Cawdor by Robinson Jeffers
Educated in the classical tradition, Jeffers was a scholar and scientist, before settling on poetry for his living. He lived near Carmel, California and centered much of his poetry on the natural landscape around him. And these moments of natural beauty are what shine brightest in his work.
Jeffers based his narrative poem Cawdor on Euripides’ tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus; woman marries husband but falls in love with son. Before the requisite confusion can be resolved, Phaedra commits suicide and Hippolytus is killed. In Greek tragedy the gods are always inventing our doom: not so in Jeffers’ world:
‘…There is something within us knows our fates from the first, our ends from the very fountain; and we in our nights may overhear its knowledge by accident, all to no purpose…’
The backdrop of coastal California lends to the hardness and savagery of the poem. Life and death become intertwined and he moves with sure steps between the two. When describing the moments after death, Jeffers is particularly resonant:
‘…one might say the brain began to glow, with its own light, in the starless darkness under the dead bone sky; like bits of rotting wood on the floor of the night forest warm rains have soaked, you see them beside the path shine like vague eyes. So gently the dead man’s brain glowing by itself made and enjoyed its dream.’
As with all poetry, read it slowly, take it in. And if you are a fan of Cormac McCarthy, you will enjoy this poem. He was influenced by Jeffers work.
The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer
link to pdf version
Recounting the AIDS epidemic in New York during the mid 80s, this play is fairly angry in tone but succeeds in getting the point across about the devastation the disease was inflicting on the gay population. Most of the characters are frustratingly weak in the face of the epidemic which I found a little disheartening. I thought of parallels today of the Ebola crisis and how many Americans are paranoid about any Ebola victims being brought into this country. It seems to be the age-old fear of the segregationist. Instead of studying the disease and trying to find a cure, many would still rather treat the victim as a pariah and closet them away. This can only keep us all in ignorance. Better to see each other as fellow humans and not just statistics or news items. This line from Kramer’s play sums it up (and any group that’s been ostracized can be substituted) :
The only way we’ll have real pride is when we
demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual.
It’s all there – all through history we’ve been
there; but we have to claim it, and identify who was in
it, and articulate what’s in our minds and hearts and all
our creative contributions to this earth. And until we do
that, and until we organize ourselves block by neighbor
hood by city by state into a united visible community
that fights back, we’re doomed.
This play is also available in book form here
B. Traven’s The Night Visitor and Other Stories
‘The creative person should have no other biography than his works’.
Traven’s mug shots for illegally entering England.
Traven could be literature’s most overlooked author. His life was shrouded in mystery, with no information certain about his nation of origin. Possibly American by birth, Traven had many aliases. As Ret Marut, he was an actor and revolutionary in Germany in the early 20th century. After his arrests for printing inflammatory pamphlets, he fled to London, and then Mexico, where he settled in to writing as B. Traven. After the publication of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, he worked with director John Huston during the filming of the movie using the alias Hal Croves. A few of his other short stories were filmed during this time as well. Traven died in March of 1969.
Some of Traven’s writing reflects the literary style magic realism. Interestingly, he has never been tagged as a writer of this genre, it usually being applied to Latin American authors such as Garcia Marquez or Allende. In this case it appears that a writer’s close proximity to the land, regardless of birth, could affect his writing style, a nice testament to the style that is magic realism, which is infused with the myth and the history of the land. Perhaps the technique of magic realism infuses the writer, rather than the writer employing the technique.
Traven’s narrative flows well; he’s a good read. Try the cycle of ‘The Jungle Novels’ for a glimpse into the oppression of the Mexican people during and after the Mexican Revolution.
True At First Light by Ernest Hemingway
This book (part-memoir, part-fiction) has some glimpses of good writing in it, but could have used a few more rewrites. That said, it is based on Hemingway’s ‘Africa manuscript’ and was published 38 years after Hemingway’s death by his son, who edited the final product. There is another edition of the manuscript entitled Under Kilimanjaro (published in 2005 by different editors) which won a literary prize.
The book gives a good impression of life on the African plain, and the blood lust (and arrogance) that European-born hunters felt when on safari during the mid-20th century. The prose wanders and is long-winded at times, but does enough to maintain interest.
Whether Ernest Hemingway would have approved of its publication is up for debate.
Ernest Hemingway Writing at Campsite in Kenya
This book won the Pulitzer Prize this year and seems to be on everyone’s ‘To Read’ list. The Washington Post’s book critic called it ‘disappointing.’ Do you agree?
Do American readers have a ‘lemming complex’ when it comes to reading certain books? Do you feel like you must read The Goldfinch?
Fair warning: this book has a waiting list at the library. Book club readers who have already read it and own it may consider donating their copy to the library.
The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
link here for full text version
Feel free to comment as you read by using the ‘leave a comment’ button on right side of page.
Join in on some great book club discussion with our featured choice:
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Feel free to comment as you read by using the ‘leave a comment’ button on right side of page. The Library Book Club is online only and does not meet at the library.