Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy is a heartbreaker. He kills little kids and ruins love. At least that's what his novels do.

I listened to Tess of the d'Urbervilles on my drive to Texas for graduate school in 2009. Apparently, I found the female narrator's voice for Tess whiny, desperate, and weak, and it influenced me so much that I found myself hating the heroine on that alone.

But I generally appreciated the book. It covered a lot of ground and life instances, and showed a deep struggle between religion, society and nature (nature meaning a person's natural instincts and desires).

I managed to take a few scribbled notes while listening and driving with my knees down the old Route 66. Here's my recap from that long-ago trip.

  • Again I noticed a lot of outdoor, especially garden, liminal spaces. In essence, what I remember from class (please don't hate if I've mislead, Professor Younger), the liminal space is where the relationship between two characters is developing--becoming evident to reader, and likely to the characters as well. It's sexually charged without having to be sexual. In some instances its sensual, others playful, others still have an air of discovery.
  • Before Tess's big fall from grace, the sexual imagery was dripping from the speakers. I can only imagine viewing the words on the pages. It's filled with rather blunt innuendos, if I can even call them that.
  • Tess failed me as a heroine. Sure she was the dream single lady--making her own dough and going her own way, kicking ass and taking names at the end. But she could have prevented her misery multiple times, as the novel points out, if she had only followed through on her instincts. I'm wondering what that says about women. Through the novel, is Hardy critiquing women? Is he letting the novel's last hurrah to atone for Tess's indecision? In my eyes she's a wreck, but was her headstrong manner something for Nineteenth-Century feminists to applaud?
  • Every male in this novel is represented (at one time, if note entirely) as a jackass. Surprisingly, the guy who really redeems himself in this reader's eyes, is Alec d'Urberville. Stalker? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Whiny? Yes. But damn it he tried to fix his past mistakes. Angel Clare just waltzed in from abroad and caused destruction. And he WON. The guy who tried to fix things lost. What does that say about turning away from society and God? Hmmmm?
So many question. So little answers.

Friday, July 17, 2015

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I read 11/22/63 in its hardback stages for my sorority book club. I remember it being long, and interesting, and at points terribly unsatisfying. My notes were also, at points, terribly unsatisfying and I have no idea what all I was trying to track. I can, however, categorize my legible notes.

What made the job hard was that the red pen became my primary teaching tool instead of my mouth, and I practically wore it out. What made the job dispiriting was that you knew that very little of that red-pen teaching was apt to stick; if you reach the age of twenty-five or thirty without knowing how to spell correctly, or capitalize in the proper places, or write a sentence containing both a noun and a verb, you’re probably never going to know.  P. 3

He had written in cheap ballpoint ink that had blotted the five pages in many places. His handwriting was a looping but legible scrawl, and he must have been bearing down hard, because the words were actually engraved into the cheap notebook pages; if I’d closed my eyes and run my fingertips over the backs of those torn-out sheets, it would have been like reading Braille. There was a little squiggle, like a flourish, at the end of every lower-case y. I remember that was particular clarity.  4

I stroked a big red A on top of his paper. Looked at it for a moment or two, then added a big red +. Because it was good, and because his pain had evoked an emotional reaction in me, his reader. And isn’t that what A+ writing is supposed to do? Evoke a response?5 

Random Spot-On Musings
I guess we always find excuses to keep on with our bad habits, don’t we? 18

Here is one of the great truths of the human condition: when you need Stayfree Maxi Pads to absorb the expectorants produced by your insulted body, you are in serious fucking trouble. 54

And really, there’s no downside. If things turn to shit, you just take it all back. Easy as erasing a dirty word off a chalkboard. 62

On that gray street, with the smell of industrial smokes in the air and the afternoon bleeding away to evening, downtown Derry looked only marginally more charming than a dead hooker in a church pew. 125

This town isn’t as bad as it was—last July, folks were strung as tight as Doris Day’s chastity belt—but it’s still a long way form right. 131

I remembered a sociology prof I’d had in college—a sarcastic old bastard—who used to say, When all else fails, up and go to the library. 133

Frame him for something? It might work in a spy novel, but I wasn’t a CIA agent; I was a goddam English teacher. 159

…but the past is obdurate.
It doesn’t want to change. 182

On the subject of love at first sight, I’m with the Beatles: I believe that it happens all the time. … So I guess I’m also with Mickey and Sylvia, who said love is strange. 336
I undressed and went to bed, where I lay awake a long time, thinking long thoughts. About time and love and death. 375

Her nipples made tiny shadows, like punctuation marks, against the cloth in the late light. 382
James Bond might’ve been up for a third go-round, but Jake/George was tapped out. 383
But we got it, poundcake became our name for it, and we ate plenty that fall. 386
He had all his books alphabetized, and he got very upset if you moved them around. He was nervous if you took even one off the shelf—you could feel it, a kind of tensing. 392 

If you get tired of shelving books and carrying a torch for the one that got away. 485

Literature References
I thanked him and turned to go back to the booth, but he tapped me on the shoulder. I wish he hadn’t done that. It was like being tapped by Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, who stoppeth one of three. 20

I felt like a man reading a very grim book. A Thomas Hardy novel, say. You know how it’s going to end, but instead of spoiling things, that somehow increases your fascination. It’s like watching a kid run his electric train faster and faster and waiting for it to derail on one of the curves. 58
The fall colors began to bloom—first timid yellow, then orange, then blazing, strumpet red as autumn burned away another Maine summer. There were cardboard boxes filled with coverless paperbacks at the market, and I must have read three dozen or more: mysteries by Ed McBain, John D. MacDonald, Chester Himes, and Richard S. Prather; steamy melodramas like Peyton Place and a Stone for Danny fisher; westerns by the score; and one science-fiction novel called The Lincoln Hunters, which concerned time-travelers trying to record a “forgotten” speech by Abraham Lincoln. 270

I’d read a book called A Reliable Wife not too long before leaving on the world’s strangest trip, and as I climbed into bed, a line from the novel crossed my mind: “He had lost the habit of romance.” 342

I was at my desk on the morning of August 27th, working away at The Murder Place in a pair of basketball shorts and nothing else, when the doorbell rang. 343

Mimi, who thought Catcher in the Rye belonged in the school library, and who wasn’t adverse to a nice boink on Saturday night. 344

I spent my days there, cooking her meals, working in her little garden (which would sicken but not quite die in another hot central Texas summer), and reading Bleak House to her.  599

I was reading (or pretending to read) the latest James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me. 601

We read books sitting side by side on her couch, with her fan blowing back our hair—The Group for her, Jude the Obscure for me.  644

Found myself listening to Sadie as she read to me, first Jude the Obscure, then Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I knew those stories, and listening to them again was comforting.  675

The lady or the tiger? I don’t know, I don’t know. 828