Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reading Journal: Post-semester reading

This past semester I took a class on the short story with Alan Cheuse. I learned so much about the short story, and I’m grateful to Cheuse for that, HOWEVER the man is crazy. He assigned us close to 20 books asking us to read all of the stories in each book. Even for me—this was a very daunting assignment. I tried very hard to read them all, but I wasn’t always successful. (One can only read so much Hawthorne before one wants to throw oneself off a roof.) We followed the progression of the short story from the early French and Russian writers (de Maupassant, Flaubert, Chekhov) to modern writers (and post-modern if you aren’t a Cheusite—he doesn’t believe in post-modern) and the evolution was exhausting. By the end of the class, a part of me never wanted to see a short story again. But I think I’ve gotten past that now. I’m SO SO glad I took the class because I feel like I’m in a much better position to review short stories on this blog, which is a direction I’ve been wanting to take for some time now.

By the end of the semester, I couldn’t read anything but the books for class as I had gotten way behind after my move (oh PS I moved into a one-bedroom apartment!!! My first time living alone). I was really excited to finally have some time to read something of my own choosing. My friend Katie, of The Bitterness Blog, gave me an early Christmas present of Scott Spencer’s Endless Love--with the note that this was her favorite book of all time--and I dove in quickly right after I was finished. (Ok, I might have taken a peek before I was actually finished with my papers.) I can definitely attest that this is an excellent book. The jist of the novel is David's obsession for Jade Butterfield. One night, soon after being banned from the Butterfield home, he sets a small fire on their porch and--much like his love for Jade--the fire ends up burning completely out of control, destroying not only the Butterfield home but eventually the family as well. The thrust of the novel is centered around that moment, but the pull is Spencer's description of David's longing, lust, and love for Jade. Years in a mental institution and serious therapy do nothing to dispel his love for Jade. He is sure they belong together and he risks everything and turns his back on his family to be with her. In one of the most erotic scenes I've ever read, Jade and David's reunion is traumatic, defenseless, hopeless, hopeful, and covered in menstral blood--a dark foreshadowing of the destructiveness of their relationship. It's a long read, close to 450 pages in trade paperback, but Spencer so clearly illuminates reckless, hopeless longing, passion, and madness that I didn't want to the book to end. David's longing for Jade is so powerful it ignites the same furious nature in the reader--beware to those who have had a relationship that even barely approaches this madness--you'll find yourself reliving it in David's story.

After this I decided I needed something lighter and I started the first in one of Diana Wynne Jone's series, Howl's Moving Castle. It was an enchanting book, with a nice little romance mixed in. I read it in one day (while I was snowed in); I couldn't put it down. I plan to read the next books in the series as soon as I can get my hands on them. I also read The Arctic Incident, the second in the Artemis Fowl series. There was some character development in this book, which seems promising. This series isn't my favorite of the YA fantasy series that are out there, but I have them all and they are still enjoyable reads and I think I'll eventually plow my way through the series.

While I was at my parents for Christmas, I picked up The Dark Lord of Derkholm, the first in another series by Diana Wynne Jones. I LOVED this book. The premise is that a Mr. Chesney (presumably from our world) has captured a demon which allows him to control a magical world, and, essentially, he has turned it into a theme park. He requires the leaders of the various areas and species to pay tribute and join in the "pilgrim parties" and each year a magician is given the job of Dark Lord and is required to fulfill certain duties and let groups of these pilgrims kill him. (None of it is real of course, it is all done by illusion.) But this year, the leaders of this magical world have started a plan to stop Mr. Chesney and Derk and his son are thrust into the middle of it.

I also read the National Book Award shortlister American Salvage and I just now finished Black & White & Dead All Over, which I plan to write about in a later post.

Damn! It feels so good to read freely again!


Katie said...

Glad you liked Endless Love :)

Vasilly said...

Your class sounds hard but fun. I'm glad you've been able to pick up more books and read for pleasure. Happy reading.

Beth F said...

Happy reading and happy New Years.