2015-08-10

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

One of my greatest pleasures is to "discover," at this late point in my life, a well-known classic that I somehow have never read, and to discover that it is perfectly wonderful and amazing. And if the qualities that make it so amazing are such that I probably wouldn't have appreciated it at the age of 20 or even 30, so much the better!
I just finished My √Āntonia, by Willa Cather. I read it in a large-print edition from the library. I loved it. One of the outstanding features of this book (it sounds so trite to say this) is its amazing wealth of sensual detail about the appearance, sounds, smells, and feels of the early prairies, farms, and towns of Nebraska. I am not generally a great admirer of that kind of detailed scene-setting writing. I often get bored with it. If it's painting a picture, I think how I would much rather have the picture, and skip over it. But some of this writing, it's like poetry rather than prose, it's like music, music about history, dancing about architecture, it just defies category and opinion and sweeps you up into itself. Luscious. I loved it.


2015-07-22

E. L. Doctorow dies, age 84



E. L. Doctorow, a leading figure in contemporary American letters whose popular, critically admired and award-winning novels — including “Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate” and “The March” — situated fictional characters in recognizable historical contexts, among identifiable historical figures and often within unconventional narrative forms, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 84 and lived in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Some quotes:

“The consumption of food was a sacrament of success. A man who carried a great stomach before him was thought to be in his prime. Women went into hospitals to die of burst bladders, collapsed lungs, overtaxed hearts and meningitis of the spine. There was a heavy traffic to the spas and sulphur springs, where the purgative was valued as an inducement to the appetite. America was a great farting country. All this began to change when Taft moved into the White House. His accession to the one mythic office in the American imagination weighed everyone down. His great figure immediately expressed the apotheosis of that style of man. Thereafter fashion would go the other way and only poor people would be stout.” 
― E.L. DoctorowRagtime

“Emily supposed the modern world was fortunate in the progress of science. But she could not help but feel at this moment the impropriety of male invasiveness. She knew he was working to save this poor woman, but in her mind, too, was a sense of Wrede's science as adding to the abuse committed by his fellow soldiers. He said not a word. It was as if the girl were no more than the surgical challenge she offered.” 
― E.L. DoctorowThe March