Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let’s Talk About Books

It’s summer. I know it’s summer because the hot (brutally humid) weather is finally here. With the hotter weather comes the incessant noise of room air conditioners for those us not fortunate enough to have central air. But don’t cry for me (because I can scarcely hear myself think let alone you crying), for while I can’t possibly watch TV amid this noise, I’ve been reading. Reading, reading.

I’ve already talked about rereading Atlas Shrugged, which, after a few bouts of narcolepsy, I’m happy to report is now progressing nicely. But I’m also reading several other books at the same time (important to note: without confusion between them).

Non-Fiction

The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky, © 2009.

I finally got this from the library and went straight to the recipes and anecdotes about America’s eating habits as collected during the late 1930s and early 40s. It’s a quirky and interesting collection, and I can’t help but smile at the slices of American life presented. The Automat, a fascinating subject all by itself and one that may bear more research, luncheonette slang, and Mississippi Pear Wine, among other southern libations, are just a few of the fun things you’ll find in this book.

But the biggest story is the raison d’être of the original essays: a collection of “what and how Americans ate” submitted by out-of-work writers employed under the Federal Writers Project as part of FDR’s Works Progress Administration. The 22 page introduction has been by far the most interesting part of the book. The author explains how FDR was able to finagle this project under one federal Emergency Relief Act.


But the Emergency Relief Act had also called for "assistance to eductional and clerical persons; a nation-wide program for useful employment for artists, musicians, actors, entertainers, writers..." By the summer of 1935 Federal Project Number 1, popularly known as Federal One, was under way. It included the Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, Federal Theater Project, and Federal Writers’ project, all mandated by law in that one barely noticed phrase in the Emergency Relief Act. [emphasis mine]
Remind you of anything? Be afraid. Be very afraid. But not of this book.

The Art of Fiction, by Ayn Rand, © 2000.

Subtitled “A Guide for Writers and Readers”, this book is an edited version of lectures Miss Rand gave in her living room in 1958 (edited by Tore Boeckmann). While I don’t aspire to write fiction just now, I find merely reading the book to be a vigorous exercise in its implications for readers. I am beginning to understand the difference between the Naturalistic (man’s fate is determined: plotlessness) and Romantic (man has free will: good plot structure) schools of writing and the importance of the plot-theme.

There are two ideas that really stand out to me thus far. The first is that no matter what the author says, his premise on the nature of man will show in the structure of his writing. The second is while learning theories of writing may be important, there is no substitute for the practice of writing. She gives some tips and exercises on how to fill your subconscious mind with concretes so that you can access them when necessary to develop your critically important plot-theme.

I am reading it as part of one of my online book clubs, and discussing the ideas presented in it slowly. When I’m done with the book club analysis of it, I plan to go back and read it again. Its 176 pages of Ayn Rand’s extemporaneous lectures are that chock-full of important stuff.

Fiction

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll © 2004

I started out this summer determined to read a bodice-ripper. Many years ago – okay, decades ago – my summer project was to read a book with Fabio on the cover (same thing, really). I did and it was just awful! There was no plot to speak of, the characters were vapid, and the sex scenes putrescent. So why try again? Because I thought that with my advanced life experience and wisdom, I would be able to pick out a saucy little story that didn’t make me gag.

On the recommendation of friends, I tried Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, thinking that it would be something I could sink my teeth into. I mean, men in kilts? C’mon! How could you go wrong? Nope. I was surprised to find nothing there which interested me.

And then, from across a crowded Barnes & Noble, I laid my eyes on it. Not for the first time, either. For years I had been aware of, but successfully avoided, its kind. It just sat there, dangerously close to the original ideal, suggesting more than I could hope to ask for. I slowly made my way to the display, lightly pressing each finger purposefully onto its smooth cover, gently turning it over, and ever so casually scanning its back quietly aching to know more. Keeping it low, I ran the spine down the palm of my hand and considered the unlimited possibilities inside. Suddenly unfolding its crisp pages and revealing its promise between my thumbs, I fell prey to its intoxicating new book scent. Finally succumbing to its seduction, I took a deep breath, lifted the book with a decidedly triumphant grasp, and exhaled, “I’m so buying this!”

Well, that was a few weeks ago and so far, despite the fact that it is fan fiction and an unapologetic Edwardian bodice-ripper, it manages to remain true to the characters and perfectly fills the bill of a saucy summer read.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger © 2004

Finally, I am reading this book as part of my neighborhood book club. I wanted to read it for a while and have been quite pleased with it thus far. Fair warning: unless you are an experienced time traveler – time travel reader, that is – it can get a little confusing and may require some back and forth reading to figure out what’s going on, but that hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of it yet.

The whole temporal shift thing never seems to end well, but I really can't tell exactly where it's going. The title character meets her husband for the first time when he is a fully-formed adult and she is only six, and obviously, many times after that. Then when she is 19, she meets him in real time but he does not yet know who she is. Confused? Don’t be. The author does a much better job describing the quickly changing times by putting a date (or dates) and ages before the scene.

Even better, if I end up liking it, I get to see the movie which opens this Friday.

I usually enjoy a good novel-turned-movie.

Okay, your turn.

3 comments:

Amy said...

I skimmed the Food book, too. I loved the Automat part, but I couldn't slug through the whole book. (I was so sickened by the intro that I skipped it.) I wish I had that book when Adam hunted squirrel when we lived in Michigan. I ended up making squirrel stew, which wasn't bad.

Kelly Elmore said...

I loved _Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife_. I am an unashamed reader of nearly every spin-off Jane Austen novel. Some of them are very good; this one wasn't really good, but I really liked to read sex scenes with Mr. Darcy in them. It had a great sense of life!

LB said...

Mmmm, Amy. Squirrel stew. We once killed 13 flying squirrels in our house - well, just outside of it, actually. (Don't tell - it's probably illegal, but the little nocturnal bastards were partying in the walls of our bedroom!) Sadly, we made no stew.

Kelly, that's exactly what I've been thinking. Do you care to recommend a better spin-off?