Sunday, September 26, 2010

The proper study of mankind is books.

Sometimes I think grad school broke my brain, because I'm not reading as much as I used to. In any case...
Now reading:

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco. This one I keep picking up and putting down, so I finally brought it to work and started to read it during my lunch breaks. Little chunks, 50ish pages at a time.
Burger's Daughter, Nadine Gordimer. Betsy Morgan used to talk about her during Post-Colonial Women's Lit, and she's one I haven't tried yet. Gordimer is a white South African, and Burger's Daughter is about the daughter of two anti-apartheid activists. I'm only about 50 pages in, so more on that later.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides. Picked it up at a used bookstore. In the middle of it right now.
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins. The end of the Hunger Games series. I went to a B&N after work, picked it up, and read the entire thing in the bookstore. 

Also just finished Ellison's Invisible Man. This is one of those books I should have read a while ago. I mean, really, it's one of the seminal mid-century African-American novels, and I hadn't read it 'til now? Shame on me.
It's said that Ellison took a lot of his ideas from Notes from Underground (I think Ellison said this himself), and I can see the influence. The nameless, faceless narrator is Dostoyevskian, but unlike the (also nameless, faceless) narrator from Underground, he's not cruel--he doesn't want to inflict harm on anyone. He's young, eager to please, and powerless. He gets manipulated on all sides (by the white people around him, by the president of his college, by the Brotherhood, the sort-of Communist group that sets him up to be their hero and their pawn and then deserts him). When he finally rebels against everyone else, he ends up underground, literally and figuratively.

This is the kind of book that makes me wish that I were back in school. I put it down and thought, I need a class to discuss this with. It makes me squirm as I look back on the US's sordid history in terms of racism, and it makes me want to apologize for benefiting from that history.
Also, when I read good books, I want to write, and for some reason, my brain's gone wonky and hasn't let me write anything substantial for the last week or so.


  1. I started the first Hunger Games book and ended up putting it down. I couldn't handle it. Something about putting children in horrible, violent situations where they are expected to be ruthless always troubles me. I also couldn't read Ender's Game for that reason. The passage where the older brother basically says "Ten years from now, I will kill him, but you won't be able to prove it and you will remember this threat and wonder" was just too horrifying. That is, of course, not to say anything about anyone who does read them, or about their quality as books. I feel like they're both things I'm missing out on because I can't get past this hang-up, and I'm also kind of baffled because there's really nothing else I can think of that makes me so uncomfortable. I've put down books because I thought they were boring or poorly written, but never because I couldn't stomach their subject matter.

  2. Hmm. Yeah. The Hunger Games and Ender's Game both have a premise in which adults manipulate children into doing very violent things in order to achieve a higher purpose. In Ender's Game, it's "we need to save the human race," and in The Hunger Games, it's "we need to remind the people never to rebel again," but the end result is that these children are forced into situations in which violence is the only way out.

    The Hunger Games is, I think, even more relentless in this, simply because the point of the Games is to kill each other off. In Ender's Game, up to a point, the games are just games (until they become real).

    Suzanne Collins is good at making Katniss a sympathetic character but also a terrifyingly competent one. She's able to kill, and she's able to do what it takes to win the Games. Card does the same with Ender, although Katniss and Ender are rather different characters, and some people find Ender not so sympathetic. Collins is also really good at tension--the best part of the book is when Katniss is in the arena.

    But, yeah. I think we've all got places where we go, oh I can't read this, I need to put this down. I can't stand characters who cheat on their partners/spouses/significant others, for example, and if a major plot revolves around this, I just can't do it.