Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

He's gonna let me tend the rabbits.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Of Mice and Men is the story of Lennie and George. Lennie and George are California ranch workers in the Salinas valley.  They travel from ranch to ranch bucking barley to make money.  They had to leave Weed (their previous ranch) because Lennie hung onto a girl's dress and wouldn't let go. Lennie is slow, but sweet, and he likes to touch things because he likes the way they feel. George sticks by Lennie and looks out for him.  When the book starts, Lennie and George are on their way to a new ranch. They work there for a few days, and they're happy there. The other workers are kind for the most part (Slim, their boss, Crooks, the stable buck, Carlson, Candy, Whit, and Curley).  Curley is the ranch owner's son, and he has a bad temper. He always thinks the other men are after his wife (because his wife is always hanging around the other men) and he picks a fight with Lennie over it. Lennie breaks Curley's hand (unintentionally) but they agree to tell everyone it got caught in a machine so Lennie won't get in trouble because Curley started it.  Lennie and George dream of "getting a stake" and having their own land with animals and living off the land, just the two of them. Candy hears them talking and wants to join them, so they let him in on the secret. Crooks likes the idea, too, but he decides he's not interested because he feels isolated because he's black.  One day, when Curley's wife is in the barn with Lennie, Lennie tells her that he likes to pet things because he likes the way they feel.  She's a little taken aback at first, but then she tells him that she understands, and she talks about how soft her hair is, and that she likes to just stroke it sometimes in the morning when she's brushing it. She lets Lennie touch it, but he won't let go, and when she starts screaming, he covers her mouth because he doesn't want to get in trouble with George. She keeps struggling, so he shakes her, harder than he realizes, and he breaks her neck. Lennie realizes he's done a bad thing, and he runs off to the meadow where George told him to go if he ever got into any trouble. George realizes what's happened, and he goes off with the men to hunt down Lennie. George realizes that this time they can't run away.  He finds Lennie before the others do, and he talks to Lennie about the land they're going to have and the rabbits that he will let Lennie tend to. George quietly takes Carlson's gun, raises it to the back of Lennie's head, and shoots him before the others can get to him.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

As you can see, I read this book in a day. Really in a span of about 3 hours. It's only 100 pages long, so it's practically an extended short story. I'd never read it for school, but unfortunately I didn't have my own spoiler alert, and in reading an article in the NY Times the other day, I read the lines, "in Of Mice and Men, when George shoots Lennie"; only I thought I had remembered the line "when Lennie shoots George", so I was thinking that would happen instead. But it makes more sense that it was George who shot Lennie.

If you haven't read this book, go read it right now. It's beautiful and poignant, and like I said, you can read it before you go to bed tonight!

A few thoughts...

-I love Steinbeck's descriptions. This is the third Steinbeck I've read for the blog (East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath) and all of them take place in California, which is where Steinbeck grew up. He paints with words, and in a heartbeat you're in the valley with George and Lennie, smelling and hearing and feeling what they feel. He talks about "tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark" and he says that the "water has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight".

-Steinbeck describes Lennie as being bear-like in the beginning of the book, and talks about Lennie dragging his big paws through the pond. It reminded me of the bulgy bear in Narnia (he can't be a Marshal - he will suck his paws!) and it seemed like the perfect image for Lennie.

-My copy of the book is replete with one word: "aw". Lennie is full of good intentions and childlike innocence, and there are so many moments where I just wanted to reach out to him and pat him on the shoulder.

-Lennie likes to pet things (as mentioned above) but he has a hard time keeping the things he pets alive. In the beginning of the book, George makes him get rid of a dead mouse he's been keeping in his pocket to pet, and even after George throws the mouse across the pond, Lennie goes back to fetch it and George makes him get rid of it again, at which point Lennie argues, " I don't know why I can't keep it. It ain't nobody's mouse. I found it lyin' right beside the road." To which George replies, "That mouse ain't fresh, Lennie; and besides, you've broke it petting it." That mouse definitely ain't fresh, Lennie.

Lennie also gets a puppy at the ranch, which is super adorable, and he keeps going to play with the puppies even though Slim and George tell him the puppies are too young to be held. Just before Curley's wife comes in, Lennie is bemoaning the fact that he's accidentally killed his pup by being too forceful in playing with it. This made me cry.

-The title of this post is a reference to Lennie and George's dream of owning land. George tells Lennie that if he's good, he gets to tend to the rabbits. When they're falling asleep one night, Lennie says, "Let's have different color rabbits, George." George answers, "Sure we will. Red and blue and green rabbits, Lennie. Millions of 'em."

-The workers reference the fact that Curley keeps one hand in a glove all the time, and they say the glove is full of Vaseline. Curley claims he's "keeping that hand soft for his wife." I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what that's in reference to.

-Curley's wife is a flirt, and Steinbeck calls it "the eye". They keep saying she's "got the eye for Slim and Carlson and Whit." This just seemed funny to me. We can stop saying that girls are flirty, or skanky - they've got THE EYE!

-Candy is old and he's missing a hand because of an accident on the ranch. He has an old dog who's going blind and can't really walk and, according to Carlson, stinks. Carlson tells Candy he should put the dog out of his misery, and when no one else will disagree, Candy reluctantly agrees to let Carlson shoot him. The men are all sitting around pretending not to care, but Steinbeck points out the silence and the men's failed attempt at conversation as they wait for the sound of the shot. This was such a sad moment; Candy looking from face to face to find one person who would let him keep his dog, and finding none.

-When Lennie first gets one of Slim's pups, he tries to sneak it in to bed with him. George tells him to put the pup back, to which Lennie replies, "What pup, George? I ain't got no pup." After which George walks over to Lennie and pulls the pup out of Lennie's shirt. Adorable.

-The men talk about going to a "cat house" which I think is a whorehouse. When they're comparing the two houses in town, they reference Susy as saying, "My girls is clean an' there ain't no water in my whisky." Mm, clean girls and water-free whisky - what more could you ask for?

-Lennie reminded me of Benjy in The Sound and the Fury; people sort of reluctantly stand up for him, but it's well known that there's not really a place in society for him. In doing research for my education class, I found out that until the 1960's, most students with disabilities were educated in the home or not at all. Only after the IDEA act did we start providing special education services in public school. It's interesting (and saddening) to think about how mentally disabled people fit into their families' lives then and I hope that there are more supports for them now.

-The men in this book all seem really tender; I felt like if a harsh wind blew their way, they might just fall over.  I wanted to give them all a hug and give them their ranch to tend rabbits and grow alfalfa in.

-The scene when Lennie accidentally kills his pup was heartbreaking:  "'Now I won't get to tend the rabbits. Now he won't let me.' He rocked himself back and forth in his sorrow."

-When Lennie senses George is mad at him, he offers to go away to a cave. He also asks (when George pulls out a can of beans for dinner) whether they have any ketchup, and when George says no, Lennie says that's okay - if there was ketchup, he'd give it all to George. At the end, when Lennie has run away back to the meadow, he says to himself, "I can go right off there an' find a cave.' And he continued sadly, 'an' never have no ketchup - but I won't care. If George don't want me...I'll go away. I'll go away."

This book was beautiful and heartbreaking. Lennie quickly became one of my favorite characters in literature. I want to get him something fluffy and soft that is strong and he won't be able to accidentally kill. I'll find that something for you, Lennie, and then you can tend the rabbits.

Onwards I fly, over the blue jay's den. Under the cardinal's cave. Hm.. that's not it, is it?

Shall I not then hate them who abhor me?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Frankenstein is a story of love, creation, innovation, sorrow, and madness. Our protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, is a young man living in Switzerland at the beginning of our tale. After his mother's death, he goes off to study philosophy and science at a university. After many months of experiments, he stumbles upon the ability to create life. He patches together a human being and (Ta Da!) brings it to life. Then he freaks out, falls into a fever for a few weeks, and (VERY IRRESPONSIBLY) ignores his monster. After he gets better, he returns home upon hearing that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered. When he arrives home, Victor bumps into the monster and becomes convinced that he is responsible for William's death. Their family friend, Justine, is tried and convicted of the murder, and then executed. Victor is distraught. While traveling in an attempt to forget about his monster problems, Victor runs into the monster again, and the monster admits that he killed William and framed Justine. He chastises Victor for creating him and leaving him to his own devices, hideous, deformed, and unlovable, and describes how he tried to make friends with various humans but was shunned and hunted like an animal. He demands that Victor create him an "Eve", a companion monster who will be able to love him. If Victor creates this companion, the monster promises to disappear from society (and go to South America - No society there, obviously!) with his Eve and stop murdering people. Victor hates himself and doesn't want to create another monster, but he doesn't want to put his family in harm's way any more. So he disappears to a small cabin on an island in Scotland (obviously there's plenty of laboratory equipment and pieces of dead bodies to build monsters with on small remote islands) and tries to make himself create another monster. He decides he can't go through with it, and, knowing that the monster is watching him, Victor destroys the almost-completed Eve. The monster is furious - the next day, Victor arrives on a neighboring island only to find that he is being framed for having killed his own best friend, Henry Clerval. He recognizes the finger marks on Henry's neck and knows the monster has struck again. Victor is eventually exonerated and returns home, now in an even deeper despair. He prepares to marry his adopted cousin, Elizabeth, whom he has loved since birth, and decides he will kill the monster if he shows up on the wedding night (as promised). Just after the wedding, Victor discovers the monster standing over Elizabeth's corpse. Victor chases the monster to the ends of the earth, eventually traversing icebergs near the Arctic Circle. Our narrator, an explorer who has been traveling through the same area, discovers Victor, and nurses him back to health after finding him (ONCE AGAIN) near death. Victor relates his tale, and the narrator completes the tale by relating to us the sad story of Victor's death on the boat. The monster appears and expresses contrition to the narrator, but the narrator tells him it is too late for forgiveness. The monster promises to end his own life, and leaps off the boat onto a nearby iceberg, slowly disappearing from view.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I really enjoyed this book, and if you haven't read it, I definitely recommend picking up a copy. It's also delightfully short, which was refreshing after some of the selections on the list. Here are my thoughts:

-I could tell that Mary Shelley was the wife of a poet (Percy Bysshe Shelley). She made a lot of poetic references (Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Tintern Abbey) and the way she wrote was not just lyrical, but often with a great attentiveness to the sound of the words themselves. I read the first 10 pages or so out loud, and if I'd had the time, would love to have read the whole book aloud just to hear the words roll off my tongue.

-So, you probably already know this, because apparently EVERYONE already knew this but me, but the monster isn't named Frankenstein. The creator of the monster is Victor Frankenstein, and the monster is just...the monster. Poor guy never even gets a name! So if you're planning on being the bride of Frankenstein for any upcoming Halloween, you're just Elizabeth, a lovely Swiss lady. If you want to be a scary creature, you should make it clear that you're "Frankenstein's monster" or "Frankenstein's monster's to-be companion". I know it's a mouthful, but I feel confident you can remember!

-Frankenstein is surprisingly eloquent and well-spoken. He explains to Victor that he learns language from observing people and teaches himself to read books like the Bible (which is why he wants an Eve), so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but based on pop culture I sort of thought the monster would just be like, "Unnhh. Me angry! You created me! Unnh!" Not the case. Maybe I'm mixing the monster up with George of the Jungle.

-Shelley is very heavy-handed with the foreshadowing, and she says things like, "Those were the last days of my life that I enjoyed happiness." I understand the idea behind foreshadowing, but at a certain point, it kind of GIVES EVERYTHING AWAY. It's like starting a story off with, "Yesterday, I went to the doctor's, and it was the last appointment I'll ever have in my life." Hello, leave a little suspense, will you?

-So, the descriptions of how Frankenstein created his monster are pretty grotesque, but lovely Ms. Shelley makes it sound almost pleasant: "I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame." Is that a nice way of saying that you chopped up and mutilated corpses? It sounds a lot prettier than "I took a chainsaw to some dead bodies I found lying around".

 -I love the description of when Frankenstein brings the monster to life - so delightfully creepy: "It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open."

-When Frankenstein tries to attack the monster, he yells, "Begone, vile insect!" AWESOME comeback, Frankenstein. Awesome. It reminds me of the scene in "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton" when Topher Grace's character says he'll tear him to pieces with his bare hands or his Vicious rhetoric.

-The monster describes to Frankenstein how when he first discovered fire and its warmth, he was so excited that he stuck his hand right into the fire. Shocked by the pain it caused, he yanked his hand back out. I felt so bad for the monster trying to figure out why fire was good and bad without anyone to show him or explain it to him!

-My biggest problem with this novel was that I didn't like Victor. He seems like an okay guy and all, but then he goes completely nuts and decides to build a patchwork person and then when he succeeds in bringing it to life, he's like, WHOOPS! DID I DO THAT? He actually just disappears and collapses into feverish madness after the monster comes to life, and he is SO IRRESPONSIBLE WITH HIS MONSTER. He wakes him up, and then he freaks out, and he leaves the monster all on his own for weeks. Should I be SURPRISED that this monster who has had no education or love from his creator goes off and KILLS YOUR FAMILY? Because honestly, Victor, I'm not sure what you expected. That you could just make him from scratch and then IGNORE HIM? Seriously. Later on, when he's had several of his family members killed by the monster, he says, "I felt as if I had committed some great crime, the consciousness of which haunted me. I was guiltless, but I had indeed drawn down a horrible curse upon my head, as mortal as that of crime." Hm... How exactly do you define guiltless, Victor? Because I don't really consider building an enormous corpse creation with the capacity for extreme violence and then walking away to be exactly guiltless. And I've got to say, I felt like he just "fell into a fever" every time something really bad happened. Maybe if you weren't such a 17th century woman (oh! I've just had some terrible news and I've SWOONED!) Victor, then your family would still be alive. Even at the end when Victor is chasing the monster through the Arctic, he describes how the monster would leave him food or help him along the way to continue the chase -- seriously, Victor - your own monster had to HELP you hunt him down? And even with his help, you FELL INTO A SWOON again and had to be rescued by the narrator. After which you fell into ANOTHER SWOON and died without killing the monster. Nice going, Victor. 

Like I said, there were some beautifully poetic sentences in this book. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • "What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?"
  • "The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine."
  • "I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth."
  • "Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world."
  • "A being whom I myself had formed, and endued with life, had met me at midnight among the precipices of an inaccessible mountain."
  • "Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness?"
  • "A grin was on the face of the monster; he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendish finger he pointed toward the corpse of my wife." (Can't you just see the monster?)
  • "Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north."
In the scene where the monster apologizes and promises to end his life of misery and destruction, the monster says to the narrator, "I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks." There's such beauty in this line.

Well, I'm a week away from the end of my first year of my master's program (yippee!) and soon I will have SO much time for reading! Off I go to read about Rats and People. Or Possums and Boys. Something like that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Caddy smelled like trees in the rain.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
While I'm hesitant to say assertively that The Sound and the Fury is "about" something in particular, it follows the Compson family in Mississippi (I just had to do the em-aye-ess-ess-aye-ess-ess-aye-pee-pee-aye rhyme in my head) during the early part of the 20th century. The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Compson, one daughter Candace (aka Caddy), and three sons - Jason, Quentin, and Benjy (previously known as Maury). Benjy is mentally challenged and nonverbal, Jason is a total jerkface, Quentin kills himself after spending a year at Harvard (I think partly because he's in love with his sister Caddy), Caddy gets knocked up but marries a different man who divorces her when he finds out about the baby, and they name the baby... you guessed it! QUENTIN! Good old "hundred years of solitude" style - when you need a new name, just USE AN OLD ONE! The reader will definitely NOT be confused by this! The family also has household servants who are African American -- Dilsey, Frony, Luster, Roskus, T.P., and Versh -- and their stories are interwoven. Jason, his mother, and Dilsey raise Caddy's daughter, Quentin, because Caddy's reputation is shot. Quentin grows up very wild -- well, not really, but Jason is a tool so that doesn't help. In the end she robs Jason of his money (some of which was really her money because her mom sent it but Jason kept it) and we only sort of care because we don't like Jason at all to begin with. Toss that all in a pot, jumble the time frames of each event, tell the story from 4 different perspectives, leave out a bunch of punctuation, and use italics a lot, and BABLAM! There you have it. Sound and Fury.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This book was...trippy. Not really in a good way. I liked the jumbled nature of Slaughterhouse-Five but I didn't really like the enigmatic nature of this book. I ended up skimming over my notes at the end and reading sentences like "Quentin is a boy. No a girl. No a boy. No there are 2 Quentins. Quentin is trans?" and "brother loves sister??" and "Maury is Benjy? Benjy is Maury? Maury was castrated?"

Here are my thoughts overall:

-4 chapters (Benjy, Quentin, Jason, Dilsey)
I liked that the story was told from different points of view, though I admit that while it was the most confusing, I liked the chapter told from Benjy's point of view the best, which made the ensuing chapters kind of a letdown. The stream of consciousness felt more intentional in this section; we got a lot of what Benjy was experiencing through sound, smell, or touch. The sensory details were eloquent and tangible. When we got to Jason, though, I was just dragging my heels through the chapter. He was so mean!

-2 Quentins
I think you all know how I feel about character renaming. I like it about as much as I like renaming new pets after dead pets. SO NOT AT ALL.

-Mystery Novel/A lesson in context clues
I felt throughout the novel like I was teaching a very complex lesson to my middle schoolers at Breakthrough on context clues. "How do we know what's going on here? What indicators do we get? What adjectives are present?" There was something a little bit fun in it, in that I was proud when I read the appendix (OH YEAH - did I MENTION that Faulkner published an appendix SEVENTEEN years after the book was published and claimed it was "the key to the whole book"? TYPICAL. You can't make a key and then give it to us 17 years later! That's cheating!) and realized I had actually gotten most of the major plot points. But it also made me think that if I, an experienced reader and thoughtful sleuth, was only just able to grab onto most of the major events, how much of a struggle must it be for others? I think it's okay to challenge your readers to an extent, but when you challenge them to the point of exclusion, snobbery, or downright orneriness, I get a little peeved. Also, there was some discussion about whether the appendix should precede or follow the text of the novel itself - which made it feel a bit like a hanging chad - CONFUSED AND UNLOVED.

-Lack of Punctuation/Stream of Consciousness/Time Jumping
Well. What do you think I thought of this? What would you think of it? You probably wouldn't like it at all, either! It's like someone keeps playing a prank on you. Just when you think you have an iota of what's going on, someone YANKS THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER YOUR FEET and they're like, "Hagha! Joke's on you!" Also, Faulkner just starts leaving out apostrophes (ex: dont, cant) which just seems like LAZINESS. (To lose both parents seems like CARELESSNESS!)

Like I said, NOT fair, Faulkner. Either write it with the original, or leave it out! (Also, appendix always makes me think - "Dan-ton-ten-six - it's an appendix!)

-Mrs. Compson reminds me of Mrs. Bennet
Here's a line from her in the beginning (well, from early on in the novel): "Nobody knows how I dread Christmas. Nobody knows. I am not one of those women who can stand things. I wish for Jason's and the children's sakes I was stronger." (Nobody knows how I suffer with my Poor NERVES!)

-Caddy smelled like trees
This is a line from when Benjy is narrating. He frequently points out what Caddy smells like (Caddy's his favorite) and at one point, Caddy has a new perfume, and Benjy is hollering, and no one can figure out why. Finally, Caddy realizes that Maury hates the perfume because it's covering up her smell. She gives the perfume to Dilsey, and she says, with Benjy at her side, "We don't like perfume ourselves," and Benjy reiterates, "She smelled like trees."
This was one of my favorite moments in the whole book. So tender.

-Dilsey makes Benjy a birthday cake
The family has really mixed feelings on Benjy - Caddy is the only one who really loves him, but a lot of his care is left to the servants - and while the servants find him trying at times, they're much sweeter to him than most of his own family. In the first chapter, Dilsey makes him a birthday cake, using her own money to buy the ingredients so Jason won't scold her. She says, "I fixed him some birthday." Adorable. I would like Dilsey to fix me some birthday next March.

-Mixing senses
Faulkner does a lot of interesting things with sensory details. I love that Benjy often describes things in slightly mixed up senses: "She smelled like trees", "Hearing it get dark", "it smelled like cold", "you can feel noon". Benjy also smells it when their grandmother dies early in the book. Not the actual smell of her body, since it has just happened, but death itself. It reminded me of when Twain said that it "smelt late".

-Rooms for sickness
When Damuddy (their grandmother) has died, the children have to sleep in a different room (presumably because the body is being kept somewhere public). Caddy protests, because she says, "this is where we have the measles!" I thought it was really funny to think of having a whole room in the house where you go when you're sick, kind of like a mini-hospital in your house. Do you know where I had the chicken pox? Bottled up in the house with Diana during the BLIZZARD of '93! Woooo oatmeal baths.

-The man with the red tie
When Quentin (Caddy's daughter) runs off at the end of the book, Jason sees her sneaking off with a man "with a red tie" from the traveling show that's in town. The red tie takes on great significance, and I thought it was funny that all we really know about the character is his red tie. (I'm sure, just for the record, that literary theorists have thought WAY TOO HARD about that red tie and what it means, but I just think it's a Funny Red Tie.)

-Jason is a jerk
This is true. Luster, one of the servants, wants to see the show in town, but he loses a quarter that he had found when he and Benjy were chasing golf balls near the house (the family sold the pasture to pay for Quentin (son) to attend Harvard and it became a golf course). He spends most of the book looking for this quarter. I like Luster, and he's very good at taking care of Benjy, though he is a bit addled, so I really wanted to give him a quarter to go to the show. Jason comes home one evening with 2 FREE tickets to the show, and what does he do? He offers them to Luster FOR A NICKEL, knowing that Luster doesn't have a nickel. So then what does he do? HE BURNS THE TICKETS IN THE STOVE IN FRONT OF LUSTER. Seriously. Be a bigger jerk, Jason! See if I care At all when you lose 3,000 dollars at the end of the book.

-Luster is Gus Gus
At one point, Dilsey asks Luster to bring wood in for the fire. Faulkner writes, "He loaded himself mountainously with stove wood. He could not see over it, and he staggered to the steps and up them and blundered crashing against the door, shedding billets." This scene reminds me of the moment in the old Disney Cinderella when Gus Gus tries to sneak past the cat with his tiny paws STUFFED up to his teeth with corn. Every time I have my hands full and I use my chin (or my teeth) to keep the top of the pile steady, I think of Gus Gus. (Huh, Huh, HUPPEE BERFDAY, Cinderelly!)

-Mrs. Compson messes with Dilsey
Dilsey is strong and an important member of the household, but she is old, and Mrs. Compson just Loves to order her around with her "poor nerves". My favorite scene was when Mrs. Compson complains and complains to Dilsey about coming upstairs to dress Benjy (she's simultaneously asking her to make breakfast, bring her a water bottle, and start her fire) until Dilsey finally starts up the stairs, one slow step at a time. When Dilsey is almost at the top, Mrs. Compson says, "Are you going to wake him up just to dress him?" Heh. Heh. Heh.

-Benjy -- Boo Radley
Like I said, I'm at least 80% sure that Benjy gets castrated after trying to force himself on a girl earlier on in his life. At any rate, after this, some children have a conversation about coming close to Benjy --
"I bet you wont go up en tech him."
"How come I wont?"
"I bet you wont. I bet you skeered to."
"He wont hurt folks. He des a looney."
"How come a looney wont hurt folks?"
"Dat un wont. I teched him."
This reminded me of when Scout, Jem, and Dill are daring each other to run onto Boo Radley's porch. If you remember, Boo Radley is rather instrumental in saving their lives, and Scout has a very tender moment with Boo. Caddy's tenderness with Benjy made me think of Scout's relationship with Boo.

There were some killer sentences:

  • "The grass was buzzing in the moonlight where my shadow walked on the grass."
  • "And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even the bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand."
  • "Father said it used to be a gentleman was known by his books; nowadays he is known by the ones he has not returned."
  • "We went on in the thin dust, our feet silent as rubber in the thin dust where pencils of sun slanted in the trees. And I could feel water again running swift and peaceful in the secret shade."
  • "On the wall above a cupboard, invisible save at night, by lamplight and even then evincing an enigmatic profundity because it had but one hand, a cabinet clock ticked, then with a preliminary sound as if it had cleared its through, struck five times."
  • "Just sound. It might have been all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant by a conjunction of planets."

All told, I get why it's a classic, but I wouldn't rank it too highly on my personal list of favorites. If you loved it (or hated it), I'd love to hear why!

I'm off to tackle final projects, summer internship searching, and Briansteen. Or is it Josephsteln? Hrm.. that's not quite it...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Then there was only the ocean and the sky and the figure of Howard Roark.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Fountainhead is a story about love, going against the societal grain, and egoism (in a very specific sense of the word). It follows the path of Howard Roark after he's been expelled in his final year at Stanton School for Architecture. He goes on to strike his own path, defying norms along the way. His classmate, Peter Keating, uses Roark for his talent at various points in the novel, and, after a quick rise to the top, Peter ends up miserable and alone. Peter's boss and later partner, Guy Francon, a major architect, has a daughter with whom he has an almost non-existent relationship. That woman, Dominique Francon, falls for Roark (after he basically rapes her. Needless to say, it's COMPLICATED.) But of course, the whole book is really about pseudo-masochism wherein all of the protagonists are fighting against the endless drone of incompetence and an unwillingness to live fulfilling, productivity-driven lives. There are some twists along the way (Dominique marries not one, but 2 men, before she ends up with Roark -- Peter Keating (I know, BLEGH) and Gail Wynand, a newspaper tycoon) and we see Roark's continual rise and fall and rise and fall and rise in the architecture industry.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Okay, so admittedly, that plot summary is not what anyone might call (a) stellar, (2) very informative, or (d) THRILLING TO YOUR CORE. The book is decent, and full disclosure, I LOVED it when I read it as a high schooler. I named all of my senior year portfolios after characters in the book for Mrs. Brown's AP English class. (Those of you that remember Mrs. Brown's class know portfolio names MEAN SOMETHING!) But this time around, the zing was just Missing. I adore Atlas Shrugged; I think I always have and I always will. But this book did not hold up for me, and I find it perverse and often baffling. Well, at least baffling. ;)

Here are some thoughts on it, in a random stream:

-So, Ayn Rand has said that she achieved what she wanted to achieve with The Fountainhead in Atlas Shrugged and I have to say I agree. This book honestly felt like a not-that-great first draft for Atlas Shrugged. I kept on thinking that Roark didn't need to struggle through the mire of it all - JOHN GALT WOULD COME AND SAVE HIM! and then I was like, oh wait. That's NOT in THIS book. Lame.

-I didn't think Dominique was as strong a character as Dagny Taggart (again, in Atlas). There were parts of Dominique that I admired, but she spent SO much time going ON and ON about how she was INTENTIONALLY making herself MISERABLE because it was all part of her master plan to say "screw the world" but mostly it just felt like MASOCHISM to me. I don't see what she really achieved from her scheming. I felt like Rand was constantly taking a character's actions and breaking them down for us and then being like, "GET IT? BECAUSE IT'S THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU THINK IS RIGHT! So it makes sense!" It reminded me of when my best friend Deanna and I used to pretend it was "opposites day" when we were little and we'd turn to each other and say "I hate you!" (You know what THAT means on opposite day, right?) and collapse in fits of giggles. Only guess what, Ayn Rand? It's NOT opposites day.

-Also, I don't know if it's because it came earlier or something, but this book was much less celebratory of women. Dominique writes a domestic column for the paper (somewhat ironically, but STILL) and even though she has some cool scenes later on, she's just not that lovable (in my opinion) and she's the only woman we get. I understand it was the early-ish 20th century, but COME ON. If you can write characters like Dagny and Dominique, I know you could get a few more ladies with backbones and SUBSTANCE in there. Hm. I just realized that we get WAY more insight into Rand's protagonist in Atlas, Dagny, and perhaps that's because she was trying to write a male protagonist in this first one to bring in more readers? Doesn't really seem like something she'd do, though. Cater to an audience? (ONLY ON OPPOSITES DAY!)

-There were simply fewer likable characters. I get that much of Rand's writing is a smokescreen for her philosophy, but I am a LITERATURE major at heart, so I have to say that I was missing the plot and the character development. It becomes a book with only one sort of likable protagonist, but we really don't see the inside of Roark. He's supposed to be all indestructible, but we don't get in his head, and I just ended up feeling left out and disconnected from him.

-Okay, enough hating and whining. On to the bits I liked. ("Why don't you tell me the bit you liked, and I'll tell you if I liked making that bit?")

-When Keating asks Dominique who she's slept with before, she tells him point blank that she slept with Roark (sort of his nemesis at this point). He totally blows her off, and says that if she didn't want to tell him she didn't have to make something up. I thought this was hilarious. (Dominique and Roark have an affair for a long time before anyone knows. Don't ask why - I'd have to get into the OPPOSITES DAY thing about why they can't be together for like the ENTIRE book and have to get together on the last page.)

-Gail Wynand (the newspaper tycoon and 2nd husband of Dominique) was a gang leader in Hell's Kitchen in his earlier days. One of my favorite anecdotes from his history is when he realizes that people of power aren't necessarily rich, but they are well read. So he gets his gang members to sneak books out of the library under their shirts. But here's what kills me: IT'S A LIBRARY. THEY'RE FREE. I guess it's the whole, "Mr. Escalante, I need to keep one book at home and one in class so no one ever sees me reading" thing, but still. Librarians are FANS of reading. And they LOVE to give books away on loan. :0) Trust a former library worker. I know these things, Gail.

-I thought it was intriguing that Wynand wants to keep Dominique all to himself, because it's what Dominique wants for Roark and what Roark wants for Dominique. I guess it's a natural inclination for parents/children and lover/lover but it seemed painfully ironic. Especially since Wynand loves Dominique but the feeling isn't truly mutual. (At least not in the same way.)

-The Cortlandt homes scene is great. Probably the only scene in the book where I was TRULY riveted. But don't worry. I won't "blow" it for you. Heh. Heh.

-I was waiting the WHOLE book for Ellsworth Toohey to GET WHAT WAS COMING TO HIM. Okay, yes. If you glance back, you will see that I seem to have Accidentally omitted him from the plot summary. Basically, he's a respected "voice" for the people, and constantly champions the underling but sort of ironically but sort of not and anyway, I HATE HIM. I know, I know, hate is a strong word, but there are some nasty comments I wrote toward him in my book. I won't repeat them for my blog-readers' Delicate Ears, but if you ever find yourself borrowing my copy of this book, a word of warning. He sort of did get what was coming to him in the end, in that Wynand finally shuts down his paper (The Banner) after running it into the ground trying to be honorable for once and defending Roark and he does it right after Toohey is Forced back onto the job thanks to a union rep. So it's kind of a good "suck it" moment, but really, VERY ANTICLIMACTIC after we spend the WHOLE book building this seething venomous hatred for him. Well. At least for some of us.

With that, I will bid you adieu. Sorry this one was a bit angry and not as glowing as the last two. I'm still a bit curious about my personal 180 with this novel. In all the times I've read books more than once, I find it odd that this is the only one I liked less the second time around. ("Of all the girls I've known - and I've known some - you're the only girl I ever danced with twice.")

The title is from a great last scene where Dominique is riding a hoist up Roark's greatest building to come, watching the world disappear as she hones in on his figure.

Onwards to Silence and Contentment. Oh, remember? It's OPPOSITES DAY!