Showing posts with label old school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old school. Show all posts

Friday, September 7, 2012

Archive surprise | After the Divorce

Grazia Deledda's novel After the Divorce doesn't seem to be all that popular, and I'm not sure why. Sure, the fact that it was first published in 1905 might have something to do with it, but that's a pretty weak claim in our contemporary, classic-appreciative world. After the Divorce is a good book. It deserves more attention.

To a certain degree, After the Divorce reminded me a lot of Émile Zola's books. This is partly because Deledda, like Zola, deals with issues that are still fairly relevant in our modern age. The book feels old, but not old-fashioned. It's remarkably interesting and is told in a surprisingly modern way, with a sharp eye for religion and belief, and a little less of Zola's particular brand of preaching.

It's not just that. After the Divorce has a little bit of everything. There's love, loss, murder, an evil mother-in-law... and yet the novel never feels overwhelming. It's relatively short and is remarkably easy to read, but more importantly - it's enjoyable. I read the book in a day not because it's light fare, but because it's interesting. There are soap-opera overtones, but this never degenerates into stupidity.

After the Divorce has a seemingly narrow focus (a small Sicilian town), yet the story is generic in nature and can be applied anywhere, anytime (much like many of Zola's novels). The story opens dramatically - Giovanna's husband Constantino has been convicted of a murder he denies committing and is sentenced to twenty-seven years in prison. Giovanna is convinced to seek out a divorce from her husband under a new clause in the law that would permit her to get a divorce even in her highly Catholic society. After the Divorce - as the name indicates - follows Giovanna and Constantino... after the divorce. The story progresses much like a tragic soap, with events constantly unfolding. Yet After the Divorce isn't petty or shallow. It portrays Giovanna and Constantino's struggles realistically, as each deals with the consequences of Constantino's imprisonment. It's all very interesting... and very different from most books I've read.

After the Divorce strikes me as one of those books that stands the test of time, except for the fact that it seems to have never gained the popularity it deserves. Maybe it's my own literary ignorance, but I had not heard of Grazia Deledda until I began to look up all the Nobel Prize winning writers. She appears on no lists of "greatest novels" or "greatest authors". Like the vast majority of authors, Deledda's works have faded into the background. According to the official Nobel Prize website, Deledda earned her award "for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general". This is certainly an accurate description of Deledda's writing in After the Divorce. It's a shame she is not better remembered for it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Book title of the week

I love browsing through Gutenberg. Unlike standard booksellers, Gutenberg is a messy, delightfully unpredictable source of new reading material. Oh, and it's perfectly reasonably to find a book with the following title:
The Discovery of a World in the Moone
Or, A Discovrse Tending To Prove That 'Tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World In That Planet
This find by John Wilkins was published in 1638 and has all the marks of a book from its era - spelling is random, sentence structure is bizarre, and every point seems to stretch on for eternity. For example, one of the "cautions" in the introduction:
That thou shouldst not here looke to find any exact, accurate Treatise, since this discourse was but the fruit of some lighter studies, and those too hudled up in a short time, being first thought of and finished in the space of some few weekes, and therefore you cannot in reason expect, that it should be so polished, as perhaps, the subject would require, or the leisure of the Author might have done it.
That is, based on my brief flip-through, the most easily comprehensible sentence in the entire book. Meanwhile, the ideas in the book are no less strange (and obviously hilariously outdated). Thank you, Gutenberg: this is going to be amazing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On the other hand... too much Tevye

One of my favorite movies is without a doubt Fiddler on the Roof. Everything about it - from the score, to the songs, to the wit, to the cinematography, to the story - makes it one of the most powerful and amusing films I've ever had the pleasure of watching. So it makes a lot of sense that I'd eventually want to read the original Tevye the Dairyman stories by Sholem Aleichem.

I started reading the complete collection, but for now I've stopped. Stalled, even. Tevye's character is somewhat silly - a man who consistently misquotes everything, views the world through a narrow scope, and is one stubborn fellow. Tevye is somewhat loud in tone, a bit jolly and comic-relief for my taste. There's wit, yes, but it's of a dryer, more sly nature than that used in the movies. It's subtle, and apparent that Sholem Aleichem was teasing both his character and the reader with every passing page.

And it's all a bit too much.

I have no doubt in my mind that I'm going to keep reading Tevye the Dairyman. One of my greatest literary goals remains reading the Tevye stories in their original Yiddish (this may take some years of study...), and in the meantime I'll continue reading them much in the same way I read essay collections, or many short story collections - sporadically. This is a book that will remain on my bookshelf, but will not be dominated by it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hilariously bad Dumas? Impossible!

I first "met" Alexandre Dumas pere when I was ten years old. My older brother was reading The Count of Monte Cristo for school and he told me, flat-out, "You have to read this book. It's awesome."

And so I ordered a Scholastic classics abridged version from then-still-awesome Scholastic catalogs* and promptly read it. I was amazed to discover that it was, in fact, completely and totally awesome. My brother had not lied. Two years later, I bought the unabridged Penguin edition and spent three weeks out of my summer vacation working my way through it. My conclusion at the time was that overall there was too much stuff going on, but that it was still completely awesome. Just that the awesome got a little buried underneath the slightly less awesome parts. And so, basing myself on this wonderful experience, I decided to read The Three Musketeers that year. Once more, I was impressed by how much fun and adventure Dumas managed to pack into his obviously old-fashioned books. It was refreshing and was the original spark to my classics obsession.

But since then, other than writing a paper on Dumas and reading two additional abridged versions of The Count of Monte Cristo, I've taken no steps in reading Dumas' other books (though he has... lots). So a couple weeks ago I finally clicked on one of many Dumas eBooks I once got during a Gutenberg downloading blitz and went with it.

The book in question is The Black Tulip and quality-wise, it's one of the worst books I've read in a really long time (since the atrociously and disgustingly bad Across the Universe). I'm talking awkward writing, terrible characterization and one of the worst cases of wish-fulfillment storytelling that I've encountered. It's completely over-the-top, dramatized to a level unequaled in even the most dramatic of 19th century literature. It's a bit difficult to bear, at times, but it's also a great deal of fun. It's like trashy thrillers or a romantic comedy - you know the inevitable ending, but the way the author brings you there is what makes the show worth it.

Ultimately, I don't think Dumas as a writer is what makes The Black Tulip laugh-out-loud ridiculous, but rather the period it's from. This is historical fiction made even more archaic by the hundreds of years that have passed since its publication. So it's kind of... uh... outdated. And unlike the swashbuckling awesomeness that is The Count of Monte Cristo, The Black Tulip doesn't have any timeless adventure themes that can survive generations. It's a historical romance.

About flowers.
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* Anyone else remember the days before the whole Scholastic fair turned into an outlet to sell games and toys and was still all about books?