The River of Literature and Truth

This quote speaks to the enduring life behind literature. Literature is kind of like religious scripture; it manifests enduring truths and values wrapped in the clothing of its various eras, whereas the various scriptures are frozen in the time of their writing.

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“I can’t speak for readers in general, but personally I like to read stories behind which there is some truth, something real and above all, something emotional. I don’t like to read essays on literature; I don’t like to read critical or rational or impersonal or cold disquisitions on subjects.”

~ Laura Esquivel ~

The Gift and the Curse of Conscience

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Go Set A Watchman, by Harper Lee

I wasn’t going to read this book when I first discovered it published; I thought everything necessary to know about the Finch family and the town of Maycomb, Alabama, had been written into Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. But the possibility of reading a sequel to the original proved too strong.

As I was to learn from the reading, however, this book wasn’t a sequel as much as a parallel tale. Atticus Finch is an old man now, Scout/Jean Louise a twenty-something and considering marriage to Hank Clinton, Jem gone. The first half for the book gives the reader a view of Maycomb through the eyes and ears of Jean Louise some years after her move to New York. She, then, is an outsider of a unique sort: intimately familiar with the people and place of Maycomb, viewing both with innocence and bias, thus a somewhat reliable/unreliable narrator.
The centerpiece of Lee’s story here is a chance eavesdropping on a citizen’s council meeting in Maycomb, in which an outsider regales the city fathers with a long racial rant. She notices both Hank and Atticus there and becomes distraught at what she sees as their violation of her moral trust in them.
Lee’s device here, instead of a trial, is a long dialectic discourse between Jean Louise and Atticus, in which Atticus attempts to rationalize a two-handed approach to race relations in Maycomb, thus in the South in general. For Jean Louise, her conscience has set her against family and town, her quandary being how she could ever live with herself faced with the prospect of residing once more in Maycomb and married to Hank.

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Good literature and philosophy exist in parallel universes, and while literature rarely wishes to provide the answers that philosophy must, it invariably points the way to such possibilities. Ms. Lee knows this, I think, and makes the best literary use of the South’s conundrums in suggesting a balance point, albeit tentative, to life there.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

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Reading as Conversation

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
~Joseph Addison ~

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I’ve always believed this. Reading is very similar to an engrossing conversation with a friend in which you both explore ideas, some of which you may not agree with. And the conversation is always there, to be redone again. As such, it can be a barometer of your philosophic growth and strength.

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The Look of Love

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I had a conversation last night with a very good friend about a subject related to the quote below. While love seems an abstract in this day and age, what would you say is its manifestation?

Children?

Family?

Spouse?

Friends?

Your nation?

All these factor in, but what of all that is yours to “own?” Yourself, I think. So be what you’re meant to be:

a Writer?

a Musician?

an Engineer?

a Plumber?

a Carpenter?

Do that – be that to its fullest – and you’ll be personally fulfilled as a human being. According to Teilhard de Chardin, love is at that fulfillment’s basis.

“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.”
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ~

The Long and Short of Story

Doris Betts, my mentor, told me one day that you’re either innately a short story writer or a novelist. She didn’t mean one couldn’t be the other; she simply meant that one’s nature leaned toward either the short story or the novel.

I’ve quoted Lawrence Block below on the rigors of novel writing. I don’t necessarily agree to his analogies here, but he has given you the perspective of a novelist.

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“Short-story writing, as I saw it, was estimable. One required skill and cleverness to carry it off. But to have written a novel was to have achieved something of substance. You could swing a short story on a cute idea backed up by a modicum of verbal agility. You could, when the creative juices were flowing, knock it off start-to-finish on a slow afternoon.

A novel, on the other hand, took real work. You had to spend months on the thing, fighting it out in the trenches, line by line and page by page and chapter by chapter. It had to have plot and characters of sufficient depth and complexity to support a structure of sixty or a hundred thousand words. It wasn’t an anecdote, or a finger exercise, or a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. It was a book.

The short-story writer, as I saw it, was a sprinter; he deserved praise to the extent that his stories were meritorious. But the novelist was a long-distant runner, and you don’t have to come in first in a marathon in order to deserve the plaudits of the crowd. It is enough merely to have finished on one’s feet.”

~ Lawrence Block, Writing a Novel, 1979 ~

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