Thursday, April 28, 2016

Character Names in Song of Solomon

After reading chapter one, it was apparent to me that the names in Morrison's Song of Solomon are important. I will even go so far as to say that I believe that they will be symbolic. 

This family, the Dead family, has some interesting naming conventions for their children. The male children are named Macon Dead, hence we would have Macon Dead the first, Macon Dead Jr., Macon Dead the on and so forth. Their last name is interesting, supposedly a mistake during the Civil War. But it becomes even more intriguing when girls are born into the family. The father then takes a pin and pierces a page in the bible, then finds the name that is closest to the pin, and names their daughter that. This system has lead to some very interesting names. All of the women in the novel, thus far, have had biblical names--including Ruth, Macon's wife.

Because I think these names are going to become a huge factor in the novel, I will spend some time analyzing each.

Pilate Dead: Macon's sister's name alludes to Pontius Pilate in the Bible. Pilate was the Roman leader of Jerusalem and interrogated Christ when the Savior was brought before him. Pilate washed his hands of the matter of Christ and allowed the Jews to crucify him. Even Dante, in The Inferno, is ambivalent as to Pilate. He wasn't necessarily evil or wicked, but he certainly didn't do any favors for Christ.

Reba/Rebecca: Pilate's daughter. This name comes from Genesis. Rebecca was Isaac's wife. She helped her son Jacob to gain the birthright blessing from Isaac.

Hagar: Hagar is Reba's daughter in the novel. In the bible, Hagar was Sarah's handmade. Sarah had her husband, Abraham sleep with Hagar and she gave birth to Ishmael--the progenitor to the Arabic nations.

Ruth Dead: Ruth is Milkman's mother. I never really cared for the story of Ruth very much. Never saw much symbolism or importance in it. But I guess it could be important to note that Ruth gave birth to the grandfather of King David in the bible.

Magdalena Dead: In the novel they always address her as Magdalena called Lena. This is Ruth's eldest daughter and alludes to Mary Magdalene the woman who was the first to witness Christ's resurrection.

First Corinthians Dead: Now this name is the oddest. This child isn't named after a figure in the bible, but a book in the bible. First Corinthians is Ruth's second daughter, and her name alludes to the book written by Paul.

I did some research to help with this information. I knew that these names would have significance, and I understood some of them, but then I looked up the others. This resource was a great help:

At the end of the article, they mention that the men in the novel have more "physical names." I might go as far as to say that the men in the novel have more mundane names.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Song of Solomon: Macon Dead

I just started Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison. I am on page 10; my Kindle says that I have 11 hours and 14 minutes left in the book. This is my first book from Morrison. I've heard good things, heard that she has a lot in common with Faulkner and McCarthy. So, I was happy to discover this description of Macon Dead.

"Solid, rumbling, likely to erupt without prior notice, Macon kept each member of his family awkward with fear. His hatred of his wife glittered and sparked in every word he spoke to her. The disappointment he felt in his daughters sifted down on them like ash, dulling their buttery complexions and chocking the lilt out of what should have been girlish voices. Under the frozen heat of his glance they tripped over doorsills and dropped the salt cellar into the yolks of their poached eggs. The way he mangled their grace, wit, and self-esteem was the single excitement of their days. Without the tension and drama he ignited, they might not have known what to do with themselves. In his absence his daughters bent their necks over blood-red squares of velvet and waited eagerly for any hint of him, and his wife, Ruth, began her days stunned into stillness by her husband's contempt and ended them wholly animated by it."

It is always reassuring to be reading a new book and find those passages which assure you that you are dealing with a master writer. I love so much of what is going on in his quote. You get an absolutely perfect description of this man; you can visualize him. You understand his personality. This is not a soft man, not a tender man. Macon Dead is harsh and controlling. The imagery of his hatred glittering and sparking and finally sifting down on his daughters like ash is evocative. It describes the idea perfectly. Then Morrison adds in some sarcasm, "Without the tension and drama he ignited, they might not have known what to do with themselves." I am confident that these young women would have been perfectly fine without their father lording over them. They would have found something to occupy their time. But this helps the reader to understand the control and Macon Dead has over his family. They need his permission to do things. They remain beholden to his demands.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was brilliant fun. Absolutely loved the ride. I enjoyed the The Lies of Locke Lamora, but I feel like Lynch really hit his stride in this book. I enjoyed the plot of Red Seas so much more than Lies. The cause of that enjoyment stems from one word--pirates! I never knew that I loved pirates and pirate stories. This book opened my eyes and now I am searching for more books that will give me a similar feel.

The characters were fleshed out well. I loved Zamira and her first mate. Almost every character on the ship was lovable and after a while I felt like I knew them--like I was part of the crew. The antagonists felt sufficiently malicious. They were doing things for their own gain and I hated them for it.

At times, the tension was thick and I couldn't stop reading because I had to see how ol' Locke and Jean would get out of this one. But then there were times when the tension wasn't heavy enough. The second pirate battle felt like that. Like Lynch dropped a Deus Ex Machina so we could just move on. I was expecting that fight to be much bigger than it was. Although the results of that battle were far reaching and a major difficulty for the characters.

Now, this is a fantasy books and while I love me a good book with a map, sometimes fantasy authors are not the most beautiful writers. Jordan cannot turn a phrase like James Joyce or William Faulkner, and some readers would say that that isn't the point to the fantasy genre. But, I'm a bit of a book snob. One has to be when you teach AP Literature and Composition as long as I have--when you are surrounded by the best writers our world has to offer. But I have to admit, Lynch is a great writer. I found myself, on more than one occasion, highlighting lines because they were beautifully written. We need more fantasy authors like this. More that can tell a good, riveting story (about pirates) and give us beautiful sentences that leave the reader thinking. For example: "It was a red moment, all the world from sea to sky the color of a darkening rose petal, of a drop of blood not yet dry." Holy crap! This sentence! This! Such a perfect, beautiful image.

I most certainly will be reading The Republic of Thieves, but not right away. It is such a rare occurrence to find an author like this. I want to savor these books.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Fight by Kaveh Akbar

The Fight
by Kaveh Akbar

This should make me more worried than it does—you undressing
soft as a horse’s cheek, steaming like a stomach

filled with hot coals. When I move, I move penitent
as a viper, unbeholden to the laws of tact. I’m not sure

whose bottom lip is more pitiful—mine chewed nearly through
or yours quivering like a wasp. You’ve stepped

into speechlessness, though for so many years you carefully
collected languages. The word for fear in lapsed-Catholic:

Christ-haunted. The word for god in newly-in-love: yes.
How far can a mind wander before it’s simply gone? There’s rain

enough outside to soothe our lizard brains, which know
there are few predators in a storm. Impatience helps itself

to our rage. On the bed we cling to anger like sinking balloons trying
desperately to hold in air. I sigh. You wince. Despite our best efforts, mortality

marches us toward a cease-fire (at any moment, we could end up
crushed by a comet or poisoned alone in a castle). Dutifully

we move through the stations of contrition—your hand my belly,
my nose your scalp—until finally apologies spill

sticky out our mouths. We were both at fault. Our wounds
were superficial. We will work harder. Leaning over, you kiss my ear

and turn off the lamp on the nightstand, not noticing the big vase
where earlier, distracted, I’d dropped in a fistful of poppies petals-first.

I find myself attracted to the sounds in this poem more than anything. The alliteration and the assonance and the diction all work together so wonderfully. The final line "I'd dropped in a fistful of poppies petals-first." is difficult to read, but beautiful to the ear. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Poetry Response: to the fig tree on 9th and christian, by Ross Gay

We have a wonderful librarian at Pomona. She is always looking out for us. Sometimes, I will walk into my classroom and there will be a little stack of books on my chair with a post-it on them. Or I will find a new book tucked into my mailbox at the school. I often don't have time for whatever marvel of book-writing she has placed within my care, but sometimes...sometimes...

That brings me to the poetry of Ross Gay. A few weeks ago I found two new collections of poetry on my chair; one of them was catalog of unabashed gratitude, by Ross Gay. Today I read three poems from the collection and I have to say, I am now a fan. So, I will probably be bringing you several poetry responses over poems in this collection.

to the fig tree on 9th and christian
by Ross Gay

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a 
broom beneath 
which you are now
to the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the
silk of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can
help me
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a 
constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
yellow-jackets sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
in there
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn't understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me 
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and call
baby, c'mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sunbaked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else's
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other's hands
on Christian st.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.

This! THIS! This huge poem is absolutely beautiful. Gay is trying to express to his readers that simple things, something as simple as a fig, or a fig tree, can be all we need to bring people together. I believe that he accomplishes this wonderfully.

The poem opens with "Tumbling through the / city in my / mind without once / looking up", from my point of view, I believe that Gay is throwing us into this dream world. He knows that this image of people feeding each other from a fig tree in the middle of the city is a fantasy, and I would argue that we as a reader understand that it is a fantasy as well. But, what a fantasy, right? If only things like this happened in real life. Our world would be a better place. Because, like I mentioned earlier, sometimes it just takes something very simple to bring people together. Working together, eating together, sharing in an experience; this is what the people in this poem are doing--sharing in an experience. One that immediately makes every person involved powerful and vulnerable and willing to engage with their fellow man.

Gay's poetic structure and diction is very simplistic, but I think, even that, adds to the overall effect of the poem. He could have summarized this event in a much shorter structure--longer lines, spread out across the page. And he could have chosen larger words--I haven't read much, but I assume he knows and uses a ton of words. But Gay choses to keep it simple, just like his message in the story of the poem. The simplistic nature of this poem is keeping in theme with the story that is happening to the speaker. Gay is hoping that his poem will have an effect on his reader, a very similar effect as the one discussed in the previous paragraph.

I enjoyed this poem thoroughly. The lack of capitalization, punctuation--so you have the read the whole thing in a single breath--it all adds to the enjoyment of a terrific poem.