Reading Catch-Up Time.

I’ve been steadily reading through some titles, and having some hits and misses (as one does). Here’s a short catch-up:

Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” was *nothing* like I was expecting. It turned out to be, as far as I could tell, a series of related short stories which were very dark and use Grotesque imagery and, to be honest, this was not my Cup of Tea at all. So- gave it the old Heave-Ho and into the charity shop pile it goes. I was really expecting a straightforward narrative arc (similar to Cather or perhaps Sinclair Lewis) when I ended up reading stories in a weird dark Grotesque and depressing version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

So – now wandering around the classic list a bit and seeing what strikes my fancy. Another Thomas Hardy perhaps, my chaps? (“Far From the Madding Crowd” looks hopeful right now.)

And in the meantime, I have nearly completed the NF by the always slyly witted Victorian scholar Judith Flanders (who wrote the lovely fantastic book about the Victorian Home – see post here.) This title is called “Consuming Passions” and features how the differing Victorian social classes were, arguably, the first groups of people in the UK who had real leisure time and who also had the means to choose how to fill it. Absolutely fascinating learning about the history behind such disparate elements of “spare time” ranging from the origins of the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons to the history of horse racing and why the phrase “in the limelight” came about. More detailed post to come. (I know – the anticipation is killing you. Ha.)

And then fiction right now (apart from the classic title) is “Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray about a small group of boy students at an aging Irish Catholic boarding school in the unspecified past. (M-Theory is mentioned and it was published in 2010 so fairly recently, I would think.) Not bad but more tricky to get into than I would have expected going from the millions of gushing reviews I had read about it a while back. Addendum: DNF.

And then been reviewing some writing tips from William Zinsser, Yale Professor, and his book “On Writing Well”:

  • “Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it.” (Very very true in my world.)
  • “Remember…that words are the only tools that you will be given. Learn to use them with originality and care. Value them for their strength and their infinite diversity. And also remember: somebody is out there listening…”
  • “As for what point you want to make, I’ll state a useful rule of thumb that every piece of successful non-fiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that [s/he] didn’t have before…”
  • With regard to overstating something in your writing trying to be funny: “It’s like being trapped with a man who can’t stop reciting limericks. Don’t overstate. You didn’t really consider jumping out of the window…Let the humor sneak up on you…”

And then this piece resonated especially since I have just finished reading a book about the Vietnam War. This was written by Michael J. Arlen for “The New Yorker” during 1966-67. Very powerful op-ed about current affairs at that time, I thought.

Vietnam is often referred to as “television’s war,” in the sense that this is the first war that has been brought to the people preponderantly by television. People indeed look at television. They really look at it. They look at Dick Van Dyke and become his friend. They look at thoughtful Chet Huntley and find him thoughtful, and at witty David Brinkley and find him witty. They look at Vietnam. They look at Vietnam, it seems, as a child kneeling in the corridor, his eye to the keyhole, looks at two grownups arguing in a locked room – the aperture of the keyhole small; the figures shadowy, mostly out of sight; the voices indistinct, isolated threats without meaning; isolated glimpses, part of an elbow, a man’s jacket (who is the man?), part of a face, a woman’s face. Ah, she is crying. One sees the tears. (The voices continue indistinctly.) One counts the tears. Two tears. Three tears. Two bombing raids. Four seek-and-destroy missions. Six administration pronouncements. Such a fine-looking woman. One searches in vain for the other grownup, but ah, the keyhole is so small, he is somewhere never in the line of sight. Look! There is General Ky. Look! There are some planes returning safely to the Ticonderoga. I wonder (sometimes) what it is that people who run television think about the war, because *they* have given us this keyhole view; we have given them the airwaves, and now, at this crucial time, they have given back to us this keyhole view – and I wonder, if they truly think about that those isolated glimpses of elbow, face, a swirl of dress (who *is* that other person anyway?) are all that we children can stand to see of what is going on inside the room.”

Zinsser states (immediately following this extract) that “This is criticism at its best: stylish, allusive, disturbing…”

It could be (and has been) argued that media coverage of today has crossed to the other side: too much, too graphic, too this, too that… But I, for one, prefer to be given too much information as opposed to not enough to allow me to develop my own ideas of what is happening in the world today. It must have been very different during the Vietnam War (is it called that yet?).

Vietnam Service Medal

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