May 11, 2015 at 8:33 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Ape and Essence

6638053-MAuthor: Aldous Huxley

Genre: Fiction/ Literature/ Allegory

Length: 152 pages

Of the four Aldous Huxley books included on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list,  is not one of them.

With good reason.

While I was reading I kept thinking, I like the concept, but I am aghast that this is the man famous for a book that millions are required to read for school.  Not because there is anything bad about it… it’s just… really? This is the kind of stuff we want to force teenagers to read?  It’s disjointed, surly, and… dare I say… a little boring.

The best moment, by far, was when I read:

‘Give back that ring.’

‘Which ring?’ the man falters.

At which point my nerdy self said to my book: “The one that will rule them all, duh!”

To be fair, the book that is typically required reading for students is Brave New World, not Ape and Essence.  So, naturally, I had to do a bit of research before considering reading Brave New World, giving Huxley a chance to prove himself in my eyes.  If I can’t stomach 152 pages of the man, why would I submit myself to more?

I feel justified in my disappointment, because as my kid sat and worked through a literacy program on the computer at the library, I consulted the Concise Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume 6: Modern Writers 1914-1945, and read up on Huxley and this piece of drivel I had just plowed through.

There I read, “Aldous strained to pile horror upon cross horror… the book, it always seemed to me, achieves a high degree of unbearableness.”

There I also read, “most the characters and ideas come from a discount Huxley warehouse.”

Deep sigh of exasperated relief.  I don’t have to like this book.  Thank God.

Mikhaul Bakhtin described Huxley’s work as the “Canivalesque Novel.”  Others in this category would be Rabelais’ Gargantua and Cervantes Don Quixote.  These novels are known for “emphasizing inclusion rather than selection” and are “structured like a ‘plate of mixed fruit.’”  They are known as the anti-novel.

Sheldon Sacks, on the other hand, considered Huxley’s work as apolgoues, like More’s Utopia, Voltaire’s Candide, and Johnson’s Rasselas… fictions structured as persuasive arguments.  (For the record, I am basically paraphrasing – and point blank quoting – the CDBLB!)

The title for Ape and Essence was taken from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, when Isabella says:

Could great men thunder

As Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet,

A sFor every pelting, petty officer

Would use his heaven for thunder;

Nothing but thunder! Merciful Heaven,

Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt

Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak

Than the soft myrtle: but man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,

Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Again, I have not read Brave New World, but I come away with the overpowering sense that perhaps it is easier to digest because, like the CDBLB says, Brave New World is about what could happen; Ape and Essence is presented as something that probably will.  Ape and Essence leaves you with nothing to hope for, and in a world full of agony – hope is vital.  The whole book is about how “faith in progress has led to outright regression,” and the book ends with an egg being cracked over a gravestone.

A society so driven by perfection and stamping out rebellion and evil that they have destroyed everything.  They do not have the hope and insight of Steinbeck when he wrote in East of Eden, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”  Instead, everyone strives for perfection until they’ve essentially destroyed themselves and everything around them.  They’ve destroyed the world’s ability to think and grow.

Ape and Essence is the most depressing piece of near-satire I’ve ever encountered.

The man himself, however, had some awesome things to say on the nature of writing.  Many people read his novels and were irritated by finding mirror images within some of his characters.  After a few lost friends he responded,

“Of course I base my characters partly on people I know – one can’t escape it – but fictional characters are oversimplified; they’re much less complex than the people one knows.  There is something of (John Middleton) Murry in several of my characters, but I wouldn’t say I’d put Murry in a book.”

I could not say it better myself.  Characters may seem a bit like this person or that, but never, never is any fiction that I write in any way biographical.  So even though I did not care for Ape and Essence, I came away from researching Huxley fulfilled – and justified.

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Work Like Steinbeck… Journaling My Novels

August 6, 2012 at 12:28 am (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , )

When I first started reading Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, I was a bit disappointed.  Already having read Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, I was searching for more of Steinbeck’s words and was met with mostly outside commentary.  There is still a great deal of Steinbeck’s journals in Working Days, I was simply being impatient.

Although I find the East of Eden Letters to be more intriguing, a representation of a more beautiful life; Working Days is more inspirational.  Working Days takes you step by step through the trials of being a diligent writer, of actively being purposeful, of learning a routine.  The act of learning dedication to the craft was refreshing and encouraging, Working Days reminded me “See, even Steinbeck had to work for it.”  Where as East of Eden Letters just seemed like a magical dream, the routine having already been discovered and maintained properly.

Although I would never dream to compare my work to Steinbeck’s, I found pleasure and familiarity from his entry:

“This must be a good book.  It simply must.  I haven’t any choice.  It must be far and away the best thing I have ever attempted – slow but sure, piling detail on detail until a picture and experience emerge.  Until the whole throbbing thing emerges.”

Is that not what we writers say to ourselves every day?

This picture features about half my journal collection.

Although I have always kept journals, both personal and story related, more often than not a mixture of the two; reading Working Days has put me in a new mindset.  My first novel is in a place where I feel comfortable with putting an absolute deadline in motion.  Sure, I’ve said this before, but I mean it more now than I have in the past.  I’ve written about 1500 to 3000 words a day my whole life, on various different stories, some for my novel, many for writing warm ups.  AJ and Ivy’s Bookshop Hotel, link found on the right, is one of my many writing warm-ups.  The problem with many of my warm-ups is that I find them easy and cozy and their stories have no direction so sometimes I opt to linger there rather than get real work done.

So now I have a plan.

From now until December 12th, my deadline of choice, I am going to write one journal entry page per one page of work dedicated to completing my debut novel.  Parts One and Two of my novel are currently in the editing process, and Part Three will be complete in time for this deadline.  Copies will then be made and submitted to a selection of friends and family to read over.  This time next year, I plan to be published.  This time next year, I plan to be making a new plan to complete my next novel, many are half written in one of those journals you see on display to the left of the screen.  Smashwords, here I come.  Dutton, look out, I want you.

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A Weekend With Murderers

June 22, 2012 at 3:15 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Its been an interesting, though depressing weekend of books, while I was away from the computer. Since my modem had burned up and we were patiently waiting for a new one, I decided to sit down and have as much as a reading marathon as possible with a toddler in my midst. So between a whole lot of picture and board books, I was on a mission to tick some loitering TBRs off my end table…

…Starting with Native Son by Richard Wright. I didn’t make it. I had to stop after book one, about a hundred pages into the novel. The book seriously stressed me out, and although I plan to finish it one day, I think it will take me many months of sitting down with twenty or so pages at a time. I don’t think I would have made it reading it as a student for class, so I’m thankful it was never part of my own required reading. Keep in mind, I tried to sit down with this book immediately after finishing Of Mice and Men. Clearly too much needless killing for one sitting.

So I set it aside, but moved onto to the worst choice ever: Albert Camus’ The Stranger was next on the list, the first time in my life not reading the back cover has bit me in the butt. So I go from one fear killing to another fear killing dipped in racism and onto just plain killing with no rhyme or reason. Good thing The Stranger is only about 150 pages long, or it would have been cast aside with Bigger.

All these “helpless” humans killing other humans. I got really irritated, more than a little sad, and switched over to some nonfiction where I polished the weekend off with a whole lot of Astrology and Astronomy books for a little research project. As someone who personally knows someone in prison for two accounts of attempted murder, I just have a hard time buying into the helpless unintentional killings, unless we’re talking self defense or the mentally disabled (like in Of Mice and Men).

What have you been reading?

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A Piece of Steinbeck

June 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Click on the Book Cover to visit the National Steinbeck Center website.

Title: Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin

Length: 103 pages

A friend asked me if Of Mice and Men was a good representation of Steinbeck’s work.  Not having read it, but being a die hard fan of East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, I decided to sit down for an afternoon read.

Of Mice and Men was written as an experiment, so says the inside jacket of my beautiful Penguin Centennial Edition.  Steinbeck himself called it, “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.”  Its true, it is a playable novel.  And as complete as a lone standing novella, it could also be a brief chapter in a full length Steinbeck saga that I’ve grown to expect.

My favorites by Steinbeck are long sweeping story lines of depression, written with perfection, where Of Mice and Men is a short stint featuring a relationship between two men as one struggles with the lines between gentility and brute force.  When I think of Steinbeck, its for his onion layers of generational secrets, sins, and passions.  If given this in hand written form, not knowing what it was from, I think I would guess Steinbeck, but ask where the rest of the book is, thinking this was a bit of back story to something much more epic.  I wouldn’t call this a short representation of his work though, its so unique and different.  It feels more like a small little corner of his brain, a little tiny piece of the puzzle that makes up Steinbeck’s genius.

For starters, there’s much more dialogue than I usually see in Steinbeck’s pieces, true to the form of a play.  There are far less propelling descriptions that push you along a timeline, instead of equating my reading experience to a landscape often seen in those large European antiquarian homes and museums, I feel like I’m looking at one scene or portrait on an average sized canvas.  I wasn’t left with a deep sense of having been, step for step, in the same place the characters had walked, like I did with East of Eden.  I closed the book saddened at Lennie’s plight, but did not feel the overwhelming gush of reality being poured upon me by a starving man seeking nourishment from the breast milk of a woman who had just delivered a stillborn baby in a barn.

Steinbeck succeeded in his play-novel experiment, and its quite good – I feel like I’m watching a play.  But I don’t feel like I’m nose deep in story, reluctant to come up for air even to eat, or drink, or use the restroom; which is usually the case when I read Steinbeck.  Who do I recommend Of Mice and Men for?  Anyone attempting to guide their reading habits from one genre to another.  If you usually read novels and want to try plays, pick this up as a stepping stone.  If you are a theatre buff, actor, or director who usually reads plays or screenplays and are in the mood to get your literature on, Of Mice and Men would be a good starting point.  It would be a great crossover piece for younger literature students as they are led from one unit to the next, and I think I may use it as such for my daughter, an afternoon project.  Although, I wouldn’t spend more time than a afternoon on it, and I will probably never read it myself again.

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Inner Voices and Elizabeth Kostova

January 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Swan Thieves

Author: Elizabeth Kostova

Publisher: Little, Brown

Genre: Fiction

Length: 561 pages

Buy Work by Kostova

There are writers whose voices fall in step with some inner voice of my own.  They have a seamless and perfect tambour that has no problem intertwining and conversing with the language of my soul.  F.Scott Fitzgerald is one of those writers, Tanya Egan Gibson is one of those writers, John Steinbeck is one of those writers – their sentence structures find a rhythm that beats to my own personal drum.

Elizabeth Kostova is not one those writers.

Her stories are so fascinating.  I have every desire to read everything she’s ever written.  But making that desire a reality is a struggle.  I find myself saying “Just get through this chapter so you can find out what happens next,” both in The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

Therefore, as I’m reading The Swan Thieves, I feel as though I am not the right person to review her books.  Kostova is talented and inspiring: such captivating stories! such a high word count for a debut novel! (The Historian was a little over 241k words) such interesting ideas! But she just doesn’t speak to me.

When I come across books like these I become exceptionally curious.  I’d like to know who she does speak to, what’s the difference in our brains? Is it a geographical dialect issue? Do I not follow her phrasing because my inner voice is either southern, British, or some indistinguishable ‘Yankee’ and she speaksMichigan? I don’t know, I’ve never been toMichigan.  Please read it yourself and come discuss with me, I’d like to find out!

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