dchaikin part 1- to seken straunge strondes

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dchaikin part 1- to seken straunge strondes

Jan 1, 3:31 pm

Editado: Jan 1, 3:53 pm

That's the opening to the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, penned by Adam Pinkhurst, about 1410. My plan is to read some of this every morning, beginning today (I'm still on my copy's introduction).

My other themes this year include: William Faulkner's early novels, from Soldier's Pay through to The Wild Palms. If that works, I'll be reading The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, A Light in August and Absalom! Absalom!, among others. The Booker longlist (I have four books left, the four shortest, I think), Edith Wharton's later novels, which I'll pursue with a group on Litsy that I co-run. Our next is A Mother's Recompense. My TBR pile and some more medieval stuff. I have optimistically lined up: Silence, a 13th-century Old French manuscript apparently rediscovered in 1928, Sir Gwain and the Green Knight (but I can't decide which edition), and Piers Plowman (but no idea which edition)

Editado: Fev 24, 1:37 pm

Currently Reading

Currently Listening to

Jan 1, 3:47 pm

Just for fun, here are my themes through the years

2012 - old testament
2013 - old testament and Toni Morrison
2014 - old testament
2015 - old testament, Toni Morrison & Cormac McCarthy
2016 - Homer, Greek mythology, Greek drama, & Thomas Pynchon
2017 - Virgil, Ovid & Thomas Pynchon
2018 - Apocrypha, New Testament & Gabriel García Márquez
2019 - Rome to the Renaissance & James Baldwin & Willa Cather and Shakespeare
2020 – Dante, Nabokov, Willa Cather, Shakespeare
2021 - Petrarch, Vladimir Nabokov, Willa Cather, Shakespeare, the Booker longlists, 2020 & 2021 - added Edith Wharton
2022 – Boccaccio, Robert Musil, Wharton, Shakespeare, Anniversaries, the Booker longlists, 2021 & 2022
2023 – Chaucer, Richard Wright, Wharton, Booker longlists 2022 & 2023, Naturalisty
2024 – Chaucer and medieval stuff, Faulkner, Wharton, Booker longlists

Jan 1, 3:51 pm

Happy reading 2024 😃📖

Jan 1, 5:20 pm

Hi, Dan, Just dropping by to wish you a Happy New Year, with good health and great reading. I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences with Faulkner, Chaucer and other medieval reading, all your plans sound so interesting, really. And with the Bookers, when you get to Pearl by Sian Hughes you may also want to consider reading the medieval Pearl, also by the Gawain poet.

Jan 1, 5:25 pm

>7 dianelouise100: oh? They’re connected! Had no idea. I’m aware of the Pearl poet, but wasn’t sure how deeply I might want to pursue this. I think I probably will hunt down a copy.

Jan 1, 6:02 pm

>8 dchaikin: There are connections with the Booker Pearl, but I’m not entirely comfortable with working out the connection. Med. Pearl is a good contrast for Sir Gawain, though, showing that poet’s versatility. When you read the Booker Pearl, I’ll be interested in your thoughts. I didn’t review it because I need to reread it first, as med. Pearl didn’t shed the light I had hoped for.

Jan 1, 8:17 pm

Following your thread, Dan, is like attending a college class. Your reading is so thought out and well organized and planned. Looking back over the years, I especially loved your trip through the Old Testament, and Nabokov. I still remember talking about Pnin. You've made me realize that I've only scratched the surface of Wharton, and she is such a good writer. I learn, vicariously, through you. Thanks!

Jan 1, 9:24 pm

>10 labfs39: Thanks for the nice post. The themes have been fun to pursue.

Jan 1, 9:42 pm

And a glad neowe yer to thee, er, squire!

Jan 1, 9:45 pm

>12 LolaWalser: thank thee 🙂

Jan 2, 2:30 am

Happy new year Dan. I'm looking forward to following you on your reading adventures.

Jan 2, 8:33 am

Glad to see you here Dan. I'll be following your posts as well.

Jan 2, 9:18 am

Happy new year! As usual, I'll be following along and silently shaking my head in admiration.

Jan 2, 9:42 am

Beautiful image in >1 dchaikin:

You are so organised (Sigh)!

Will be following along.

Jan 2, 12:17 pm

>1 dchaikin: Nice picture of the Canterbury Tales manuscript. Its hard enough to read a printed version in old English; a manuscript would take a lot longer.

Jan 2, 1:32 pm

>18 baswood: yeah. No kidding. It’s beautiful and practically indecipherable (even if you already know the words).

Jan 2, 4:40 pm

Happy New Year, Dan! I'm always interested in the breadth (and depth too!) of your reading.

Jan 2, 5:22 pm

>16 ursula: I’m with you on that Ursula. I feel like re-doing my whole CR post after seeing this.

Jan 2, 5:56 pm

Another great personal reading challenge. Happy new year. Look forward to trying to keep up.

Jan 2, 6:09 pm

Thanks for stopping by my thread, and best wishes for a wonderful new year! I'm looking forward to hearing about your reading.

Jan 2, 6:30 pm

>20 lisapeet: >21 kjuliff: >22 AlisonY: >23 Jim53: you all make me feel much more organized and realistic than I actually am. 🙂 Thank you and happy reading all.

Jan 2, 6:44 pm

I have the Armitage Gawain staring at me so when you get to it, I will probably pull it down and keep you company with it (plus it will get me back to my Arthurian project that got derailed again) :)

Wishing you a successful 2024 - and a lot of enjoyable reads! :)

Jan 2, 6:57 pm

>25 AnnieMod: tell me more about your edition. Is it a translation or original and notes? And if original, can you read it (with the help of the notes)? Today I leaned somewhere that Gwain is in a dialect that is much farther from modern English than chaucer. So I’m thinking more about a translation. I’m undecided.

As for timing, too early to tell. I think i penciled in June ?? Maybe July??

Editado: Jan 2, 7:04 pm

>26 dchaikin: Translation in verse by Simon Armitage - no notes, a short introduction by him. However - the middle English is printed on the opposing page -- so if I want to, I can read it as well. Glancing at it, it will be hard to read the whole of it in middle English but it is not really impossible even without notes - with some help from the opposing translation when the language really drifted...

It is this edition: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393334155/ (and read a sample actually opens that book and has a few pages from the introduction and then from the poem - in both language versions).

Jan 2, 7:04 pm

Jan 2, 7:24 pm

>27 AnnieMod: I read the Armitage translation of Pearl which was arranged as you describe, but the spelling of the original is somewhat modified to make it easier to try the original if you want. I liked his translation and the fact that the original is there. I had to struggle through the original in grad school, which ruined the poem for me.

Jan 2, 7:40 pm

>29 dianelouise100: more good info!

Jan 2, 9:36 pm

>29 dianelouise100: Possibly the case here as well - the thing is readable if not fully comprehensible. I plan to read the translation anyway :)

Jan 2, 9:40 pm

I'm always so impressed by your themes. Looking forward to the Faulkner particularly, as I liked As I Lay Dying but then didn't get to anything else.

I read Gawain back in 2006, but didn't have to think about which translation as my dad just insisted I read the same one he did in college (Burton Raffel, no idea how it's regarded now). My oldest brother's middle name is Gawain, so clearly had some impact on my dad anyway!

Jan 2, 11:41 pm

Jan 3, 9:01 am

>32 mabith: that’s cool about your dad and brother. I’ll keep that in mind for inspiration. How did you like the translation.

>33 dianeham: interesting. Have you tried reading it?

Jan 3, 9:10 am

On a side note, Faulkner’s Soldier’s Pay is quite terrific early on. Ratings are low.

Jan 3, 10:32 am

>34 dchaikin: I remember enjoying it, but I was 21 and not really caring about either literary merits or translation accuracy.

Jan 3, 12:26 pm

Happy reading in 2024. You know the old saying . . . If you're barefoot and have one foot in a bucket of ice and one foot in a bucket of hot coals, on average you're comfortable. So on average, you and I plan moderately for our reading years. Ha! Like Ursula, I am always in deep admiration of your ability to make and stick to such ambitious plans. All the best!

Jan 3, 1:11 pm

I admire your tackling of Faulkner and all things medieval! One of my professor's at university was a medievalist. It was quite the experience to hear him read Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales out loud! I really liked Sir Gwain and the Green Knight. The movie came out shortly after I had to read it for class. It is on my "I will watch this one day" list.

Jan 3, 1:32 pm

Happy new year and happy reading! :)

Jan 3, 4:25 pm

Lovely, just lovely. I look forward to following along with your Faulkner and medieval adventures. I've read most of those medieval things long ago, but you tempt me to want to reread them. And I looked at Faulkner last year, when I had The Light in August on my lists. I even had a book of four novels from the library, but as it seemed to be sort of a series, I thought I should read the earlier works first. Do I add it to my list of authors to read in order? Decisions, decisions. You are definitely a bad influence! (Or dangerous to my TBR, anyway....)

Jan 3, 6:00 pm

>36 mabith: fair enough. It’s available on amazon

>37 rocketjk: so which bucket am i? Ouch. And thanks.

>38 avidmom: how fun! Susie, any advice on original language vs translation for Gawain?

>39 OscarWilde87: thanks mr. Wilde

>40 WelshBookworm: I’m looking forward to A Light in August. I’m happy I’ve been taking to Soldier’s Pay early on. I’m more relaxed about my Faulkner plan now.

Jan 3, 7:13 pm

>34 dchaikin: not yet but I will if others are.

Jan 3, 7:35 pm

Happy New Year, Dan! Great reading plans, as always. I might join you in reading William Faulkner's early novels, as I own the complete five volumes of his novels that the Library of America published several years ago.

Jan 5, 5:23 pm

>41 dchaikin: We read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight out of the 2018 Norton Anthology of World Literature (Volume B, Fourth Edition). Thankfully, our medievalist professor posted a pretty extensive lecture which basically walked us through the whole story (not his usual M.O. but it was near the end of class.) He, of course, had more interesting things to say/add about it than what is in the Norton. If I find any interesting notes I took on it I will gladly share. (That particular medievalist professor wrote the introduction to John Earle's translation of Beowoulf. I loved his classes!)

Jan 5, 7:44 pm

>44 avidmom: good to know. Thanks! I’m interested in a Norton edition. I still feel very uncertain which way to go. I’ll have to experiment with whatever samples i can find in library or online

Jan 6, 5:35 am

Hi Dan, it’s taking me a particularly long time to get round all the threads I want to visit this year, but I’ve found you now. Happy reading year!

Jan 6, 10:25 am

>46 rachbxl: welcome 🙂

Editado: Fev 22, 10:56 pm

Some stats:

Books read: 9
Pages: 1785 ( 58 hrs )
Audio time: 24 hrs
Formats: audio 3; ebooks 3; paperback 3;
Subjects in brief: Novels 8; Non-fiction 1; History 1; Classic 1;
Nationalities: United States 5; Ireland 1; Italy 1; South Korea 1; England 1;
Books in translation: 2
Genders, m/f: 3/6
Owner: books I own 8; audible loan 1;
Re-reads: 0
Year Published: 2020’s 2; 2000’s 1; 1990’s 1; 1980’s 1; 1950’s 1; 1920’s 3;
TBR numbers: even (acquired 6, read from tbr 6)

All stats - since I started keeping track in December of 1990
Books read: 1329
Formats: Paperback 682; Hardcover 269; Audio 218; ebooks 122; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 513; Novels 441; Biographies/Memoirs 225; Classics 209; History 196; Religion/Mythology/Philosophy 138; Poetry 101; Journalism 98; Science 96; Ancient 76; On Literature and Books 69; Speculative Fiction 69; Nature 68; Essay Collections 52; Short Story Collections 50; Drama 48; Anthologies 47; Graphic 46; Juvenile/YA 34; Visual Arts 28; Interviews 15; Mystery/Thriller 15
Nationalities: US 744; Other English-language countries: 290; Other: 289
Books in translation: 225
Genders, m/f: 828/402
Owner: Books I owned 963; Library books 285; Books I borrowed 71; Online 10;
Re-reads: 27
Year Published: 2020’s 68; 2010's 276; 2000's 291; 1990's 184; 1980's 124; 1970's 62; 1960's 55; 1950's 36; 1900-1949 87; 19th century 21; 16th-18th centuries 38; 13th-15th centuries 13; 0-1199 21; BCE 55
TBR: 652

Recent milestones: 400th book by a female author

Editado: Fev 22, 10:56 pm

books read this year

books listened to this year

Editado: Fev 22, 10:58 pm

Read in 2024
(links go the review on this page)
1. **** Soldiers' Pay by William Faulkner (1926) (read Jan 1-7, theme: Faulkner)
2. *** Taft by Ann Patchett, read by J. D. Jackson (listened Dec 18 – Jan 10, theme: random audio)
3. **** How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney (read Jan 7-14, theme: Booker 2023)
4. **** The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis, read by Sarah Mollo-Christensen (listened Jan 18-22, theme: random audio)
5. **** Arturo's Island by Elsa Morante (read Jan 14-28, theme: TBR)
6. **** Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim, read by Cindy Kay (listened Jan 17 – Feb 1, theme: random audio)
7. ***½ Mosquitoes by William Faulkner (read Jan 21 – Feb 7, theme: Faulkner)
8. **** The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton (read Feb 7-19, theme: Wharton)
9. **** Pearl by Siân Hughes (read Feb 14-22, theme: Booker 2023)

Read in 2024, listed by year published
(links are touchstones)
1925 The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton
1926 Soldiers' Pay by William Faulkner
1927 Mosquitoes by William Faulkner
1957 Arturo's Island by Elsa Morante
1983 The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis
1994 Taft by Ann Patchett
2004 Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan
How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney
Pearl by Siân Hughes

Editado: Jan 7, 7:41 pm

1. Soldiers' Pay by William Faulkner
OPD: 1926
format: 350 pages within an ebook anthology: William Faulkner: Novels 1926-1929: Soldiers' Pay / Mosquitoes / Flags in the Dust / The Sound and the Fury
acquired: January 1 read: Jan 1-7 time reading: 10:12, 1.7 mpp
rating: 4
genre/style: 1920’s Fiction theme: Faulkner
locations: mainly Charleston, Georgia, 1919
about the author: 1897-1962. American Noble Laureate who was born in New Albany, MS, and lived most of his life in Oxford, MS.

Faulkner's first published novel, one that no one read. 1200 copies sold before he became famous and this wasn't the first one anyone read once he got famous either. It's also a little unusual in that the setting is small town Georgia, not Mississippi (and that he wrote it while living in New Orleans, not in Oxford, MS). It's an interesting and complex novel, doing lots of things. It's also drawn out a bit and Faulkner clearly had trouble letting his characters go.

He's working within post-war America. WWI soldiers are returning home to wives, fiancés, and widows, and not everyone has been true, or wants to be. The soldiers are wild and girls have are working through a lot. The plot is a love-tangled story. A hot-headed veteran, Joe Giligan, takes to a seriously wounded air force veteran who is dying, and also going blind, and who has a nasty facial scar. The pilot has a fiancé waiting at home. Joe decides to help the pilot home, and gets help from a war widow he falls for; but feelings are kind but not mutual and she might have more interest in the dying man. Once they reach Charleston, GA, where the pilot was reported dead, we meet the wounded soldier's father, a rector who can't see that his son is dying, and his fiancé, who is young, gorgeous, and runs around in thin white silk dresses attracting and toying with a number of men, some pushing to uncomfortable lengths. It's a sexually charged novel throughout until it wraps itself up in a different way. It's also a southern culture charged novel, with "negroes" filling various roles, including as servants, drivers and musicians. They are always something foreign, other and mysterious, but never threatening. Faulkner seems to like African Americans in their second-class citizen roles.

But it's not simply a sex-charged and uncomfortably racist novel. Faulkner is doing a lot of different things. Most obvious is that he is straining normal prose styles, but not breaking them. He's itchy to jump around, become impressionistic, sketchy, curious. He spends many pages on various micro-dramas at a dance. But he also holds mostly to normal prose and always clearly designated speakers. His characters live and breathe and they grew on me and will hang around for me. I liked them. They are often funny, men literally fist-fighting over women, jealousy oozing, but often talking about it politely, before and after, and sometimes with a lot of humor.

I feel this is a novel that will reward rereading. There is a lot built it. A lot of subtext and richness that I'm sure I went right over, not knowing what he was doing. This is an interesting if forgotten and overshadowed immature work. (An OK first read of my year.)

Jan 8, 6:00 am

Great review, Dan. I admire people who keep lists and statistics. This is definitely not for me.
I wish you a good start to the new week.

Jan 8, 9:38 am

>51 dchaikin: It's always interesting, and I think worthwhile, to read a famous author's early work, if that author is one high on your list. In this case, it sounds as if you can see his experimentation that he hasn't quite worked out yet.
It definitely looks to be of interest.

Jan 8, 12:24 pm

>52 Ameise1: thanks

>53 SassyLassy: i’m glad i read this. It did a lot of good things for me. I’m more interested in reading more by him. I have a sense of some of his themes. And i see where he’s going when he will discard all syntax and he will start mixing voices. He’s trying to create a sense of things - of feelings and music, dialogue, and the physical land and deep seated emotions and sensations- impressions hindered and distanced by clear grammar and syntax.

Editado: Jan 8, 2:19 pm

>51 dchaikin: Great review, Faulkner isn't for me, but it is interesting to see how the writing evolves when reading a writers complete works.

Editado: Jan 9, 7:48 am

>51 dchaikin: Enjoyed your review, Dan. I’m glad you’re starting at the beginning, and I really appreciate your comments about experimentation with style.

Jan 9, 8:15 am

>55 stretch: well, I can’t say whether Faulkner is for me either yet. But i’m encouraged so far.

>56 dianelouise100: thanks. This will give me something to reflect on as I read the next novels.

Jan 9, 8:24 am

I just finished Chaucer’s general prologue. I’m a little exhausted. It’s a lot different than Troilus and Criseyde so far. The humor is different, less in tone and more buried in the words, if that makes sense. The language is more difficult because it’s flush with terminology. That may be specific to the prolonged which describes all 30 travelers, in specific-to-profession details. Also it’s a lot slower for me. I read T&C at 5 minutes a page. So far CT is half that speed, ten minutes a page (for some 350 pages?). I’ll need to adjust to the tone and nature of this going forward.

On the other hand, previously I had been aghast at how long the General Prologue is. But it’s written in bite-sized chunks and so moves quickly. I was happy to find it so easy.

As for my Broadview edition, notes are heavy but helpful. I’m happy with the format and editing.

Jan 9, 8:46 am

I’m glad you’re satisfied with that edition. I have to be disciplined enough to actually read Troilus and Criseyde before letting myself order it. But these Broadview books are so beautiful. And congratulations on finishing the GP—that’s quite a chunk!

Jan 10, 8:58 pm

>59 dianelouise100: I'm really happy with the Broadview editions. Sometimes I wonder what I can order next.

Editado: Jan 10, 10:48 pm

2. Taft by Ann Patchett
reader: J. D. Jackson
OPD: 1994
format: 9:14 audible audio (246 pages)
acquired: December 18 listened: Dec 18, 2023, Jan 2-10, 2024
rating: 3
genre/style: Fiction theme: Random audio
locations: then contemporary Memphis, TN
about the author: American author born in Los Angeles in 1963, who grew up mainly in Nashville.

Anne Patchett's second novel. I'm not sure this was reasonable or fair, but I felt uncomfortable enough with white author Ann Patchett writing the voice of a black character, that when, after listening to this for a day, I got covid and stopped commuting to work, I also stopped listening. I just paused. My discomfort was cultural appropriation. I didn't mean to be political, it just felt wrong to me. Of course, she wrote this in 1994 and at that time I don't imagine I would have cared. Anyway, come January 2, I drove into work and started listening again.

This is a novel of Beale Street in Memphis. John Nickel, who misses his young son, living in Miami with the boy's mother, managers a bar on Beale Street, and hires a young white girl who says she's 20 as a waitress, Fay Taft. Fey's east Tennessee family is displaced and imploding after the recent death of her father. Slowly John finds himself getting involved in their issues.

This is not Patchett's best work. It doesn't have what I consider her strength: strong characters that she understands well in some way and can place in any situation and make it captivating. These are characters she can't know, and has to construct, and I didn't feel they were very strong. Nonetheless, it is actually an enjoyable novel.

For Patchett completists only.

Jan 11, 12:04 am

>61 dchaikin: Not for me then. It’s an interesting point you make about a white author writing about a black character. Was the character in question a person whose ethnicity was relevant to the story? Was there any point in making him/her black?

Jan 11, 12:32 am

>62 kjuliff: I think so, in several ways. He’s not just a random guy, but part of the local community - a bar manager in a historic African American area, and in tune with some aspects of that community. Not that I had figured all this out the first day I listened…

Jan 11, 12:59 am

>63 dchaikin: So there was a point in making him black, and if that African-American community is an important part of the book, I suppose it could seem out of place having it described by a white writer, though without reading the book I can’t be sure. I wouldn’t call it cultural appropriation though. It would be very restrictive if writers had to make their supporting characters the same color as themselves.

Jan 11, 1:12 am

>64 kjuliff: i agree. It made me uncomfortable, and i think it was from an integrity perspective - a writer trying to imagine themselves into a place they are not part of. I mean, if you know Beale Street intimately, write about it. But if you are an outsider trying to understand it, then maybe write about it from an outsider perspective. But i’m not exactly sure my feelings were reasonable in this case, or if they were just overly restrictive. Perhaps I’m the one lacking the open mind in this case. Not sure.

Jan 11, 1:26 am

Happy New Year! Interesting discussion of Taft; it's one Patchett I hadn't read. I wonder what she says about it? It does seem like an odd choice for her.

Editado: Jan 11, 8:37 am

>65 dchaikin: I agree. Such as Hilary Mantell in Eight Months on Ghazza Street where she describes living in Jeddah. It’s quite a different thing than imagining being one of the locals.

It all depends on how it’s done. If it feels wrong it probably is.

Editado: Jan 11, 8:50 am

Fabulous review of Soldiers' Pay, Dan! Clarkston would have been a rural town when Faulkner wrote this novel, but it's now a sizable suburb of Atlanta, located in DeKalb County, which is immediately east of the city (and, actually, part of Atlanta is in DeKalb County, particularly Emory University and the CDC). Clarkston took in refugees from numerous countries in the last quarter of the 20th century, so it's now one of the most diverse cities in the Deep South. During my residency I spent one afternoon a week in a pediatric primary care practice in Clarkston, and most of the patients I saw were refugees, particularly from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

Two of my favorite books were set in Clarkston and involved the refugee community there: What Is the What by Dave Eggers, which is a fictionalized story of one of the Lost Boys from Sudan, and Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John.

Jan 11, 9:01 am

>66 BLBera: I’ve wondered about her choice. Part of me wonders of she intentionally chose characters from worlds different from hers. Of course she grew up in Nashville, half way between where her main characters grew up (and within the same state).

>67 kjuliff: I agree it depends on how it’s done. I think here this wasn’t a big deal to her, just TN personalities. There is no effort in the novel to address my concerns or acknowledge them. Again, maybe I’m just being weird

>68 kidzdoc: that’s fascinating! I had no idea where he was writing about. He’s writing before any refugees showed up (Although three of the characters are essentially without a home town because of the war or because they grew up in an orphanage. They are all American. Anyway, now I’m thematically linking - anachronistically.)

Jan 11, 9:56 am

>69 dchaikin: - I didn't catch that Faulkner set the novel in the Clarkston area. I live within easy walking distance of downtown Clarkston, and worked at the library there for a couple of years. I got pretty good at listening to understand the variety of accents.

Jan 11, 10:42 am

>65 dchaikin: "It made me uncomfortable, and i think it was from an integrity perspective - a writer trying to imagine themselves into a place they are not part of."

I know what you mean, but I guess it depends (for me) on what you mean by "place." Wouldn't this criteria eliminate all historical fiction? Could a writer who's never worked in a circus or carnival write a novel about a carney?

Personally, I have no problem with authors stretching themselves to work outside of their immediate comfort/knowledge zone. Whether in this case Patchett failed or succeeded in her novel is of course a different issue, but, for me, there's nothing wrong with the attempt in and of itself. That's just one person's perspective.

Jan 11, 10:53 am

>71 rocketjk: You beat me to a very similar line of thought.

I don't have issues with someone writing "other" voices - as long as it is not done in a way that denigrates or makes fun of them, an author not being allowed to write voices of people he does not look like strikes me as a really restrictive way to look at literature. "Write what you know" is a good principle in general but it also restricts imagination and the ability of an author to actually tell a story.

But... looking at the news every day, it also conditions anyone in USA to look at things that way and to look for violations and appropriations and what's not. And the line keeps moving. And when you get bombarded with that kind of messages every day, you start getting subconsciously uncomfortable when you see it happening in books. Which does not mean that it is not happening of course - we all know it does happen. But...

Just thinking aloud.

Jan 11, 11:37 am

>71 rocketjk: I've always believed there is a line between an author stretching themselves and one of appropriation. When an author writes outside of what they know they are reaching for an average lived experience. the average carney experience or an average historical person. To speak to a specific cultural or ethnic experience is much harder for an author to stretch themselves into. Someone with that lived experience is always going to trump someone that is having to research those specific experiences. While I don't think siloing authors into creative boxes, there is something to say about over reaching and crossing into areas where an increase level of sensitivity is warranted.

Jan 11, 1:53 pm

Appreciate all the comments on this.

>72 AnnieMod: that’s me, in this case, exactly. Subconsciously uncomfortable. It was therapeutic reading that paragraph. I’m hyper-aware. And then my brain responds with inconclusive mixed messages.

>71 rocketjk: historical fiction. It’s probably worth noting that I struggle with this kind of fiction because I’m always thinking of likely or possible inaccuracies. (When historical fiction works for me, is when i overcome these concerns, either because the author managed me, or I found another way). A difference, however, is that with historical fiction and carnies there are not a lot of people around to offend, other than sensitive historians and concerned descendants (who have their own biases and remove). I suspect that if she moves the timeline to, say, 1946, my discomfort changes a lot.

I imagine authors always stretch, almost by definition. These are stories. How they manage it determines what they can get away with. And that changes with time.

>72 AnnieMod: there’s no denigration in Patchett’s novel. She really doesn’t do that, in general.

>73 stretch: this is a really nice post. I agree with that entirely and it’s really well put.


I think my deepest concern is my own sense of race. I worry, and I hope it doesn’t play a role in how I view this book (or anything else). But being hyperaware can be a kind of reverse racism - I can bend it backwards to where I’m essentially racist in the effort trying too hard not to be. And it’s possible that’s what I’m doing here. It’s not a contentious book. No one is talking about this. And I might be making something out of nothing. I do deeply hope I’m not doing any of this stuff. But it’s something I worry about.

I think it’s safe to say that if Joe Nickel is just a guy who happens to have a racial identity, then there’s no discussion. It’s only if he’s representing a culture with an identity, that we need to worry about how he’s characterized. I think Patchett is doing both - he’s just a guy and he’s also in a distinct world. Is she romanticizing that she can place herself in a foreign culture and navigate that culture, make herself a part of African American Beale street community? Almost certainly. But she’s also creating a character who just happens to be in this place. How ok is that? When does it become cultural appropriation vs just part of a story?

Jan 11, 2:38 pm

>73 stretch: "I've always believed there is a line between an author stretching themselves and one of appropriation. When an author writes outside of what they know they are reaching for an average lived experience. the average carney experience or an average historical person. To speak to a specific cultural or ethnic experience is much harder for an author to stretch themselves into. Someone with that lived experience is always going to trump someone that is having to research those specific experiences. While I don't think siloing authors into creative boxes, there is something to say about over reaching and crossing into areas where an increase level of sensitivity is warranted." (emphasis added)

I guess I would need more specifics about where you are saying that line is and what you do or don't consider to be overreaching to be sure I was understanding just what you're saying. Do you feel that it's inappropriate by definition for a writer to publish a novel based on people and experiences outside their own culture?

I agree that it's harder to speak to someone else's cultural experience than to one's own. But the question of whether an author has succeeded, for me, is in the result. Some artists are able to do things that are very hard, after all. A black writer might write a mediocre novel about life on Beale Street, and a white writer might write an excellent novel about life in the same neighborhood. Or the opposite. And we may reasonably have ideas about which is the most likely. I can certainly see your point that in order to succeed, a person writing outside their own immediate culture must show an increased level of sensitivity. Do you feel that, by definition, this precludes the value of a novel like Taft, or do you feel this level of sensitivity can be achieved by a particular author of a particular novel?

Jan 11, 2:42 pm

>74 dchaikin: I wasn’t implying that Patchett is doing anything bad - I was just clarifying when I am ok with cross-cultural writing. :) I also tend to read older fiction and stereotypes and cringy moments are a lot more common there (and writing characters for the laugh of it). But I am also conscious of when a book was written and I am more likely to accept it in older fiction. It’s complicated as most things these days. :)

Jan 11, 3:21 pm

>72 AnnieMod: >71 rocketjk: >74 dchaikin: Interesting comments. I remember being startled in. House of Doors when Eng used the word “Chinaman” in describing a Chinese Malaysian. I’m not sure if he was using there term as an. 1920’s English person or not, but the very word made me uncomfortable as I’ve always thought it was derogatory. I suppose one can be over-sensitive.

Editado: Jan 11, 4:18 pm

>74 dchaikin: "I think it’s safe to say that if Joe Nickel is just a guy who happens to have a racial identity, then there’s no discussion. It’s only if he’s representing a culture with an identity, that we need to worry about how he’s characterized. I think Patchett is doing both - he’s just a guy and he’s also in a distinct world. Is she romanticizing that she can place herself in a foreign culture and navigate that culture, make herself a part of African American Beale street community? Almost certainly. But she’s also creating a character who just happens to be in this place. How ok is that? When does it become cultural appropriation vs just part of a story?"

My questioning of this perspective, Dan, is in your use of the word "romanticizing." I'm not sure what you mean, but I would say she is trusting herself to be able to do it well, and she's giving herself permission, as an artist, to make the attempt to do it well, and also working really hard to do it well.

As I understand it from your review, and from the one or two other reviews I was able to find online, the novel is about a black man who becomes involved with the lives and problems of two white siblings, one of whom works for him, and with their complicated family history. So, what if you are a white novelist who wanted to write that novel: the story of a black man who gets to know and care about these two white people and their problems. Maybe he begins learning about who they are and learns things about their lives that are different, or at any rate experienced differently, than the issues the people he knows--those within his own culture--might have. Perhaps you are writing this based on your longtime experiences living in a major Tennessee city with a large black population that perhaps you interact with on a regular basis, but decide to move the novel to another Tennessee city just to change the venue and remove speculations about individual people and places, or just basically generalize the experience a little bit. So it is a novel about an interaction between black and white on a very personal level, but the story you want to tell, the nerve you want to touch, can only be reached if the protagonist is that black man.

Is it your position that a white writer should not write that novel?

Again . . . "But she’s also creating a character who just happens to be in this place. How ok is that? When does it become cultural appropriation vs just part of a story?"

As someone who hasn't read the book, I would ask you whether the character really "just happens to be in this place" or whether it's more likely that Patchett thought really hard about where to set her story? My limited knowledge of the writing process suggests that it's unlikely that the choice of locale, or the choice of the protagonist's ethnicity, was haphazard. In answer to your question, "How ok is that," I would ask, "What's wrong with it?"

"When does it become cultural appropriation vs just part of a story?"

From what I've read about this novel's storyline the setting doesn't seem to me to be "just part of a story," but an integral part of the plot. And so I would then ask you, well, when does it become cultural appropriation? For me the downside of a white writer publishing a novel with a black protagonist is that it's hard to do well and convincingly, not that doing such does any any harm.

The wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation is "the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity." The sticking point for us, it seems to me, is the word "inappropriate." In what way was Patchett's portrayal of the John Nickel harmful to African Americans? What does it take away from African American culture for her to write that book in that way? Did the publication of Taft preclude the artistic expression of any African American artists? (Remember that we are not talking about the publishing of "Taft" instead of some other book by a black writer. Given the success of Patchett's first book, she was bound to publish another novel regardless. We are talking about Taft with either a black protagonist or with a white one.) Were damaging stereotypes portrayed, or wrong impressions given to the book's readers that would then have to be undone by others? Why would it be "cultural appropriation" rather than "cultural investigation" or "cultural sharing" or "cultural empathy?" What if she wrote a novel about white sharecroppers in the 1930s? I'm not laying down some sort of gauntlet. But I think these are perspectives worth considering.

"A difference, however, is that with historical fiction and carnies there are not a lot of people around to offend . . . "

Well, spend a summer in small-town America. There are plenty of carnies around! :) Seriously, though, is the main issue with a white writer creating a black protagonist that black people will be offended? I think it's a fair consideration, but, as you say, nobody seems to have been offended by Taft, and the portrayals themselves are not offensive, as far as I can determine by your review and subsequent comments. So we're back to the question: is the endeavor in and of itself offensive?

For me, a better example of cultural appropriation would be white-owned movie studios and white producers, etc., creating black exploitation movies in the 60s and 70s. There we had white people making money off an arguably damaging distortion of African American culture. Now you've got damage being done, harmful misinformation being disseminated and something (dignity, at the very least) being taken away on a large scale and for profit.

Just for a laugh, I will relate the stupidest accusation of cultural appropriation I've ever seen. A young music writer trying to make a name wrote a column accusing Janice Joplin of cultural appropriation for her moving rendition of "Summertime," apparently in total ignorance that the song had been written by a Jewish white guy whose parents were from Lithuanian.

Well, sorry for the long essay. I just get really interested in these questions about what is an isn't appropriate when it comes to artistic expression.

Jan 11, 7:24 pm

ok, Jerry. I'm processing. You got me off my phone. I need a keyboard to respond.

Jan 11, 7:30 pm

>75 rocketjk: I take Kevin's comments in terms of -all other things being equal-.

Jan 11, 7:34 pm

>76 AnnieMod: I got you. And yes, we're in an error that questions these stereotypes hard that were taken for granted in literature previously. For what it's worth, the 1990's were different then now in how these questions are or aren't asked.

>77 kjuliff: Eng's "Chinamen" are to some degree his own ancestry. I'm sure he meant for us to be uncomfortable.

Jan 11, 7:36 pm

I'm following this discussion with interest. Thoughtful comments from everyone.

Editado: Jan 11, 7:58 pm

>75 rocketjk: I wouldn't go as far as to say it is inappropriate for an author to write outside of their own culture. Just that it is very hard to produce something that has the cultural nuances that would paint a fuller picture as someone who is embedded within that culture.

This question to me is a complicated stew of internal bias and confirmation bias that requires a constant internal interrogation. We all form narratives that may or may not reflect reality and carry those into our reading. There's no denying that artist can and do create things that successful as art, but to me the question is what I am reading a reflection of the truth or is it conforming to a narrative that fits built up, internalized biases. I as an average middle class white guy, that believes themselves to be pretty well educated and somewhat well read, is in no position to judge whether a work has successfully been reflected by someone who is also on the outside of the culture. What corners are being rounded? What nuances are being missed?

Someone can research and put tons of work into writing about a Indian Reservations, but they will they accurately reflect the lived experience of reservation life? The only tools I have to judge such a work is whether or not in conforms to my own running narrative. The details of the situation, authentic interactions, and reactions to scenarios matter that can't necessarily be captured by someone whose main experience is from the outside peering in. Can a white author deliver something artful and impactful of a saga of improvised native family through multiple generations? Sure they can, it may be emotionally satisfying. Does that speak to an authentic experience or is it just something that reinforces preconceived notions that feels like something true?

I am less interested in whether an author should or should not be able to write outside of their cultural experience. Intellectually that answer is yes they can and they will, often artfully with a great deal of skill. What I am interested in is breaking down my own internal narrative and building a better one with all the nuances and complexities of culture and identity that can only be told by those that are immersed in it. Some experiences are universal, some are not. Those that aren't are better told by those the live them. Whether it is well written or not is another matter all together.

Edited: for missing words

Editado: Jan 11, 8:51 pm

>81 dchaikin: yes he must have meant this in order to make the reader uncomfortable, as I realise these Chinese characters were his own ancestry. But it was not part of an English character’s conversation and that’s why it startled me. Or maybe it’s not offensive in Malaysia.

Jan 11, 9:11 pm

>78 rocketjk:


- I meant "imagining unrealistically and idealistically". Yes, she must have believed in her character of John Nickel. (I didn't fully buy in)

Is it your position that a white writer should not write that novel?

- I actually think she should have tabled it at some point. I think she had a nice story and structure, but I also don't think it worked. I like to imagine a more mature Patchett would have realized it wasn't working and filed it away. Just my opinion. She clearly wanted John Nickel's voice, so she couldn't, say, have written from the perspective of a customer or coworker. But i didn't believe his voice. It wasn't terrible, or bad, but it rang false to me.

As someone who hasn't read the book, I would ask you whether the character really "just happens to be in this place" or whether it's more likely that Patchett thought really hard about where to set her story?

- I don't know for sure, but suspect she tried to have it both ways. I suspect she wanted Beale Street and she wanted that to clash with the other end of Tennessee, with people from "Coalfield" in the Tennessee Appalachian Mountains. That she wanted isolated-small-town kids to clash with a rock of the inner river-port city, especially a special place in that city. But I also think she didn't want anyone worrying about my questions while reading and getting lost in the story. She wanted John to be an everyman who happened to live and breathe Beale Street (and play the drums).

The wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation is "the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity." The sticking point for us, it seems to me, is the word "inappropriate."

It's has a more negative and ugly meaning than I intended. So, seeing that definition, I wish I had used a different word. Patchett did not hurt the black community with a dull racist bludgeon. But...I didn't buy her John. I thought she created a Beale Sreet character that was untrue in some fundamental ways. That's an opinion, dependent on my own assumptions, and iffy reading senses. And...I don't know Beale Street.

is the endeavor in and of itself offensive?

That's really my main question. My conclusion is that it's "uncomfortable", at least to me. I had me But i don't think it's offensive.

Thanks for the Joplin trivia.

Jan 11, 9:24 pm

>83 stretch: " is it conforming to a narrative that fits built up, internalized biases"

That's another idea I wish I had picked up. One issue i have with John Nickel is nothing about him surprised me. Part of me imagines that I knew the guy I met on page 1, who was almost entirely preconceived, as well as the guy I left at the end of the book. That suggests he fit some kind of model.

>82 labfs39: thanks Lisa. I agree

>84 kjuliff: I don't think any perception of 1920's British-controlled Malaysian Chinese holds up today. It's a very different place, but has its history. I think it wasn't offensive in the 1920's...but is very offensive in hindsight.

Editado: Jan 12, 10:53 am

>86 dchaikin: "One issue i have with John Nickel is nothing about him surprised me. Part of me imagines that I knew the guy I met on page 1, who was almost entirely preconceived, as well as the guy I left at the end of the book. That suggests he fit some kind of model."

This is certainly the crux of the matter, in terms of your experience of the book. As you've suggested elsewhere, as this was Patchett's second novel, perhaps a more mature Patchett might have been able to create a more nuanced character. Are we sure that the character's flaws stem from the fact that he's a black character? What if the same character had been Irish? Would we be holding Patchett to the same standards? (As an aside, I hope never to read another Irish novel that depends at its core on the model of the drunken, abusive Irish father who doesn't feel fully formed. And many of those novels are written by Irish authors. My point being that you certainly don't need a white person writing about another ethnicity to come ups a character fitting a less than vivid model.)

Or, to put it another way, are the differences between black people and white people as individuals so profound as to mean when a white author creates a black character that we don't find fully formed, the root cause of that must be the fact that the character is black?

Note that I am talking here about interactions between specific individuals/characters, not a writer of one ethnicity using a novel to tell us about the experiences of a whole people. Using stretch's example of a white author who can't really know reservation life despite doing a ton of research writing a novel with a Native American protagonist that claims to represent reservation life as a whole. I wouldn't necessarily criticize the author for trying it, though I would wonder at the person's judgement and probably not bother reading the novel. The real problem comes when the PR/advertising world starts pumping up the book and telling the rest of us how great it is and what a great "voice" the novel creates, when at the same time genuine Native American voices are struggling to be heard. But, yes, those sorts of books are problematic. (By the way, if you haven't watched the three seasons of Reservation Dogs, created entirely by Native American actors and filmmakers, I urge you to do so).

Is it your position that a white writer should not write that novel?

"- I actually think she should have tabled it at some point. I think she had a nice story and structure, but I also don't think it worked. I like to imagine a more mature Patchett would have realized it wasn't working and filed it away. Just my opinion. She clearly wanted John Nickel's voice, so she couldn't, say, have written from the perspective of a customer or coworker. But i didn't believe his voice. It wasn't terrible, or bad, but it rang false to me."

Right. But this is a suggestion that this specific novel was not coming together as well as it might have. Not representation that "a white writer should not not write that novel" because white writers can't create believable black characters and shouldn't try. (And again I'd suggest the possibility that a more mature Patchett would have been able to do it all better and so wouldn't have had to file it away.")

Taft did win the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, which, according to wikipedia, is "presented annually for the "best book-length work of prose fiction" by an American woman. The award has been given by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester since 1975.* In 1994, when the prize was handed out, maybe the issues of cross-ethnic representation we're discussing were not front and center in the same way they are now. But, clearly, somebody thought she'd done her work pretty well. (Or are you now mansplainin' to the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies? Ha! Sorry, that was a joke I couldn't resist.)

Dan, I'm absolutely not trying to suggest that your reaction to Taft isn't fully valid. Of course it is. And am I more fully on board with books about African Americans written by black authors? I am, sure. But if we are going to draw a line, to say that a writer like Patchett should not write a novel with a central black character, that makes me particularly uncomfortable.

If we're saying that the gulf between the life experiences of black and white Americans is so vast that a white writer can't legitimately represent the experiences of a black character, then to me it seems like we are diminishing our shared humanity. That concept of shared humanity is to me the single most vital concept for us to hold on to if we're going to find a viable way forward through all sorts of human troubles.

As someone said early on, it's harder for white writers to create believable black characters and represent black neighborhoods and groups well than it is for black writers. I'm positive that's correct. And white writers have an especial responsibility to create such characters and situations accurately and respectfully. I agree with all this. But I do want white authors to be able to feel free to take all this on if they choose to.

Great conversation, all, and thanks!

*(List of winners here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_Heidinger_Kafka_Prize)

Jan 12, 1:41 pm

>87 rocketjk: all interesting points, Jerry. I don't want to walk through point by point. So, forgive me for not going further. However, you left me really curious about that that award. What were they thinking?

Jan 12, 1:49 pm

The Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize


Here you will find a long list of novels I have never heard of. So, I went to their page to understand the prize better

https://www.sas.rochester.edu/gsw/news-events/kafka-prize/winner.html )

The description says, "Each year a substantial cash prize is awarded annually to a woman and who has written the best book-length work of prose fiction, whether novel, short stories, or experimental writing. We are particularly interested in calling attention to the work of a promising but less established writer."

(ok, "each year" and "annually" should not be in the same sentence. And while it's possible for the "best" book to be by a "promising but less established writer", it's really not a sensible aspiration. I can't think of a context where someone should be both the best and yet still promising at the same time. /rant)

Ann Patchett was a good choice of a "promising but less established writer" in 1994, especially in hindsight.

Editado: Jan 12, 1:57 pm

>88 dchaikin: This award is... weird. The whole "particularly interested in calling attention to the work of a promising but less established writer" and "the best book-length work" kinda sounds a bit off. While there may be years when these two coincide, if the goal is to highlight newish authors, then you cannot call that "best" with no other qualifiers...

It is not the only literary award with similar description out there and they always leave me scratching my head...

>89 dchaikin: And I see you posted something in the same vein while I was writing mine and trying to eat lunch and look at the award page. :)

Jan 12, 2:01 pm

Right. It's a contradiction. Kind of painful to read.

Jan 12, 2:02 pm

>90 AnnieMod: ha! Just saw your edit. Yeah, they drove us both crazy. :)

Jan 12, 2:25 pm

>89 dchaikin: -- >92 dchaikin: Well, evidently it's not the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for website copy writing! :)

Jan 12, 2:41 pm

>93 rocketjk: sadly it’s named in a honor of the tragic death of an editor

Jan 13, 10:26 am

Stopping by to drop a star here. Always something interesting to read here. But wow, the current discussions have gone next level imo. I find the conversation very interesting and thought-provoking.

Editado: Jan 13, 11:35 am

Hello Dan. I have finally found your thread and read through it. This was such an interesting discussion and great food for thought!
In particular, I’d like to keep in mind one of your comments and one from Jerry (pasting them here mainly yo fuel my own reflection):
>86 dchaikin: "One issue i have with John Nickel is nothing about him surprised me. Part of me imagines that I knew the guy I met on page 1, who was almost entirely preconceived, as well as the guy I left at the end of the book. That suggests he fit some kind of model."
>87 rocketjk: Are we sure that the character's flaws stem from the fact that he's a black character? What if the same character had been Irish? Would we be holding Patchett to the same standards?

On a lighter note, my last read of 2023 was a teen book, the two first installments in the Alma trilogy by Timothée de Fombelle, a prolific author in young reader literature. Timothée de Fombelle has had a long standing publishing house in the US, but they refused to translate and publish Alma because it tells the story of slavery from the point of view of an African girl (and Timothée de Fombelle is clearly not an African girl from the 18th century…). Fortunately, another publishing house chipped in and the book is now available in the US (well, the two first installment, as we are still waiting for the author to finish the trilogy, but that’s another story).
I found this decision fairly strange, even more if you consider the book as a multi-voice fiction? (young and old, masculine and feminine, black and white, lower class and aristocrats characters). Which author could write such a book if they could only write from their perspective?

Edited to fix numerous typos.

Jan 13, 12:11 pm

>95 Trifolia: hopefully next level in a good way. Hi. Thanks for stopping by.

>96 raton-liseur: i was a little overwhelmed by Jerry’s last post ( >87 rocketjk: ). 🙂 I couldn’t figure out where to begin to respond, and mostly gave up. Sorry Jerry! But I have been mostly thinking about the “Irish” character. What if an American tried to write an Irish-locale novel today, you know, traveling over there for the first time, and spending time in a small isolated town. Would i feel so uncomfortable with it? Surely it’s happened all the time, especially if we replace “Irish” with whatever other identity you have in mind. I’m primed for noticing when white writers take, like usurp as we currently imagine it, a black inner city story and put their own ideals into it. That’s our current culture sense, especially in the shadow of American Dirt (which I haven’t read, and which “usurps” a Latino immigrant story). But I’m not primed in the same way for other cultural theft. (Or “theft”). I’m beyond Patchett here, for clarity. Anyway, thanks for highlighting that comment.

Very interesting about Timothée de Fombelle. And, welcome over here.

Jan 13, 12:44 pm

>97 dchaikin: I think I understand what you mean, and just want to add that I can relate to your uncomfort (if that's a word).
Back in 2022, I have read a book called Milwaukee blues (It might have been translated into English with the same title). It is written by a (black) Haitian author, Louis-Philippe Dalembert and takes place in Milwaukee and borrows elements from George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, a decades-older lynching in Mississippi, and maybe other events.
And I remember wondering if Dalembert was legitimate in using those events in his novel. He has worked one year at the Milwaukee University, but is it enough to gain this legitimacy, even if he is black and from a neighbouring country.
And then I asked myself if I was legitimate to even ask myself this question...

Anyway, I do not want to reopen a discussion you might not want to reopen, but just wanted to say (awkwardly) that I understand and share your questioning and the questioning of your own questioning...

Jan 13, 1:02 pm

>97 dchaikin: If I understand correctly, part of the problem with American Dirt was that the author started identifying as Latinx (a Puerto Rican grandmother) although she previously identified as white, and her husband was publicized as being an undocumented immigrant, without specifying he was from Ireland. To me, this was assuming the identity she was writing about for purposes of publicity and totally unacceptable. This led to a larger conversation about issues such as you have raised. I did not read the book.

Jan 13, 1:06 pm

>97 dchaikin: >87 rocketjk: Have either of you or Jerry two read The Empire at Sunset by Caryl Phillips? It would be interesting if to know your thoughts if you have.

Jan 13, 10:19 pm

>98 raton-liseur: interesting. My wife has heritage and family in Milwaukee. Wonder what the family still there might think. I can’t help imagining them thinking: cool, a Haitian is trying to write about our city. 🙂 (Perhaps Memphis feels the same about Patchett.)

>99 labfs39: just an uncomfortable story all the way through. Yuck

>100 kjuliff: never heard of this book or author. Tell me more. 🙂

Editado: Jan 14, 1:05 am

Duplicate post deleted

Editado: Jan 14, 12:51 am

Caryl Phillips is a black writer who wrote a biographical novel (The Empire at Sunset) of the life of Jean Rhys. Jean Rhys, is an English woman who wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, written as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. In Rhys’s novel Mr. Rochester's marriage is told from the point-of-view of his wife Antoinette Cosway, as a Creole heiress.

So we have a black writer having a white English woman as his main character, and that woman has portrayed Jane Eye’s first wife as a Creole. To complicate it further Rhys spent a lot of time in the West Indies, though she was born in England and returned there. Further, writing as a white Creole English woman, Jean Rhys represents black women as necessarily 'free', liberated, and even occasionally tyrannical, in Wide Sargasso Sea.

I’ve compressed my description but, I think I’ve written enough about black and white writers writing about white and black characters, as an example regarding the discussion above.

Jan 14, 12:57 am

>103 kjuliff: that sounds terrific. I haven’t read Wide Sargasso Sea. I should read both…

Editado: Jan 14, 1:07 am

>104 dchaikin: Wide Sargasso Sea is a must read.
I’ve enjoyed many of Caryl Phillips books, but The Empire at Sunset is weird. Having him “channel” Rhys was odd.

Editado: Jan 14, 1:33 am

>104 dchaikin: >105 kjuliff: I enjoyed Wild Sargasso Sea very much and can highly recommend it.

Jan 14, 8:12 am

Would it be helpful to reread Jane Eyre before reading Wild Sargasso Sea (a book I have owned forever and want to read)?

Editado: Jan 14, 8:49 am

>107 labfs39: it’s not necessary to read Jane Eyre first as long as you know the basics of that story that most people do. I haven’t read Jane Eyre. But you need to read Wide Sargasso Sea before the Caryl Phillips Empire one.

BTW Caryl Phillips is a very good writer and normally writes books related to the slave trade and Caribbean culture. It’s just that his Rhys bio didn’t work out. But it was a very interesting read, given his attemp.

Jan 14, 10:46 am

>97 dchaikin: No worries, Dan! Sorry for my grand essay! I think the word count came in at somewhere around 1,000 words. I do have a tendency to wax prolix. The funny thing is, when I was a freelance writer and had to turn in thousand-word articles, it would often take me 5 or 6 hours to get them done. But I can sit down and whip out a 1000-word opinion post in about 20 minutes!

>100 kjuliff: No, Kate, I haven't read The Empire at Sunset, but your story of the book (if not, evidently, the book itself) is certainly interesting. I did read The Wide Sargasso Sea in college, and I remember enjoying it, but college was many moons ago at this point!

Jan 14, 12:14 pm

>109 rocketjk: there are a lot of ideas in your 1000 words. 🙂 My brain kept trying to sum up, and i got like that 404 error

Jan 14, 12:26 pm

>109 rocketjk: Isn't it funny how much easier it is to write when you don't actually have to than it is when you do?

Jan 14, 12:51 pm

>111 Julie_in_the_Library: Right! And of course when one is writing for publication, there's the added pressure of getting stuff correct. And when writing a thousand-word article, when you've got about three thousands words worth of information, there's the problem of sifting what to use and what not to use as you write. In reality, I used to write about two thousand words and then edit down or, as I used to joke, take out everything interesting. Most of my articles were profiles of jazz musicians, and I'd be taking out cool quotes from the interview I'd done. I could get pretty manic, though. Once I spent about an hour or maybe longer writing three-paragraphs of information that I absolutely knew as I was writing it I was going to have to edit out when all was said and done.

On the other hand, there is a sports columnist in San Francisco who once or twice a year comes up with a column of opinions/predictions that he calls "Dead Wrong in Public." I think of my Librarything posts more along those lines. :)

Jan 14, 2:05 pm

What a fantastic discussion, I've enjoyed reading it immensely. Dan, your feeling of discomfort is one I had when reading An Island by Karen Jennings last year. The facile answer, of course, is that anyone can write about anyone, but if you're writing about a culture not your own, you'd better do a good job, where each reader has to make that judgement for themselves.

To flip the scenario, remember Vernon God Little, which won the Booker Prize a while ago? In that case, an Australian writer wrote about working class Americans and while a French friend thought the book was brilliant, I was put off by the way the author wrote about the titular character's family -- he leaned hard into the less kind stereo-types that exist for poor Americans and I was a little insulted by that. Had the author come from that background, I think the characterizations would have been richer and less mean-spirited (unless that author was J.D. Vance). Yes, the book was intended to be humorous, but I think the point stands that writing outside one's own culture requires great sensitivity, not that it shouldn't be done. It's just a higher difficulty rating.

Jan 14, 2:32 pm

>113 RidgewayGirl: I’m surprised an Australian writer would even attemp to write a humorous (cf satirical) novel set in America. I’ve lived here over 20 years and still accidentally give offense with my Australian humor. I have to tread gently, especially when outside of NYC.

Jan 14, 6:24 pm

>113 RidgewayGirl: I really enjoyed An Island, but didn't have this kind of discomfort. hmm. That's interesting. Certainly, her main character was quite complicated and mysterious. Having finished the book, I still don't know who he is. I haven't read Vernon God Little. Interesting.

Jan 15, 12:08 am

>115 dchaikin: >113 RidgewayGirl: I felt no discomfort While reading Kate Jennings An Island, and I don’t think the ethnicity of the man on the island was stated. I can’t remember know it, at the time though I remember the island was off the coast of Africa.

Now I’m so obsessed with the race of characters in novels I’ve started looking at photos of the writers. ;) . I’m reading a book right now set in NYC, by an Irish writer. One of the characters is black. Well, I assume she’s black because she keeps being stereotyped by ignorant other characters. So I looked up the writer - it’s her first novel - and she’s white. I’m so paranoid (exageracion) I keep checking.

Jan 15, 12:07 pm

Just a brief update (day off today, and it’s snowing in Houston): as I avoid thinking about what I might want to say about How to Build a Boat, I’m working through The Knight’s Tale at ten minutes a page, also suddenly sinking in some magic at the beginning of Arturo’s Island. I feel like i’m lost in happy places all alone.

Editado: Jan 15, 5:58 pm

3. How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney
OPD: 2023
format: 295-page paperback
acquired: December read: Jan 7-14 time reading: 7:50, 1.7 mpp
rating: 4
genre/style: contemporary fiction theme: Booker 2023
locations: contemporary western Ireland
about the author: Irish poet, novelist, and playwright from a farm in Athenry, County Galway (b1979)

I'm working through the Booker longlist and this is now the tenth of the 13 books that I have read or listened to. Remarkably, they have all been good or great, this one fitting in as another great read, another book I'm grateful to have been led to.

A book of unstable minds and missing parents. Jamie is 13 and mathematically obsessed and well advanced, his nonstop mind going ever in many directions, and not particularly well in the here and now. He mother died in childbirth as a teenager. He wants to build a perpetual motion machine that he feels with bind him in a time-alternate or free state and allow him to reach his mother, who only exists for him as a teenage swimmer racing in a pool on a video. That's only part of the novel.

Tess, the literature teacher at Jamie's all-boys school in western Ireland, has her own stability issues. She also never knew her mother. She's unhappy, in an unhappy miscommunicating marriage, and she is exhausted by teaching, yet deeply committed, and she looking for something, wandering around through the town's woods. She touches something. Her exhaustion and missteps and wanting all reached me. She bonds with Jaimie and leads him to another teacher, male, single, outwardly stable (who never knew his dad).

That's a lot of description. This is a novel of searching within distraction. In that way, it has parallels to Prophet Song, although no dystopia here, just a dysfunctional all-boys school, which is maybe enough. And dysfunctional relationships. The different ways these characters work through their own mental confusions, trying to find whatever unknown thing it is they are looking for in whatever indirect way, is what makes this novel, for me, especially well done and thoroughly enjoyable to read.

Recommended to anyone. It has universal appeal.

Jan 15, 2:54 pm

My two belated and rapidly devalued two cents re: cultural appropriation--we don't live in a fair world where every writer has the same chances of getting to the public so who tells what stories matters a lot. A giant racist like Faulkner wouldn't be my go-to person to explicate the history and mentality of the American South, but the fact that a giant racist like Faulkner was awarded the Nobel and gets praised for (among other) his psychological acumen teaches me a lot anyway, and more than just about the American South.

Instead of letting people like Faulkner appropriate the telling of the story of the American South we should actively seek out the storytellers on the side he neglected and distorted.

The question isn't whether white writers have "the right" to write about whatever they choose, but what that does for the chances of non-white writers to be read.

Jan 15, 3:16 pm

>119 LolaWalser: It’s unfortunate we don’t have many African American voices from Faulkner’s world, although we do have some. I’ve only read three - Richard Wright was strong, but was not as ambitious a writer. He was more focused on ideas than then storytelling. Ralph Ellison was as ambitious, or more. It’s really unfortunate he lost his second book. I’ve read a couple of Zora Hurston Neale. I should read more, and others. None of them contain the happiness Faulkner imagined in his black shadow characters in Soldiers Pay.

Jan 15, 4:20 pm

>120 dchaikin:

I hope the specific example isn't obscuring my point. The Faulkners of this world cast long shadows. Because literature as we know it has been dominated by certain voices, this makes continued domination by those voices more likely than not. That's the context in which we debate cultural appropriation, and why it's not exactly the same thing whether a white author is writing a "black" story or vice versa. I believe I'd share your misgivings about Patchett's book (have not read).

As for Faulkner, I wasn't thinking of his contemporaries. Faulkner and his legacy have barely begun to be addressed. No wonder when you recall that South Carolina took down its Confederate rag from the capitol just a few years ago or that racists still massacre black people in churches and grocery stores like it's 1964. That "To kill a mockingbird" is still THE touchstone of antiracism for masses of the reading public--not a crime, but, why? Because white righteousness is comforting to whites, whereas, a black voice might endanger our view of ourselves. Rather read Harper Lee than what the people in Gwaltney's Drylongso had to say about what they endured and how they viewed whites.

Jan 15, 5:06 pm

>118 dchaikin: Added to my list of books to look for. Thanks for the review, you've made me want to read it.

Editado: Jan 15, 6:36 pm

>121 LolaWalser: A giant racist like Faulkner wouldn't be my go-to person to explicate the history and mentality of the American South

He wouldn’t be mine either. I had no knowledge of Faulkner’s prejudices as I had no knowledge of the man. But I would not read his books if I wanted to find out more of the history and mentality of the American South. I don’t read any fiction to find out about history

However thanks for letting me know about him. I have never been interested in his works (hence my ignorance of the man). Knowing now after your comment and from a little research of my own, that the man was a racist, I won’t be contributing to his popularity.

Editado: Jan 15, 8:51 pm

>121 LolaWalser: I’m guessing there aren’t many Faulkner’s of the world. But I fully agree with you and concerns. I have them too.

>122 RidgewayGirl: thanks. I think you will enjoy it!

>123 kjuliff: there are no angelic writers (although James Baldwin comes close). Faulkner wrote what he knew - southern culture from the white side of a hard ugly racial line. If Toni Morrison can appreciate him, I think we all can. But his problems shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jan 15, 8:36 pm

Well I should bow out of this discussion as I do not know enough about 1950s in America. I’ve only read about him in excerpts from The Saddest Words and it appears Fawkner was drunk at the time his worst words were said, in interviews.

Jan 15, 11:45 pm

>123 kjuliff:, >124 dchaikin:, >125 kjuliff:

For the record, Faulkner's racism is expressed most plainly in his correspondence, even in the selected editions that (as far as I know) are still the only ones available to the public. Whether he was drunk every time he expressed his contempt, anger, and willingness to shoot at black people, and whether that's in any way important, I leave to everyone to decide for themselves.

But not to take too much space here on a digression that could have involved any number of examples... Dan, you say "there aren't many Faulkners" but that's missing my point (and yours, which I understand, could still take a lot of unpacking). I said Faulkner (or you can substitute any Dead White Male) casts a long shadow, and that's the problem, the justifications and obstacles raised in the name of "Faulkners". There was also only one Einstein (and his legend too in large part a fictional construct deliberately wrought to gatekeep), but hundreds of thousands of mediocre wannabes succeed to this day simply on basic resemblance to him, while the rest of us is made to suffer in comparison.

Similarly, white men ruled literature simply because other white men did. And let's not forget that the primary issue isn't relative literary excellence but opportunity, for economic and social success. Why would someone like Nathaniel Hawthorne, not exactly a hack himself, otherwise fume about "scribbling women"? He was angry because losing any part of readership to them was, well, a loss. Note that almost two centuries later even white women still don't command the same respect and cachet that white male writers do. White men are still the nonpareil "explicators" of the world.

And if even white women still lag behind white men, we can understand how much harder it is for writers from minority groups to get fair chances. So, back to that issue about cultural appropriation and why it exists as a problem in one case but not in the opposite.

Editado: Jan 16, 1:29 am

>126 LolaWalser: I’m still on board with all that. It’s consistent with how i see the world. I think you have picked out a deeply important fundamental problem with the classics.

Jan 16, 9:23 am

I just finished The Knight’s Tale, the first tale. Took me five and a half hours. There are 24 tales. Hopefully not 132 hours, but maybe. (The General Prologue took me 3 hours)

The tale is a retelling of Boccaccio’s Teseida, named for Theseus of Athens, itself based on The Thebiad by Roman poet Statius (ce 40-96). The story is mainly about two Thebian cousins, Palamon and Arcite. They are imprisoned for life together by Theseus. While in prison they both fall in love with Emily, the sister the Theseus, who they spy through a prison window. Their bond instantly becomes a rivalry and their lovesickness their defining characteristic. Both ate eventually freed only to have a battle for Emily set up by Theseus. A big festival, if you like. They each, and Emily, pray to a selected god, Mars, Venus and Diane, each given a sign the god’s will grant their wish. But when the gods get together, they realize they’re contradictory promises. So what to do?

A tale of many parts, there is humor throughout, but also plenty of bravado, crises, tragedy and philosophy. Despite the humor, the tragedies are moving. The language is always entertaining.

My favorite bit of humor is when both cousins fall for Emily. Palamon sees her first and goes weak in his chains. He tells Arcite about her, saying :
I noot where she be woman or goddess
But Venus is it, soothly as I gesse
When Arcite takes a look and also falls in love, Palamon is angry. He can’t fall in love with her, because Palamon already had and saw her first. Arcite responds :
“Thou shalt,” quod he, “be rather false than I.
And thou art fals, I telle thee outrely,
For paramour I loved hir first er thow.
What wiltow seyn, thou wistest nat yet now (what will thou say, thou doesn’t know)
Whether she be a womman or goddesse.
Thyn is affeccioun of hoolynesse,
And myn is love, as to a creature
And so their tragic rivalry begins.

Jan 16, 5:01 pm

>128 dchaikin: So glad you enjoyed the KT, and if I remember correctly, the Miller’s Tale comes next, a parody of the aristocratic Knight, and very funny! And short…

Jan 16, 8:36 pm

>129 dianelouise100: i think the Miller butts in and takes over. I’ll find out tomorrow.

Editado: Jan 17, 8:19 am

Happy reading! This is the bawdiest story in the Tales

Jan 17, 9:29 am

>128 dchaikin: whoops, my math was wrong. TKT only took me 4.5 hours. 🙂 (so, at 24 tales, my pace is merely 108 hours)

>131 dianelouise100: i’m enjoying the Miller’s drunken tale.

Jan 17, 12:05 pm

Great review of How to Build a Boat, Dan. I'll add it to my wish list.

You'll excuse me if I bow out of the conversation on cultural appropriation. I'm still trying to pick out the darts that were thrown at me after I expressed my opinion about American Dirt several years ago.

Jan 17, 12:06 pm

Jan 17, 12:20 pm

>128 dchaikin: Well done! The Knight was the one that tripped me up the first couple of times I tried to read Chaucer. It is fun when you really get into it, but it takes a while to get past all the preamble. Most of the others are much livelier and earthier.

Jan 17, 1:50 pm

>133 kidzdoc: thanks Darryl. I think you would love it. And no need to jump in that conversation, but our darts here are plastic tipped. 🙂

>135 thorold: phew. That’s good to know. I enjoyed throughout, even the preamble, but it took awhile to see the end.

Jan 18, 9:01 am

>97 dchaikin: Definitely :-)

>118 dchaikin: Interesting review (although I'm not in the mood for dysfunctional right now).
I admire your methodical reading. I just wonder how you overcome the fact that you occasionally have to read books that you know in advance do not interest you.

Jan 18, 9:28 am

Enjoyed you review of the Knights tale. Brings back memories for me as I read the Canterbury Tales some 13 years ago just before I joined Club Read and so did not write down my thoughts on them.

Editado: Jan 19, 8:25 am

>137 Trifolia: hm. Interesting thought. I actually never started a Booker listed book knowing all that much about the what’s inside. So I don’t know ahead of time whether I will like it. Of course, I have some expectations, but they are oddly off the mark. I do avoid certain kinds of books, but try to keep a open mind about whatever i try to actually read. I guess I can put a question back to you: Do you typically know ahead of time whether you will like a book you haven’t read?

>138 baswood: Thanks Bas. I would have liked to read your thoughts.

Jan 19, 5:49 am

>139 dchaikin: Thanks for clarifying. To answer your question: I try not to be biased when choosing a book, because experience shows that I can sometimes be pleasantly surprised when I step outside my comfort zone (but also the other way around). Still, there are books that I prefer to stay away from because of the theme or subject matter, regardless of the author's reputation or critical acclaim. Some books have no added value for me.
So no, I obviously don't know in advance whether I will like a book or not, but yes, there are books that I consciously stay away from because of the theme or subject.

Jan 19, 8:30 am

>140 Trifolia: generally not an issue for me with the Booker lists. One book i read was by a London thug recording his apparently actual crimes without remorse. And they were awful. I might have skipped that one, as I really didn’t appreciate the author. But it was quite a fascinating listen.

Jan 19, 8:49 am

The Miller’s Tale comes with a warning/defense
What sholde I moore seyn, but this Millere,
He nolde his wordes for no man forbere,
But told his cherles tale in his manere.
M'athynketh* that I shal reherce it heere,
And therfore every gentil wight I preye,
For Goddes love, demeth nat that I seye
Of yvel entente**, but for I moot reherce
Hir tales alle, be they bettre or werse,
Or elles falsen som of my mateere.
And therfore, whoso list it nat yheere,
Turne over the leef and chese another tale;

*I regret
** judge not that i speak of evil intention

The Miller is drunk, and forces his tale upon the pilgrimage, duly recorded for accuracy, of course. Bawdy humor with farts jokes, and a foolish old husband, his clever young wife and her amors. A swift two hours to read this one, with narrative drive. I wanted to know what happened.

Jan 20, 2:25 pm

>142 dchaikin: The ancestor of content warning?

I have no idea what is written there! If I ever decide to read Chaucer it will have to be in translation I think.

Editado: Jan 20, 2:51 pm

>143 FlorenceArt: Looks like it. But he doesn’t ask you to click till the last line.

Jan 20, 8:36 pm

>143 FlorenceArt: >144 kjuliff: lol! Thanks for making me smile. I doubt he was the first, but certainly his style of it was unique

Jan 21, 11:02 am

>142 dchaikin: And one of the most carefully plotted of the tales, all strands of the story converging on the word water. It does provide relief from the serious KT. “Tee hee,” quod she, and clapped the window to” has remained in my memory for a long time.

Jan 21, 11:40 am

>146 dianelouise100: So now I see where the British love of double entendres comes from. I was watching a few clips of BBC talk shows last night, and the celebrity guests were acting like a bunch of school kids making fart jokes.

There is a certain type of British humor that I like, but they have become so enamored of the double entendres there’s hardly a word left that the talk show guests can say without the audience bursting into guffaws of laughter.

Chaucer lives on!

Editado: Jan 21, 12:39 pm

>146 dianelouise100: interesting. I finished the Reeves Tale today. Even bawdier. Fun stuff. I feel like I’m reading a Middle English translation of Boccaccio (and it works!)

>147 kjuliff: indeed. There is something in Chaucer that is very England English. (A tongue in cheek with wink sort of thing)

Jan 21, 5:12 pm

Just stopping by to say hi, Dan. I'm not participating in this awesome group, especially given the personal realization that I wouldn't have the motivation to add regular informative and witty posts. Having said that, I'm dropping a star here, as I always enjoy lurking in your thread and reading all the comments. 🙂

Jan 22, 12:23 am

Dropping in to say that I too am lurking and enjoying the comments.

Jan 22, 8:28 am

>149 Ann_R: hi. You’re always welcome here. Nice to have you visit

>150 rv1988: welcome 🙂

Jan 22, 9:26 am

I finished The Reeves Tale and the fragment of The Cook’s Tale. That completes “Fragment I”. CT exists on ten fragments.

The Reeve is older and makes a fuss of his age and white hair in the prologue to his tale. Here’s a quote on life as a running spout.
Syn that my tappe of lif bigan to renne.
For sikerly, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drough the tappe of lyf and leet it gon,
And ever sithe hath so the tappe yronne
Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.
The streem of lyf now droppeth on the chymbe.
The sely tonge may wel rynge and chymbe
Here is a translation I found online

Since my tap of life began to run.
For surely, when I was born, immediately
Death turned on the spigot of life and let it flow,
And ever since the tap has so run
Until the barrel is almost all empty.
The stream of life now drops on the rim.
The foolish tongue may well ring and chime
(This had me thinking if Pink Floyd’s Time…)

Jan 22, 9:51 am

“Life as a running spout” lol Who’s up next?

Jan 22, 10:37 am

>153 dianelouise100: The Man of Law’s Tale. No clue what to expect.

Jan 22, 11:58 am

Me either, be happy to be reminded.

Jan 23, 9:06 pm

Hi Dan. As you're reading Chauncer, I thought you might be interested. One of Chauncer's contemporaries, and a personal friend of his, John Gower, wrote "Confessio Amantis" ("The Lover’s Confession") in the fourteenth century. It has just received a new complete English translation, published by the Medieval Institute Press in 2023 and supported by the Gower Society. I recently heard a talk by the translators, introducing their work, which was wonderful. They read excerpts from the original in Middle English and then, in modern English from their translation. Perhaps something to add to your list!

During the talk, the translators also mentioned some aspects of Gower's relationship with Chauncer: apparently, Gower includes in Confessio Amatis what one of the translators called 'the greatest diss in literary history'. It is possibly a rebuke to Chauncer, encouraging him to write deep, perhaps more instructional work. Here's an excerpt I found online at Harvard's Chauncer page of it. In the Confessio, this is Venus addressing the lover, and asking him to greet Chauncer thus:

For thi now in hise daies olde
Thou schalt him telle this message,
That he upon his latere age,
To sette an ende of alle his werk,
As he which is myn owne clerk,
Do make his testament of love,
As thou hast do thi schrifte above
So that mi Court it mai recorde.
(Confessio Amantis, VIII.*2950-57)

I'll confess that I don't detect the diss, only some condescension, perhaps, but here is the book, and here is a link to the recording of their talk.

Jan 23, 10:20 pm

>156 rv1988: Ok, i’m not seeing the dis. I’m aware of and very curious about Gower. He appears in a Shakespeare play that (i think it’s the same play) has a plot based on a Gower story. My edition had Gower’s version and I was quite charmed. (My silly brain. Which play? It wasn’t a good one. A woman is thrown overboard from a boat, dead, but comes out alive on land…) Anyway thanks for sharing about Medieval Institute Press 2023 translation. Of course, i would want original language and notes. But i will still look into that.

When i worked out my year plan, Gower didn’t make the cut. I decided to put the Pearl poet and Piers Plowman 1st. But I might try him in 2025. Baswood (who got lost in 1590’s rabbit hole and hasn’t come out) once warned me he couldn’t get through Gower. That has me a little worried.

Jan 23, 10:21 pm

Pericles! That’s the Shakespeare play based on Gower

Jan 24, 1:48 pm

Enjoying your Chaucer excerpts

Jan 26, 10:41 pm

>159 baswood: thanks :)

Editado: Jan 27, 9:08 am

4. The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis
reader: Sarah Mollo-Christensen
OPD: 1983
format: 3:35 free audible audiobook (176 pages)
listened: Jan 18-22
rating: 4
genre/style: History theme: random audio
locations: French Pyrenees in the 1560’s
about the author: (1928 – 2023) Davis was Jewish American historian of the early modern period (~1500-1800). She was born and raised in Detroit.

A book bullet from Kate (kjuliff)

A 16th century story of imposture. After Martin Guerre had left his Gascony town without a word for eight years, a man returns saying he is Martin. He is accepted by Martin's family, including Martin's wife, who has two children by him. Three years later this pseudo-Martin finds himself accused as an imposture by this same family, who take him to court. Remarkably he has the court convinced he is truly Martin, until the real, lost, Martin shows up in court after his 11 years absence. In an era when imprisonment was only of necessity, and not an available punishment, the imposture is executed; and the case makes history for both for the legal complications in marriage, inheritance, identity, and in the nature of truth itself, and of the people involved. The judge was prominent intellectual protestant, later executed during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of Huguenots in 1575. Montaigne was maybe present in the courtroom. He wrote about the case in terms of the uncertain nature of truth.

This 1983 book has some resonance in the popular history. It's Davis's only well-known book, although she authored other serious works. It must have touched something, maybe just along the lines of how Dava Sobel's Longitude seemed to appeal to such a broad audience. Davis sees this as a window into the common people of the 16th-century. In Gascony, these are industrious landowning peasants, with mixed Basque and Gascony French Heritages. And the Reformation has a hand in this. The accuser was Protestant in a kind of unofficial way, and town Protestants supported him, and the regional Protestant judge seems swayed a little too; whereas town Catholics, or whatever traditional Christians were called then, tended to condemn him. Davis brings all this up, but she's very curious about Martin Guerre's wife, who obviously embraced this imposture, and then condemned him and went back to the husband who deserted her. The imposture, who was not some dumb bubba, but was very savvy and careful to learn and remember all Martin's obscure details to prove his identity, never criticized her in court. The record is quiet on her feelings.

It's an entertaining read, only 3.5 hours on audio (which typically means about 100 pages).

Jan 27, 2:09 am

Wonderful review, Dan.

Jan 27, 4:45 am

>161 dchaikin: Great review. I will give this one a shot, sounds interesting.

Jan 27, 7:08 am

>161 dchaikin: Second review for The return of Martin Guerre within a couple of weeks… I had to make a bit of digging, as for me, Le retour de Martin Guerre is a film. A film I have not watched, but I knew it was starring Gérard Depardieu and I had a vague idea of the plot without knowing it was based on a true story.
So, now I know that the film is based on two books, the one you and Kate have read, The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis (considered as a non-fiction) and The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis (which is a novel). (And there is an American adaptation of the film, Sommersby, with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster as the main actors). If you look for Le retour de Martin Guerre on French bookshop libraries, you find the screenplay by Daniel Vigne and Jean-Claude Carrière first, and then the book by Natalie Zemon Davis, hence my ignorance of that book.
And now I am more than intrigued, by both books… Not that much by the film, I never really liked Gérard Depardieu as an actor or as a public figure, but at the moment, he is definitely not in the public’s good books!

Fun (?) fact, Natalie Zemon Davis is not lucky : this book is difficult to find, partly because there is another book with the same title (the scrrenplay I told about). She wrote another book available in French, Léon l’Africain, which has, in French, the same title as Léon l’Africain, probably one of the most famous books by Amin Maalouf...

Jan 27, 11:41 am

>162 Ameise1: thanks!
>163 rv1988: it’s fun. I think you would enjoy it.

>164 raton-liseur: I’m not drawn to the movies or stage, but I wouldn’t be averse to watching them. Léon l’Africain is Trickster Travels in English, giving it a unique name (and possibly assuming American readers wouldn’t know who Leo the African was anyway). It’s possibly a terrific history.

Jan 27, 12:06 pm

I finished The Man of Laws Tale, another long one. It tells the story Custance, who winds up adrift at sea for years twice because of evil non-Christian mothers-in-law. She almost converts Muslim Syria, and does convert Pagan England to Christianity, through marriage and example. The story has many digressions on suffering and faith and Christianity, especially referencing Pope Innocent III’s De Miseria (written somewhere around the year 1200)

A couple useful observations for us all
O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour

To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse,

The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!

Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse.
Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse:
Upon thy glade day have in thy mynde

The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.

O sudden woe, that ever art successor

To worldly bliss, sprinkled with bitterness,

The end of the joy of our worldly labor!
Woe takes over at the end of our gladness.

Hearken to this counsel for thy safety:

Upon thy glad day have in thy mind

The unexpected woe or harm that follows.
and on a wife’s hardships:
They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right;

For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges,

They moste take in pacience at nyght

Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges

To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges,

And leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside,

As for the tyme -- it may no bet bitide.

They go to bed, as it was reasonable and right;

For though wives are full holy things,

They must take in patience at night

Such sorts of necessary acts as are pleasing

To folk that have wedded them with rings,

And (they must) lay their holiness aside a little while,

As for the time being -- it can be no better.

Editado: Jan 28, 9:27 pm

first, finally found your thread dan, sorry its taken so long! you always have such great discussions here. hoping you have a great reading year,

had things to say, but didn't want to insult anyone or be stupid and hurt anyone. So just saying Jerry has said what I have been thinking, pretty much to the t, esp

"If we're saying that the gulf between the life experiences of black and white Americans is so vast that a white writer can't legitimately represent the experiences of a black character, then to me it seems like we are diminishing our shared humanity. That concept of shared humanity is to me the single most vital concept for us to hold on to if we're going to find a viable way forward through all sorts of human troubles."

I also agree "white writers have an especial responsibility to create such characters and situations accurately and respectfully. " that also goes for men writing women characters, christians writing jewish characters etc.

Jan 28, 9:22 pm

>167 cindydavid4: Hi Cindy. Nice to have you here. I agree with all that. :)

Reading has been ok. I'm bummed that I struggled with Arturo's Island. I just finished earlier this evening. Review to come. Next I go to Faulkner's second novel, Mosquitoes.

Jan 29, 2:30 pm

>165 dchaikin: oh I know who Africanus, read something about him ln last years African Challege. Id love to read that book,adding to the everflowing list

Jan 29, 2:42 pm

>107 labfs39: way late to this: I think having some basic knowledge of the book goes a long way in understanding WSS; I read it in jr high and it became one of my fav books of that time. Despite the issues with the book which WSS addresses I still think its a worthwhile read

Jan 29, 8:25 pm

>169 cindydavid4: I’m going to await your review of Trickster Traveler. 🙂

>170 cindydavid4: good know. My Jane Eyre knowledge has aged.

Jan 29, 8:38 pm

>171 dchaikin: You don’t have to know much about Jane Eyre to enjoy Wide Saragossa Sea. Mad wife in attic. Jane Eyre loves husband (Mr Rochester) of supposedly mad wife and ends up marrying him. . That’s about it. The tie in is that the “mad wife” met Mr Rochester in Jamaica.

WSS is postcolonial and feminist prequel to Jane Eyre, and describes the background to Mr. Rochester's marriage from the point-of-view of his wife Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress - that is, the “mad woman” in the attic.

Jan 29, 8:53 pm

I need to check out WSS. For some reason I had the idea that the madwoman was Mason's sister. perhaps there is a connection I don't grok.

Editado: Jan 29, 9:27 pm

>173 Jim53: Yes she was Mason’s sister. I was just giving a broad outline of the major characters. I left out a lot of detail.

Edited to add link - Richard Mason: The Villain in Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and The Eyre Hall Series

Editado: Jan 30, 12:00 am

5. Arturo's Island by Elsa Morante
Translation: from Italian by Ann Goldstein (2019)
OPD: 1957
format: 370-page paperback
acquired: April 2023 read: Jan 14-28 time reading: 14:12, 2.3 mpp
rating: 4
genre/style: novel theme: TBR
locations: Procida, an island in the Bay of Naples. I think ~1912.
about the author: Italian novelist, poet, translator, and children's books author was born in and lived most of her lived in Rome, 1912-1985.

I'm a little disappointed in myself as a reader. This is a beautiful book, but I never settled down into it. I was constantly impatient.

Arturo grows up on Procida, an island in the Bay of Naples, alone. His teenage mother died in childbirth, and his German-born father only visits briefly, leaving him alone for months at time. As a baby and younger child he was cared for by a young man, Silvestro. But Silvestro has left to join the army, and Arturo, now 14, lives only with his dog in an old large house, fed by a man he never really sees. Uneducated, except by Silvestro and the old books in the house, which he devours, and the example of his absent father, his real education comes as he roams the island and its beaches freely, accompanied by his dog, sometimes taking his rowboat. His own Virgilian Eden.

The untethered Arturo, bound only by his island, has a rough transition into puberty as his father marries a 16-yr-old uneducated Neapolitan girl, and leaves her in the house with Arturo. Even as Arturo hates the ugly common girl his father refuses to love, he comes to admire her willful insistence of her own view of the world, and her religious devotion to many different Mary's. He finds love in a swirl of conflicting emotions around sex, disappointment in his impossible ideals, and his longing to be loved as a mother loves.

Maybe this could called forlorn in paradise. It takes a while before Arturo casts himself out of his Eden, and into WWII. (note: I had to look up which war this was. I closed the book thinking it was WWI.)

This book has a feel similar to Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet. The translator is the same (this is a 2019 translation). And Ferrante is quoted on the front and back cover. Both books work partially on atmospheric and interpersonal unspoken emotional swings.

His paradise:
Some evenings, after dinner, drawn by the cool outside air, I stretched out on the doorstep, or on the ground in the yard. The night, which, down below an hour before had seemed to be so fierce, here, a step from the lighted French door, became familiar again. Now if I looked at the sky, it was a great ocean, scattered with countless islands, and, sharpening my gaze, I saw among the stars, those whose names I knew: Arturo, first of all of others, and then the Bears, Mars, the Pleiades, Castor and Pollux, Cassiopeia… I had always regretted that in modern times there was no longer on earth some forbidden limit, like the Pillars of Hercules for the ancients, because I would’ve liked to be the first to go beyond it, challenging the ban with my audacity; in the same way, now, looking at the starry sky, I envied the future pioneers who would be able to reach the stars.

Jan 30, 12:11 am

Arturo's Island does sound like it could be a great read, but only if the reader is in just the right headspace (and one I certainly rarely find myself in lately, for good or ill).

Editado: Jan 30, 12:38 am

>176 mabith: exactly. Sadly I've been looking forward to this for years. :( I stumbled across Morante when I received Aracoeli as an early reviewer. Maybe my only good one. It was so oddly elegant, and I read it blind, with no expectations. I'll always embrace that novel. I read her most famous novel, History, but the text was intentionally plain.

Editado: Jan 30, 1:59 pm

I read Arturo's Island too many years ago to remember it in detail, but I do remember Arturo roaming the island and the beauty of the island. I really related because when I was growing up in Aruba I (and my siblings who were old enough) were put outside in the morning and basically didn't't come back til dinner. I did lots of exploring the nooks and crannies of my part of the island. (I did have parents waiting at home though!) I'm glad you liked it.
I read History back in the dark ages (my 20's) and remember nothing about it.

Jan 30, 5:21 pm

>178 arubabookwoman: how lovely! The earliest part of the novel, when Arturo is happily on his own, roaming with his dog, was the part I liked the best.

Jan 30, 7:33 pm

Very nice reviews of The Return of Martin Guerre and Arturo's Island, Dan.

Jan 30, 10:09 pm

Jan 30, 10:38 pm

>175 dchaikin: Wonderful review. I am really enjoying reading about your reading! Interesting comparison to Ferrante. I loved the Neapolitan Quartet, and will definitely check this out.

Jan 31, 1:00 pm

>182 rv1988: thanks! I loved the Neapolitan Quartet too

Editado: Fev 3, 7:55 pm

Six different translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and one introduction from my library.

Here’s the rundown:

Signet Classic - Burton Raffel translation (1970), with introduction by Brenda Webster (2009) - 156 pages, 76 of the actual text in unrhymed verse

Penguin Classics - Bernard O’Donoghue translation (2006) - 114 pages, 93 of the actual text, in nearly prose verse

An Introduction to the Gawain-Poet by Ad Putter (1996) 256p

Norton Critical Edition - Marie Borroff translation, with editing by Borroff and Laura L Howes (2010) - 258 pages. 65 are of the actual text, nearly prose.

W.S. Merwin translation (2005) - 200 pages. 170 are the original text on the left, translation on the right. Looks to me like nearly prose.

J.R.R. Tolkien - unpublished at his death in 1973. Edited by Christopher Tolkien 1975, with an editors note by Chris Smith from 2020. 249 pages, 84 pages of actual text, looks like nearly prose.

Simon Armitage (2007) - 190 pages, 180 are the original text on the left, translation on the right. Looks to me like nearly prose. Although subtitle says “A New Verse Translation”


Currently, after a quick look, Armitage appeals the most. (The one on the bottom.) Raffles (on top) looks to be the most poetic. I’ll have to sample and get a better sense of these.

Editado: Fev 3, 8:55 pm

6. Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan
translation: from Korian by Chi-Young Kim (2023) reader: Cindy Kay
OPD: 2004 (in Korean)
format: 11:35 audible audiobook (420 Pages in paperback)
acquired: January 11 listened: Jan 17, Jan 23 – Feb 1
rating: 4
genre/style: Novel theme: random audio
locations: South Korean 1930’s to ~1970’s
about the author: He is a South Korean novelist, screenwriter and film director, born in Yong-in South Korea in 1964

I'm still thinking about this weird walk through the lives on of two improbable/impossible South Korean women covering roughly 40 years, from the 1930's through many years of the South Korean dictatorship under Major General Park Chung Hee (1961-1979).

Satirical humor, loose kimonos, and impossible events, perhaps magical realism, but with a satirical flavor, may turn readers off, or on. I listened one day, and then decided to take a break with another short audiobook, then come back to it a little more mentally prepared. It's entertaining, and sneakily informative.

Geumbok, who lost her mother young, runs away from her father and little village for a town along the coast with a fish monger, who, of course, she sleeps with. She makes him rich, converting his business, then loses it all over a huge simple man of superhuman strength. And so go her fortunes, begging, whoring, associating with criminals, then wealthy, in business and condemning communists, making her dreams unhappily, then back down again. Along the way she has an improbable daughter, Chunhee (or is it Chunhui?), a mute of unusually large size and strength who she neglects, and who converses only with an African elephant. There are mad curses, one-eyed bee whisperers, twin-circus veterans, a dog who lives for years in an abandoned town tied to a post, sex-hungry Christian priests and savvy tricksters, one of who cuts off his own fingers regularly. Along the way the narrator provides us with many unenlightening laws. When a character does something stupid, the narrator concludes with, "This was the law of stupidity." And so on.* A strange way to look at the Korean War and the botched Republic of 1961 to 1979.

But entertaining, nonetheless. Recommended to the tolerant.

*One Goodreads review lists every law! https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5088938456

Fev 4, 1:38 am

>184 dchaikin: looks like 2 different libraries - one academic?

Fev 4, 2:17 am

>184 dchaikin: Looking forward to your posts on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I have my father in law's old copy on my shelves but I haven't had the courage to tackle it properly yet... I remember Alan Garner wrote that it's an easy read when you're familiar with his grandfather's Cheshire dialect, which I am not :-D

Fev 4, 4:30 am

>185 dchaikin: Great review. This sounds like an unusual and interesting book.

Fev 4, 4:33 am

>185 dchaikin: Nice review for a strange book. I love the cover, but it's strange how it seems so different from the content of the book...

Fev 4, 6:05 am

>185 dchaikin: Sounds very exciting. My library has a copy of it, I'll put it on the list.

Fev 4, 7:49 am

>185 dchaikin: >189 raton-liseur: I like the book covers much better:


This is a book that has been tempting me (weirdness, magical realism, compared to GGM), but you're the first to mention satirical. I don't usually get on well with satire.

Fev 4, 1:29 pm

>184 dchaikin: Love this picture. It makes me think of those great study times, being organized and diving in, while the world outside disappears.

>185 dchaikin: I'll have to remember this for my Reading Globally trip around the world. Korea for some reason is sadly lacking in my reading.

Thought of you yesterday when I read that a new tree had been discovered in the fossil record.
It's Sandordiacaulis densifolia from the Mississippian period.

Great fossil photos here https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/tree-fossil-1.7102888

Imagine being a grad student and finding that!

Fev 4, 3:20 pm

>184 dchaikin: In graduate school we read the Marie Boroff translation of Gawain. And I recently read the Simon Armitage translation of Pearl, which I liked very much because of the facing pages of ME and translation. I’m eventually going to get Armitages translation of Gawain, so I’ll be interested in your opinion—if that’s the edition you choose.

Fev 4, 3:57 pm

Looking forward to your thoughts on the Green Knight!

Editado: Fev 4, 6:40 pm

on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

>186 dianeham: Just our county library. It does overlap with a local community college. hmm.

>187 Dilara86: The introduction to the poet book says up front that the books dialect is tied to a local dialect in Cheshire. That, unfortunately, doesn't mean much to me. (Other than England Midlands). Fascinating that anyone in recent memory found it familiar!! It's not easy reading.

>192 SassyLassy: I'm so charmed by the stack. I had to photograph it.

>193 dianelouise100: very interesting. The Borroff is the only one of these with good notes! But I am favoring Armitage.

>194 avidmom: thanks

Editado: Fev 4, 6:51 pm

more on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: I scanned through the 1st 60 lines or so. Here's my take:

- Signet Classic - Burton Raffel (1970) - most poetic, but... he changes the meaning!
- Penguin Classics - Bernard O’Donoghue (2006) - awful. :)
- An Introduction to the Gawain-Poet by Ad Putter (1996) - 1st 3 pages were terrific. But then it becomes almost unreadable.
- Norton Critical Edition - Marie Borroff (2010) - the _only_ one with good notes and it has really good notes. But the translation is clunky. I didn't like it.
- W.S. Merwin (2005) - really clear. Not particularly poetic.
- J.R.R. Tolkien (before 1973) - it reads like something written for ones self. Clear, fine really. Not poetic.
- Simon Armitage (2007) - clear and he's only one to capture _nicely_ the alliteration. I definitely liked this the best so far. So, it's still my favorite. I was impressed. (But i like the Borroff notes!)

Fev 4, 6:39 pm

on Whale

>188 rv1988: thanks. It holds up. I'm still thinking about it

>189 raton-liseur: I'm glad you caught that. The audio cover is odd. I thought so before I read it. It's kind of pretty, but not suggestive of sly humor or the books actual symbolism.

>190 Ameise1: I'm curious what you will think of it. Note that I had to pause a couple days. It's not welcoming to the reader up-front, at least it wasn't for me. I was caught off guard. But once I adjusted, it was fine, and fun.

>191 ELiz_M: yes. yes-yes-yes. That blue cover is terrific. Why mess with that. What's GGM?

>192 SassyLassy: A good Korean read, in my opinion. This is my second book of literature of a South Korean author, and both had a lot of bitterness. Only a population of two. But I sense post-WWII South Korean history is less inspiring than I had imagined.

Fev 4, 6:49 pm

>192 SassyLassy: The fossil find is quite cool. Reminds of fossils I didn't pursue in gradschool, my focus elsewhere. :)

Fev 4, 7:05 pm

January was a good month for me. I'm still on plan. My pace is good, even if my enjoyment is mixed.

I finished everything I planned to read - four books: 15 hours of Chaucer (I got in 20 hours and it was terrific). Faulkner's first novel, Soldier's Pay, which I enjoyed. A Booker list novel, How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney, which I adored. It was much better than I expected. And one from my TBR, Arturo's Island by Elsa Morante, which I struggled with, and oddly. I don't know by TBR books are always the most difficult for my mind to adapt to. But they are. Anyway, I got in 56 hours of reading for the month and I'm happy with that.

On audio, I finished Taft, Ann Patchett's second novel, which was only ok. The Return of Martin Guerre was a nice short, free, side track. And I came around to Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan, finishing it on February 1.

February's plan looks like this:
- The Canterbury Tales - 15 hours
- Mosquitoes by William Faulkner (nobody reads this one.)
- The Mother’s Recompense by Edith Wharton
- Pearl by Siân Hughes (which nicely ties into the Gawain/Pearl poet!)
- Ammonites and Leaping Fish: A Life in Time by Penelope Lively - that always iffy TBR choice.

I started an 18 hour audiobook on Feb 1, White Teeth by Zadie Smith. That might cover my whole month.

Fev 4, 9:59 pm

>197 dchaikin: GGM = Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Fev 7, 6:16 pm

>184 dchaikin: I have read the Simon Armitage translation which was a five star read for me

Fev 7, 10:37 pm

>200 ELiz_M: hmm. I wouldn't compare Whale to Marquez. I mean there might be a dialogue, but they left very different impressions on me.

>201 baswood: thanks for sharing. I think I'm all in for Armitage.

Fev 10, 5:58 pm

7. Mosquitoes by William Faulkner
OPD: 1927
format: 368 pages within an ebook anthology: William Faulkner: Novels 1926-1929: Soldiers' Pay / Mosquitoes / Flags in the Dust / The Sound and the Fury
acquired: January 1 read: Jan 21 – Feb 7 time reading: 11:20, 1.8 mpp
rating: 3½
genre/style: Novel theme: Faulkner
locations: then contemporary New Orleans and surrounding waterways
about the author: 1897-1962. American Noble Laureate who was born in New Albany, MS, and lived most of his life in Oxford, MS.

Faulkner's second novel is another that few have read. It has some issues, and while reading I was thinking of all the ways I would complain about them, but actually it reads ok overall, and I find myself with an odd affection for it.

It has a touch of a Gilligan's Island feel. A wealthy widow in New Orleans invites a selected crowd on her yacht for an overnight trip. Alas the yacht grounds, and the clash of wealthy single women, male artists, a rambler, local New Orleans girl, and the crew stews on the edge of a humid Louisiana lake rife mosquitoes, in middle of nowhere. And there is only grapefruit, liquor, and cigarettes for sustenance.

The text has a nice flow until the boat grounds. Then it sputters in spits and starts, jumping to random episodes and conversations. The artists are mostly middle-aged men, and they find themselves improperly attracted to their host's slightly dressed teenage niece, who skinny dips before dawn, and the equally slightly dressed teenage local New Orleans girl the niece invited, having just met her before the trip. Sometimes Faulkner manages to be erotic, but mostly he is being intentionally disturbing for comedic effect. And then he mixes in scattered decently serious drunken thoughts on writing and art. One character reads poems out loud to the others, presented to reader.

This awkward book has endearing flawed characters, and entertaining aspects that I'll continue to think about. And I really liked that it touches a little on New Orleans, especially in the epilogue. It maybe spends a little too much time stranded in a mosquito-infested lake, time standing still.

Recommended for the curious and forgiving.

Editado: Fev 10, 6:46 pm

I finished fragment 3 of The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's, The Friar's and the Summoner's tales. I struggled a bit with the language of all three. The Wife of Bath has a very long prologue, a highlight of the whole book, where she goes off on various aspects of marriage and being a wife, and her experiences with her five husbands. The last one was a close reader of St. Jerome's Against Jovinianus, which lays out a male-sided view of marriage. When she started tearing pages from his book, he beat her so harshly she lost most of her hearing. This event serves as a counter to her long humorous takes on roles, sex, adultery and marital dishonesty. But, goodness, her language makes tough reading. Her tale, however, is easy to follow, if disturbing. A knight rapes a woman and is condemned to death. But he is given a reprieve if he can solve a riddle about what women want. An old crone gives him the answer, saving his life, but in return the noble gentle rapist knight must marry her. He does, and somewhere along the line she turns beautiful, and they live happily ever after. No word on how the raped woman fared.

The Friar's Tale makes fun of summoners - those charged with finding people who were summoned to court, and giving them their summons to appear. The friar's summoner makes a living by threatening summons and getting paid off, until he meets the devil and tries to show off to him. Then the real summoner, now quite upset, responds with his tale about a bad friar who, after acting terrible to a wealthy couple and then requesting donations for his brethren, gets a fart. When the friar complains to a local lord, he is given advice on how to share the donated fart with his brethren. This is Chaucer's second fart joke... Beyond that, ther is namoore to seye.

Links to my Canterbury Tales updates:
General Prologue here
The Knight's Tale here
The Miller's Tale here
The Reeve's Tale (and Cook's Tale fragment) here
The Man of Laws Tale here
The Wife of Bath's, Friar's and Summoner's Tale here

Fev 10, 7:23 pm

>203 dchaikin: Ha! Im curious, and forgiving in most things except for books I don’t like. So it would seem this is not the Faulkner I shoulfd read. Which Faulkner do you recommend for me Dan?

Fev 10, 7:45 pm

>203 dchaikin: Wonderful review. I read this long ago, thanks for brlnging it back with an appreciation of its strong points. Will love to see what you think of the next two in your anthology.

Fev 10, 7:48 pm

>204 dchaikin: I’m enjoying these reviews very much.

Fev 10, 8:59 pm

>205 kjuliff: maybe not for you. I don’t know which Faulkner’s to recommend yet. I’ll know more this time next year.

>206 dianelouise100: thanks! Flags in the Dust will be next.

Editado: Fev 10, 9:24 pm

>205 kjuliff: I’d suggest any one of the four greats: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absalom,Absalom, or Light in August. Or if you’d prefer to start with the first of the Yoknapatawpha novels, join Dan in reading Flags in the Dust. Love to see what you think of him. (I think most of Faulkner is available on audio)

Fev 11, 12:04 am

>209 dianelouise100: Thanks. I’ll choose one of these to start. And though I mentioned it on my own thread I should thank you here for putting me onto The Mother’s Recompense. Just finished it. An excellent read!

Fev 11, 10:12 am

wow beware of LTs description of the synopsis, spoilers abound! Ive been reading more Wharton lately, maybe that one will be next, disreagarding that I know how it ends.....

Fev 12, 9:42 am

>205 kjuliff: >209 dianelouise100: I'd add Intruder in the Dust to that list. I think The Sound and the Fury, although his masterpiece, is a bit difficult to read, so I wouldn't start with it, and I think you should read Absalom, Absalom after you have read The Sound and the Fury.

Fev 12, 2:33 pm

>212 arubabookwoman: >209 dianelouise100: - bearing in mind I’ll be experiencing those books in audio, do you think The Sound and the Fury would be possible?

Fev 12, 3:16 pm

>213 kjuliff: Yes. I’ve not listened to S and F, but I find that good narrators tend to pause at appropriate points, which helps with Faulkner’s unpunctuated run-on sentences. Might also make the difficult beginning section narrated by Benjy, the mentally retarded brother, easier to follow on a first experience.

Fev 12, 4:00 pm

>214 dianelouise100: OK. I’ll try it. Right now I’m reading an impressive debut novel - The Discomfort of Evening

Fev 12, 9:12 pm

>209 dianelouise100: >212 arubabookwoman: >215 kjuliff: etc I’m very interested in all these comments. I reserved 11 books on Faulkner from the library and took 7(?) home Saturday and read several introductions. I’m in the mode of taking in talk about him.

Fev 12, 10:12 pm

>211 cindydavid4: on The Mother’s Recomposed? I haven’t read a synopsis. But certainly classics are free game for spoilers. By the way, Wharton’s prose is top notch with this one.

Fev 12, 10:24 pm

>217 dchaikin: I just reviewed The Mother’s Recompense on my thread. I found it a great read but a bit melodramatic in places. With no spoilers my review is here

Fev 12, 10:24 pm

>203 dchaikin: I do enjoy reading your reviews. You have a lovely turn of phrase. The Wife of Bath sounds like grim going.

Fev 12, 10:34 pm

>217 dchaikin: But certainly classics are free game for spoilers.

Why? If it's a book I haven't read yet, no matter when it was written, I don't particularly want to read spoilers. While I guess it would be hard to live in the West and not know what happens in Romeo and Juliet, an obscure novel by Wharton isn't exactly common knowledge. Your thread, your rules, I'm just curious about when you feel the spoiler alert is no longer needed.

Editado: Fev 12, 11:40 pm

what she said :) btw the spoiler is in the synopsis that shows up when you click the link, which surprised me because those usually are pretty good at not showing spoilers

Fev 12, 11:54 pm

>220 labfs39: >217 dchaikin: I totally agree Lisa. If I’d have known the ending in The Mother’s Recompense I probably would not have read it. I can’t explain more, as it would be a spoiler. It’s not a well-known book; certainly now a classic.

>221 cindydavid4: Cindy, I don’t get a synopsis when I click on the LT link. I’m not sure what you are seeing. Are you looking at the Main Page for that title?

Fev 13, 12:17 am

In this classic by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Age of Innocence, a mother's past complicates her daughter's future in 1920s New York. Trapped in an unhappy marriage with a controlling husband, Kate Clephane began an affair with a wealthy man, only to lose her daughter, Anne, and be exiled from New York society. Years later, after their entanglement has ended, Kate meets Chris Fenno in France. Although he is a much younger man, Chris is the love of Kate's life. However, their difficult circumstances get in the way of their burgeoning romance. Chris is called back to America, leaving Kate alone in a third-rate hotel on the French Riviera. Then, more than twenty years after she left the United States, Kate receives a telegram asking her to return to New York City. Anne is now fully grown and about to be married. When Kate arrives, she finds her daughter hopes to rebuild their relationship. However, their reunion may not be so peaceful when Kate discovers Anne's fiancé is not only a bit of an opportunist, but also the man Kate still loves.

Fev 13, 12:23 am

>223 cindydavid4: what is the link to this, Cindy? I’m intrigued as I don’t get that when I click on the LT title link. But it doesn’t really matter as it doesn’t tell the end and the synopsis as you have copied it is incorrect. I’m interested in what you are clicking on here.

Fev 13, 12:37 am

>223 cindydavid4: Cindy that’s not a LT synopsis. It’s under
“References to this work on external resources.”
well down the main page after “Reviews”. But as I said above it’s in my opinion factually wrong, and does not give away the ending. I do nor think the writer of this description could have read the book. Best not to clutter Dan’s thread with more discussion on this. I’ll end my comments on this issue here.

Fev 13, 7:54 am

>218 kjuliff: saw that! 🙂

>219 rv1988: thank you. I think i need to revisit W of Bath. Not grim. All humor and “wisdom”, just tricky language

>220 labfs39: ooh. Tough question. Famous classics are fair game because their plots are part of the cultural wisdom. But isn’t “famous classic” a redundant phrase? As The Mother’s Recompense is lesser known, it’s probably better not to spoil it. But it’s arguably borderline because it’s been broadly discussed in certain types of circles for almost 100 years. I think I would advise against a spoiler, but I would also read about it prepared that there well could be spoilers. If that makes sense.

>221 cindydavid4: to >225 kjuliff: no worries. Appreciate your concern Kate, but it’s all fine here. I haven’t read >223 cindydavid4: yet.

Editado: Fev 13, 10:59 am

>225 kjuliff: sorry, moving along.....

Fev 14, 11:10 am

Enjoying your Faulkner journey. Apologies if you stated this previously as I'm always behind on threads, but are you reading them with any supporting notes? I found I really needed that for the only one of his I've read (As I Lay Dying), but it helped me get the most out of it.

Fev 14, 8:01 pm

>228 AlisonY: I haven’t needed notes yet. I should look into that. Sounds like I might be underestimating some of his more difficult books. Hmm. Thanks for asking.

Fev 16, 11:04 am

>229 dchaikin: It may just have been me....! It was mostly that I wanted to check I was understanding the language correctly and not misinterpreting what I was reading.

Fev 16, 1:27 pm

(i might be double posting… i clicked “Post message”, but it hasn’t shown up)

>230 AlisonY: i’m wide open to that idea. I used a guide for Gravity’s Rainbow and it made a big difference for me.

Fev 18, 12:13 am

Canterbury tales update.

I finished The Clerk's Tale (from the best and last Decameron tale, Day ten, tale 10, patient Griselda's story) and The Merchant's Tale (from Decameron Day 7, tale 9, the pear tree), which is kind of a linguistic standout piece for me. Together these make up fragment 4. It took me about 5 hours to read these two.

The Clerk’s Tale: Griselda story. Chaucer uses Petrarch’s Latin translation of Boccaccio. This is the story where the rich husband takes a poor commoner wife, Griselda, then tests her fidelity by punishing her and making her do various humiliating things, implying he has killed her children and is taking a new wife. Griselda weathers it all and stays dedicated. In Boccaccio's version it's actually romantic and Griselda comes across as a saint we have admiration and sympathy for. In Chaucer's hands that doesn't really come across. Instead, the darky misogyny is the dominant aspect, Griselda merely a random helpless victim, treated cruelly, but without any ability to complain.

O stormy peple, unsad and evere untrewe,
Ay undiscreet and chaungynge as a vane
Delitynge evere in rumbul that is newe,
For lyk the moone ay wexe ye and wane!
Ay ful of clappyng, deere ynogh a jane!
Youre doom is fals, youre constance yvele preeveth!
A ful greet fool is he that on yow leeveth!
O stormy people! Inconstant and ever untrue!
Ever undiscerning and changing like a weather vane!
Delighting ever in rumor that is new,
For like the moon ever you wax and wane!
Always full of chattering, not worth a penny!
Your judgment is false, your constancy proves evil;
A full great fool is he that believes in you.

I also liked the line: Til on the welkne shoon the sterres lyght


The Merchant’s Tale: A cuckold story. An old man takes a young wife, who falls for his young squire, Damyan. Caught in the act, the wife convinces her husband he didn't see what he clearly saw. I don't kow why there is a pear tree, but it's in Boccaccio too. The earlier Persian version has a date tree.

This is a more ambitious story, with lots of classical and biblical references. One section summarizes all the happy marriages in classical and biblical literature. Another has a long debate between Pluto, god of the underworld, and the wife he captured, Persephone, here "Proserpyne". Linguistically and poetically I found this story continually interesting and pleasant to read. I think it's maybe a better written story. It's been my favorite to read.

Before the story, the merchant tells us:
A, goode sire Hoost, I have ywedded bee
Thise monthes two, and moore nat, pardee;
And yet, I trowe, he that al his lyve
Wyflees hath been, though that men wolde him ryve
Unto the herte, ne koude in no manere
Tellen so muchel sorwe as I now heere
Koude tellen of my wyves cursednesse!
A, good sir Host, I have been wedded
These two months, and no more, by God;
And yet, I believe, he who all his life
Wifeless has been, though one would him stab
Unto the heart, could not in any way
Tell so much sorrow as I now here
Could tell of my wife's cursedness!"

On the squire, Damyan’s, lust
That for the verray peyne he was ny wood.
Almoost he swelte and swowned ther he stood,
So soore hath Venus hurt hym with hire brond,
As that she bar it daunsynge in hire hond;
That for the very pain he was nearly crazy.
Almost he fainted and swooned where he stood,
So sorely has Venus hurt him with her torch,
As she carried it dancing in her hand;

Some other lines I liked:

- But God wot what that May thoughte in hir herte - But God knows what May thought in her heart

- For craft is al whoso than do it kan - Craftiness is everything, for those that can do it

I sette right noght of al the vileyneye
That ye of wommen write, a boterflye!

(what you write about women's villany is not worth a butterfly to me)

Ther is namoore to seye

Links to my Canterbury Tales updates:
General Prologue here
The Knight's Tale here
The Miller's Tale here
The Reeve's Tale (and Cook's Tale fragment) here
The Man of Laws Tale here
The Wife of Bath's, Friar's and Summoner's Tale here

Fev 18, 9:59 pm

>232 dchaikin: I'm really enjoying all your comments as you read through The Canterbury Tales. I particularly liked the Proserpyne bit, and I'll look that one up. It reminded me quite suddenly of DH Lawrence's poem 'Bavarian Gentians' that our English teacher made us read, which is about her journey to Pluto's domain. We were horrid little children: a classmate of mine had a mocking chant based on it that went, 'The blue darkness and the dark blueness and the blue darkness' and so on, but it is a lovely poem.

Editado: Fev 24, 4:13 pm

>233 rv1988: thanks! I had to look up Bavarian Gentians. That was fun. I admire and feel bad for teacher. 🙂

ETA: this should close my thread. Please take the link to part 2.
Este tópico foi continuado por dchaikin part 2 - seeking refuge in books.