A Tale of Adventure

So, the book I read this week was an adventure.  In it, the main character decides he wants an adventure.  He ventures out, meets up with many people in the course of it.  He then grows lonely for home.  He has difficulty finding his home.  Until he realizes the magic answer of how to get there, and the story ends with him happy in his bed.

This story could cover so many plots of different adult books, written by all sorts of authors from famous juggernauts of authors to lesser known scribblers.  Hitting in the middle of that spectrum, my very own co-blogger wrote a short stories novel (all the short stories string together into one narrative) about a boy who has a series of adventures.  It deals with the adventures, then deals with the search by the narrator of a metaphysical home of his own.  A place where he feels comfortable and happy (even if it’s a state of being instead of a physical place).  The book I read for this week doesn’t cover his book however.  If you’re interested in reading more about his book, go here. http://www.amazon.com/Bones-Buried-Dirt-David-Atkinson/dp/0983553033

It could also describe the plot of a book I just read, Rabbit Runs (even with my hate for the main character), where Rabbit gets tired of his life, so heads out to have an adventure, has the adventures, begins to long for “home”, goes home, then decides the “home” he thought isn’t the “home” he wants.  So he leaves for more adventures.

But obviously, I wouldn’t be writing about Rabbit Runs again.

Richard Powers listed this book in his top ten books. 

The book is a children’s book.  Most likely you have read this, had it read to you and if you have children, read it to your children.  Joseph Owens, if you’re reading this, if you have not bought this already, please do so.  Even if you won’t be reading it for a few more months.  The illustrations in this book are so simple, and the narration is not overly complex.  Harold and the Purple Crayon was written by Crockett Johnson.  I enjoyed reading this book throughout my childhood.  I was a very advanced and sophisticated reader (for being a kid haha) and even when I was 9 or 10, I still loved reading Harold and The Purple Crayon.  Amelia, my daughter, born in the world of electronics and flashy animation, also adores Harold and the Purple Crayon, even without a flash and a sizzle like many things made for kids today have. 

In the story, Harold uses his purple crayon to draw an adventure for himself.  He goes for a walk, that takes him all over.  Then he decides he wants to go home.  He keeps drawing windows, hoping that one of them is his.  He can’t figure it out.  Then discovers what he sees out of his window.  He draws it, climbs through and ends the night safely tucked into his bed.  But the plot of Harold could really be the plot of a lot of books.  You strip some books of all their words, and the story of Harold and The Purple Crayon would remain.

If you happen to be an oddity and haven’t read this book, please pick up a copy and do.  You can find it quite inexpensively in the children’s section of your bookstore.  Or, check it out from the library.  Read it to your kids.  Read it to yourself.  You’ll like it 🙂

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The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Normally, I avoid reading books in a series out of sequence. However, I only became aware that The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope was the final book in his The Chronicles of Barsetshire series (including in total: The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset) after I’d started reading. It was too late at that point, though it ended up being fine. Even though I’d read none of the other books in the series, I wasn’t lost at all. This book wraps up a series, but it felt to me as if it stood just fine on its own.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 5th for Jonathan Raban.)

The Last Chronicle of Barset centers on the misfortune of the impoverished, though upstanding, Reverend Josiah Crawley caused by his passing of a stolen check. He is sure he didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t help him much since he can’t explain how he got the check. Without that explanation, he faces conviction as a thief and destruction of his livelihood and his family:

Up to this period Mr. Walker had not suspected Mr. Crawley of anything dishonest, nor did he suspect him as yet. The poor man had probably received the money from the dean, and had told the lie about it, not choosing to own that he had taken money from his rich friend, and thinking that there would be no further inquiry. He had been very foolish, and that would be the end of it. Mr. Soames was by no means so good-natured in his belief. “How should my pocket-book have got into Dean Arabin’s hands?” said Mr. Soames, almost triumphantly. “And then I felt sure at the time that I had left it at Crawley’s house!”

Mr. Walker wrote a letter to the dean, who at that moment was in Florence, on his way to Rome, from whence he was going on to the Holy Land. There came back a letter from Mr. Arabin, saying that on the 17th of March he had given to Mr. Crawley a sum of fifty pounds, and that the payment had been made with five Bank of England notes of ten pounds each, which had been handed by him to his friend in the library at the deanery. The letter was very short, and may, perhaps, be described as having been almost curt. Mr. Walker, in his anxiety to do the best he could for Mr. Crawley, had simply asked a question as to the nature of the transaction between the two gentlemen, saying that no doubt the dean’s answer would clear up a little mystery which existed at present respecting a cheque for twenty pounds. The dean in answer simply stated the fact as it has been given above; but he wrote to Mr. Crawley begging to know what was in truth this new difficulty, and offering any assistance in his power. He explained all the circumstances of the money, as he remembered them. The sum advanced had certainly consisted of fifty pounds, and there had certainly been five Bank of England notes. He had put the notes into an envelope, which he had not closed, but had addressed to Mr. Crawley, and had placed this envelope in his friend’s hands. He went on to say that Mrs. Arabin would have written, but that she was in Paris with her son. Mrs. Arabin was to remain in Paris during his absence in the Holy Land, and meet him in Italy on his return. As she was so much nearer at hand, the dean expressed a hope that Mrs. Crawley would apply to her if there was any trouble.

The letter to Mr. Walker was conclusive as to the dean’s money. Mr. Crawley had not received Lord Lufton’s cheque from the dean. Then whence had he received it? The poor wife was left by the lawyer to obtain further information from her husband. Ah, who can tell how terrible were the scenes between that poor pair of wretches, as the wife endeavoured to learn the truth from her miserable, half-maddened husband! That her husband had been honest throughout, she had not any shadow of doubt. She did not doubt that to her at least he endeavoured to tell the truth, as far as his poor racked imperfect memory would allow him to remember what was true and what was not true. The upshot of it all was that the husband declared that he still believed that the money had come to him from the dean. He had kept it by him, not wishing to use it if he could help it. He had forgotten it,–so he said at times,–having understood from Arabin that he was to have fifty pounds, and having received more. If it had not come to him from the dean, then it had been sent to him by the Prince of Evil for his utter undoing; and there were times in which he seemed to think that such had been the manner in which the fatal cheque had reached him. In all that he said he was terribly confused, contradictory, unintelligible,–speaking almost as a madman might speak,–ending always by declaring that the cruelty of the world had been too much for him, that the waters were meeting over his head, and praying for God’s mercy to remove him from the world. It need hardly be said that his poor wife in these days had a burden on her shoulders that was more than enough to crush any woman.

Beyond the stolen check and Crawley’s misfortune, the book relates in meticulous detail the society that surrounds Crawley, the obsession with his alleged crime, and what those in society do about it. There are a few love interests woven in there (along with some interesting wrinkles such as how a rich Major wishes to marry one of Crawley’s daughters, though such a marriage would pollute his family with the crime if Crawley is indeed convicted), but the majority of the book chronicles the rigid English society and how they handle the indictment of the clergyman.

Now, I certainly would have to take my hat off to Trollope for his ability to render the rigid social structure of his time period in The Last Chronicle of Barset, presuming I wore hats. It reminded me somewhat of a comedy of manners, with perhaps the comedy removed. The number of people and their various interactions are well described and seem to give a comprehensive picture of human life as a whole during the time period.

One thing I kept thinking of as I read was the works of Jane Austen. In comparing Austen to The Last Chronicle of Barset, I personally prefer Austen (at least the works of hers that I’ve read). I really find no fault with Trollope, but I think Austen is a much more energetic and entertaining writer while still capturing the rigid social hierarchy. It is even more to Austen’s credit that she was a generation prior to Trollope and he could look to her work for example.

But, all that is neither here nor there. The fact that I personally prefer Austen doesn’t mean that The Last Chronicle of Barset isn’t a good book. For one thing, perhaps Trollope’s prose style itself more exemplifies the rigid English structure. Regardless, though The Last Chronicle of Barset has much to recommend it, I do admit that it is a little bit of a chore to read.

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike-Part 1 of the Rabbit Quartet

I began the Rabbit quartet by John Updike, with the first volume of Rabbit, Run.  Dave and I discussed it and decided I’d break it up into four separate entries.  I’m not sure when the next one will be however as I’m not overly excited to read the next book.

Before I begin on the reason for that, the Rabbit novels were listed by the following authors: Lee K. Abbott, Julian Barnes, G.D. Gearino, Ken Kalfus, Thomas Mallon, Tom Perrotta, Roxana Robinson, Scott Spencer, and Scott Turow.

I will begin by saying that Updike is a fantastic author.  He captures scenes and characters in very concise terms.  He doesn’t flinch from uncomfortable things and is willing to take the leap that when Rabbit, Run was published, most weren’t willing to take.  He talks about sex in a frank manner.  And he shows a world that is more muddy than most presented in fiction, one that resembles reality a bit more than most.  I don’t think that’s the reasons I dislike him though, I can think of other books that have a similar feel and I’m okay with them.

I think the main thing is, I truly and completely loathe the main character Rabbit.  People toss the term “millennial” around now to mean someone of a certain generation but more importantly someone of a certain character, lazy, entitled et cetera.  The amusing thing to me is how much people of the age of “millennials” aren’t really that way…and how much people of prior generations are.  Rabbit Angstrom is a “millennial”.  By the end of the book, I couldn’t find anything to even redeem him with.

One day Rabbit decides he can’t stand his wife, their marriage, being a dad.  So, he takes off in his car, determined to just drive the distance until he finds a place he likes better.  He ends up returning to his city.  He seeks out his high school basketball coach (Rabbit is a bit of a local high school legend for his basketball skills) who puts him up overnight in his little stinky man cave above an athletic club.  Then takes him out that night with a girl and her friend.  Rabbit eventually realizes the girl, Ruth, is a whore.  But he latches onto her and moves in with her for a few weeks.  Oh, and he left his wife 9 months pregnant too.  She’s a drinker. 

And I just decided I can’t really fully go on with what happens because it will get into ruining the plot.  And for those of you that are thinking of reading it, I do still recommend it.  It’s an amazingly written book.  Just because I hate the main character doesn’t mean you will too.

But.  Rabbit is a man who has the need of always being loved.  He can do the most reprehensible thing and two minutes later be staring at some strange woman’s breasts and convincing himself of her insatiable need for him.  He levels people.  Like, when he needs love and forgiveness from somewhere, his wife and her parents are fine.  But as soon as he feels he has it from his mother, he completely destroys his wife. 

The following thing is said about him in the book that captures my feelings exactly I think. 

“No, you don’t do anything.  You just wander around with the kiss of death.  Get out.  Honest to God, Rabbit, just looking at you makes me sick.”

Truly, his actions in this book towards women made me want to vomit in places (and I’m not overly sensitive to perceived slights against femininity in my reading choices) and his treatment of men also made me want to vomit sometimes (not for the same reasons though).

Rabbit Angstrom is not a likeable man.  The book is well written.  But, am I excited to go read another book that no matter how well written it is, I run the risk of hating the main character while being forced to spend hours with him.  (That should tell you the quality of Updike’s writing though that I would feel truly like I had spent that time with Rabbit personally).

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe–or as I like to say “Essential Tales and Poems” by Edgar Allen Poe

So…the book listed in top ten is the tales of mystery and imagination title I listed above.  It was listed in the top ten of Michael Chabon.  I could not find the one he listed.  So I read most of the Essential Tales and Poems by Poe instead.  It’s a nice hardback copy of Poe’s stuff and can be purchased in Barnes and Noble’s bargain books for less than 10.  (Dave and I aren’t getting a kick back for that referral by the way, I just figured it’s Christmas and if you’re trying to find a good idea, there you have it! lol)

Essential Tales and Poems has essays by Poe as well as his horror stories and his detective stories.  I mainly focused on reading the stories and the poems.  I’m going to go back to look over the essays further, but they looked like they’ll be a really interesting read about the atmosphere and literary environment of Poe’s times.

Some of the tales I had already read while in high school or college.  (I would be surprised to find a student who, with at least ten years of compulsory education in their past, hadn’t read a Poe story or two).  I actually admit to skipping The Tell Tale Heart, due to actually having read that one multiple times (military family, differing school districts, college blah blah).  I focused instead on some of the ones I’d heard of but had never read.

There are so many places that Poe’s work is referred to, as part of our actual lexicon of understanding.  I mean, there’s even a show now that focuses on a serial killer who adores Poe and starts a cult (The Following, if you haven’t seen it, it’s actually a pretty amazing show).  It’s hard to even know where to extricate the Poe references, all I know is as I was reading them I would go “oh! that’s where _that_ came from!”  For example:  In both literature and conversations with other people I’ve heard the term the “pit and the pendulum” before.  Meaning a choice that whatever you pick, you’re sort of really screwed.  And the story is about a man in the Inquisition who wakes to find himself in a chamber.  The choice he ends up having to make is the “pit or the pendulum”.  I think my favorite story was William Wilson.  It starts out with a sort of Single White Female feel to it, but towards the end becomes something much different.  And a lot more horrific than what you start out thinking.

An interesting fact for those of you who don’t know a lot about Poe (or like me, think you know a lot about Poe), he’s not only the writer of creepy and macabre tales, but also the father of modern detective stories.  You’ve probably heard of the Purloined Letter (yep, that’s one of Poe’s stories). 

I also found his short stories tight, with all the hallmarks of great short stories.  My only problem with Poe is that many of his narrators sound very similar to one another.  But, the stories themselves are so strong that you break through that.

I found a poem by him that I almost felt like it summed up Poe’s works, and him as a person.

Alone

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were–I have not seen

As others saw–I could not bring

My passions from a common spring.

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow; I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone;

And all I lov’d–I lov’d alone.

 

Then–in my childhood–in the dawn

Of a most stormy life–was drawn

From every depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still:

From the torrent, or the fountain,

From the red cliff of the mountain,

From the sun that’round me roll’d

In its autumn tint of gold–

From the lightning in the sky

As it pass’d me flying by–

From the thunder and the storm,

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view.

 

 

I lied.  Read The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, if you want to know my true Poe favorite.

 

(Also, I make apologies for any lacklusterness to this post.  I have had about 4 hours of sleep and I also had to brave the soul sucking mess that is WalMart in December tonight.  And yes, it had all the hallmarks of a Wal Mart visit.)