesting to me. I would love to read a book about that--where the characters are figuring out how to get to this new planet with dinosaurs.

I enjoyed the Rob and Karyl storyline. It was the most interesting to me. I liked that it was interspersed throughout all of the chapters. I did enjoy Melodia's plot towards the end. There were parts of the book where she was a snore-fest. Jaume's plot was the least interesting to me. I just did not care about him.

There are some awesome battle scenes in this book. Milan is really great a writing battle so it is easy to follow and so the reader can sense the importance of what is happening. Milan excels here where George R. R. Martin has failed in the past--A Clash of Kings I'm looking at you. And Milan is certainly an accomplished writer. He has some wonderful sentences and many of the descriptions are just gorgeous. You feel like you can see these things unfolding in front of you.

But, I felt like this story could have happened anywhere. The dinosaurs could have been horses just as easily and the story would have been the same. And the dinosaurs didn't even make this novel. The story was unimpressive and the dinosaurs didn't make up for that. It was just an average story that had some dinosaurs in it. The problem I have with this is that there was sooo much hype for this book. People were raving, "Why hasn't someone thought up this before?" But I don't know that Milan did all he could this idea. This book was an instant buy for me when I read the description and it was just an average fantasy novel, at best.

I had a difficult time getting into this book as well. The first couple chapters are confusing and a hard entry point--beautifully written, but hard to get into this world. It's as if Milan doesn't want you to feel welcomed until after the battle in the first couple of chapters is over. And I don't know why an author would want that to happen to his readers. I would think that some people would put the book down because of the difficult entry point in this book.

Now, let's get back to the comparison that I noted at the beginning. This book is not a cross between A Game of Thrones and Jurassic Park. The intrigue is no where near A Game of Thrones. The characters are not as fleshed out. The dinosaurs aren't nearly as interesting as those in Jurassic Park. And this is the one that gets me the most: this isn't as good a book as either of those. Now, I love George R. R. Martin as an author. I think he has done some awesome things with his Song of Ice and Fire series. But to be not as good as Jurassic Park? I mean I like Michael Crichton, but he is no Martin. Jurassic Park, while not the best book, is better than this. Go read A Game of Thrones or Jurassic Park instead!

I don't know if I will be picking up the second novel. This one ended in a way that certainly points towards a sequel. I'm assuming that these books will eventually be turned into a movie or maybe a television series. I think they would totally work in that venue. Seeing dinosaurs clash in jousting tourneys would certainly be something to behold on the screen. I would probably tune in. But as a book, it just doesn't do enough to get more than an average rating.

View all my reviews

Fight Club ch. 1




Palahniuk has a very interesting style, one that gets tiresome quickly in his other novels, I hear. It seems to work here though. He repeats lines. The emphasis increasing throughout the chapter. "Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth [...]" is the first one. We see this idea, or some iteration of this idea repeated throughout this first chapter. We are constantly reminded that the narrator has the barrel of a gun in his mouth. And really, what a way to start a book. Not exactly with a bang, but pretty close.

The second thing that keeps getting repeated is the fact that the building is wired and will explode in ten minutes. The narrator has set this whole thing up and acts like a count down, reminding us over and over that the building is going to blow.

These two repetitions provide tension to this scene. Palahniuk wants the reader to feel stressed right as they start this novel. He wants to stress to be overwhelming. You have two immediate problems with no quick solution--the barrel of a gun in the mouth of the protagonist, while he is in a building that is set to explode in ten minutes.

The two best lines:

"I tongue the barrel into my cheek and say, Tyler, you're thinking of vampires."

"With a gun stuck in your mouth and the barrel of the gun between your teeth, you can only talk in vowels." Not exactly like the animated GIF above, but pretty close.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

John Green at Central Library in Indiana

I like John Green as a person. I think that becomes apparent very quickly since with only nineteen posts in this blog I have now discussed something John Green has said twice. I am a consumer of John Green's work. I love his work on Youtube (especially Crash Course: Literature). I have read one of his novels--The Fault in Our Stars--and while I didn't gush over that novel like some people did, I did appreciate the book that Green had produced. Because, you see, The Fault in Our Stars was not written for me. It was written for those high school students who struggle and want to know that they are not alone in the world. For those students that I had in Read 180, who struggled to know whether or not they really enjoyed reading, and upon completing Green's novel were able to say, "Yes. Yes, I do like these book things." This novel is for those people who need to understand what is inside of themselves. Now, I need to feel and know those things too, but Green wasn't the author that helped me discover those things.

Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent a little bit. Let's talk about this speech that I have linked. John Green delivers a wonderful speech at the Central Library in Indiana. High school students are in attendance, both from Indiana and from Germany (through a video conference).  He speaks about Kurt Vonnegut, whom I have never read before, but now have placed Slaughterhouse-Five on my someday list. But in the midst of all this talk about Vonnegut and Indiana, Green discusses some very poignant things about why we read. Why we study and enjoy literature. 

In my profession, I have to field this question often, both from students and from adult friends who scoff at my chosen profession. They ask me why I teach literature, or why we need to read literature, or why I chose to become an English teacher when I could very easily do something else--something that will earn me quite a bit more money. And I think John Green did a better job here at articulating what I wish I could say than I ever could. So, I will list some of the things that Green said that stood out to me:
  • Green talked about traveling to a college when he was in high school to listen to Vonnegut speak. I have had similar experiences, granted, not while I was in high school, but later when I was in college. My question is, do high schoolers still travel to listen to authors? And if they don't, why not?
  • "We are incredibly ambitious, and hopeful, and stupid."
  • "Humans got places because the light is on."
  • "Human socials orders are always flawed."
  • "Stories can wake us up from our stupor and help us make thoughtful conscious decisions."
  • Reading makes us feel understood and un-alone. Reading helps us to see the world outside of ourselves and inside ourselves.
  • "Stories show us that the pain inside us is, in fact, human-ness."
  • "Authors light up the world for us."
  • We make (and consume) art to experience becoming. To find out what is inside of us.
  • "Stories can make life not only bearable, but better.
  • Green pointed out that many people don't like The Catcher in the Rye because they feel that Holden Caulfield is a whiney, bratty, liar. But then John Green said that we are all Holden Caulfield because we all act like that sometimes--especially teenagers.
Those are the ideas that stood out to me, and you really should do yourself the favor of sitting down and watching this talk in one sitting because Green says many other wonderful things and does a better job than I could. But the words ring true for me.

I read literature to understand what it means to be human, to understand that I am not alone in the world. Other people have experienced what I am experiencing. I teach literature so my students will also gain these understandings. And I feel that classical literature does a better job of helping readers understand human-ness than popular literature. I did not learn very much about life from Harry Potter, but I have learned something of life from Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, King Lear, Jane Eyre, Kurtz, and Okonkwo. I have learned so much from reading, and I can't think of a better group of teachers.