It’s Important, and We Should Listen To The Growing Complaints

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The readers of this blog know by now that I have problems with certain aspects of the American version of postmodern literature – one of my plaints is given here. Philip Roth, among other, less luminous beings in the writer/reader firmament, has given up on fiction. Why? Because many of the most talented young writers have used fiction as a mirror for their own personalities, not for story.

There are tons of stories out there that should – MUST – be told. While we do live in an age of personalities, and while it’s impossible to keep today’s writers’ personalities out of their writing, the story is – and always will be – the thing.

 

 

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Why Do We Rage So?

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Memorial Day is on my mind this morning, and while it’s altogether fitting and proper to honor those who were sent to fight the U.S.’s wars of the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s a shame that it had to come to that.  I continue to read on Facebook and other social media posts by real life friends there and the virtual “friends”of those media wishing better things in the world and in the country we yanks inhabit. But on the other hand, I read angry posts, even true friends of mine that want to settle disputes and ego injuries with weapons or fists. I read posts that wish our national borders closed to those who wish to take part in the promise the U.S. seems to ever promise. That’s sad. Sad.

But these self serving postures aren’t indigenous to the U.S. only. Problems and inequities abound worldwide. That’s why Ayaan Hirsi Ali has risen to celebrity status world wide. She has stood against the way women are treated, against religious bias, and for personal dignity, for the desire of everyone to reach a state of happiness and personal fulfillment. It is, it seems, that some people feel threatened by people such as Ali having their own sense of fulfillment, and until we can allow that without it being a threat to our own egos and our own sense of destiny, we’ll continue to take the least viable options in human relations – anger, threats, violence, and war.

 

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Two Totally Fine Writers

Tim Gautreaux and Terry Kay are two very under-appreciated Southern writers – except perhaps in their homes states of Louisiana and Georgia respectively. Both are great storytellers, great wordsmiths and fine people to boot.

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Check out their work, and what I have to say about them at the links above.

 

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Looking for the Universal in Literature

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It’s so very tempting as a writer to have an agenda, to put your own personal set of ethics up front in whatever your write. This is the thrust of many religious writers, who get a serious case of “feel-good” by doing so. But are you underestimating your readers in doing this? Take Tolstoy, for instance.

You can look long and hard and not find a writer who was/is more devout in his/her faith than Leo Tolstoy. Still, he had the good sense to look for universal truths in his writing, as he made plain in this very short book of his. To my mind this accomplishes a very good thing – the one thing literature is all about: he puts his story and characters into a cultural context, but he couches the issues of the story in such a way that just may urge the reader to dig deeper than the personal, the current ethos.

Doing this is the heart of literature and, I believe, the thing that continues to urge readers to keep turning pages.

 

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Booktravel

The last decade has been an eye opener for me regarding the broad expanse of subject matter in novels around the world, the novelists and their work in faraway lands, and the styles of writing.

American writing differs from that of most other nations, it seems to me, in that American novelists have given much popular fiction the feel of cinema. Not so elsewhere; outside these borders skillfully wrought narrative rules the day, while we here seem to like lots of dialogue.

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Mischa Berlinski’s fine novel, Fieldwork, captures the narrative style as it gives us a story, leaning toward mystical realism, of life in a distant culture. Books have always been the avenues of travel, of trips into the minds of others, into the workings of other cultures.

So much we can learn of life sitting in an easy chair at day’s end and reading.

 

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The Patience to Re-live a Life

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Researching and writing biographies is a noble pursuit, particularly for certain writers. Me? I feel too rushed – always have – to take on the piecing together of a famous life, one shrouded by the passage of years and myth.

Ron Powers has done a great service to the life of Samuel Clemens – Mark Twain, as we more commonly know him, and it’s a read you’ll enjoy from birth to death of this giant of American letters.

 

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Revolutionary and Reading Blind

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The better writers across the world realize that they, through their writing, can be agents of change. Portuguese writer Jose Saramago was precisely this. But better not to overtly rail against the established order; better to cast parables, simple but profoundly incisive metaphors, as a way of allowing readers to see the world anew. It’s not the writer’s task to say “Do it this way,” you see, but they can manipulate the manner in which the reader sees the world. Thus the reader – not the writer – gains a vision of what might be and is able to act, to make that vision real.

Saramago, in Blindness, accomplishes such a goal by slowly making the people of his world go blind. How do they cope? In many perhaps trivial ways. But the effect of limiting the human condition in this way allows both his characters and his readers to see the dross of the world, to allow it to be swept away, and for the true essence of life to emerge phoenix-like.

The skillful writer can, as Saramago does here, also limit his writing style to its essence to underscore the text’s impact. Saramago’s writing is almost exclusively in narrative, even drastically limited in punctuation. To write in this way takes paramount skill and understanding of the use of words, and Saramago’s gifts in this regard will surely reach far beyond his years on earth.

 

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