Friday, January 26, 2018

What I'm Reading in 2018 (so far)

Willa Cather, Song of the Lark, O Pioneers, My Antonia, The Professor's House

What has prompted me to begin reading the entire works of Willa Cather, I cannot tell you. I started with Song of the Lark, and have been moving steadily through them since. Death Comes for the Archbishop is next.

Right now I am ambivalent about Cather. She's a wonderful writer, line by line. There's always a spot, ten or twenty pages into one of her books, when I think to myself, Wow. Some line, or some scene, just knocks me over.

On the other hand, in every book I've read so far, she just can't stick the ending. About a fifth of the way from the end of each book -- every time -- she takes a bizarre wrong turn, and chases it to its end, and then the book just quits. In The Professor's House, for instance, she creates an intricate world that deals with a history professor and his two daughters and their husbands. The oldest daughter was engaged to one of his students, a brilliant young man who died in the First World War. He left the daughter control of his research, and her new husband develops it and makes a ton of money from it. Frustrations and conflict abound, due to the wealth of the oldest daughter and the relative poverty of the second. The professor is not much help. He's also badly matched in his marriage -- he's a scholar, she's a flirty hausfrau.

So far so good. But then, just as the plot is reaching peak interest, Cather takes us back in time for a 30 or 40 page flashback to the brilliant student's life before he meets the professor and his family. Maybe there's a point to this flashback. I don't see it, if so. After the flashback, the novel ends, with nothing resolved.

Every one of her books so far has a structure like this. I'm mystified. And yet, they're all very readable, and her characters and writing are quite good.

I'm going to read at least a few more. Maybe she learns how to write novels at some point?

Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk

This is a curious and curiously interesting memoir, about MacDonald's relationship with hawks in her life, and her relationship with one hawk in particular, after the death of her father.

There's also quite a bit about T.H. White's relationship with hawks, and T.H. White in general, all of which has prompted me to start reading T.H. White.

This is very readable, and worth reading even if you're not that interested in hawks.

Ursula Le Guin, No Time to Spare

I had actually started reading this -- it was one of my Hanukkah presents -- well before Le Guin's death. Her death makes it even more valuable, however.

This is a collection of short essays by Le Guin, on everything from her cat to cussing in science fiction.

Wonderful writing, as always. If you're a Le Guin fan, pick this one up.

Kitty Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog

A collection of essays on diagramming sentences, and how diagramming sentences got started, and on the people involved with diagramming sentences.

As a grammar mavin, I was enthralled. If you're not that into English grammar, you probably won't enjoy this as much as I did.

Side note: apparently the writer got some heat from the Far-Right because of this book. There's one sentence that mentions George Bush II's mangled syntax, but apparently the delicate snowflakes on the Right can't abide the slightest criticism of anyone they support.

T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

Somehow I never read T.H. White, not as a kid, and not as an adult. Reading Helen MacDonald's book has roused my interest.

This one is probably his most famous book -- the boyhood of King Arthur. Nice writing, and good job of building characters. Lots about hawks in it, also, so I was pleased I had read H is for Hawk first.


Bardiac said...

Is H is for Hawk about falconry?

delagar said...

It is -- or, well, a large part of it is. MacDonald adopts and trains a goshawk, and much of the book is about that, and her taking the hawk out to fly and hunt.

nicoleandmaggie said...

My mom always referred to Willa Cather as, "Slice of Life"-- I had always assumed that was a genre where the point was not to have a resolved ending because life doesn't. (Disclaimer: I have never actually had any training in literary genres.)

Nikki ( said...

I listened to the audio book of H is for Hawk and it is delightful. She reads it herself, and her reading voice is really soothing and relaxing and adds a weight to it I wonder if I would have found on the paper.

delagar said...

Nikki -- On paper, MacDonald comes across as anxious, mostly. That's interesting!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

One of my colleagues is, like, "the" scholar on Willa Cather. Maybe reading an article on one of her novels would generate more appreciation. Hell, I don't know. I don't like reading a lot of books published after 1660. ;)

delagar said...

I like Cather -- at least, I like reading the books. But as a writer myself, the structural weirdness bothers me.

It might have some purpose I haven't figured out yet -- I should read some criticism!