Friday, March 26, 2010

Nothing new under the sun

Current book: A Good Man is Hard to Find
Pages read: None

You know, I think that one of my major problems with Flannery O'Connor, aside from the fact that the themes of her stories all seem to be the same (that humanity is selfish and violent), is that she writes about the South. (I realize my capitalization may be controversial, here, but I'm referring to a specific geographic region with a cohesive identity, not the cardinal direction, so I'm giving it the capital.) I know I mentioned this yesterday, when I was concerned with the fact that her portrayal of the South was biased and negative, but I'll admit, today, to hating pretty much everything I read that's set in the South. I say pretty much because it is possible for a book to transcend its setting if it's good enough. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, manages to be completely awesome and amazing despite its dusty, rural atmosphere.

What is it about the South as a setting that bothers me? I'm not sure, honestly, but there are definitely a couple of things that contribute to the problem. First, there's the fact that I've lived in the South on more than one occasion and I don't like it there. (Seriously, nothing happens in a timely manner. Buying groceries is an exercise in Buddha-like patience as you wait for the cashier to finish talking to the person in front of you, finish asking you how you're doing and if you found everything all right and how your day's going and isn't the weather nice, and then actually scan the groceries at glacial speed. Many people refer to this as a charming, laid-back atmosphere. I refer to it as annoying as hell, especially when I have other errands to run.) Then, there's the fact that when a book begins with a description of its setting, and it's some rural town in Mississippi, you pretty much know where that book is going - either it's going to be a long-term portrait of a family that's lived there for years and has struggled over the ages to make its fortune and reputation, or it's going to be an examination of the history and current state of racism in that town, probably featuring a transformative experience for one of more of its main characters. Don't pretend I'm wrong about this, because I am so, so right. As I said, there are books that transcend this issue, but there aren't many of them. It's gotten to the point where, when I go to the library, any book that has a description that mentions the South goes right back on the shelf. What can I say? They're just like the books about up-and-coming young women trying to make it in New York. I know what they're about - it's always the same.

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