Sunday, December 18th, 2005
This afternoon I'm going to watch "Brokeback Mountain" -- I've been really looking forward to this movie ever since I saw the trailer, when we went to watch "Capote" 2 months ago or so. I am thinking that this movie coming out could signify a new moment in mainstream acceptance of male homosexuality; for at least half a century the homoerotic subtext of the American Old West mythology has been made explicit by people like Burroughs and Pynchon -- lots of really intelligent authors with big names and small readership. But it seems to me like this is the first time it is crossing over into mass culture. Frank Rich's op-ed piece today, on the movie and what it signifies for the culture, is well worth reading -- unfortunately it is "Times Select" so you will have to spring for a newspaper if you want to read it.
Thursday, December 22nd, 2005
Today and yesterday, I read Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2, by Annie Proulx. (A better verb than "read" might be "drank in" or "devoured".) What an amazing book -- Flannery O'Connor has some serious competition for my favorite author of short stories.
I got interested in reading Proulx from the story Brokeback Mountain, which I read last week prior to seeing the movie -- what struck me about that story was the fullness of characterization, and the palpable sense of time passing; I loved it and wanted to read more. So on my way to the movie theater I stopped at Montclair Book Center where I picked up Bad Dirt and Shipping News.
Bad Dirt mixes gravity and whimsy deftly, I particularly loved how The Wamsutter Wolf -- maybe the most moving story in the book -- is sandwiched in between The Contest and Summer of the Hot Tubs, both lighthearted, almost superficial stories. The characters are great -- the two I identified most closely with were probably Creel Zmundzinski (who opens and closes the book) and Buddy Millar (who is only in one story, The Wamsutter Wolf). But I got to know every character well and to feel for them.
Saturday, December 24th, 2005
I've been reading The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, gotten far enough in to start forming an opinion of it. I tentatively like the short stories better but am thinking this book maybe just starts out slow, and if it stays on the trajectory it's on currently, it could end up being a really good book. -- I guess short stories don't have as much room to start out slow before grabbing you.
Why does it start out slow? It might be that Proulx is trying to show how Quoyle's whole life from his childhood until his wife's death has been spent in a fugue state, without any connection to the world around him. This would make sense to me but I don't think it quite worked -- I didn't have any connection to Quoyle in his fugue state. It might have worked better in first person.
Since the family's arrival in Newfoundland, the story has really picked up and the characters are seeming a lot more real to me. This is only about a quarter of the way in, so there's plenty of room for the book to redeem its opening. One gripe I have is, Quoyle has no first name. Seems to me like his aunt at least should address him by first name. (I'm not sure now that she has yet called him by name at all, maybe when she does this will be resolved.)
Monday, December 26th, 2005
I had the day off! I spent part of the afternoon in a bar, reading The Shipping News. It is a well-crafted story -- I am laughing at the jokes and feeling sympathy for the characters. But this is where I think it compares poorly to the short stories -- I can see the craft in the story, see Proulx making transitions and nod to myself in appreciation of a skillful transition, laugh at a punchline and think the joke was told well. When reading the stories I was much less conscious of my identity as a reader.
Thursday, December 29th, 2005
Today I finished The Shipping News; and also I read Roger Ebert's review of the movie based on this book. I must say Ebert captured the problems I had with the book pretty well, though I don't know if he read it. The characters in this book were not fully human, just collections of idiosyncrasies designed to highlight their author's cleverness. (And yet Proulx is such a good writer, the book still ends up being a fun read. I feel ungrateful, carping about its failings.)
Friday, December 30th, 2005
We are in Boston until tomorrow. Today Sylvia and I walked around town while Ellen visited with her friend Deedee and worked on her writing. The day's itinerary: breakfast with Ellen at Faneuil Hall (if that's how you spell it), then split up. We went to the aquarium (lovely jellyfish exhibit and interesting turtle activities) where we stayed until about 11:30. Took the T to Massachussetts Ave. where we had a slice of pizza and went in to the Mary Baker Eddy library to look at the Mapparium. Had not done any research and was expecting from the name, a kind of museum devoted to maps; instead it turns out to be a huge stained-glass globe, which you view from inside while they shine lights in and play a tape recording about the world. Kind of neat but not as much so as a map museum would be. From there we took a long walk down Commonwealth Ave. to the Boston Public Garden, to see the pond from Make Way For Ducklings. Walked through the park, then stopped in at Borders to have a snack and look at the children's books. Happened on a very nice used bookstore across the street from there, where I bought Postcards by Annie Proulx. Then back to Faneuil Hall (which Google seems to think is the proper spelling), picked out a Hanukkah present for Ellen, and back to the hotel, where we are now waiting for her to get back. Nice times -- as walked back to the hotel we speculated about what would happen if (as we were walking from Faneuil Hall) we were to go back to the aquarium, and then out to the Mapparium, have lunch, etc.
Tuesday, January third, 2006
Today I started reading another Annie Proulx book, Postcards -- this one is grabbing me right away, pulling me into the story. I'm really liking the way she leaves key bits of the story for you to fill in -- something I have found annoying elsewhere.
Something I have been thinking ever since reading Bad Dirt -- Proulx is incredibly versatile! In each story and each book, there is a new stylistic attribute.
Monday, January 9th, 2006
Something else about Annie Proulx -- it is amazing to me the way time passes in her stories. I am 3/4 of the way through Postcards and the story has spanned about 30 or 40 years so far; but I have no sense that I have missed parts of the story skipped over, or that I have been rushed along. Instead I feel like I have been listening to the story for 30 or 40 years. (Which is not to say the story is dragging -- it's not, it's gripping -- it seems to me like a huge accomplishment for her to be able to hold my attention for virtual decades.)
Wednesday, January 11th, 2006
My Proulx jag continues: last night I finished Postcards (loved it), this morning I started The Accordion Crimes -- I was thinking after Postcards almost anything would have to be a letdown, but it looks like I was wrong based on the beginning of The Accordion Crimes. Update: Er, just now I looked at the book and noticed the title is actually Accordion Crimes.
Wednesday, March 15th, 2006
Yesterday I started reading the stories in Close Range by Annie Proulx. This will bring my Proulx-reading arc full circle in a way, since I got interested in her by reading "Brokeback Mountain", which is in this book, and the first book I read was Bad Dirt, to which this is sort of a sequel. My early reaction to the book is that the stories are good, but don't blow me away in the same way that the stories in Bad Dirt did -- with those there was a sense of immediacy and freshness that I'm not getting as much here. But that may be because I know what to expect a little better. Also I am missing the thread of connection which was one of my favorite features of Bad Dirt -- at least half the stories there had characters and setting in common, whereas here all that seems to be shared is that the stories occur in Wyoming or feature characters from Wyoming.
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