Every time November rolls around, I can’t help but begin to sneer at a few things; the cooler weather’s inability to quit ushering in snow and wind and negative temperatures, my inability to physically stay warm for approximately four months despite mountains of blankets and sweaters, everyone else’s inability to stop uttering in their lowered voices the Game of Thrones quote, “Winter is coming,” and my email’s inability to filter out an onslaught of reminders of what is about to happen that month from the National Novel Writing Month squad.
That’s right, writers. You know what November means.
Let me preface this by noting that I am fairly torn about NaNoWriMo as a concept because I really want to love the idea of it. I see the benefit and how it can truly help writers… but we just don’t see eye-to-eye, NaNo and I.
Since the beginning of fall, I’ve had an unhealthy infatuation with silent films, particularly horror films since Halloween is nearly upon us. I’ve made it a habit of watching TCM at night when I’m trying to fall asleep. There’s something calming about the black-and-white screen and the lack of auditory dialogue, especially when your entire day was spent in some form of verbal or digital dialogue with someone, and the scary movies from back in the day aren’t exactly pieces that will keep me up all night in pure terror.
I was never much for silent movies when I was growing up; I don’t even recall ever watching many black-and-white films. Like most children from the 90s, I need constant stimulation to justify my existence, so slowing down and focusing entirely on the storyline without the glitz and glam of special effects, surround sounds, and hunky actors is challenging to say the least. The melodrama of Old Hollywood is comical, and even though sometimes it is nauseating to see the old stereotypes and ideologies that dictated the early days of film, I largely feel like these films are brief glances into our history; look how far we’ve come, baby, now.
Well, Ms. McCullers, the heart may very well be a lonely hunter, but if you drag out a listless melodrama with little action, sparse characterization, and suffocate it with too many conflicting philosophical, theological, and political ideologies, the heart begins to beg for that very loneliness.
Mine pleaded to be left alone nearly every time I picked up Carson McCullers’ Southern American novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, originally published in 1940. But the TBR jar giveth a title to be read and the TBR jar taketh away. . . but only if I finish the book; those are the rules. And it’s not usually in my nature to abandon a text, but I came close several times with this book.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter takes place in a sleepy little Georgia mill town and centers primarily around a deaf-mute named John Singer. Singer attracts several other inhabitants of this town who find comfort in his listening and understanding skills; Mick Kelly, a tomboy who desperately wants to study music and is based on McCullers herself, Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, an angry, revolutionist African American doctor, Biff Brannon, the quiet owner of a local bar whose wife passes away, and Jake Blount, a misshapen alcoholic with Socialist beliefs. Together, these characters tiptoe around each other while still interacting, none truly able to communicate with the others.
At some point in their reading careers, all readers experience the internal debate over whether a text is necessary, a Canonical masterpiece that has transformed into a world renowned classic, or whether it is just pure obscene, an absolute abortion of the highest morals of our society.
Can it be both? Is it both? And what does that say about the reader and the society in which they reside?
The internal battle began to rage with my second reading of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and even after letting it settle for a few weeks, I’m not sure which side has won the battle within me.
I say my second reading of this charming, delightful, shocking, abhorrent little novel because I attempted to read it once in college, but because László Krasznahorkai was hogging up all my time (he is a demanding fellow) for a critical analysis, I abandoned poor Lolita after a chapter or two. She has listlessly waited on my shelf for my post college days for her owner to pick her up again, and even though the text is disgusting and difficult, I’m largely glad I read it.
Coco sur la plage.
If I’ve learned anything on my summer vacation, it’s that consistency is key . . . and I’m shitting the bed on this one.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I had a blast on vacation; my family made the annual pilgrimage to the shore, and even though I’m not that avid of a beachgoer (I’m too Slavic for that noise), I would have been content to remain on the sand and near the waves (we quite literally had Shark Week on the entire duration of the trip and I was making no unexpected moves)- anywhere that was not the rumblings and toilings of daily existence.
Coming home from vacation is sort of like coming off a bad hangover; you know what’s about to go down, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. You can only push through and pray you make it to the other side after going through the three unfortunate steps of what Google likes to tell us is the post vacation blues.
The next book chosen for me the all-knowing TBR jar is one I recently received from a Paperback Swap exchange- the first of Alexander McCall Smith’s mystery series, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
This was a pleasant change of pace from what I typically read, and it is definitely fitting for the beginning of summer on the East Coast as it takes place in Botswana (which I can only imagine is hotter than hell).
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency tells the story of Mma Precious Ramotswe, the very definition of a sassy black woman, who opens her own business as a private detective in her home country of Botswana. We learn a great deal about her background as a survivor of abuse and how these experiences and humble upbringings drive her be a quick, witty, and successful private detective. She is beyond clever and, perhaps most telling, she don’t need no man.
Spy novels were never really my thing. Police dramas: definitely. Dark tales of Cold War espionage by John le Carré: not so much. Just never my style.
But I recently saw a copy of A Most Wanted Man on sale in a bookstore, and I was interested enough to purchase it for a bad reason- I wanted to see the movie. But like a neurotic reader, I always have to read the book first. The struggle.
This was not a good choice when it comes to a first le Carré read. However, it wasn’t the worst. I found the saga of Issa, Annabel, and Tommy Brue interesting enough to finish the text. Le Carré moves slowly, almost brutally. The deep introspection allows the reader to feel the heightened alert of the characters, the sneaking about, the carefulness and attention to hiding every move.
Determining Issa’s innocence is compelling enough to finish the book even though I, as a reader, knew this was far from my favorite tale. I was invested, however; I had to see it through.
I also think le Carré uses clever and precise dialogue effectively throughout the novel, something that, through my research, told me is not always as prevalent in his other work. Dialogue can be tricky; too much dialogue threatens the creative storytelling but not enough makes the reader’s eyes glaze over. Le Carré has an excellent balance of believable, credible dialogue that helps move the story along . . . which is excellent because this novel unfolds at a snail’s pace.