Thursday, February 26, 2009

Posting suspended until further notice due to a family medical situation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Does your face hurt?

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 142-197

My bout with illness on Saturday has become a cerebrum-draining sinus infection. While fairly conducive to reading, it's not at all conducive to literary analysis. I hope I'm better tomorrow, because this is getting old.

There's been heaps of scandal in Lyme Regis, though. You guys don't even know. Mostly because I haven't told you. (It's not my fault; my eyeballs are throbbing. You don't want to read eyeball-throbbing literary analysis. Trust me.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

You're revealing your love for me

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 111-141

This section consisted entirely of Sarah telling Charles the story of her tryst with the French lieutenant, who, we've finally learned, is named Varguennes. (Which I'm not sure, in the end, is actually easier to type than "the French lieutenant." Dammit.) Anyway, it turns out that she knew, before she gave herself to him, ah, bodily, that he wasn't going to stay with her or come back to her. But, she says, she chose to do it anyway so that she could...distinguish herself, for lack of a better word...from every other Victorian woman. She asserts that she chose her shame, and it is her shame that allows her a certain amount of freedom. In a way, she chose to sexually emancipate herself by purposefully throwing away that value which is the primary one of all Victorian woman, but one that exists in a space without power - chastity. So now that she has garnered the ultimate shame for herself, she has also been released from the demands of society, albeit in a negative way.

(Oh, I forgot to note that we also witnessed Charles meeting the local Irish doctor, discussing Sarah's case with him, and simultaneously discovering that he's a fellow Darwinist. There was a lot of brandy and back-slapping. I don't know if it's important, but it might come up later.)

After she completes her confession, Charles convinces her to take him up on his offer of charity and move away from Lyme Regis, where she can "start her life anew," and escape her reputation. She agrees, but she seems unconvinced that her original choice was the wrong one, and I'm doubtful that she's going to go through with it. Also, at the risk of sounding like a seventh-grader, Charles totally likes Sarah, OMG! (How could he not? She's mysterious, tarnished, and forbidden. I mean, really. It's like the Victorian version of a giant shiny red button that says "Don't Push.")

I can't decide if I admire Sarah or John Fowles more for the intricate bravery of this scenario. I'm blown away, again and again and again, by how compelling this story is. There's not, in fact, a character I don't like. I know I'm raving. What can I say? It's worth the rave.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Struttin' her stuff on the street

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 27-110

Since I didn't post in a substantial way yesterday, I'm lumping my pages read for yesterday and today together, just so you know. Well, Fowles continues to amaze and delight me with the compelling nature of prose, characters, and narrative, so I've very little to complain about. Try not to faint.

The French lieutenant's woman, whom, it is important to note for the sake of brevity in future (and also because of the fact that the phrase "the French lieutenant's woman" has the same syllabic pattern as "we're independent women" which my brain follows with "some mistake us for whores" (quite an appropriate lyric in this context, when you think about it), and while I appreciate "Lady Marmalade" as much as the next girl, I'm not really sure that the sweeping vision of the English coastline, broken only by rock and the stark faces of the cliffs, ought to echo with the dulcet strains of Li'l Kim), is named Sarah Woodruff, settles into Mrs. Poulteney's house and becomes quite a hit with the household staff. She has an innate sense of the true nature of people, it seems, and being so endowed, is able to manipulate Mrs. Poulteney into keeping a more hospitable home.

Anyway, Sarah Woodruff mostly spends her time wandering around the countryside, and, after a while, Mrs. Poulteney forbids her to walk by the sea because of the fact that it might tempt her to dwell on her inappropriate relationship with the French lieutenant. Instead, she begins walking in the Undercliff, a wild and untamed area that no one is likely to frequent, aside from the odd poacher. The fact that it's wild and untamed, however, makes it the perfect place to hunt for fossils, and lo and behold, whom should she meet but our very own aspiring paleontologist, Charles? He sees her on more than one occasion, actually, and becomes slightly obsessed with her, in a (so far) innocuous way. He's fascinated by her pathos and beauty, really, and wants both to help her and to know more about her, especially after she blurts out the fact that her absent French lieutenant is actually married. However, when he meets her on the third occasion, she evinces a desire not to be given money or sent to London, but rather simply to confide her story in him. Being a Victorian gentleman, he is, of course, made excruciatingly uncomfortable by the perceived impropriety of this situation, but eventually he agrees (as much, I think, out of curiosity as out of sense of duty). Anyway, that's where that storyline finds itself.

Simultaneously, Charles's servant Sam is falling in love with Ernestina's aunt's servant, Mary, and we get to watch them be all cockney-lovey-dovey with each other. I can't decide if it's cute or sort of insulting to the lower class. We'll go with cute, because I love John Fowles and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and also because their love seems infinitely more earnest and promising than that of Charles and Ernestina. I should explain, then, that Charles hardly seems to be truly in love with Ernestina. He keeps having these little moments of doubt and annoyance with her, and he keeps assuring himself that everything will be all right once they're married. (This is an assumption, of course, that always works out extremely well for the parties involved, as we've seen from previous books on the list.) Could he, perhaps, fall in love with poor, spurned Sarah Woodruff instead? Can there be yet more scandal etched into the annals of Lyme Regis? Will the cliffs ring with the sound of Ernestina's enraged sobbing? Or possibly gunshots? Will Sarah's lost French lieutenant return to her loving bosom and have to duel Charles with pistols at dawn? Can I continue to ask ever more ridiculous rhetorical questions?

Ahem. Anyway.

Fowles has chosen an interesting narrative device in making the narrator an obviously modern one. At the beginning of chapter thirteen, he breaks the fourth wall, as it were, entirely, by noting to the reader that the story is made up out of his own head, but also asserting that he's lost control of his characters and they seem to be doing whatever they want. I don't really know how I feel about the choice to speak directly to the reader and acknowledge that the story is fiction, but he does it well if it has to be done, I suppose. I guess I find it a little jarring and would rather stay in the narrative and have my little laughs as he pokes fun at Victorian culture, but maybe he's shaking me out of that on purpose. Like I said, benefit of the doubt.

He also continues to deliver excellent and amusingly quotable dialogue and beautiful and evocative description. He rarely says something simply when he can do it complexly. For example, at one point Charles pays a local dairyman a penny for a bowl of milk. Instead of saying, "Charles gave the man a penny," what he says is,"A penny, one of those charming heads of the young Victoria that still occasionally turn up in one's change, with all but that graceful head worn away by the century's use, passed hands," (62). Rather than being pedantic and obnoxious, he somehow jogs your mind into thinking of the mundane in a different light. That, my friends, is what makes good literature. The sheer consistency with which he's able to achieve the effect is astonishing.

This is, so far, the best book I've read in a long time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A touch of the vapors

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 27-81

Funnily enough, I actually did quite a bit of reading last night, because I can't put the damn book down once I start reading, but I'm begging off a real post because I don't have the time or energy to do it justice. I've managed to get sick yet again, but I went to work today anyway, and now I have no powers of concentration left. So, more tomorrow. I'm a faithless wench, I know, but you're powerlessly subject to my whims.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Woman of Means

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 12-26

Well, I'm taking it slow, but
there're a couple reasons for that. Today I had to give blood and also organize all of the music on my computer, including naming unidentified files by listening to them, so that took a while. Also, I honestly don't want to read this book any faster than I have to; that's how good it is. I'm really enjoying the language and the intricacy of the characterization Fowles is able to achieve. In addition to those, though, I'm 26 pages in and already intrigued by the plot.

In addition to Charles and
Ernestina, we've also met Mrs. Poulteney, a local widow who's a complete tyrant to her servants, extremely strict in all matters of housekeeping, and generally concerned with the affairs and religious faith of everyone around her, including unrelated inhabitants of her town (it's called Lyme Regis, just for future reference). Ok, so, it turns out that Mrs. Poulteney doesn't feel as though she's presenting a charitable enough front to agree with her religious leanings, and so she wants to take on a charity case to assuage her feelings of guilt (and make everyone remark about how wonderfully generous she is, of course). Guess who the charity case is going to be?

If you said the French lieutenant's woman, you got it in one. The vicar tells Mrs.
Poulteney, and therefore the reader, her sad story: she fell in love with a shipwrecked French lieutenant, ran away with him expecting to be married, and is still awaiting his promised return. She's a former governess who's been living off her savings, but is now penniless, hence her agreement to live with Mrs. Poulteney. And that's where we are. There should be some interesting developments once Mrs. Poulteney (and the rest of us) find out the whole story. It's obvious there's lots more to it than what we've been told so far.

I'll be reading more tomorrow, but I'm trying to make it last, so don't expect hundreds of pages or anything. Also, the next book is Atlas Shrugged. Blech.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Selection in Relation to Sex

Current book: The French Lieutenant's Woman
Pages read: 1-11

Ok, I realize that's a pathetic amount to have read, but I cleaned our entire apartment, did laundry, and went to two grocery stores this morning, so step off. Also, even though I'm not very far into the book, I'm a little in love with John Fowles already. So far, we've been introduced to the man who seems to be our main character, Charles, and his fiance, Ernestina (Dreadful name. Nearly as bad as Eunice, really), and learned a bit of Charles's story. He's a paleontologist in 1860s England, a great adherent to Darwin, extremely rich, and seems like a nice enough fellow. He's either in his 30s now or close to it, so under lots of pressure to marry, which shouldn't be too hard, since he's quite the catch. We've also caught just a glimpse of the French lieutenant's woman, and already she's a tragic and solitary character. She's the sort of character you must always picture looking out to sea over a bare, windswept shore.

The prose is pretty much awesome. It's modern, since it was written in 1969, but it's referential to the Victorian style that was prevalent during the period it's discussing. Since it combines the two, however, there's a hint of wry sarcasm to the narrative voice that allows it to poke fun at itself and the Victorians but still maintain beautiful and even haunting description.

"There was no artifice there, no hypocrisy, no hysteria, no mask; and above all, no sign of madness. The madness was in the empty sea, the empty horizon, the lack of reason for such sorrow..." (6)

Like I said, I'm kind of in love. There's also some excellent dialogue, though Fowles could give me a little more attribution during some of the conversations. (If I have to go backward and count lines going, "Ok, that was him, that was her, that was him..." to orient myself to who's speaking, I get resentful and annoyed.) Anyway, I particularly liked the moment when Charles reported on a discussion he had with Ernestina's father on whether he, Charles, was a suitable husband. It seems, as you'll see, that Ernestina's father objects to the newfangled principles of Darwinism.

"He did say that he would not let his daughter marry a man who considered his grandfather to be an ape. But I think on reflection he will recall that in my case it was a titled ape." (4)


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Each according to their means

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 257-378 (end)

It would have behooved (Does that word make anyone else think it means "to bestow hooves upon"? Or is that just me? Not a whole lot of use for a word like that, I have to admit, but you could work it into conversation from time to time. "How's your llama sculpture coming along? Quite well. I behooved him yesterday." Ok, I can't think of any other possibilities, but give me time.) me to check the publication date on this book before I hung all my hopes on Babbitt's psychotic stock-crash-induced break. But I foolishly didn't do that, and so I spent all that time waiting in vain for financial disaster to reveal his character in. It's ok, because domestic violence stepped in neatly to take its place, but still. A little economic ruin would have been nice. Not to mention topical. Ahem.

Anyway, after Paul's crime and incarceration, Babbitt feels pretty lost. The guy was his best friend, after all, so it makes sense that he'd take it a bit hard. He expresses this feeling, however, by increased dissatisfaction with his routine, which eventually results in his determination to have an affair. He actually sets out to have one; it's not as though he just happens upon some girl he feels attracted to, but rather that he actively searches. Eventually he finds one, a widow named Tanis (which, forgive me for being a complete dork, is a name I'm unable to mentally divorce from the Dragonlance books, and therefore made the whole thing seem extra ridiculous because I kept thinking Babbitt was having a homosexual tryst with a half-elven ranger), and proceeds to make time with her. Not only does he see her regularly, but eventually he also begins spending time with her friends, a group that seems mostly to drink and sleep around with each other. He gets rougher and rougher, drinking and smoking more and more, and at the same time becomes more and more "liberal," which in this case means professing his sympathy with the socialist agenda and the labor unions.

The men of the Booster club and other like-minded individuals are disturbed by this trend in Babbitt and others, and after a while get up an organization called the Good Citizens' League. (Ever noticed how clubs that need to tell you they're made up of good citizens or right-thinking people or that they're focused on family usually want to destroy most of the things they insist they represent? Lovely people.) For a while he refuses to join and actually stands up for the right of one his friends to speak out on whatever political agenda he deems fit, but after he's shunned by most of the community and his wife develops appendicitis (I realize that seems random. It did in the book, too.), he's scared back into conforming to the Zenith ideal. He reforms himself with due alacrity and once again agrees with everything he's supposed to and is never again seen in the wrong company. At the close of the novel, Babbitt's son, who's finally gone to college, elopes with his girlfriend. (Still the tarty Eunice; she stuck around. Perhaps I misjudged her. She is named Eunice, though.) Her family is very upset, but the last scene of the book consists of Babbitt telling his son that he should quit college and be a mechanic, if that's what he wants to do, that his impulsive marriage was a good thing because he followed his heart, and that Babbitt hopes that his son's choices will make his son happier than Babbitt has been.

Huh. Well, I liked it, that's definite, but it's hard for me to say why. I guess, as I've said before, the characterization was superb. I suppose that, overall, I don't like Babbitt as a person; he doesn't have much going for him, really. He isn't smart or honest or upstanding or even particularly interesting. As a character, however, he's fascinating and intricate in the extreme. He yearns for freedom but when he gets it he doesn't know what to do with it. He resolves over and over again to change something in his life, to rebel against his society and the status quo, and yet he never succeeds - not because he's crushed by the enormity of the task or has moral qualms, but rather because he forgets or finds it inconvenient.

Lewis's illustration of modern life, especially that of a businessman in a small, dull city, is cutting and critical. I think, in the end, he was showing us the old quiet desperation, but also that there are ways out. Lewis never breaks out into actual sermonizing, but he certainly paints a vivid picture. It's so well done that he has no need to point at it and say, "Look! Don't do this! You have so much more that you can do and be! Let Babbitt be a warning to you!" The message makes itself plain in all of Babbitt's actions and in his eventual concession that he wishes it had all, somehow, been different.

Tomorrow, The French Lieutenant's Woman. Scandal and perversion on the English coast!

(Oh, I thought of one! "Circe, have you been behooving sailors again?" Ok, it may only apply to Odysseus, but it's a perfectly acceptable usage. Shut up.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the kitchen, with the revolver

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 194-257

For a while in these pages things seem to be at a little bit of a standstill. (And no, that isn't just because I stopped reading for a couple days. Don't be snide.) Babbitt continues with his cliched businessman activities, takes an interest in the Sunday school at his church (Because it needs to be the best Sunday school in Zenith, of course. Very important.), and generally tries to get in good with the swells and impress everyone of his acquaintance with his role in civic improvement. After a while he goes off to Akron on business and runs across his friend Paul (he of the unhappy marriage), whom he catches at gambling and, to all appearances, cheating on his wife. He goes home, sort of upset about the whole thing, but writes it off as the wife's fault for nagging too much and then promptly forgets about it. After that we get a bit more information about Babbitt's kids, who seem to be running a bit wild around Zenith. His older daughter, Verona, is flirting with one of Babbitt's business associates, which is not entirely a bad thing in Babbitt's eyes, but it's his son who's the real trouble. He's graduated and still not enrolled in college, and parties and drinks every night, tooling around town on his motorcycle with his tarty girlfriend. (Yes, tarty. I said it. Also, her name is Eunice. No good can come of that.) Babbitt avoids disciplining his son, just as he avoids everything of a serious nature in his life, by pretending the problem doesn't exist.

After that we get a little realty drama when he has to fire one of his men because he made a crooked lease deal. The section ends with two of the biggest events to date in Babbitt's life: first, he's made the vice president of the Booster club (My god, the prestige! He's practically king of Zenith, is our man Babbitt. Think of the respect his fellow Zenithites must feel for him in order to bestow such an honor upon him! He's finally getting the recognition he deserves! I care! And am being completely sincere!) , and second, Paul shoots his wife. (Oh! Didn't see that coming, did you? What happened to realty and Sunday school? Bloody murder, that's what!) So, yeah, that was exciting. Babbitt goes to visit him in the lockup and Paul says he doesn't even know why he did it; he didn't mean to, but just couldn't stand things anymore. Right at the end of the chapter we discover that Paul's wife has lived through the incident and that Paul is sentenced to only three years in prison.

I was getting a little bored with things there for a while, I have to admit, but Lewis pulled it out by adding the stuff about Babbitt's children and, of course, the shooting. It was teetering on being too much of a character portrait and not enough of a story, but now that events are beginning to erode Babbitt's sense of complacency and satisfaction, both the plot and characterization are once again engaging and successful. It's interesting; there are quite a few books whose authors I would mock mercilessly for sticking in a dramatic shooting, but when Lewis does it it seems to happen with good reason. It works so well to reveal more of what Babbitt is thinking and how his worldview will be changed (or remain unchanged) that it seems less a dramatic stretch than it does a logical development of his life in Zenith.

Still no sign of the stock market crash. I'm hoping Babbitt will have a psychotic break and start dressing like a cowboy or something.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hail to the chief

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: None

I didn't read. In, ah, honor of the presidents?

I have no real excuse.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I wanna hold your spam.

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: None

Ok, no reading. But 18th place out of 76 trivia teams! Not bad, eh?

Seriously literary content coming soon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Writing to you from hour 23 of 50

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: None

Reading is so not happening. Good luck with that when there's a constant stream of radio trivia being piped into your head. Just saying.

Sinclair Lewis is, in fact, still awesome. But I don't have that much else to say about him. Er. Trivia.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Social intercourse

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 169-194

In this short section, we've pretty much been watching Babbitt cart around the city of Zenith making political speeches on the side of the conservative agenda. (Who's surprised he's a conservative? I know I'm not.) In addition to that, we see him court the social acquaintance of one the richest men in the state by having him and his wife over for dinner, which results in a silent and awkward evening. In an unsubtle bit of commentary, Babbitt and his wife are soon forced to be the dinner guests of a poorer couple, with equally awkward and silent results. Babbitt and his wife are obviously embarrassed by the circumstances of their hosts and resentful that they have to be socially connected to them, even if it's only for an evening. It's rather face-smackingly apparent that the dinner that Babbitt and his wife hosted created a similar set of emotions in their guests. Babbitt is, of course, as obliviously hypocritical about the whole thing as always.

I was a little disappointed by the lack of subtlety here. I mean, it's not like it was poorly written or that the point itself was a bad one, but it wasn't exactly couched in brilliant metaphor or anything. I didn't find it distracting, and I probably wouldn't question it from any other author, but I expect the best from Lewis, so he's let me down a little. (That'll teach you to set the bar so high, Sinclair. Next time, try the old bait and switch.)

Also, Sinclair Lewis has a lot to say about socialism. While he doesn't outright say that it's a good thing, he certainly presents a critical view of those who dismiss it as dangerous. He implies on several occasions that labor unions are not only good, but necessary for the working man to get a fair shot. Babbitt's rich character really brings this home as we watch him discuss how socialism wrongly promotes the agenda of the lower class, making it hard for those who have money to do business and therefore crippling society and the economy. By presenting Babbitt's extreme and illogical views with such utter sincerity, Lewis really brings out the absurdity of the conservative agenda. (There must have been some people who burned this book. I can't imagine it going over well in middle America. Then again, maybe some of them took it all at face value. I love it when that happens to satire.)

There probably won't be posts of any substance over the weekend, due to the fact that I'm taking part in a 50-hour radio trivia contest starting at 5pm today. I'm fairly sure that no reading will get done, but you might get some delirious 3am posts about how much I love Sinclair Lewis. I can't really be responsible for my actions during 50 hours of trivia.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anxious in its sleep

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 1-169

I realize that's the same set of pages that I posted yesterday, but I explained myself. Also, I honestly want to stretch this one out as long as I can. That's how much I like it. (I know. Try not to faint. It's not my fault people chose dumb stuff for the list. Where's Dune, anyway? That's what I'd like to know. Ahem.)

I guess I ought to cover what this book is actually about before I start discussing the artistry of the writing. There are plenty of minor plot points to keep the pace going, but really they're all just coming together to give us a portrait of the main character, George Babbitt, and his family. It's 1920, and Babbitt is a realtor in an unnamed state, living in a suburb of a middle-sized city just like your own. (The town and city names are actually interestingly allegorical. While the rest of the book doesn't read like an allegory, the place names, like Zenith and Monarch, give it a vaguely dystopian air.) He has a wife whom he doesn't really understand why he married, a daughter who's been through college and needs to learn to settle down, and a son who's in high school and has ambitions of business success, though he prefers never to work very hard. He has a house like the houses of the other businessmen of Zenith, with all the modern conveniences that are demanded of him by his wealth and station, keep resolutely up-to-date. (A note on the timelessness of literature: you could key words in any of the discussions related to this topic with things like "HD" and "Blu-ray," and they would maintain precisely the same meaning.)

Babbitt himself is a blustery, slowly fattening man of middle age. He makes the sort of dumb, predictable jokes that you've heard a thousand times and hate the universe for causing you to have to force a laugh at for that thousandth time. (There were a lot of prepositions in that sentence, but I trust that you can decode it properly.) In other words, he's kind of an idiot who thinks a lot of himself. He also often resents his wife and family for their demands on him, regardless of the fact that he's a complete hypocrite and more irresponsible and demanding than any of them. Somehow, though, we don't actually hate him. Lewis once again succeeds admirably at creating a character whose weaknesses are incredibly apparent, but are just as apparently results of the illnesses of his lifestyle and the society that's created it. Part of the reader's sympathy for him comes from the fact that aside from his whining about his kids using the car and his wife not taking enough care of him, we know that he's unhappy because of his dreams. He has haunting dreams of a fairy girl coming to lead him away into the mysterious evening forest, from which he wakes up aching for that which he knows not. It's quite heart-rending, actually, and when applied to such an average and vulgar man as Babbitt, aptly points out the universality of the human yearning for escape and excitement.

As far as the plot goes, there hasn't been much upon which to remark. Babbitt is successful, and, at one point, attends a state-wide realty conference at which he gives a well received keynote address. We meet some of his friends, and see that his best friend, Paul, is married to a woman he hates, but everyone else seems fairly complacent. Considering the section I read ended with the Babbitts' summer vacation in 1920, I'm guessing the stock market crash is going to feature heavily in the plot that's yet to come. I don't think Babbitt is going to fare well in the face of adversity.

I've been wracking my brain to try to figure out what precisely it is about Lewis that makes him such a master of his art, and I'm still stuck. I really ought not to like him as much as I do, considering the fact that I have a deep personal aversion to books that are about the depressing nature of the human condition. And yet, here I am trying to make a book about that subject take longer to read. That means that Sinclair Lewis is such a good writer that his subject matter is either immaterial, or, even better, elevated to being interesting by the way he writes about it. He somehow manages to say things in a straightforward enough way that you're never bored or confused, but he couples that technique with tone and diction that lend his prose a sarcastic, satirical, and sometimes even tragic air. Argh. I feel inarticulate; I ought to be able to do better than this at describing it.

Perhaps it's his ability to combine the prosaic and the poetic in the same sentence, and then twist them both to suit whatever purpose he deems fit. Take this selection, for example, pulled pretty randomly from what I read:

"At midnight, as Paul and he blundered to their cottage over the pungent wet grass, and pine-roots confusing in the darkness, Babbitt rejoiced that he did not have to explain to his wife where he had been all evening." (145)

I realize this doesn't seem like much: it's not particularly clever, stunning, or insightful, but look really closely at the prose. He uses the word "pungent" to describe the grass, creating (forgive me for the terminology) a sense-reaction in the reader that's extremely evocative, and then adds the experience of stumbling over roots in the darkness, which is a combination of the the natural image and the clumsiness of Babbitt himself, leading the way into Babbitt's prosaic musing that he's glad he doesn't have to deal with his wife. It's one tiny, unimportant sentence, and it achieves a level of craftsmanship that most authors scrabble at desperately and never grasp. Put this kind of artistry together with the ability to pace a story and develop characters so realistic you can't help but feel that they remind you of dozens of people you've met, and you get books that are truly worthy of the title of literature. I sound like a crazy fangirl; I get that. But I just can't help it. (I love you, Sinclair Lewis! Have my babies! ::faints::)

On a far more unimportant note, the word "cue" was used at one point when Lewis meant "queue." I don't know if it was a typo or archaic usage. Anyone?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The man can do no wrong

Current book: Babbitt
Pages read: 1-169

I love Sinclair Lewis. I am literally incapable of explaining why I find his writing so incredibly compelling, but I do. I think Babbitt is even better than Main Street, and the character work he's doing is some of the most extraordinary I've read.

After this glowing introduction, I'm going to crush all of your hopes and dreams by telling you that I'm not actually going to write a full post about this today. I read a lot, and I need some time to think over what I want to say about it. I'm also tired, and don't have the energy to give Lewis the examination he really deserves. (Not to mention to give my loyal readers the witty and brilliant commentary they deserve. I mean, only one parenthetical? How tragic.)

So, perceptive and profound literary analysis will be yours tomorrow. In the meantime, you may use this opportunity to go check out a copy of Babbitt and read it for yourself before I spoil it for you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tonic water all around!

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 143-247 (end)

There weren't any tigers. I'm sad. There was some more spying though, so I suppose that's something. Just after we learn about Kim's success in school and the holy man's current status, Kim finishes school (or at least his guardians say he's done enough) and he heads off for a six-month peregrination with his holy man father figure. At some point during the last several years of off-and-on hanging out with the jewelry repair guy, it seems Kim also managed to learn about medicine. The jewelry repair guy is quite the renaissance man, apparently. Anyway, so after being giving a gun by said jewelry repair guy (because, apparently, at 16 years old, it's a shame that he didn't have a gun already), Kim heads out to find his holy man and seek the old sacred river. In addition to his gun, though, he's given some more secret messages and spy-type documents to carry around in order to prove his British-spy pedigree if he needs to.

He and the holy man set out on their quest, during which Kim cures some innocent children and beggars with his fancy British medicine, and they meet another spy who informs them of Russian conspirators in the area. After some more pointless wandering around (Is anyone sensing a theme, here? I mean, come on. I had to use the word peregrination. That's not really supposed to happen. Ok, with anyone but me.) they stumble on the Russian spies and have a confrontation with them. The Russians (and for some reason, one French guy), don't actually know that they're British spies, and just harass them for no good reason, but end up insulting and injuring the holy man. This makes Kim incredibly angry, and, in the end, the Russians come out of it unconscious and stripped of all material goods, including secret espionage documents.

Kim escorts the injured holy man, who seems in peril for his life, to the house of a previous acquaintance. There, Kim finds a British contact whom he can trust and hands off the espionage materials, ensuring himself fancy British laurels when he returns to the city, and the holy man finally has an epiphany about his river, which is actually the great river of all life (and boy, am I shocked about that). It ends with Kim questioning the point of all the spying and the legitimacy of British involvement, but rejoicing in the holy man's happiness.

No overarching plot really developed, other than that we sort of came back around to the holy river quest again. I suppose spying was something of a thread, but a weak one at best. I don't know. Maybe I need to be a 12-year-old British kid or something, but I didn't find the novel very compelling. The most interesting part was watching Kim switch back and forth from British sahib to Indian peasant kid and examining the various circumstances in which each role suited him. It seemed that any time he wanted to spy or do something underhanded, being an Indian peasant was best, but if he needed to exert authority or look respectable, being British was best. I think Kipling was actually making an interesting point with that, in that the situation was made ironic by the fact that all of Kim's deceitful activities were demanded of him by the British army, yet they required an Indian guise. It was his British self that was the most underhanded, but he had to appear Indian in order to carry out those deeds. When he appeared British, he never really did anything wrong. Veneer of civilization, much? And if you look at the most Indian of the Indians, the holy man, he was an upstanding model of a quest for spiritual enlightenment. I'm not saying Kipling's a righteous model of race-consciousness or anything (I mean, the number of times he makes huge general statements about "Asiatics" is off-putting in itself.), but he's certainly making a point to his British reader that he or she ought to think about coming down off the pedestal of civilization. Kim curing people with quinine and other British medicine is a contrast to that point, and Kipling seems critical of the Indian dependency on the idea of sympathetic magic, so it goes both ways, really. (I was also surprised that he actually used the terminology of "sympathetic" for it. Apparently he was off reading The Golden Bough in his spare time.)

Definitely not worthy of the top 100 list. I feel that making the list actually requires having a plot. Tigers might have pushed him over the line, though. (Not really. But there would have been tigers. I call that a win.)

More Sinclair Lewis next. I'm sort of looking forward to it because I liked him so much before, but I'm hoping it won't be utterly downcast and depressing. At least Kim was kind of upbeat.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Guilt with different holidays

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 111-143

You know, one of my problems with this book so far is that there's actually very little plot. There are lots of vignettes and episodes that occur with various characters, and it seems Kim is always meeting someone new and learning something, but there's no story arc that spans the book overall. It's frustrating to me when a character simply flits from one point to another and I'm offered no opportunity to feel interest or suspense about what's going to come next.

Well, anyway, in this bit Kim spends the rest of his first set of holidays with a man who seems to be an antique and jewelry repairman and learns about both that trade and the fine art of memorizing large amounts of detail in a short period of time. (I know; it doesn't make any sense. I can't explain it. Ask Kipling.) Then we hear about how well Kim does in school over the next three years, which is quite well, especially in mathematics and history, and we find out that the holy man Kim had previously been hanging around with is still funding his schooling. They've got a nice father/son sort of relationship going on. We also hear that said holy man is still searching for his magic river. That's really about it. Like I said, not a whole lot of plot, just these little scenes where Kim meets people, does something clever, and moves on. I'm kind of bored.

On the literary side of things, I find myself remarking how many of the books I've read so far on the list are ambivalent toward religion. I'd have to say that all of them fit into that category, actually. Either it plays no important role at all in the characters' development or it's specifically denounced as worthless or unimportant. Kim is the only exception so far, but even it stresses the fact that all religions serve virtually the same purpose and none is more important than another. (Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism are all remarked upon as being paths to the same kind of enlightenment. Check Kipling out, being all progressive. Full of surprise, the old limey.) I kind of like the fact that all of my books are vaguely religiously subversive. I've never been in doubt that literature serves an important purpose in the world, and I like that one of the conclusions I can draw based on this project is that part of that purpose is to question the religious status quo.

I suppose questioning the status quo in general is really what I consider literature good for, but we'll see if the project bears that out. (Maybe I'm just a crazy anti-authoritarian reader, though. Anti-authoritarian everything, actually, if you get right down to it.) I don't know; I like it best when I finish a book and it's fundamentally changed some part of how I look at the world. That's great literature.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The naan alone deserves a paragraph or two.

Current book: Kim
Pages read: None

Well, I didn't get around to reading today, but I did do some more thinking about Rudyard Kipling and Indian literature in general. There's something slightly cold about Kipling's description of Kim's India, and I'm having trouble putting my finger on it. It's as though he's so focused on giving us an accurate portrait of the different classes and races and their attendant lifestyles that he misses some of the things I want the most out of a book about a place I've never been. While there's some visual description of the countryside and the people in it, I feel like it could easily be the description of a thousand places I've been to. (Maybe he's making a point about the universalism of the world and the human experience, but I don't think it's too much to ask to combine that with an understanding of the details that set a particular place apart.)

After thinking about it for some time, I also determined the other main type of description that I felt was missing: food. Am I the only one who loves descriptions of food in books? Maybe it's because I'm kind of a gourmet at heart, or just that I love to eat, but I used to live for the feast scenes in fantasy novels and the descriptions of fabulous meals in fancy restaurants in narratives about the upper class. Even the moments in realist literature when authors describe things like burned goat and bitter fried plantains (The Poisonwood Bible, in case you were wondering) are important. It's not that it necessarily has to turn into a restaurant review, but if I don't know what my characters are eating, I feel like I'm missing out on an important and viscerally compelling set of details. So, that said, Kipling denying me the knowledge of turn-of-the-century Indian food is just outrageous.

That wasn't a particularly deep literary discussion, but what are you gonna do? (Also, I'd like to take this moment to point out the fact that I was deeply disappointed to taste red wine for the first time after all the descriptions in books that made it sound rich and sweet and delicious. If by rich and sweet and delicious they actually meant woody and vinegary, then sure. I solved this problem by discovering sangria.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Frustrate their knavish tricks

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 82-110

Our young hero, Kim, is the subject of much discussion in the British camp in which he's found himself, and it seems that no one can agree precisely what's to be done with a white boy who's been raised as a native and speaks English better than Hindi. (It boggles the mind, really. How could a young English boy prefer loose native clothing and a bastard tongue over the civilized trappings of one of the greatest nations ever to exist? Inconceivable!) However, when a letter comes from the holy man he'd been hanging around with that promises tuition money for the best school in the country, the dilemma is solved. (Money has a way of doing that, I've noticed, no matter the situation. Especially where the British army is concerned.) Anyway, Kim goes off to school, sort of against his will, but he's willing to give it a shot. It turns out that the school is populated by young men with whom he fits in rather well - British boys who've spent their childhoods (I kind of want to make that word childrenhood. But I'm restraining myself.) among Indian youth and often been raised by Indian mother figures. He seems to have a pretty good time in his first term, and when vacation rolls around, he heads off for adventures akin to those to which he's accustomed, wandering about the countryside at his leisure. When we leave him, he's about to spend some of his holiday time working for his favorite horse breeder/Afghani-British double agent. Selling horses and spying! Who could ask for more?

I didn't read that much today, but I think Kipling is deepening his treatment of Kim with every progressive plot point. His character development for Kim is somehow illustrating both a carefree, simple mischief and the balance between white power and Indian struggle. It's never too heavy - when it gets to be, Kipling just switches the tone back to one of pure adventure - but it's revealing how easily Kim can change his demeanor from white Sahib to poor Indian peasant and back again as the situation demands. I'm impressed with Kipling's sensitivity as he communicates the reality of everyday life in colonial Indian society. (Who knew? I thought it was going to be all, "Hurrah Imperialism! We love Mother Britain!" Then again, Kipling did write about the inner life of polo ponies, so you never can tell.)

Still hoping for tigers, though.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Yes, that was innuendo.

Current book: Kim
Pages read: None again

See, that cheesecake was for celebrating the second anniversary of meeting my husband, plus an early Valentine's I'll spare you the details of what I did today instead of reading. Ahem.

Colonialist children's literature will be back tomorrow.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cheesecake Factory, eat your heart out.

Current book: Kim
Pages read: Cheesecake!

Ahem. So, instead of reading today, I made cheesecake. I am completely without remorse. I also, unashamedly, say that I make the best cheesecake in the world. Anyone who would care to contest that statement can propose a showdown and I'll bring my cheesecake skillz. That's right. With a z.

Um, something about Rudyard Kipling. There, I'm a good blogger now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Exotic East

Current book: Kim
Pages read: 1-82

And so we usher in the reign of Mr. Kipling. I have to say, "children's adventure classic" doesn't actually seem the right thing to call this book. I'm pretty sure I would have hated it and stopped after twenty pages or so if I had read it when I were a child. Although, I have to admit that I absolutely loved "The Maltese Cat" at the age of eight, and that was also Kipling, though considerably shorter. (It's so good, you guys. It's about the strategy and tactics of a polo game, but it's told entirely from the horses' point of view. Man, I love that story.) Anyway, sort of archaic language and meandering plot don't really add up to children's adventure classic, if you ask me.

Kim, our young hero, is an orphaned Irish kid who's been raised in India by an Indian woman. He knew his father before he died and was told that he'd one day be taken into the British fold, as it were, because of his heritage. His father told him that a red bull on a green field would be the mark of his salvation and then promptly died. So, Kim pretty much acts like all the native Indian kids, in an impish gamin kind of way, until one day a holy man from Tibet wanders into town. Kim agrees to be the holy man's chela, or disciple, and help him find the sacred healing river that he's looking for as his great life quest. They head off into the countryside and wander around and we get to witness Kim's great resourcefulness at begging and endearing himself to the populace. That's pretty much all that happens for a long time. There's a lot of description of the Indian countryside and a lot of remarks that start with phrases like, "The white man could never..." or "Orientals always..." Eventually, Kim stumbles upon the Irish regiment from which his father hailed, which is represented by a flag featuring - you guessed it - a red bull on a green field. These humble Irish officers decide that Kim, as a white boy, needs to get some proper schooling from the bosom of mother England and appropriate him as their charge. The holy man goes off to continue his quest, and that's where we are. I assume we're going to watch Kim struggle with his identity as an Englishman, especially during the upcoming conflicts within the country.

I'm sort of ambivalent. It hasn't really captured my attention yet, but it's kind of endearing, in a way. I'm surprised at how universally racist Kipling is. He makes broad sweeping statements about everyone, which I guess makes him an equalizer of sorts. I was expecting a lot of anti-Indian sentiment, but if anything, Kipling admires the Indian people he discusses far more than the whites. That's really all I've got to say at this point.

I want there to be tigers. I'm kind of holding out for tigers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Well, it's what we call overkill.

Current book: The Beautiful and Damned
Pages read: 261-449 (end)

Quality time with the elliptical again has resulted in finishing Fitzgerald off completely. I can't say I'm sorry. One of these days I'm going to read a book that I like, and that'll be awesome. (Well, there was Main Street, but it'd be nice if I not only liked it, but it was also uplifting. Great literature doesn't seem to be too good at uplifting.)

Sadly, nothing really comes of Gloria declaring that she can't stand the country house anymore. Instead, they keep having drunken parties there, wasting their time and money, until Anthony's rich prohibitionist grandfather drops in one evening and finds them in flagrante delicto. (I kind of just put that in there because every time I read or hear that phrase I picture Tim Curry saying it in Clue, and it makes me laugh. I'm not sorry.) As a result, Anthony's cut out of the old man's will, and he dies apace, leaving Anthony and Gloria to engage in a protracted court battle to get some of the money. Simultaneously, Gloria starts a sort of campaign of nagging Anthony to get a job, and he makes some attempts, but fails miserably and often embarrassingly. (Particularly at the pyramid scheme salesman job. That was cringe-inducing.)

After another period of watching them bicker and spend too much money, World War I starts and Anthony gets drafted and heads out to a training camp, leaving Gloria behind in New York. While at the camp, Anthony has an affair with a thoroughly annoying local girl who falls desperately in love with him. Gloria doesn't get up to much, but remains faithful. Anthony ends up coming back to New York right before the Armistice and abandoning the local girl completely. He never goes overseas because the war ends before he gets the chance, so he returns to Gloria and the two of them continue their bickering and spending too much money. It's good fun for everybody. (I swear that I'm not leaving anything of import out, here, regardless of the fact that it was nearly 200 pages.)

Eventually Anthony becomes a raging alcoholic (during Prohibition - oh, the irony!) and all of their friends cut off ties to the impoverished, pathetic couple. On the day the court case over Anthony's grandfather's will is to be settled, the local girl Anthony was toying with shows up at the door and begs him to take her back. He very nearly kills her with a blunt object, but instead of following through with the murder (Which I was kind of rooting for, I have to say. She was really annoying.) has some sort of mental breakdown. They win the court case, as it turns out, and are fabulously wealthy, but the book's final scene shows us Anthony muttering madly to himself on the deck of a cruise ship, convinced that he was right all along to wait for his inheritance and unrepentant about his life of ridiculous, wasteful debauchery.

Cheery, huh? I've got to say that I was really getting sick of Fitzgerald's nonsense by the end of this novel. As I said before, it wasn't too hard to get through the prose, simply because of the fact that F. Scott's pretty good at pacing things, but he suffered from the same problem as both Updike and Rushdie did, in a way: I got the point 150 pages in, and everything else seemed superfluous. When you're illustrating the opinion that the human condition is one of despair and bleakness, and that there's an inexorable leaching of beauty and grandeur that occurs with age and disillusionment, you don't really need 500 pages to do it. I guess you could make the argument that by extending these narratives, their authors are emphasizing the point through the ennui they're causing their readers, but as one of those readers, I'd rather they left my ennui out of it. In the end, I felt like this book was almost exactly the same as Gatsby - bored rich people are miserable and bad things happen to them, generally because they're both indolent and so focused on money that they can't see past it to what's actually important. Blech.

Also, I still don't get the point of the weird sections that are written as dramatic scenes or the Japanese servant. I was trying to give Fitzgerald some credit for those, but I've been forced to conclude that they're distracting and unnecessary.

Tomorrow I get to start Kim, and I'm way excited. Yes, it will probably be hideously colonialist, but it's also a classic adventure story that I actually had to check out from the kids' section! Yay!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sartre would be proud.

Current book: The Beautiful and Damned
Pages read: 66-260

Apparently I'm making up for lost time. That and I worked out for a ridiculously long time today, out of Superbowl party remorse, and the elliptical is very good for my page counts. I think mentioning the Superbowl on a literature blog may be a cardinal sin (Hah, get it? Cardinals. I'm so clever.), so let's move on, shall we?

Well, lo and behold, our Mr. Patch falls in love with Gloria Gilbert, and regardless of the fact that she's a twit, goes ahead and marries her. There's some angst in there for a while when Gloria rejects him and claims that she "doesn't want him to kiss her anymore," but she gets right over that and dumps her other prospective fiance, the successful filmmaker, for our hero. In the moment when he declares his love for her, she responds with, "I'm glad." This marriage is going to go really well, guys. I can just tell. Anyway, so they get married and go on a honeymoon during which Gloria whines a lot because the hotel makes her stuffed tomatoes with chicken salad instead of celery (no, I am not making that up), and eventually they come home to New York to settle into their married life together. They end up buying a car and renting a house out in the suburbs and then all action of any kind ceases for a hundred pages or so. We spend that hundred pages hearing about their little fights over things like laundry (I would like to point out that they're not fighting over who has to do the laundry, but rather over who has to ring for the chambermaid and send it out. Can that be a chore that I have do? I can handle ringing for the chambermaid. I am totally on that.) and watching them gradually get bored with each other's company. It's a pretty depressing portrait of marriage, but then again, Gloria doesn't exactly love the cunning young lad. (Anthony, in point of fact, doesn't love her either, though at least he's convinced himself that he does.) Right now, I still like Anthony ok. He's a bit worthless, and I'm beginning to lose my amused tolerance for him, but he hasn't made any really wretched mistakes. That, however, is about to change.

At some point during a summer trip out to the country for the day, Gloria decides it's time to go home before Anthony, who's been drinking all afternoon with his friends, is ready. She drags him to the train station, but waiting in the heat of the afternoon sun, he decides that he's had enough, and insists that they stay at their country friends' for dinner rather than catching the train. Gloria refuses, and as a result he restrains her bodily, despite her tears and verbal protests, until the train has come and gone. It doesn't sound that bad, I realize, but he has no real reason to make her stay except that he's drunk, and she protests so mightily, with screaming and crying and begging him to let her go, that it's obviously an moment of complete domination. It is, I think, abuse. So now I don't like Anthony anymore. Ok, Gloria's a twit, and I could see getting tired of her, but she's the twit he chose to marry, and he has no right to demean her that way. We get a little of his internal monologue during this bit, too, and it's this one sentence that really pushed me over into hating him:

"Ah, she might hate him now, but afterward she would admire him for his dominance."

Screw you, Anthony Patch. To our twit Gloria's credit, she ends the train station scene by biting him on the thumb hard enough to draw blood. (Which I have to say is kind of an awesome picture: proper 1920s woman with her jaws sunk in her husband's thumb in the middle of crowded train platform. Someone should illustrate it.) She's initially unforgivingly angry with him, but it just seems to slide out of the narrative in the next couple of pages. There's no real explanation of why or how she forgives him; it just kind of happens.

Anyway, after that the action ceases once more until a summer evening at the country house. A few of Anthony's friends are staying as guests, and Gloria has become more and more intolerant of their company, until finally she's reached her breaking point. She storms out of the house at 2:30 in the morning with the intent of catching the next train to the city and escaping the feeling of oppression that their country house has begun to give her. Anthony follows her, and eventually two of his friends find them both waiting at the train station. Gloria, sure of the fact that to return to the house would crush her spirit forever, insists that they wait for the morning train. Anthony's friends, then, launch into a philosophical discussion which basically ends with Gloria declaring that the only point to be learned in life is that there's no point to be learned in life. (There's also an interesting discussion of the fact that the Bible is a book cobbled together by pornographers, comedians, and poets, and was written mostly for a lark. I can't imagine that went down well with most 1920s readers. Way to be subversive, Fitzgerald.) Gloria goes off home on the morning train, leaving Anthony and the others to hang out in the country.

The prose has stopped being as cutesy, and there haven't been any more jarring mythological vignettes, but I'm a little disappointed that Fitzgerald has fulfilled the predictable, "Oh, the ennui of a meaningless life when all there is to entertain oneself is the dissipation of the rich." Come to think of it, it's not entirely unlike Main Street, except that it's the rich city version of being stifled by your surroundings and choices. Also, I liked Main Street. Ok, that's not really fair. This isn't bad. I'm fairly entertained by it, and it's no chore to get through the prose, because regardless of the fact that little happens, Fitzgerald still moves the events of the everyday along. The characters, though, seem to lack dimensionality. Some of that is intentional - these people don't have a whole lot to offer the world - but I'd like to care more about them. It's hard to appreciate the tragedy of persistent ennui when you don't really care about the people to whom it's happening.

Also, there's a weird Japanese servant character who's Gloria and Anthony's housekeeper, and I don't know how I feel about him. I'd call him a racist caricature, and there's some of that in the presentation of his dialect, but Fitzgerald isn't doing a completely awful job with him, and we actually end up feeling some sympathy for him. I'm still mystified as to what purpose he's serving, though.

Finally, there's a completely awesome moment of dialogue that I have to share with you. The context of this, which isn't actually very important, is that Anthony's discussing his grandfather with a friend.

"Is he nice?" she demanded.
"Well, in private life he's seldom unnecessarily disagreeable."

I want to start working that into conversation.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Better late

Current book: The Beautiful and Damned
Pages read: 17-66

Hey, look! I actually read something! I know this is a big change, but just breathe through it. You'll be ok. Well, it's been a while, but since all we got to in the last substantive post was meeting Anthony Patch and anticipating his descent into the debauchery of high society, there's not too much to catch up on. (That was kind of it, actually. Except for the bathtub book-holder. Don't laugh - you know you want one. I'm so not the only one who reads in the bath.) So, now we've also met some of Anthony's friends, most notably Dick, and gotten a little taste of their everyday existence. They seem to mostly go to restaurants, drink, and watch theatre. (If someone wants to grant me an inheritance so that I can go to restaurants, drink, and watch theatre, that can go ahead and happen any time. In case you're out there, inheritance-granter, reading this, and you were waiting.) Anyway, after some New York dissipation, what finally happens is that Anthony meets Dick's cousin, Gloria Gilbert, and is, of course, smitten with her nymph-like qualities. (I had to choose between nymph and sylph there. I'm not sure I'm happy with the choice. Maybe we can combine them. Nylph? Symph?) He hasn't fallen in love just yet, but we're obviously going there. She seems like a complete twit, too, which isn't unexpected. Maybe she'll toy with his poor little rich boy emotions. I'll be holding out for that.

The prose is...well, I'm not really sure what to call it, I have to admit. It's oddly cutesy, like Fitzgerald is trying really hard to work in little jokes, and at the same time, the description is overwrought in that 1920s sort of way. I can't decide if Fitzgerald is kind of a sloppy writer, or if he's trying to satirize the style of the day. I think I'm going to give him some credit and go with the satire, but I'm not entirely sure he's worthy of my indulgence. I guess we'll find out. If it were being written today, though, I'm pretty sure the critics would tear him a new one. But it's ok. I'm here for that.

Also, the book is broken into lots of different small sections within the chapters, and some of them are done as...well, vignettes, I guess you'd call them. One was written as a play, with only the dialogue provided, and with stage directions, and one as a mythological sequence in which the powers that be send Beauty down to dwell on Earth in the form of a young girl. (Gloria, of course. The twit.) I didn't mind the play section, and it was, you'll have to pardon the expression, pretty meta to be mocking the theatre of the time within a group of men about to go the theatre, so I can respect that. The mythological interlude, however, seemed not only out of place, but pretty forced. Again, I guess this could be satire, but since I wasn't alive in 1920, it's hard for me to tell what he's satirizing. That's the trouble with literary sniping: it doesn't stand the test of time. Ends up making the famous author look silly for dignifying the Philistines with the attention.


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