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Wednesday Worse Than Nothing

What I've Finished Reading

"Do you read the papers?" she asked.

"No," he said.

"Well, there's this woman in it named Mary Brittle that tells you what to do when you don't know. I wrote her a letter and ast her what I was to do."

"How could you be a bastard when he blinded him. . ." he started again.

"I says, 'Dear Mary, I am a bastard and a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven as we all know, but I have this personality that makes boys follow me. Do you think I should neck or not? I shall not enter the kingdom of heaven anyway so I don't know what difference it makes .'"

"Listen here," Hazel said, "if he blinded himself how. . ."

"Then she answered my letter in the paper. She said, 'Dear Sabbath, Light necking is acceptable, but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in Life. A religious experience can be a beautiful addition to living if you put it in the proper perspective and do not let it warf you. Read some books on Ethical Culture.'"

"You couldn't be a bastard," Haze said, getting very pale. "You must be mixed up. Your daddy blinded himself."

"Then I wrote her another letter," she said, scratching his ankle with the toe of her sneaker, and smiling, "I says, 'Dear Mary, What I really want to know is should I go the whole hog or not? That's my real problem. I'm adjusted okay to the modern world.'"

"Your daddy blinded himself," Haze repeated.

"He wasn't always as good as he is now," she said. "She never answered my second letter."

Wise Blood is greater than the sum of its parts, or at least creates the illusion that it is, which is probably the same thing if you're a book. All the parts are "bitter Southern black comedy." There are some genuinely really funny parts, like the above conversation between Hazel and Sabbath Lily Hawks, the daughter of a charlatan preacher, or the way a policeman deals with the issue of Hazel's driver's license. Hazel Motes, an unprepossessing young nobody in a bad suit, is on a mission to preach the gospel of No Christ to whoever will listen. No one's all that interested, but he takes up with a couple of repellent teenagers and experiences a series of disappointments. The best part: when Hazel Motes rejects a silver-tongued con-man's attempt to partner with him, the con man just hires a consumptive doppelganger to dress up as Hazel so he can carry on with the scheme anyway.

The whole book has an ugly, nasty dream-logic that gains power by accumulation. The power to do what, though? Just weird everyone out and be darkly comic, mostly. I don't really hold with total depravity or whatever Flannery O'Connor's theological jam is, but I enjoyed this vicarious barbed-wire bandeau just the same, much more than I expected to given how burned out I got on O'Connor when I tried to read her letters a few years back.

It's interesting this came out the same year as Invisible Man, which is dreamlilke to about the same extent but where the moments of human warmth a) exist occasionally, and b) aren't always instantly undermined, and which leaves an impression of expanding outward by the end even as it locks its narrator into a crawlspace, whereas Wise Blood just seems to fold up smaller and smaller until it disappears, like its own mummified non-Jesus. Everyone's constantly being thwarted in Wise Blood, but no one's really thwarted because no one's much of anything.

If you want to read something that is good, but also the opposite of Wise Blood in every way, you could do a lot worse than Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This is the most recent "Community Read-Along Book" for my town, which means the library orders about 50 copies and there's a bunch of promotion and programming around it, including an author talk at the local high school. It's a verse memoir and a Portrait of the Artist, full of affectionate clarity and thoughtful love. There are poems about being a Northerner in the South and a Southerner in the North, about having to leave the classroom when the cupcakes come in because your mother is a Jehovah's Witness, about struggling with and loving books, about the changing landscape of the civil rights struggle within and outside the author's family, and lots of beautiful small details about childhood and its borders. The point at which I started to love it unreservedly is pretty predictable, if you know anything about me and/or this book:

[the reader]
When we can't find my sister, we know

she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

We know we can call Odella's name out loud,
slap the table hard with our hands,
dance around it singing
“She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain”
so many times the song makes us sick
and the circling makes us dizzy
and still
my sister will do nothing more

than slowly turn the page.

What I'm Reading Now

osprey_archer is reading The Count of Monte Cristo, and heaven forbid I hear of anyone reading a thing without rushing to join in. This will be my first book by Alexandre Dumas and while I had some cultural osmosis about The Three Musketeers, I have none at all for The Count of Monte Cristo. Who is the Count of Monte Cristo? I don't think we've met him yet, unless he's secretly Edmond Dantes' new friend from prison.

[SPOILERS for The Count of Monte Cristo through Chapter 16]Edmond Dantes, the hero of The Count of Monte Cristo, is a gifted and good-natured young man who never did any harm to anyone and just wanted to support his dad and marry his fiancee now that he's been made captain of the ship he worked on. Too bad a couple of dudes are jealous of him! Too bad one of the dudes is an unscrupulous manipulator and the other a hotheaded idiot! (There is also a drunk guy whom I feel bad for; he sees what's happening and thinks about stopping it but is too drunk and weak-minded and cowardly to do anything). Too bad an astonishing convergence of skullduggery and ambition leads to Dantes being arrested ON HIS WEDDING DAY and thrown into prison! WHOOPS SORRY DANTES. :(( One thing leads to another, and now he's been locked up in Extra Super Solitary Confinement on a picturesque BUT INESCAPABLE island prison for five lonely and tormented years, and his dad (also a total sweetheart) has died of sadness. :( Just when Edmond Dantes is about to give up for good and starve himself, he hears a mysterious knocking under the stone floor of his cell! Could it be a fellow prisoner trying to escape? Could they someday. . . be friends??


"We will escape, and if we cannot escape, we will talk; you of those whom you love and I of those whom I love. You must love somebody?"

"No, I am alone in the world."

"Then you will love me. If you are young, I will be your comrade; if you are old, I will be your son. I have a father who is seventy if he yet lives; I only love him and a young girl called Mercedes. My father has not yet forgotten me, I am sure, but God alone knows if she loves me still. I shall love you as I loved my father."
<3 <3 <3!

The other prisoner is the Abbe Faria, a Sam Beckett-style polymath who has been painstakingly fashioning tools out of bits of dust and rock for the past five years, and has managed to tunnel fifty feet into Dantes' cell. He's memorized 150 books, so he can engineer anything using his mind! Now he's going to show Dantes his secret prison laboratory and they're going to plot some more escapes.

It's pure enjoyment so far. Even the moments of despair that are crucial to the plot have been sort of montaged away to make room for The Fun Parts. The characterization is so broad it's like a cast of emoticons, but this isn't a bad thing; it's a storytelling convention done well. The heroes are innocent puppies (who are also clever and strong); the villains are backstabbing sneaks; the NPCs never notice anything they shouldn't. I'm looking forward to the further adventures of Cinnamon Roll and MacGyver! I think I can trust Dumas not to take an unwanted turn for the realistic and just have them separated and thrown into different dungeons once somebody notices the several tons of excavated earth the abbe hid behind a staircase.

What I Plan to Read Next

Donkey Boy, second in Henry Williamson's nature-and-fascism series, has arrived -- another one I had to order NEW from Faber Finds because, idk, not enough people listened to Anthony Burgess about how good it was despite its badness. I'm actually looking forward to this one a little more than the Sword of Honor series by Evelyn Waugh, which is at the library and which I'll probably end up enjoying a little more than I'm totally comfortable with, just like happened with Brideshead Revisited. And then 1952 will be in the bag!

Next on my TBR stack: NW by Zadie Smith. I've never read a Zadie Smith novel and I don't know anything about this one - not even how it got into my apartment in the first place - so I'm looking forward to it.


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2016 02:19 pm (UTC)
It's pure enjoyment so far. Even the moments of despair that are crucial to the plot have been sort of montaged away to make room for The Fun Parts.

I have to say that I found it pure enjoyment all the way through - I hope you do too! (And The Three Musketeers is just as entertaining but a bit more snarky because the narrator has great fun telling you about the Musketeers and D'Artagnan but at the same time knows they would be the most terrible neighbours/rl colleagues ever, which means you have this heightened great old-fashioned adventure with a sort of hinted at exasperation of ordinary people who did not want their businesses/houses ruined by a sword fight, no matter how exciting/tragic/whatever. (Noble Athos! He's so noble and distressed, he's drunk the whole cellar full of wine in this inn where you left him and now the landlord is unreasonably complaining because, hey, wine, cellar, give them back or pay for them. The Musketeers prefer not to pay for things.)

Anyway, Le Comte, which I'm not sure how it took me so long to read after I tried to read all the other Dumas, but there you go. One thing is you should check you have the most recent Penguin edition as I understand the others are lacking the random drug taking and runaway lesbians and those were startling and entertaining both. (To me.)

Oh, and I pretty sure the prison is on a big rock in the middle of the sea, so probably the Abbe has been chucking the earth into the ocean. But you never know. Who's looking at the details when the big picture is this much fun?

Sep. 28th, 2016 11:28 pm (UTC)

Oh, and I pretty sure the prison is on a big rock in the middle of the sea, so probably the Abbe has been chucking the earth into the ocean. But you never know.

They can't get to the ocean from inside the prison, which is the point of the excavation! The abbe explicitly states that he has been shoving his earth and stones under the staircase, and if he tries to hide any more in there, it will be noticed for sure!

Noble Athos! He's so noble and distressed, he's drunk the whole cellar full of wine in this inn where you left him and now the landlord is unreasonably complaining because, hey, wine, cellar, give them back or pay for them. The Musketeers prefer not to pay for things.

Oh no, poor Athos! It must be hard to have to drink all that wine and then people expect you to pay??? parents landlords just don't understand.

It's absolutely delightful so far, and I don't see any signs of it turning into a completely different book, so I think there's a good chance it'll be great all the way through! Though I definitely don't have the latest translation; the one from the library is so old it's anonymous. We'll see what happens when it's time for the drugs and lesbians, I guess.
Sep. 29th, 2016 08:06 am (UTC)
Ah, lol. Well, yeah. The guards probably have better things to do, maybe? :-)

Oh, that's a shame - hopefully my version exaggerated about how much better and more complete it was and yours will at least have some of the other stuff. I discovered this partly because my version claimed it was the best and had stuff the others didn't, but also because when I talked about reading it with my flist, someone else as, like, there weren't any lesbians or any drug-taking!


Them: WHERE???

Me: Did you have an old version?

Them: Yes.

Me: Aha, I have the shiny newish Penguin translation with the full text which I found in a shop for only 50p! *smug*

I'm not sure how I read it when I find reading so difficult, but it was a magic book that didn't hurt me to read it - and so long and so much fun! I was in love.

Paying for things is tragic. Aramis and Porthos try and have mistresses to do that sort of thing for them. It is a sacrifice, but they are willing to do it for their country.
Sep. 28th, 2016 06:56 pm (UTC)
This will be my first book by Alexandre Dumas and while I had some cultural osmosis about The Three Musketeers, I have none at all for The Count of Monte Cristo.

I'm amazed you've managed to avoid picking up the general plot! I've never read the book either (though I think I might be joining in the read-along, since I have been meaning to read it for ages), but I have seen at least one movie, multiple TV shows, and an anime based on Monte Cristo, so I'm fairly familiar with the basic beats of the plot. I'm jealous, actually; it must be so cool to experience a classic as though it was brand-new.
Sep. 28th, 2016 09:25 pm (UTC)
Dooooooooo iiiiiiiiiiit. Join us! Join us!

I think I saw the Wishbone Count of Monte Cristo at a tender age, but it wasn't one of the ones that stuck in my head - not like, say, A Tale of Two Cities where Wishbone and a human being play the two guys who supposedly look exactly alike and everyone is like "Yep, that Jack Russel terrier and that dude are totally identical."
Sep. 28th, 2016 11:00 pm (UTC)
A Tale of Two Cities where Wishbone and a human being play the two guys who supposedly look exactly alike and everyone is like "Yep, that Jack Russel terrier and that dude are totally identical."

WHAT that is the best Tale of Two Cities casting I've ever heard of. Why was one of the guys a Jack Russel terrier (I mean other than "because it's perfect casting")?

ETA Never mind, I answered my own question by picturing the result. Best possible casting! I guess I need to watch this sometime.

Edited at 2016-09-28 11:18 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - osprey_archer - Sep. 28th, 2016 11:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Sep. 28th, 2016 11:14 pm (UTC)
I've heard and seen the title all my life, but I've never seen an adaptation. It's such a familiar title that I think I thought I had some idea what it was about, until I started reading and realized I had none at all. It just conjures up a sort of general swashbuckling atmosphere, like The Three Musketeers only with a count instead of the oily cardinal who was played by Tim Curry.

By now, I have some expectations, like I expect Dantes and Faria to break out of prison at some point and possibly for Faria to die sadly in Dantes arms on a beach somewhere. But for the most part, I don't know what's ahead and there's so much book left, it could be anything.

It's so much fun! You really should join the read-along! It won't take long to catch up at this point, and it's nothing but delight, I mean, except for the parts where Dantes is THROWN INTO PRISON for being too good, but even that is only entertainment-grade despair; it won't hurt you permanently. I already recommend it 100%.
(no subject) - scripsi - Sep. 29th, 2016 10:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 28th, 2016 09:23 pm (UTC)
Eeeee, I'm glad you're reading The Count of Monte Cristo! I'm actually a little bit behind you (I think I'm just about to start chapter 14?) so I will save your spoilery part for when I'm all caught up, but for now let me just say: GODDAMNIT, VILLEFORT. I can't decide if he told Dantes he was letting him go because he genuinely meant to but then realized how he could use this incident to further his career goals... or if he never meant to let Dantes go at all and was just that mean.

Also I loved Brown Girl Dreaming when I read it - I think it was a Newbery Honor book last year? - anyway, I'm so glad you read it and loved it too.
Sep. 28th, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)

He promised his soft-hearted fiancee that he would "try" and then he's like "well, I tried, can't say I didn't, la la la." I think when he saw that it was his father's name on the letter, he made his decision to bury it and Dantes forever -- that was the impression I got, anyway.

The worst thing was when Napoleon came back to power for a split second and M. Morrel tried to intercede for Dantes on grounds that if he'd helped Napoleon, he should be lauded, not punished, by the new government - right? So he made up a statement exaggerating Dantes' role, thereby SEALING HIS DOOM when Napoleon got re-arrested. :( :( :( poor M. Morrel, you tried :(

National Book Award! Totally deserved! I'll probably buy a copy so I can stand in line to have it signed at the book event. I love Portraits of the Artist as a Young Girl and this was a really good one (not to mention a good antidote to Flannery O'Connor: people who like each other, how novel!)
(no subject) - osprey_archer - Sep. 28th, 2016 11:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evelyn_b - Sep. 28th, 2016 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 28th, 2016 09:48 pm (UTC)
Sep. 29th, 2016 03:26 am (UTC)
This small dog says hello!
Sep. 29th, 2016 10:06 am (UTC)
My paternal grandfather had Month Christo as well as several other Dumas in several volumes, so I read a good deal of him in my pre-teens. I always liked the part when he is still in prison the best, but now I think that was because the whole revenge thing largely went over my head. It picked up by the end though. I wonder what I would make of it if I re-read it now.
Sep. 29th, 2016 01:46 pm (UTC)
There's been no revenge thing yet to compare it to (except some fleeting thoughts in Dantes' mind) but I'm enjoying his prison adventures, now that he has a friend (and a seemingly improbable but very convenient tunnel between their two cells). I'd also like to see them both get out of prison and have some non-prison adventures, though!

I wonder what I would make of it if I re-read it now.

There's only one way to find out! :D
(no subject) - scripsi - Sep. 30th, 2016 10:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 29th, 2016 12:07 pm (UTC)
Just a general "YES COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" comment here, haha. I love that book a lot and really look forward to hearing your thoughts. :D
Sep. 29th, 2016 01:54 pm (UTC)
There's so much to love! It's so exuberant and fun, half cinematic (in the most Furious 7 sense of that word) and half like the kind of story kids make up while playing with legos. But not in a bad way! In the BEST way! <3
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )


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