Thursday, December 22, 2011

Serious books

Just finished two more books and...well... they were some serious reads.  For different reasons, but each was a good workout for my brain.

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Winter's Bone is my first Kindle check-out (i.e. free download) from my local library.  So, that's incredibly cool.  It wasn't necessarily up next on my list but I was happy to find it on the list of offerings and it didn't have a waiting list.  At residency, Dylan Landis did a close read of the first chapter.  The discussion and the chapter were inspiring.  Woodrell wrote (and, ostensibly, edited) the heck out of this book.  It is one of the better examples of writing I've ever read, but certainly it's up there in terms of modern fiction.  Each word in this book seems to be so carefully chosen that reading it is almost scientific.  It is beautiful but also paced so well that I couldn't put it down.

Ree Dolly, the sixteen year old protagonist, is caring for her mother and younger brothers as the novel opens.  It's winter in the Ozarks and there's no food.  Her father has left for some unknown period of time, and shortly she learns that she'll have to locate him or lose their family home altogether.  This is a close-knit, but suspicious community controlled by meth.  Ree's quest to find her father kept my attention, as did the start detail in the description of Ree's reality.  This is poor beyond poor--where hunting squirrels and stretching things like butter still have a place.  Woodrell tells it in such a way that it sticks with the reader.

I know there was a movie made of this book and I have not yet seen it.  That's on another to-do list, but soon.  This was a great book, whether one is reading for pleasure or for one's MFA program.

My recommendation: Read it.  This is a strange, beautiful story and a new favorite.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

There are things you read because you're curious and things you read because you're hooked in to something they're discussing, and there are things you read because you should, or because you feel like it's going to make you a better person to have read them.  I think, for me, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is in one of the two latter categories.  It feels like I should have read this by now, so I read it.  And I can say I enjoyed parts of it way more than I thought I would and I felt too distant from other parts.  And I am still glad that I read it, and I can say yes, I've read that and there's a certain satisfaction to owning things in that way for me.  And I have great respect for Joan Didion and the impact she's had on writing people who are important to me and to writers who inspire me.

The great thing about a book of essays is that one doesn't really have to feel a connection with them all, right?  So I can say that I really enjoyed Didion's discussion of being from Sacramento and I can say that certain things she writes about writing hit very close to home.  And I can say that I found her longer essay on the Haight to be fascinating, but also that it made me very aware that there are parts of that essay--or parts of its cultural impact--which are entirely lost on me because I was born a good ten years after it was written and wouldn't come to it as an adult until three decades after that.  Certain phrasing I didn't understand or ideas that I glossed over just by virtue of being from a different time... I was really conscious of how I wasn't able to truly absorb the impact of Didion's writing.

But what I love about Didion (thus far, as a new Didion reader) is how she blends the random pieces of any scene together to create a collage.  She includes details that wouldn't seem important but they give each scene such tangibility. I love how she can put her reader in a moment.  She makes her reader understand the tension in any scenario.  So even if details of slang are lost on me, I believe I am able to pick up on the feeling of the thing.  As a writer that amazes me.  I am glad I could read it.  And I will say this again: why on earth was my public education lacking almost any nonfiction writing?  Sigh.

My recommendation:  Read some Didion.  Skip around if you want, but read some.

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