Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Bloodline (Star Wars)Bloodline by Claudia Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been on a Star Wars kick lately, consuming everything new in the Star Wars universe--the new movies, the Rebels cartoon, the new comic books. So, I decided that I would give another Star Wars novel a try. I have problems with Chuck Wendig as an author, but this one had pretty good reviews. Overall, this was a very fun read.

People around me are hailing Wonder Woman as the must-see movie of the summer. Not just because it is good, but because it is meaningful. They say that this movie is so important because finally, we have a strong female lead in a superhero movie. I would echo that about this book. Going in I was skeptical about how much I would like a novel focused on Princess Leia, but it was a really fun romp. Yes, there are parts where we are detailing the political process within the Republic Senate, but Leia is a very engaging character with a wide range of emotions. I learned to respect her more and really grew to enjoy her. So much so that I started to not care as much about the other characters in the book and would rush through their parts.

Like I say in most of my reviews, Gray is no Faulkner. The write was fine for a fast food novel, but this doesn't have the type of deep, substantial, beautiful prose that is going to satisfy a literature lover like me. The book has a job, tell a story, and it just does its job without being overly flashy. It's fine.

I did enjoy the connections this novel made between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. I don't want to go into too much detail, but it did fill in some plot holes and answered some questions that I had after viewing TFA. I thought this book did an admiral job in that respect.

This book features characters that you know and love, Leia, C3P0, Han Solo. But also introduces you to some wonderful new characters. My favorite being the brash young pilot: Joph Seastriker. I mean come on, that is a Star Wars name if I have every heard one. Seastriker!? Sounds like Skywalker to me. And instantly I knew this character would be similar, a dreamy kid looking to get into the action, to go on adventures.

There is a lot to enjoy here, thus why I gave it four stars. I like it. I had fun reading it. I don't know if I will seek out more novels in the new Star Wars universe, but it was enjoyable to continue to hang out in this universe.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most reviews of books begin with a brief discussion of the plot. This proves difficult for The Sound and the Fury because it doesn't really have a plot. Yes, there is a story that is going on within the pages of this novel, but the interesting thing here is that the story is happening in the background. The major plot points don't actually happen within the pages of these chapters. These events are mentioned and hinted at through the four different points of view, but are not what we, as the reader, are primarily concerned with.

What then, you ask, are we supposed to be concerned with? And I believe that Faulkner wants us to consider point of view and how limiting it is. Each chapter of The Sound and the Fury is an exploration of a different point of view and as we read this novel we experience this world through four very different sets of eyes. Each chapter the reader has to spend time reacquainting themselves with the world and getting settled in. Each chapter we learn something different about human nature and how we look at the world around us.

This is why this novel is heralded as a masterpiece. Faulkner is playing with the convention of story to show us something about ourselves. It certainly is a radical idea and one that probably turns a lot of readers off to this novel. But the struggle is worth it, people. This book has endured for a reason and totally worth your time. I absolutely loved it and it rekindled my love for Faulkner and desire to read more of this master.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Sound and the Fury: Helpful Tips

The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner, is a very difficult book. But don't let that detract you. It is worth the effort to read and study. In my own study of this novel, I found the following to be quite helpful...

Family Trees for the Compson and Gibson Families
This family tree goes back several generations in the Compson family.

This one I added primarily so you can see the Gibson family tree as Dilsey's family is important as well.














































Chronology of the Novel
One of the things that makes The Sound and the Fury difficult is the fact that the story is not presented linearly. Faulkner is once again playing with time. So, it really helps to understand the timeline of the book, in chronological order...

Chapter 2 happens first. This chapter happens 18 years prior to the other three chapters--June 2nd, 1910. 

Chapter 3 happens next. This chapter takes place on April 6th, 1928.

Chapter 1 happens next. This chapter takes place on April 7th, 1928.

And finally, chapter 4 happens next. This chapter takes place on April 8th, 1928.

Viewpoints in each Chapter
Faulkner is at it again in this novel. Similarly to As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury has different viewpoint characters in each chapter. This can also be confusing because Faulkner doesn't spend time explaining who is speaking in each instance, you kinda just have to figure it out for yourself.

Chapter 1 is narrated by Benjy Compson the mentally handicapped son. The thing that is confusing about Benjy's chapter is the fact that Benjy doesn't experience the world like we do. Time is fluid for Benjy as well. He cannot distinguish between what is happening in the present and what is happening in his memory. Which makes for some incredibly difficult reading. Not to mention the fact that many of the Compsons are named after parents or grandparents and Benjy doesn't help us distinguish between these characters.

Chapter 2 is narrated by Quentin Compson (the boy) on one of his last days in college. Quentin's chapter is difficult because, while he isn't mentally handicapped, he is about to commit suicide and that is affecting his mind. He, once again, frequently jumps in time to events that happened previously and then right back to what is happening right now without any transitions.

Chapter 3 is narrated by Jason Compson. The chapter is more linear in its story, but Jason is a total jerk. It is difficult to be inside his head because of how despicable a person he is.

Chapter 4 is narrated by Dilsey Gibson. This is the breath of fresh air that we have been waiting for. We get those beautiful Faulkner sentences that have been missing for most of the novel and we get into the head of the Compson's servant. This chapter is very linear as well, which is nice. The only difficult thing about Dilsey's chapter is her dialect. Faulkner writes her and her son's lines phonetically so you read it with a southern accent, but sometimes it is really difficult to know what word Faulkner wants.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Yet Another Hiatus

Well, realistically, I've been on hiatus for a few weeks already. I thought I would pop on and just explain before going on "real" hiatus.

The school year is nearly over again and that means summer and taking a much-needed break. During that break, I will not be posting regularly on Mr. Barbaric Yawp Blog. But worry not. I will continue to read and study and will continue in the Fall with more literature analysis and discussion.

Enjoy your summer!

~Mr. Barbaric Yawp

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

American Gods (American Gods, #1)American Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My tip for anyone wanting to dive into this book is that you have to give this one time. This was my second attempt in reading American Gods, the first being unsuccessful, but I saw the trailers for the new TV show and they looked so cool and I figured that I needed to read this one before the show. You have to stick with this book, the first 100 or so pages move slowly. Characters and relationships need to be established, the mythos of the world needs to be explained. And once it has been, once you're there this truly is a wonderful, wild ride.

Gaiman never disappoints. The man is a genius of world building as well as sentence crafting. Although, this was not my favorite Gaiman novel. I much prefer The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Neverwhere. This book isn't bad, just different from those two. And I do appreciate that Gaiman tries something different every time he puts pen to paper. He doesn't do these long series because he knows they will be a sure thing.

The thing I liked most about American Gods was the mythos, the idea that gods are brought across the ocean with the people who traveled to America and then lose power and eventually waste away from lack of worship. That idea is fascinating. I also really enjoyed the characters of Shadow and Wednesday--what a great pair! They will go down as one of the great literary relationships of all time.

But, and there always has to be a but, the book does move slowly at times. There are vast expanses of pages where not much is happening. It feels like everything is growing to a massive event, the storm is building, and then we have these sections where we leave that anticipation for walking around a quiet town, waiting for Wednesday to call. It became a bit frustrating. The Shadow as Christ figure part got pretty difficult to conceptualize too. Finally, there are so many gods in this book and it really helps if you know a little bit about their background. Who they are. Names are going to be flying by your head and you really should do yourself a favor and look them up while you are reading. It helps with the enjoyment of the book immensely.

Overall, a pretty fun read. And now I am prepared to watch the TV show. Here to hoping it's good.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tragedy Loves Company: 2003 Q3 Essay

A few Saturday's ago, I conducted an experiment. I the most recent prompt that my AP students had written on, set a timer for 40 minutes, and wrote the essay myself. I must confess that the experience was eye-opening. I struggled with the time. I personally felt like I had too much time and I needed to focus and really dig deep in my analysis. And I struggled with the feeling that I was simply repeating myself. I then gave my essay to a colleague, without a name, and asked him to score it--pretending it was a student paper I was struggling with. I scored an 8 on the paper, which I agree with. The essay was good, but not without its failings.

Here is the prompt:
"According to critic Northrop Frye, 'Tragic heroes are so much the highest point in their human landscape that they seem the inevitable conductors of the power about them, great trees more likely to be struck by lightning than a clump of grass. Conductors may of course be instruments as well as victims of the divine lightning.' 
Select a novel or play in which a tragic figure functions as an instrument of the suffering of others. Then write an essay in which you explain how the suffering brought upon others by that figure contributes to the tragic vision of the work as a whole.
You may choose a work from the list below or another novel or play of comparable quality. Avoid mere plot summary."

I chose Antigone because that is what my students wrote on. And without further ado, here is my essay:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tragedy loves company. Tragic heroes in literature often cause suffering in the people around them, as they suffer themselves. In Sophocles' play, Antigone, King Creon functions as the tragic figure that causes the suffering of others. He brings about the suffering of his own family (Antigone, Haimon, and his wife, Eurydice), as well as the suffering of the common people of Thebes. This all helps the reader to better understand the theme that power blinds people to the needs of others.

About halfway through the play, Haimon, Creon's son, comes to speak with him about the sentence pronounced upon Antigone (Creon's niece and Haimon's betrothed). Creon's only thought though, his only desire, is power. Creon refuses to listen to his son, or the Choragus. His mind is made up and his stubborn pride will not allow him to change, because to change would make him look weak--and a king cannot look weak. This helps the reader understand how damning power can be. As soon as a man gets even the smallest ounce of power, he lets that go to his head and then refuses to listen to his advisers. This is the case in the real world and the case in the play. Creon refuses to listen to anyone and that prideful refusal leads to the suffering of his son, Haimon; his niece, Antigone; and his wife, Eurydice. Creon "kills" his entire family because he is too proud to change. Sophocles warns us of the dangers of power and how a tree in a storm better be able to lean, or else that tree will break.

In the end of the play, the blind prophet, Teiresias shows up to counsel Creon. Teiresisas states that he can no longer communicate with the gods, and that they aren't accepting his sacrifices anymore. Now, Creon messing things up in his own family is one thing, but now he has cursed all of Thebes with his actions. The common people (here represented by the Chorus and the Choragus) cannot speak with the gods anymore. They can't ask for blessings upon their families or their crops. Creon curses all those around him. As he says in the play, everything he touches comes to death. Sophocles provides us with a wonderful example of how not to lead, which we so desperately need in this day and age. Creon's desire for power clouds everything else in his mind. He cannot think, he cannot reason. His discussions with almost every character in the play turn into angry fighting. Creon is blind to everything else--the needs of his family and the needs of his city. And because of this blindness, Creon suffers, but more importantly, those around him also suffer. Hopefully the irony of Teiresias, the blind prophet, bringing this to Creon's attention isn't lost on the reader either. At the end of the play, the reader should see how important it is for leaders to temper their power with reason and good counsel from trusted advisers. No one can lead and be an island. You can't do the job by yourself. Those who try as we see in the case of Creon, only cause those around them to suffer. Like Northrop Frye states, "[they are] so much the highest points in their human landscape that they seem the inevitable conductors of the power about them." And that power blinds them to the needs of their subjects and causes pain and suffering.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Blurry, Muffled of Speak

A passage from Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson:

"The peanut butter locks my jaws closed. 
Emily: 'I don't believe it. Rumors are spread by jealous people. Hi, Andy. Did you bring enough lunch for everyone?' 
It feels like the Prince of Darkness has swept his cloak over the table. The lights dim. I shiver. Andy stands behind me to flirt with Emily. I lean into the table to stay as far away from him as I can. The table saws me in half. Emily's mouth moves, the fluorescent lights glittering on her teeth. The other girls scootch toward Emily to soak up her Attractiveness Rays. Andy must be talking too, I can feel deep vibrations in my backbone, like a thudding speaker. I can't hear the words. He twirls my ponytail in his fingers. Emily's eyes narrow. I mumble something idiotic and run for the bathroom. I heave lunch into the toilet, then wash my face with the ice water that comes out of the Hot faucet. Heather does not come looking for me."

This is an especially traumatic passage in the novel. Andy is the boy that raped Melinda during the summer, and this section really creeped me out when I was reading it--it still creeps me out.

Anderson's syntax is interesting here. She usually has a good mix of short simple sentences, but also complex, compound sentences. But here, because of the action of the scene, Anderson abandons compound sentences in lieu of crisp, short ones. The scene and the description gets herky-jerky like it is all Melinda can do to let us know what is going on. I also noticed that the scene begins with Melinda able to see and describe the people around her, and then it's almost as if the camera pulls in (maybe even inside her head) and the reader's vision becomes blurry and muffled. She can't understand what people are saying anymore, she just knows that they are talking and "can feel the deep vibrations in [her] backbone." This is the only sentence that has any complexity to it as well, which I think is extremely important. This is a tipping point, as we see two sentences later when Andy begins to twirl Melinda's ponytail. Anderson signals this to us by writing a more complex sentence. You may not notice it while you are reading quickly, but your brain does.

There are three instances of figurative language in this passage. Melinda compares Andy to Satan using a simile in the third paragraph; a pretty run-of-the-mill comparison. But then she says that "[t]he table saws [her] in half." Which seems like the point in the passage where the scene really becomes muffled. Almost like her head has been separated from the rest of her body, the signals no longer reaching her brain. And then Melinda compares the "deep vibrations" of Andy's voice to a "thudding speaker." It seems like a normal enough simile, but I think there is more we could consider here. When I think of a thudding speaker, I don't think of a speaker that is working correctly. I think of a speaker where something is wrong; the speaker has ripped and it has that strange vibration sound. When the bass hits the speaker hums and those vibrations spread throughout whatever the speaker is touching. Perhaps that is what Anderson is getting at with the word thudding? Which would make sense because of the effect Andy is having on Melinda in this scene. That thudding makes Melinda remember, which is turn causes her to throw up.

The passage is indeed disturbing, but Anderson does a marvelous job of composing a scene full of details that enrich further close-readings.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Next Hiatus

Tomorrow is the beginning of Spring Break over here in Panther land, which means another short hiatus. Just a week this time. Then we will be back with more literature.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review of Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

9/10

This is not my normal kind of book. I am not the target audience for this book. I usually dislike main characters that are oozing with teen angst. But...

I adored this book!

What's even stranger is how quickly I read it. I started halfway through the day Friday and then finished it up Tuesday evening. I put other activities to the side to I could read this book instead. That rarely happens with me. I haven't had many experiences where I couldn't put a book down, or where I read instead of doing other things. Sometimes I even have to force myself to read. But not with this book.

I was impressed with Anderson's writing. I expected a fairly typical teen, high school book, but Anderson has some chops. There were some very interesting choices, especially to show the reader the difficulties that Melinda is having throughout the book. It's almost like Melinda's problems block out the sun in portions of the novel, overshadowing everything and bringing this inescapable darkness. Like, maybe Melinda won't be able to get beyond these problems. This is also echoed by the seasons of the year and the marking periods of a year of school. The symbolism is a little obvious, but I think it would be really good for younger readers who are still learning about things like symbols (I'm looking at you my future Freshman). The symbol of the tree is the most overt but really works in this situation. I especially liked the point, towards the end, when Melinda's father trims the tree in their front yard, taking off all the dead and rotten branches that would have eventually killed the tree. MELINDA IS THE TREE! Just like LENNIE IS THE DOG! Like I said, it is fairly elementary for an experienced reader like me (if not a bit cliched), but my Freshman will eat that symbolism up. Anderson has really accomplished something with the character of Melinda. She was believable and fleshed out. I really felt like I got to know her and the way she thinks, and her arc was satisfying.

There is really so much to like about this book. If you haven't already, I would recommend giving this book a try. I mean, I liked it and I usually hate books like this.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Here I Go Again On My Own: First Lines #3

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
This first line does a great job of helping the reader to see what the novel is all about. And Pride and Prejudice really is about getting a husband and the troubles related to that quest. There is also a bit of that Victorian, gentile sass in this opening line. I mean, "It is a truth universally acknowledged," is sassy. Oh my, a rich, single man...then he must need a wife. This works well with the characters who the reader will be introduced too quickly after.

Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
"The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock."
This isn't a very interesting opening line until your continue reading and understand that by "fly" Morrison doesn't mean by airplane.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
"The studio was filled with the rich ordour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."
A beautiful opening image of a summer wind bringing in the scents of the garden. Sigh. What a peaceful and tranquil setting for the beginning of this novel. By studio one infers art studio. Seems like a perfect day.

Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and that my lousy childhood was lie, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Until I find something that can top this, the opening line from Catcher in the Rye is the winner. Best opening line yet. Salinger does this incredible job of capturing the voice to Holden immediately in this opening line. The reader instantly knows things about Holden. He knows that he is a cynic, he is a pessimist, he is well-read, and that he isn't too interested in sharing everything with his audience. You get the voice of Holden which is one of those literary voices that will stick in your head forever. Plus, there is that reversal in the opening line. Holden prepares us to receive the story of his "lousy childhood" because it seems like that is going to be very important to the story (which it actually turns out to be), but then at the last moment Holden switches it on us and doesn't share any of that information because he doesn't feel like it. A brilliant, brilliant opening line.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Problem with Diary Entries in Novels

I have been reading Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler, the grand-dame of science fiction, recently and I have a problem. The plot is fine. I would describe the book as a less-than-exciting Dystopian. No the plot or the characters aren't the problem, the problem is how the book is put together. You see, Butler writes each chapter as if it were a diary or journal entry. Each chapter starts with a quote from a book called "Earthseed: The Books of the Living" (which is another problem), but then the chapter will start with a date and off we go with our diary entry.

Now, I kept a journal religiously for two years and if you are writing a journal or diary entry, you are going to adopt a style of writing that tells rather than shows the reader what happened during the course of the day. You diary entries are reflections on past events, you are summarizing rather than using narrative to show the reader what is going on. And herein lies the problem with Butler's work. Often, in the middle of her chapters, she will launch into narrative and it really is jarring. One will read pages of descriptive summary, but then all of a sudden we are watching the characters have a conversation--complete with dialogue, dialogue tags, and beats. Here is an example from chapter 17:
"People on the highway, shadowy in the darkness, had begun to reverse the flow, to drift northward to find a way to the fire. Best to be early for the scavenging. 
'Should we go?' Zahra asked, her mouth full of dried meat. We built no fire tonight. Best for us to vanish into the darkness and avoid guests. We had put a tangle of trees and bushes at our backs and hoped for the best. 
'You mean go back and rob those people?' Harry demanded. 
'Scavenge,' she said. 'Take what people don't need no more. If you're dead, you don't need much.' 
'We should stay here and rest,' I said. 'We're tired, and it will be a long time before things are cool enough over there to allow scavenging. Its a long way off, anyway.'"
I mean, what is going on. This cannot be a diary entry. This is the author showing us what is happening to her characters. The thing is, I actually prefer this style of story-telling to summarizing what happened to a character. Show me what is going on through scenes and dialogue and description rather than just tell me. I guess the problem I have is that Butler isn't consistent. If you are going to adopt a diary-like style, then it should read like a diary entry. If not, then don't put a diary date at the beginning of each chapter.

Finally, the problem with the quotes from the Earthseed book at the beginning of each chapter. Early in the novel it is revealed that the main character is writing these sections of the Earthseed book. It is a philosophy she develops and then publishes later on. It seems like she later gains a following and almost starts a new religion? But here is the problem inherent in these quotes. Because it is revealed that the main character is writing these later in life, it ruins any tension that this book would have had. I know that the main character isn't going to die because she can't now--she has to live to write these silly Earthseed quotes. It is just like why I hate Harry Potter books. When you know the main character cannot die then there is no tension in the novel.

I really wanted to like this book, but I am considering dropping it.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

All Along the Watchtower

A few weeks ago I assigned my AP students to read and then analyze All Along the Watchtower, by Bob Dylan. This is all in an attempt to get them to push to deeper analysis and man did some of these students deliver. Some wonderfully deep and insightful comments about this classic song. Be sure to check some of the best ones out. I have also linked the song for you to listen to as you read.

Jacob

Brandon


Micala


Quincy


Chanel


Haley




Thursday, February 23, 2017

Semi-Splendid by Tracy K. Smith

Semi-Splendid, by Tracy K. Smith, appears in the Feb. 2017 issue of Poetry Magazine. Sometimes I kick myself for allowing the school's subscription to Poetry lapse. I just simply did not have enough time to read each issue as they were coming out. And the students certainly aren't picking up Poetry Magazine off the shelf in the library. But every once in a while it is nice to come back and check out a poem from this marvelous publication. Like this one...

Semi-Splendid

Related Poem Content Details

You flinch. Something flickers, not fleeing your face. My
Heart hammers at the ceiling, telling my tongue
To turn it down. Too late. The something climbs, leaps, is
Falling now across us like the prank of an icy, brainy
Lord. I chose the wrong word. I am wrong for not choosing
Merely to smile, to pull you toward me and away from
What you think of as that other me, who wanders lost among ...    
Among whom? The many? The rare? I wish you didn’t care.

I watch you watching her. Her very shadow is a rage
That trashes the rooms of your eyes. Do you claim surprise
At what she wants, the poor girl, pelted with despair,
Who flits from grief to grief? Isn’t it you she seeks? And
If you blame her, know that she blames you for choosing
Not her, but me. Love is never fair. But do we — should we — care?
After I read the poem, I counted the lines. I did! Got to start there don't we. It does indeed have 14 lines, which suggests sonnet, but then the rest of the poem doesn't conform to the sonnet format. Semi-Spendid has some marvelous internal rhyme and not the end rhyme that is typical for a sonnet. 

This poem just falls off the tongue when you read it out loud. Every single word has been painstakingly considered and placed just right so it has the maximum effect on the reader. The alliterative quality of the opening lines draws one into this poems spell, "telling my tongue / To turn it down. Too late. The [...]." Simply wonderful. Because of the rhyme, alliteration, and euphony of this poem it reads very quickly until one gets to the very last line and then the dashes around the appositive phrase slows the reader down. It reads almost like a rant--a quick, full of emotion rant--and then the speaker slows down to make her final point.

Love is complicated, and as the poet states: "Love is never fair." This poem speaks of a love triangle. Perhaps two girls and one guy. One of the girls has the man locked down, in a serious relationship. But the other wishes she was dating the guy. This man seems to be torn as well. He looks at the other girl, watches her; perhaps he is even drawn to her. But his girlfriend won. She has the prize. The speaker doesn't seem to be angry with the man, or the other girl, but she certainly needs to draw this to the man's attention. To make sure he understands that he is going out with her and not the other girl. The last line is telling, "But do we--should we--care?" Well, it certainly seems like you "care." I mean you wrote a poem about the matter and spent enough time to bring attention to it. Love is the most powerful emotion in the world and I think we all care about it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ink, by Melissa Cundieff-Pexa

Sometimes I feel a poem is so beautiful and moving that it is very difficult to analyze. This is how I feel about Ink, by Melissa Cundieff-Pexa. But this is a literature analysis blog, so I should make some sort of attempt...shouldn't I?

MELISSA CUNDIEFF-PEXA

Ink

The first time I ever watched something die, its eyes
opened at the last lived moment, death’s first. A razor
between the two. The fledgling hawk’s pupil turned so black
I felt as though I had been blindfolded and led high up
a cliff, then pushed. I didn’t know dead eyes darken
or that watching them darken meant for the rest of my life
knowledge would carry with it a bottle of ink. Recently, everything
has been stained: stuffed toy bears, my daughter’s fresh hair,
the dream in which I wear long white gloves I cannot remove,
and a dreamed, wild pig playing as a dog might with my children.
They are chasing each other, laughing. This pig
I’m about to skin grunts, the children grunt too. Strange voices
of the unconscious. But my gloves are too tight, and I wake
before killing. The lives and deaths of others are everywhere.
I once wrote a confession down but erased it. I once wore
a paper crown that caught fire, and when the burning
scent of hair filled the room, memory’s open fume
evacuated my head to hover between mind and automation.
Afterwards, hair shorter, my mother putting away leftover
birthday cake, I wrote down a first truth, I caught fire the day
I turned twelve. My mother’s arms and a blanket saved me.
Under them, blindness and weight. When ash hits water it floats
for a long time before becoming the whale’s passenger,
and the whale before she swallows the ash is different
after she does. I wrote this today, our baby would have been
born soon. His eyes would have been blue. To know this. It changes nothing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More First Lines from Classic Novels

I really enjoyed analyzing those first lines last time, so I decided to do it again. Perhaps we will make it a regular thing. Maybe we will look at first lines from books that are terrible. Who knows.

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
"Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond."
This is not my favorite first line. It establishes the main character of Okonkwo and shows the reader how important he is, but that is pretty much it. It isn't flashy; it gets the job done. But that was how I felt about the whole of Things Fall Apart. It was simply okay, an average novel. There are some interesting things to discuss, but we aren't going to spend a lot of time looking at Achebe's writing. I wouldn't be able to find a good place in that novel to conduct a close reading exercise. Ultimately forgettable as a first line. 

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte
"There was not the possibility of taking a walk that day."
I love Jane Eyre and I love teaching Jane Eyre to my AP Lit student, but this first line isn't terribly interesting either. It is better than Things Fall Apart, but just a bit. The language is different here. The phrasing and the use of the word "possibility" show us that this writer is from a different time period, different country, and different caste than your normal joe writer these days. There is an elegance to the phrasing "There was not the possibility..." They could have easily have said that it was raining out, or the weather was bad. But Bronte doesn't do that.

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him."
Ah, good old Cormac. Getting us back on track. Now, this is a first line. Lots of details in this sentence. "In the woods," "in the dark and the cold," "of the night." He could have added in those details later or in a different way, but McCarthy has that famous style. He likes to say a lot in one sentence. 

As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
"Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file."
No fair, you can't do another Faulkner novel! I certainly can! Whose blog is this anyway? And this is a good one. From this first line, we get our first taste of the dialect. Daryl is speaking and the reader can already tell the region of the country that we are dealing with; the type of people we are dealing with. The other thing that I think is really special in this line is the second half of it, "following the path in single file." That part is interesting because it is curious. The reader begins to wonder and then, you can see, Faulkner already has you hooked. People don't normally walk in single file unless you have been instructed to. The fact that they are walking this way actually becomes very important in the next sentence or two. This establishes Daryl and Jewel's relationship, which isn't the best. But Faulkner does that all without telling us. This is pure showing and it is marvelous.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

First Impressions are so Important

in life as well as in literature. An author has only so much space to really grab a reader's attention and those first lines are prime real estate. In today's blog I wanted to spend some time discussing the first lines from notable classical novels. Many of these I teach in my AP Lit class and have taught for years--true classics.

The Sound and the Fury 
by William Faulkner
"Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."
So, we'll start off with a novel that I don't actually teach, but this is what inspired me to do this particular blog post.  As far as first lines go this one is pretty good. Faulkner is a master with these sorts of things. We can see in this line one of his traits as an author, the lack of names. He starts us off with the pronoun "I" and then leaves us to figure out who that "I" is later on in the first chapter. In this case, it is answered pretty quickly, but sometimes author's can leave us hanging for quite a while. I'm looking at your Octavia Butler!

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind every since."
I have to be honest with this one, I am not the biggest fan of the opening line of Gatsby. I think the first little bit of this book is pretty rough too. It isn't until we get to the part about Gatsby being alright in the end that I feel that this novel really starts to be interesting. The opening of this novel is all Nick's reflection and doesn't really make sense to the reader until after they have finished with the book. I doubt many readers go back and re-read that section when they finish The Great Gatsby either.

Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
"The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was a rest."
My students complain about Heart of Darkness every single year and I can see where they are coming from. It is an extremely difficult text and Conrad's prose is dense. You really have to concentrate on what he is saying in those long, drawn out sentences. But if you look at Conrad from a structure point of view, his prose is near perfection. The dude knows his stuff. Even though this is not the longest first sentence we will be discussing, there is a lot going on. We have the appositive phrase, "a cruising yawl," helping the reader to understand what the Nellie is. The yawl then swings her anchor; the action of swinging is interesting because it isn't a human that is performing the action, it is as if the boat itself is doing it. And Conrad doesn't call the boat in it either, he uses the proper pronoun "her" to identify the ship. All boats are girls, don't you know. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Abe Vigoda Dies At 94 (Not a Hoax) — Orlando Sentinel

I have been trying to limit how many poems from Linebreak I feature on the 'ol blog, but I just had to for this one.

Abe Vigoda Dies At 94 (Not a Hoax)--Orlando Sentinel
by Dorianne Laux
“Abe Vigoda is no longer not dead.” –Thomas Dean, Facebook
First he was, then he wasn’t, now he is. Always
and forever. None of this Get back up and dust
those wings off, not like in The Godfather
when he’s told, “Can’t do it, Sally,” only to
show up a year later in The Don is Dead
and The Devil’s Daughter. Isn’t this just the way?
Everyone thinks we died when we’ve only
been languishing in a string of forgettable movies.
Tessio’s death was memorable for happening
quietly, off-screen. The horror of it
was the inevitability of it: the pageantry
of the six men surrounding him, pallbearers
shouldering him away in their solemn brown suits.
And isn’t that just the way? The worst
is not what comes, but what we can see coming,
the unfolding of the moment, whole lives
unspooled and slopped in a celluloid pool at our feet.
What kills us is Sal’s stoic desperation, the naked
dignity of his calm plea. We forget
his lack of faith, his weakness and betrayal.
We gaze into his sad Italian eyes, upon his long
Modigliani face, and we pity him the way
we pity Judas, the way we pity our own small
selfish selves, dying a little with each violence
we’ve committed until someone more ruthless
brings our suffering to an end.
I have never seen The Godfather, I probably should one day. And I'm sure that and understanding of that movie would help in interpreting this poem. I like the subject of this poem and especially the poetic turn at the end: "and we pity him the way / we pity Judas, the way we pity out own small / selfish selves, dying a little with each violence / we've committed until someone more ruthless / brings our suffering to an end." The comparison to Judas is marvelous, and then brings the poem back around, helping the reader understand what they are to get out of it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Description in Invisible Man

I have to admit that I am struggling with Invisible Man. I really enjoyed the beginning of this novel: the Battle Royal, the initial chapters where the main character is driving the white donor around, and the subsequent fallout of those events. But once the principle character leaves the college and moves to New York it loses me. I don't know what it is either. This novel has some sections that are nicely written. There isn't anything that truly blows me away, but Ellison has some good descriptive powers. Here is one example:
"It was a beautiful college. The buildings were old and covered with vines and the roads gracefully winding, lined with hedges and wild roses that dazzled the eyes in the summer sun. Honeysuckle and purple wisteria hung heavy from the trees and white magnolias mixed with their scents in the bee-humming air. I've recalled it often, here in my hole: How the grass turned green in the springtime and how the mocking birds fluttered their tails and sang, how the moon shone down on the buildings how the bell in the chapel tower rang out the precious short-lived hours; how the girls in bright summer dresses promenaded the grassy lawn. Many times, here at night, I've closed my eyes and walking along the forbidden road that winds past the girls' dormitories, past the hall with the clock in the tower, its windows warmly aglow, on down past the small white Home Economics practice cottage, whiter still in the moonlight, and on down the road with its sloping and turning, paralleling the black powerhouse with its engines droning earth-shaking rhythms in the dark, its windows red from the glow of the furnace, on to where the road became a bridge over a dry riverbed, tangled with brush and clinging vines: the bridge of rustic logs, made for trysting, but virginal and untested by lovers; on up the road, past the buildings with the southern verandas half-a-city block long, to the sudden forking, barren of buildings, birds, or grass, where the road turned off to the insane asylum."
This is, in essence, just a bunch of lists. The narrator takes us on a journey through the campus, walking us down roads and past buildings. It really works and I felt as if I were able to actually see what Ellison was describing. My absolutely favorite line is: "the bridge of rustic logs, made for trysting, but virginal and untested by lovers." That is an amazing image.

So, I have put Invisible Man aside for now. Maybe I will return to it one day, but I can't spend anymore time reading something that I am struggling with. Time is too short.