From Dust Bowl Ballads (1940), an album by folk legend Woody Guthrie. The songs follow the journey of farmers from the dust bowl of the midwest US to California in search of work. There are a few songs on the album about John Steinbeck’s novel, Grapes of Wrath, which I think is pretty cool. I love when songs reference books I’ve read.

1920s, Literature

An Update (with a few books!)

So it has been almost two months since I last posted, but I have not stopped reading! To those who may have lost track: March was the 20s, April is the 30s (for thirty more minutes), and May will be the 40s. However, for a few reasons, I have sorta been stuck in the 20s for this entire month. The main reason I decided to do that is because I was looking at lists and I realized I didn’t have much interest in many of the 30s books that I hadn’t read. Don’t get me wrong, there are some WONDERFUL books from that decade (Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, The Hobbit, Gone With the Wind, As I Lay Dying, to name a few). However, I have already read the first four of that list, and while I hope to tackle those last two at some point in my life, I am a little too intimidated to attempt them now. THEREFORE: I have been just reading 20s books recently. But I am almost ready to move into the 40s! Also, I am reaching that point where I realize I will really be missing out on the ‘flavor’ of these decades if I don’t delve a little more into movies and music! So for the next month or so I will probably be bouncing all over the place in terms of decade and medium.

So there’s my long update. On to the books I’ve read!

The 20s were the decade of the Lost Generation. I read two of this generation’s quintessential works: This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway; and I am currently reading a third: All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. According to Wikipedia (aw yeah scholarly research), the term ‘Lost Generation’ was first popularized when it was used by Hemingway as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises: “You are all a lost generation,” said Gertrude Stein to Hemingway in conversation. The Lost Generation is comprised of the people who grew up and came of age during World War I. As I learned and am still learning from my reading, the war caused an incredible amount of damage to these young people–the ones who died in the war, of course, but also the ones who survived. The men who came back from the war were not the boys who left. As Paul Bäumer, the narrator of All Quiet, says: “We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.” Or as Amory Blaine, the narrator of The Sun Also Rises, puts it: “‘I’m not sure that the war itself had any great effect on either you or me–but it certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation.'” Hemingway, of course, is not as verbose as Fitzgerald or Remarque, but nevertheless his novel is filled with a sense of listlessness–in characters who don’t have a firm grasp on life after the war, and are just wandering, without attempting to find meaning in their lives past a good buzz and an entertaining bullfight.

And here I thought that the 20s might be a little less depressing than the 10s–instead, I found all of these former soldiers who, after growing up amidst the horror of trench warfare, could not go back to their former lives. Or, maybe more accurately, they didn’t even learn how to live in the first place, since their formative years were spent in the trenches. I, of course, cannot put it any better than any of the authors, so I will leave you with more musings of Paul Bäumer:

“And even if those scenes of our youth were given back to us we would hardly know what to do. The tender, secret influence that passed from them into us could not rise again. We might be amongst them and move in them; we might remember and love them and be stirred by the sight of them. But it would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade; those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spent together take on a mournful life in the memory; but the man himself it is not.

We could never regain the old intimacy with those scenes. It was not any recognition of their beauty and their significance that attracted us, but the communion, the feeling of a comradeship with the things and events of our existence, which cut us off and made the world of our parents a thing incomprehensible to us–for then we surrendered ourselves to events and were lost in them, and the least little thing was enough to carry us down the stream of eternity. Perhaps it was only the privilege of our youth, but as yet we recognized no limits and saw nowhere an end. We had that thrill of expectation in the blood which united us with the course of our days.

To-day we would pass through the scenes of our youth like travellers. We are burnt up by hard facts; like tradesmen we understand distinctions, and like butchers, necessities. We are no longer untroubled–we are indifferent. We might exist there; but should we really live there?

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial–I believe we are lost.”

(PS happy times coming soon! Because guess what started in the 1930s? Disney movies!!)

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1910s, Literature

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Here we are, over a week into March, and I’m just getting around to my last book of the 1910s. I guess I should have expected James Joyce to put me behind schedule. I bet putting readers behind schedule was one of his main goals with his writing. So anyways, I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916. It is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story of young-man/artist Stephen Dedalus. It follows his life and philosophical musings from a very young age into his twenties. Not too much in the way of plot. Just a lot of Dedalus talking to his family, peers, and teachers about life, death, and everything in between. Also, I guess reading PotA before Joyce’s magnum opus, Ulysses, makes the latter a lot easier to read. Though don’t expect me to read Ulysses anytime soon.

A small plot summary: Stephen Dedalus grows up in Catholic Ireland. He does well in school, but is bullied. He begins to think a lot about the culture in which he growing up, and starts to realize some problems he has with it. Eventually, after moving to Dublin with his family, Dedalus succumbs to his growing sexual frustrations and begins to see prostitutes. Some time later, he goes on a religious retreat with his class, where they listen to sermons designed to strike the fear of God into the students–and, in the case of Dedalus, they work like a charm. He decides that he will repent and excels in his religious studies. His instructors ask if he has aspirations of becoming a priest, at which point he accepts the fact that he was never as convinced by the religion as he should be to become a priest, so he gives up on religion. He then attends university, where he continues to be successful academically, but also begins to realize all the issues he has with Ireland’s religion, politics, and education. He eventually decides that he must leave Ireland to fully realize his potential as an artist and human, since his home country puts too many restrictions on his growth as an artist.

As dense as some parts of the novel were, I actually really enjoyed it. If you are a fan of a lot of angsty philosophical musings (imagine if Holden Caulfield got ahold of a thesaurus), then you will definitely enjoy this book. It is also apparently the most accessible of James Joyce’s novels, and while that is not saying a whole lot, it is not nearly as daunting as the behemoths Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake (not to say I have even attempted either of those two, nor will I for this blog). Definitely readable, if you have the time and patience.

Most of this book probably went right over my head, so I will spare any attempts at analysis, and, as usual, simply present some of my favorite quotes. Enjoy!

“He had to undress and then kneel and say his own prayers and be in bed before the gas was lowered so that he might not go to hell when he died.”

“And thanks be to God, Johnny, said Mr Dedalus, that we lived so long and did so little harm.”

“And if that mountain rose again after it had been all carried away, and if the bird came again and carried it all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun.”

“To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!”

“This race and this country and this life produced me, he said I shall express myself as I am.”

“The soul is born, he said vaguely, first in those moments I told you of. It has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body. When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”

“The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which the Italian physiologist Luigi Galvani, using a phrase almost as beautiful as Shelley’s, called the enchantment of the heart.”

Stephen began to enumerate glibly his father’s attributes.

—A medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a story-teller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a tax-gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past.”

“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.”

“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.”

“I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too.”

[Really the core of all atheism, I would think.]

“[I] Have read little and understood less.”

[I feel you there, Stephen. Though I don’t believe you.]

“Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

APRIL 27. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”

[The very end of the book is composed of Stephen Dedalus’ journal entries from after the end of the narrative. These are the final 1.5 entries.]

Ok now that I’m belatedly finished with the 1910s, time to start with the 20s!!

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1910s, Literature, Uncategorized

Sons and Lovers

Ok so it’s been over a week since I last posted, and now suddenly I only have four days left in this month/decade!

The reason for the long absence can be attributed to the book I read, Sons and Lovers, by DH Lawrence, published in 1913. It took me forever to finish, and after I finished it a few days ago, it took me a long time to figure out what to write about it. Not to say I’ve figured out what to write, I’m just ready to move on from this book. Because, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t like it very much.

This book was ranked #9 on The Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century, right ahead of Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, which is one of my favorite books, so I figured it must be good. And while I definitely appreciated the good writing, I just never got that into it. It was so dense, and I didn’t get very attached to any of the characters, so in the end I was just happy it was over. Which is not the feeling I like to have at the end of the book!

Anyways, the book is set in rural England and centers around the Morel family–specifically Paul Morel. Paul Morel really likes his mom; like, really likes his mom. It reached uncomfortable levels a few times, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting after doing some research about it before I started (Oedipus is thrown around a lot when discussing this book, but there was no physical relationship between him and his mother–just emotional. So not as bad). Paul also really doesn’t like his dad. He thinks that his father is not near good enough for his mother, and he may be right–Mr. Morel is not the most attentive of fathers/husbands out there. The love for his mother really ends up messing up his love life, as he cannot commit to any woman, since his heart belongs to his mother. 

Lawrence spends much of the novel in his characters’ heads–analyzing their thoughts, loves, fears, etc. He uses an extremely omnipresent narrative style, so even though Paul Morel is the protagonist, that does not stop Lawrence from spending pages on end in the heads of the other characters. This was one aspect of the book that I didn’t like so much. I’m more of a fan of limited narration, as in Steinbeck’s books. Even though you aren’t explicitly told the thoughts of the characters, you still have a good idea most of the time as to what they are thinking/feeling.

Lawrence spends a lot of time talking about love and loss, as well as the separation of the mind and body. Much of the conflict in the book stems from conflicts between the mind and the body. For instance, Paul’s body may be in love with a girl, but his mind is always 100% with his mother, which makes it really difficult for him to make any commitments. 

I really don’t know what else to say about the book–I wish I had enjoyed it more, but I just really did not. However, there are many people out there who love it, so please, go look at better reviews of the book so that you have more to go on than just my one-sided view. 

Here are some excerpts I thought were interesting:

“It seemed to him a bitter humiliation and an anguish to go through. But he said nothing. When he got up in the morning, his whole being was knotted up over this one thought:

‘I’ve got to go and look for the advertisements for a job.’

It took in front of the morning, that thought, killing all joy and even life, for him. His heart felt like a tight knot.”

[God, I feel you there, Paul]

“They were both very happy so, and both unconscious of it. These times, that meant so much, and which were real living, they almost ignored.”

“‘You’ll find you’re always tumbling over the things you’ve put behind you,’ he said.”

“It was like a circle where life turned back on itself, and got no farther. She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman.”

There was a silence in which they hated each other, though they laughed.”

[This is a good example of characters feeling two opposite emotions simultaneously, which happened all the time in the book. Also he really loves to use the word ‘hate.’ I think every character hated every other character at one point or another in this novel. It ended up losing a lot of meaning for me by the end; I feel like that word should always be used sparingly.]

“She kissed his face, and roused his blood, while his soul was apart writhing with the agony of death.”

Far away he could hear the sharp clinking of the trucks on the railway. No, it was not they that were far away. They were there in their places. But where was he himself?”

“So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core a nothingness, and yet not nothing.”

[By the end, Paul get pretty depressed, introspective, and existential. Hence the tone of those last quotes. Though it does end with a hint that Paul will be able to let go of his feelings for his mother and live out the rest of his life without her (she dies at the end).]

 

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