Writing vs. Reading

“Occasionally a date with a face blank as a sheet of paper asks you whether writers often become discouraged. Say that sometimes they do and sometimes they do. Say it’s a lot like having polio.” (Moore 126)

Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” is a story about a young writer. Over the course of this short story we can begin to see how this profession of writing can be a lonely one. This puts it at a complete opposite of what the things that writers write are used for. Of the course of the semester we have seen how the activity of reading has been used to bring people together. Most recently we have seen this in the Jane Austen Book Club. That novel was a story of how the practice of reading Jane Austen books brought a group of friends together. That novel also seems to imply in some places that Jane Austen herself might have had a lonely life sense she was always writing about marriage but never actually marry herself. Comparing these two stories shows how writing can be an activity of loneliness and reading one of community.

                The selected quote from “How to Become a Writer” most clearly shows how writing can be very isolationist. We can see this by the way that the author compares writing to having polio, a very dangerous and contagious disease that would call for the person with it to be isolated from others. The author also describes other people in a very impersonal way by saying that their “face was as blank as a sheet of paper”.

                In The Jane Austen Book Club it is fairly obvious to see how reading is bringing people together. By reading Jane Austen books together the group of six friends grow closer together. The relationship between Jocelyn and Grigg is especially revealing. The relationship starts at a meeting at a science fiction convention. Then is really grows because of the creation of the book club and Jocelyn inviting Grigg. Then the relationship is cemented when Jocelyn finally reads the books that Grigg loves and also really enjoys them. Without books it is easy to see how this relationship would never exist.

                However Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler shows reading as both solitary and relational. It shows its solitariness with the professor at the college who is surrounded by books all day long that no one else seems to want to read. It also shows how reading can bring people together with the relationship between the reader and the other reader which grows through the search for reading and a good story.

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Moore Parallels Bechdel on Grieving

“…and your brother came home form a forest ten miles from the Cambodian border with only half a thigh.” ……… “About the last thing you write nothing.  There are no words for this.  Your typewriter hums.  You can find no words.” 

In “How to Become a Better Writer” by Moore, the narrator’s brother has his leg amputated after an explosion while serving in a war.  The passage above shows that the narrator feels great sorrow for this but is not sure how to express her grief.  The situation this person is in is similar to how Bechdel feels after her father’s death in Fun Home.

In Fun Home, Alison finds that she has difficulty expressing her grief after her father’s passing.  It is clear that the death has affected her deeply considering she wrote a novel on the experience, but she cannot bring herself to express the emotion of grief.  She blatantly tells people that her father was killed in the most nonchalant ways hoping to catch a glimpse of the grief that she could not show.  This is similar to what the narrator in this text does.  She has a recurring event in the stories she writes after her brother’s incident.  In each of these stories, people accidentally get blown up up, just like her brother.  It is logical to think that this is the narrator’s way of letting out the sadness she has for her brother by putting words she has trouble plainly speaking and writing onto paper.  Furthermore, it is likely she is doing something similar to what Bechdel did and is trying to catch a hint from the person reading the narrator’s work of how she should act.  The ways in which Bechdel and the narrator perform this are similar.  They both have a lot of shock value in how they are presented.  Bechdel randomly tells people her father died and the narrator has people randomly getting blown up in her stories.  The way these two people handle their situations are very similar.  

This method of grieving did help Alison in Fun Home, but it is unclear whether this will help the narrator in “How to Become a Better Writer” because the text ends shortly after this incident.  Had the story been longer, it is probable that the narrator’s character arc would have included her overcoming the obstacle of speaking and writing plainly about her brother’s incident.     

The Thrill of a Story

           Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” is an insightful illustration of how to write an appealing story. It is easy to think that the best stories have a remarkable ending, but Atwood comments that “the only authentic ending is the one provided here: John and Mary die.” Atwood points out that every story essentially ends the same way, but that an appealing story contains so much more than a memorable conclusion – the best stories have complex plots leading up to the conclusion itself, making the ending even more dynamic. For this reason, Atwood insists, “True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.” Practically speaking, the best stories move beyond the “what” of the plot and into the “how” and the “why” of the action.

            Immediately after reading Margaret Atwood’s short story, I thought of my favorite animated and live-action movies, Finding Nemo and Saving Private Ryan, respectively. Ironically, both movies are nearly perfect examples of Atwood’s assertion that the actual ending of a story is a very small portion of the thrill of writing or reading. For example, I knew that somehow, Marlin and Dory would find Nemo and return him to the ocean, and likewise, that the rescue committee would locate Ryan and return him safely to America. These are the endings that are simply expected – anything different would disappoint. Nonetheless, the thrill of these movies is found in the bulk of the action that occurs in the middle of the films. Even though I knew that Nemo and Private Ryan had to be found in the end, the movie was captivating because as a viewer, I wanted to see how the rescue would pan out and meet all the important characters along the way. Two stories may have the exact same happy ending, but the extent to which the story, between the beginning and the end, is intriguing may well make the difference in the viewer’s level of satisfaction with the story.

            Not only was Atwood’s “Happy Endings” a great example of useful techniques to be a captivating writer, but it also is a fantastic demonstration of why we even read in the first place: we’re looking for a story; for absurd creativity, changing plot twists, relatable characters, and emotional events. The outline of a story includes the beginning, the end, and the “stretch in between.” As Margaret Atwood pointed out, the ending of a story is more or less the same. However, it is the development of the story that separates the average writers from the “connoisseurs.” As a result of the exposure we’ve all received this semester to various genres, plots and writing styles, ranging from straightforward stories like Dracula to tricky plots like If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I hope to say that we’re all closer to the latter than we were four months ago.

The Stones of Venice

While I was researching for my literary analysis paper, I was reading through Fun Home. I started to analyze the scene where Alison awkwardly kisses her father’s hand. I noticed that in the illustrations, the father is reading the book The Stones of Venice.  I was curious about this and so I looked up what it was about. I just used Wikipedia which described it as a “treatise on Venetian art and architecture by English art historian John Ruskin, first published from 1851 to 1853.”

This got me to thinking about the father’s personality and his relationship with his family. It was obvious throughout the novel that Bruce Bechdel was not one to express emotion for his family. He rarely showed them much affection. However, he did often express himself in other ways. He was meticulous in maintaining the quality of the family’s home. Alison’s father was passionate about architecture and landscaping. The appearance of the house and yard were his major concerns. There are many examples of this early in the book when the father is scene taking care of the house. It’s even more apparent that he’s a bit of a connoisseur on home maintenance when he is scene reading literature on architecture.

This almost makes it seem as if Alison’s father cares more about his house than his own family. However, this could just be his way of expressing himself to his family. He shows them affection by providing them with a nice home. He cares about his family and wants to give them a beautiful yard with big house that is neat and clean. Alison’s father uses his sense of design to create a respectable home environment for his family to live in.

Bruce Bechdel just has a different way of expressing himself. It’s not that he lacks emotion or feeling for his family, he just shows it in a different manner. Rather than the normal physical affection, Alison’s father shows he cares through the use of his architectural talent. His house is a vicarious way of loving his family.

Mega Frustrated with Metafiction

I’m not too sure why but nothing has frustrated me more this semester than deciphering an author’s words when they are post modernists. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler was extremely frustrating yes, and after I had finished reading it and realized what Calvino was trying to say, I felt like I just climbed a mountain. Then, I get Jane Austen’s Book Club. It was not as frustrating as Calvino’s work but by the time I got to the end I was just as frustrated. Although Fowler was not as bold with her metafiction tendencies as Calvino, there were still some hints of it. Fowler’s largest postmodernist theme in this story is that the characters are reading about reading, which is almost identical to the theme in Calvino’s novel. My number one question when I read the story was what is the deeper meaning to this book? I began a frantic hunt looking for my answers, and I’m still not sure I have fully grasped what she wanted me to see in her words. I came to a few conclusions; first, Fowler just really loves Jane Austen, second, Fowler wants us to realize the importance of reading and how it can affect our lives, last, Fowler wants us to draw connections between the real world, her book world, and Austen’s world.

It’s obvious that the first conclusion is not in depth enough for an entire opinion to be based about this novel. The second conclusion however is plausible. The moment that stuck out to me within the novel is that Joeclyn refused to read Grigg’s science fiction novels when he gave them to her as a gift. At first, I skipped over this detail and did not think twice about it, but after I finished the book I started hunting through the pages trying to make sense of it all. Grigg is completely open minded to reading all of these new books whereas the women of the story are dedicated to Jane Austen. I began to wonder why Grigg was the only one who loved all books. It could be possible Fowler wants her readers to see the importance of being well rounded in your reading.

The third conclusion I hypothesized is that Fowler parallels her story, with Austen’s, and then the real world in which we live in, in order to force us to reevaluate how we are reading. I discovered this possibility when I realized that all the women were hopeless romantics and were heartbroken, or lonely. Not knowing much about Jane Austen, I did a little researching where I discovered that almost all of Austen’s work dealt with a woman, a man, and some sort of falling in love happens. So putting all this together, we are reading about women in a book club that are single, heartbroken, or emotionally confused, reading about women who are single, heartbroken or emotionally confused. Confusing?

I’ve decided that Fowler really likes to frustrate me with her words, but she is extremely effective. My favorite part about this book was also the thing that frustrated me the most. She kept confusing me and forced me to remember that I was actually reading a book within a book. I think after all this hypothesizing I’m still probably wrong, but I think that her goal was not to frustrate the reader, but show them the art and joy of reading. It carries people through the heartbreak, and it allows people to run away from their problems for a few pages. She effectively shows the readers how important reading is to our lives, and that it should never be abandoned or stifled withes. the fear of reading outside of our comfort zones.  I love that we ended the year with this book, it truly reminded me what reading is, and it also showed me that I get frustrated when I read about reading.

Postmodernism Used By Austen and Fowler

“’Austen poses these questions very directly. There’s something very Pomo going on there.”’– Grigg

“The rest of us weren’t intimate enough with postmodernism to give it a nickname. We’d heard the word used in sentences, but its definition seemed to change with its context.” (Pg. 138)

            Due to our focus on postmodernism in If on a Winters Night a Traveler, I was intrigued when I saw it enter into the book club’s discussion. As a result, I decided to research Jane Austen’s use of postmodern themes in her work and also try to apply these themes to The Jane Austen Book Club itself.

            I have not read any Jane Austen books, so I can only rely on others’ analyses in order to inform me on whether or not she writes with postmodern qualities. In a blog on Austen it says, “Austinian irony comes close to the postmodern sense of the term: a knowing imitation whose knowingness supposedly absolves it from complicity.” In an article on postmodernism it states, that “Postmodern authors will often treat very serious subjects—World War II, the Cold War, conspiracy theories—from a position of distance and disconnect, and will choose to depict their histories ironically and humorously.” This describes Jane Austen’s writing style well, because she forces her readers to have to distinguish between her seriousness and her irony.

            In another analysis of Jane Austen’s narrative voice, by James Brown, he states that, “It is, after all, Ms. Austen’s own arch, wry, incisive voice doing commentary on the very text itself which makes her work enduring and contemporary, and, dare I say it, an early example of post-modern meta-fiction.” Meta-fiction is another characteristic of post modernism; it is used to make the reader aware of the piece’s fictionality. To do this, sometimes the author’s presence is felt, like in Jane Austen Books.

            Now I am particularly interested to see where postmodernism comes into The Jane Austen Book Club. I believe that Karen Joy Fowler uses the postmodern characteristic, pastiche, in her writing. This means that she imitates the style of another work. I think that Karen Joy Fowler’s use of the collective voice that shifts throughout her narration plays off of Jane Austen’s narrative style of free indirect speech. Both authors shift their narrative voice throughout their novels and I believe Fowler did this intentionally. In addition, Fowler uses pastiche by relating the stories of Jane Austen to the stories of the characters in the novel. For example, Jocelyn is considered the matchmaker of the group, as is Emma in Jane Austen’s novel.

            Another postmodern characteristic is temporal distortion. In the article on postmodernism it defines this as, “a literary technique that uses a nonlinear timeline; the author may jump forwards or backwards in time.” This occurs when the story jumps back and forth between the present book club and the past experiences of the different characters. It provides a sort of disruption that gives the reader a look into the lives of the people they are reading about.

            I believe it is important that both authors use postmodern aspects in their writing. It provides an important link between the two authors and makes the Jane Austen Book Club not only connected to Jane Austen through the book club’s discussions, but through the writing styles and the overall plot. I am anxious now to read some Jane Austen so that I can search for postmodern characteristics and further relate Karen Joy Fowler’s writing to Austen’s novels.

 

http://postmodernblog.tumblr.com/post/106532710/a-list-of-postmodern-characteristics

http://posthegemony.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/northanger-abbey/

http://www.academia.edu/2336349/Thoughts_on_the_Use_of_the_Narrative_Voice_in_Northanger_Abbey_and_The_Vegetable

 

 

           

           

“Each of us has a Private Austen”

The statement above was the very first sentence of “The Jane Austen Book Club” and says a great amount about what the book’s purpose is going to be in the next few chapters. To begin, the simple statement argues that every person, both in the book club and out, reads even the same book differently. It argues that each person reads a book with a purpose in mind for that book or with a yearning for that book to be something or do something for them in the place that they are right now in their lives. The author strengthens that argument by describing each character in detail as to what they are like and what is going on in their life at the time the book club was formed in the first chapter. Jocelyn, Bernadette, Sylvia, Allegra, Prudie, and Grigg are all going through different things in their lives so each Austen book they read caters to and parallels what is going on in their personal lives. This is an effective because the first sentence and statement of “The Jane Austen Book Club” argues that the purpose of the book is to portray the unique way that readers attempt to create ownership of the books they read as well as how the books we choose, choose us too.

Another reason this statement is so important is because it essentially is the plot of “The Jane Austen Book Club”. That is because the book doesn’t have one single plotline, or even a defined plotline, in the first few chapters, and maybe the whole book. While relationships do form, and things do happen, you are swept along, diving in and out of the different book club member’s memories and past experiences. The book is also written in first person plural (“us”, “we”) that immerses you into the book club, never stating which character is actually writing the book. This treats all of the members of the club as separate, jumping in and out of their lives impersonally and revealing only what the narrator wants the reader to know. However, you become close to them, and understand why they are who they are, but you don’t even realize that you’ve spent most of the chapter looking back on their experiences rather than what’s actually going on in the present. This is effective because the book is divided into different months and Austen novels that corresponds to a different character’s lives. This, in turn takes all of the different Austen’s and weaves them together cohesively, which is illustrated in the first sentence of the book.

 

Bankole the Devil

“It’s easier to say what I didn’t see – or didn’t recognize. I didn’t see condescension or that particular kind of disregard that some men reserve for women. He wasn’t deciding that my ‘no’ was a secret ‘yes.’ Something else was going on” (Butler 361).

In chapter 22 of Parable of the Sower, Bankole tempts Lauren to drop everything that she has been working for and to join him in Cape Mendocino. He says, “‘My sister and her family have been living there,’ he said. ‘But the property belongs to me. There’s room on it for you'” (Butler 360). Lauren chooses Earthseed over Bankole, which causes this section to mirror the story of Adam in the Bible. In the Book of Genesis within the Bible, Satan temps Adam to give up on God’s plan and to eat fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden that God strictly told Adam and Eve to stay away from. Although Adam ends up giving in to Satan, Lauren does not give in to Bankole.

Also, despite the fact that Lauren knows that going after Bankole is bad news, she gives in to him. After kissing him, Lauren says “It was hard for me to make myself push him away. I didn’t want to. He didn’t want to let me” (Butler 335). Although Lauren is 18 and he is 57, she cannot hold herself back. Lauren is a Christ-like figure as many of my classmates have stated. Just as Jesus did, she has the responsibility of leading her people. She recognizes that there is a greater good. The Bible is filled with stories of temptation and lust. In Matthew, Christ is tempted by the devil. It reads, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down'”(Matthew 4:5-6). No, Bankole is not tempting Lauren to jump from a building, but he is indeed tempting her to steer away from Earthseed, just as Satan was tempting Jesus to abandon God. 

In my opinion, in order for Lauren to be a true Christ-like figure, there needs to be something or someone that represents Satan. I feel that although Bankole appears to have good intentions, he tempts Lauren enough to the point where she could lose her grasp of Earthseed. Basically, Bankole attempts to guide Lauren down a path that I am not positive she wants to go down, just as Satan did to Jesus Christ.

Ten Steps Forward and Tens Steps Backward

“Embrace diversity.

Unite–

or be divided,

robbed,

ruled,

killed

By those those see you as prey.

Embrace diversity.

Or be destroyed.” (page 196)

The opening of Chapter 17 reminds us of the importance of diversity in the novel and suggests that the following chapters will bring more diversity to the group. Lauren’s group consists of Lauren, Zahra, and Harry at the start of this chapter. Lauren is black, Zahra is Hispanic, and Harry is white. We are soon introduced to a mixed-couple who also joins the group. Natividad is Hispanic and her husband, Travis is black. Soon after, Bankole (black), Jill (white), and Allie (white) join the group. We now have a large traveling group with a variety of ages, genders, backgrounds, and races. Lauren stresses the importance of mixture in Earthseed because racism and sexism are a main form of corruption shown in the book. Certain towns are not welcoming to certain races, racially mixed couples are discriminated against, Natividad is escaping a white/black power-struggle between her husband and her husband’s boss over intercourse with her, and Jill and Allie are escaping prostitution forced by men.

Not only literally, but hypothetically, each of the characters are slaves to their fears. The world has scared them and directed the way they go about their lives. The walls in the community also serve as barriers to their environment and create another fear of going outside of those walls.

Novel Guide suggests that this is a way for Butler to correct racism in the book. This group is overcoming obstacles thrown at them and standing up to their fears the society has established in many.

I find the sexism and racism especially interesting in this book because it is a book of the future. Today’s society has minimal racism and sexism compared to previous decades and centuries. Can corruption lead to total ignorance of morals or revolutions? Do you think extreme sexism and racism could reoccur in future societies? On the other hand, can embracing diversity help change the ways of this corrupt society?

http://www.novelguide.com/parable-of-the-sower/summaries/chapters17-19

Parable of the Hunger Games?

“I can take a lot of pain without falling apart.  I’ve had to learn to do that.  But it was hard, today, to keep peddling and keep up with the others when just about everyone I saw made me feel worse and worse” (Butler 11).

Liz was not lying when she said this book was going to be depressing. I have had to catch myself from tearing up a few times, and we are only on chapter eight.  This quote, by Lauren, was taken from chapter two when she was passing through the outskirts of her neighborhood walls while on the way to church.  She saw people that were asleep on the street, dead people (one was headless), a naked woman who probably had been raped, houses that were trashed, and half-naked little kids.  She nearly broke down on her bike when taking in every ounce of the tragedy around her.  Although Lauren states that it was hard not to fall apart, I believe she is an extremely strong young woman.  I cannot imagine experiencing and seeing the things that she has to deal with every day, and along with her strength, she manages to be extremely resourceful throughout the beginning of the novel.  She is very aware of everything going on around her which shows her level of maturity compared to all of the other children in the neighborhood.

               While reading these first few chapters, I am constantly finding myself comparing Lauren to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Katniss is living in a similarly poor community in this novel and, like Lauren, she deals with the battles of survival every day.  Katniss is also the strong female character of her novel who possesses the central role for survival within her family due to her father’s death when she was very young.  Similarly, Lauren not only helps in educating the young children of the neighborhood, but also creates a survival kit for her family to protect them in case of emergency.  We see that both female characters have an extremely important role in the survival of their families even though they are too young to be dealing with this type of stress.

On a deeper level, Katniss’s symbol within her novel is the mocking jay.  She symbolizes opportunity and freedom for the poor, and gives her people hope that they can overcome the Capitol.  Her actions push everyone in the direction of taking down the government in order to find freedom in America again.  The community looks to her for answers in times of crisis which causes Katniss to develop into a leader within the novel.  In contrast, in Parable of the Sower, we aren’t specifically told that the government is the main cause of the country’s tragedy.   Lauren does discuss the Presidential Election, but I don’t think we are given enough information yet to know what exactly caused the country to become this way.  Along with this, I think it is too early to say what Lauren symbolizes, but I feel that she will develop into a mother-figure to those around her.  She is extremely mature for her age and seems to be ready for anything. Her preparedness acts as foreshadowing for me: I think something bad is coming.

As we read further into our novel, I’m eager to see if it continues to relate to The Hunger Games.  Will Lauren’s neighborhood end up being destroyed as she predicts?  Will her survival pack end up saving her and her family’s life? I predict that Lauren’s pack will come in handy when tragedy hits and people will look to her for answers, just as the people of The Hunger Games did with Katniss.