Category Archives: Books!

Sunday Book Review…Well, sort of…

The book I want to review is The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, but I haven’t finished it yet. I know I want to write a review on this book because since I bought it a week ago it has never been far from sight. I carry it in my handbag when I go for walks (in case I find a nice bench to sit on, I guess). I put it on the counter when I clean the kitchen. I take it to school with me and read it whenever I ask my students to quietly read. I am likely to finish it tonight (50 pages to go!).

This Thursday, Yuknavitch is coming to Olympia as a featured reader in the Gray Skies Reading Series. I will be there and I promise you, dear blog readers (who are you out there? what are you writing now?) I’ll write this review then.

We post the Sunday Book Review in the spirit of Hart Crane: “One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones appear in the proper pattern at the right moment.” I was delighted when one of my students (senior; high school) explained to me the topic for her personal narrative on how reading challenging books has changed her. She’s going to talk about how she has a deeper appreciation of craft, how she is a better writer for reading.


Sometimes I think I should just give up writing for a year or ten and read good books. Jane Smiley did this and wrote about it in her wonderful book 13 Ways of Looking At The Novel.

I am in a book group for writers and we read one book a month together and then meet to talk about it. If I had to choose between my writing groups (the other being a critique group), I have have to pick the reading group.

Thankfully, I don’t have to choose. 🙂

I am one of those people who believes ALL the answers can be found in b0oks. I buy more books in a month than I could possibly read and  blame the fact that I haven’t found all the answers mainly on the fact that I have yet to read all the books. Sometimes, feeling bad about my rate of purchase compared to my rate of consumption, I will buy a book that catches my eye for someone else rather than not buy it at all.

I don’t check books out or borrow them because I have to write in them. When I read without a pencil in my hand, I feel helpless and unprepared.

There are plenty of books I could write a review for instead of Yuknavitch’s memoir and I suppose that would have been the sensible thing to do here.

It’s Sunday. It’s your turn. You have a blog to write.

I can’t.

It has to be that one. So look for it here Thursday night. I promise to write it after the reading.


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Sunday Book Review

I think we can agree that reading is essential. If you’re like me (and I’ll bet you are), certain books you read and the impact they had propelled you to begin writing in the first place. Then pretty soon, you found yourself copying down your favorite sentences from your favorite books or reading the same books over and over again. You may not have even known that by doing this you were becoming a writer.

When I am struggling to write, one of my internal editor’s favorite disparaging comments is, “Who do you think you are? Give it up. You’ll have more time to read all the really good writing out there.” This particular comment comes from a well-worn path made by my thoughts and actions based in the fear that I am somehow less than everyone else: less talented, less intelligent, less worthy of love.

When my collaborators and I decided that the topic for Sunday on this blog should be reviews of books and articles, I happily stepped forward to write the first review. I read often and closely. I feel helpless if I have a book to read and no pencil in hand to converse with the text in the margins. I’ve read plenty I can review. However, when it came down to deciding where to start, my confidence waned. I thought I’d write about Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg since that was the first book on writing I ever read and still the most inspiring (perhaps nothing can ever compare to a book read at sixteen that bids you to follow your heart?). I considered articles and books, including the book that I’m reading this month with my writer’s book group (The Sense of An Ending
 by Julian Barnes). I considered books I have read specifically to fuel my current fiction project, a collection of stories exploring one woman’s relationship to food.

Until I sat and began to type, I remained mired in indecision. Each word typed made clearer the review I needed to write and why.

I first tried practicing yoga when I was fifteen years old. In the near quarter century that has passed since that curious, self-conscious time, my practice has whispered and roared, but there hasn’t been a time when I gave up practicing at all. I keep my mats, blankets, and props always where they can be easily taken out. I keep enough open floor space that a mat can be thrown down without having to move the furniture around. Is it coincidence that this is the same path my writing has taken? No. In fact, when I consider that question the answer is so obvious it makes my eyes water.

Yoga allows me to cut through the crap that goes through my mind and keeps me from writing. In the past year, my yoga practice has been a whisper, 10 minutes here or there, a full practice once a week, sometimes once a month. This has something to do with how much has changed in my life of late. Three years ago, I was married and teaching three yoga classes a week. Since then I have divorced, fallen in love, moved from a small apartment I shared with my teenage son to a house shared with my boyfriend and his two children too. My life is fuller and more chaotic. I am still reeling from the change, finding my way.

Yoga Mind and Body by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre is proving a kind guide back into a roaring practice. The sequence has many of my favorite poses and takes two full-color pages per asana to show and describe. The sequence is right for beginners (which some days is where I am) and adaptable to advanced practice. Most importantly for where I am in my practice is that the book leads you asana-by-asana through a full and honest yoga practice that begins and ends with relaxation. Right now, I need to be led in this way, though at times I have practiced every day without ever opening a book on yoga at all.

Is it a coincidence that the very week after I found this book and began using it to make yoga happen, the writer’s block I had been struggling with for weeks broke and I finished one story and began another? Of course not.

For me, it’s yoga. There are many meditative practices that keep our egos in check so we can do our work and do it well. Cooking. Walking. Swimming. Breathing. Biking. Gardening. There are times when all I am doing is these things and I feel guilty because I am not writing. Were those three wordless weeks truly writer’s block? Or was I preparing myself for the writing that was bound to happen?

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Making time to read what’s offered unsolicited…

I know it is hard enough to make a dent in the stacks of books and periodicals in your own mental queue. Add to that the book or two you are reading for school, work, or your book club and the one you’re reading more for self-improvement than pleasure. You also have at least a few periodical subscriptions piling up and you really ought to read more poetry, don’t you think?

I’m with you.

Today, though, I made an exception. A colleague of mine waltzed into my classroom carrying a two foot pile of fresh copies for his students. When I realized that the reason the whole pile nearly tipped over onto my floor was that he had printed something else–something extra–for me.

I had plenty more pressing duties today, but somehow, in between this and that, I managed to read the four NY Times articles this friend had offered unsolicited. He did not say why he printed them for me. I suppose because I am an English teacher and they were all about sentences, fiction, and books.

I read them all and enjoyed them all for their thought-provoking ideas and found among them four of five lines to use in class or just to underline and write a heart next to (what I do when I really like a sentence).

Here are the articles this history teacher who totally didn’t have the time to think of what I might read and enjoy but did anyway passed on to me:

“The Sentence As A Miniature Narrative” by Constance Hale

“My Life’s Sentences” by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Your Brain On Fiction” by Annie Murphy Paul

“The Way We Read Now” by Dwight Garner


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To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

O, parentheses! I have n’er seen you so buttered across the page…
The use of parentheses (in addition to parenthetical commas) throughout Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is a point of style that cannot be ignored. I went through the book and highlighted them all. Nearly every turn of a page bears the mark of my yellow highlighter and at least a couple of pages contain parenthetical statements that are nearly a page long (Again, this is in addition to Woolf’s use of complex sentences, laden with parenthetical clauses that are set off from the primary clause with commas).
Woolf’s parenthetical statements range from descriptions of what is physically happening in the scene while we are witnessing thought “(as she sat in the window” (27), to the clarifying “(James thought)” (4), to the fragmentation of the point of view character’s stream of consciousness “(so courteous his manner was)” (195). The narrative shifts perspective often and seeks to show the limitations of the individual perspective: how we see what we want to, what we need to, and what experience has trained us to. Use of parentheses is one aspect of how the complexity of syntax in To The Lighthouse mirrors the complexity of perspective and scene. I admire how this, coupled with the use of symbolism, figurative language, and parallel perspectives create a story about the complexity of the human brain and how that isolates us one from the other.
Despite this realistic view of human interactions, I was heartened to see a glimmer of hope in Lily’s awe after explaining the artistic choices in her painting to Mr. Bankes, a moment in which she sees a power in the world, “which she had not suspected, that one could walk away down that long gallery not alone any more but arm in arm with somebody—the strangest feeling in the world, and the most exhilarating” (50).
(The psychological depth and drama in this novel spoke to me in affirmation of some choices I’ve made recently in love, the decisions first to leave a relationship that was damaging and disparaging to him and me and then to embrace a love in which so many interactions leave me feeling as Lily did in that moment with Mr. Bankes. To be two individuals, solid in personal vision, willing to see what the other sees, to listen, and to love honestly! Reading this book affirmed for me that to love is my choice, and that loving is not about two becoming one, but about two becoming a stronger two through honest affection and attention each to each.)
O, but I digress! I’d like to close this admiration of Woolf’s complexity of syntax with an exercise, just to see how when I get to the point of sentence level editing, how my own work might change and also to try out some elements of style observed in Woolf.
Here are two paragraphs from my novel as they are:
Movement saved me. Forcing my body through space, even into new shapes. the movement of my legs over the ground. Breath and body flowing in asana. One foot. The other. Running. Walking. Forest inclines. Always one step ahead of despair.
I survived the men who maimed me. A bad tattoo. Tongue-lash. A belt. A fist. Seeming gentle, unwanted hands. Movement saved me from a body without space to breathe.
Here, I’ve played around with the syntax and punctuation:
Running, walking, forest inclines: movement saved me. Movement saved me from a body without space to breathe (a body I despised). Forcing my body through space, even into new shapes, saved me. One foot. The other. (Progress!) I was mostly able to stay ahead of (that monster) despair).
I moved passed the men who maimed me: a bad tattoo, a tongue-lash, a belt, a fist, an unwanted touch. Movement saved me from a body at odds with itself, hand that hid in pockets, between thighs, shy shoulders curled like the top of a question mark.
And now, I will set this aside and continue my trek through the second draft, coming back to it when I’m ready. To The Lighthouse is ambitious in subject and form and I do believe I will return to it again, and to Woolf, who has her sentences by the scruff of the neck, even when they are lengthy.


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The Book Of Other People by Zadie Smith

For the most part, the character sketches in The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith, portray characters who are stuck and the writers do not offer the reader hope of their redemption. There is more emphasis on flaw than compliment or possibility. This is fine, I suppose; there is a reality in that. I like prose that is well-written, regardless of the author’s tone or the mood of the piece. It is fascinating to read characters who are corrupt and without redemption, and there is value in looking at the darker side of human nature. This anthology, a collection of character sketches, varies markedly in style, from comic book to straight prose description, and demonstrates a multiplicity of ways to create character. I’ve struggled with writing this paper, though I did come away from this book with (if not an epiphany), at least a reaction from that part of my brain that mulls over the questions regarding the why of my writing life. I’d like to look closely at a few of the sketches, before I share that with you. Three pieces that speak to the differing possibilities for creating character can be found in a closer look at David Mitchell’s “Judith Castle”, George Saunders’ “Puppy”, and Dave Eggers “Theo”.
“Judith Castle” is a first person unreliable narrative that relies on stream of consciousness and interaction with minor characters to demonstrate that unreliability. In seeing how Judith thinks throughout, the big lie we learn she’s been telling herself in the end does not surprise us. We see example after example of how she ignores the truth and constructs her own reality, how she justifies her actions, examples of her distorted perception of herself. Oh, but we are moved by how pathetic she appears in the end sitting in the lobby of a man’s office, a man who faked his own death to evade her, who she has constructed this elaborate fantasy of true love about. She is finally revealed for how pathetic and blind she is. We see her vulnerability, wonder if she is even capable of the truth, consider how the knowledge of it might destroy her and are moved to pity. The entire story is in Judith Castle’s point of view, yet we are able to see through her self-deceptions and delusions.
In George Saunders’ “Puppy”, we are able to see the lack of ability to see herself clearly that Callie possesses. We see this because we see her and her home through the eyes of the Marie, who is the second narrative voice in the sketch. We see the filth she lives in. We see the awful image of her hyperactive son tied up in the back yard. The point of view is third person limited omniscient and switches between being in Marie’s point of view and Callie’s. When Callie asks “Who loves him more than anyone else in the world loved him” (179) ,referring to her son who is chained like a dog in the back yard, we see the complexity of the situation for having seen both what Callie sees and how she lives and what Marie sees and how she lives. They are both of them pathetic in their own ways. Neither character sees herself clearly. We see both of them from the perspective of self and other.
Theo, the main character of Dave Eggers’ “Theo” is an allegorical character, a mountain that wakes along with two other mountains. He is one of two males in the trio and is heart-broken when the she-mountain, Magdalena, does not choose him for a love, but chooses the third mountain, Soren, instead. Theo has no specific dialogue and is painted without much specificity in form or nature. The reader is left to imagine him as we may, which works, since the idea is that Theo could be any man (or woman for that matter), “One day he discovered he was not satisfied. He wanted the full attention of love. ..He walked over glaciers and through unknown craters, he bathed in cold black lakes, and he caught flocks of birds from the sky and ate them with something like hunger.” The word painting is broad and there is a fairytale quality in word choice. There is no actual dialogue; any conversations that occur are summarized.
There are twenty three sketches in the anthology, all offering some variation on character creation. The very first pages of my novel were in third person. It took me several months to realize that first person was going to make for a more powerful voice. The narrator has to be reliable, of course, since the story is an honest reflection on her own transformation. I’m happy with that.
How did this book stir my musings about the how and why of writing? In a philosophical way more than from a point of craft. I do want to create characters who are real, flawed, but I’ve had enough of bleak “realities” regarding the various characteristics that make us human. I am interested in writing books that emphasize our potential without ignoring the reality that life is struggle and we are


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Man Walks Into A Room by Nicole Krauss

I chose to read Man Walks Into A Room by Nicole Krauss because History of Love had stirred me to writerly adoration and because the blurb I read promised a good story. A thirty-something college professor disappears and is discovered wandering the dessert. Turns out he has a tumor pressing on his brain that causes total amnesia. When the tumor is removed, he doesn’t regain his complete memory. Though he is thirty-six, he can’t remember anything past sometime during his twelfth year. I was not disappointed by the intellectual quandaries posed regarding memory and identity in this novel, and though the ending disappointed my romantic ideals, I understood it and it led to a way into discussing a relevant element of craft in this novel: the minor character and how time spent there can simultaneously develop the main character.
You see, as I’ve been writing the second draft of my novel, I’ve felt some guilt about not paying enough attention to some minor characters, particularly Eve’s mother, Eve’s friends Dani and Cindy, her Aunt Linda, and her son. It was in thinking about how in the end of Krauss’ novel the story seems to be as much about Samson’s wife Anna that I began to take notes about how to round out my own minor characters.
When Man Walks Into A Room opens, Anna is the loyal, loving wife who, though her husband can’t even remember meeting her anymore, still wants him. For much of the novel, Anna is present only as an image of desire that crosses Samson’s mind and that he doesn’t even know what to do with. Those moments, what he sees when he thinks of her and what she says when he calls her (or doesn’t say) connect the moments at the beginning and end of the story where she is present in the narrative, make up a character arc that parallels and deepens Samson’s own development.
The first time he calls Anna, after leaving her, from the research facility where he is a willing guineau pig, he calls her Annie instinctively.
“Where did I get that? Did I ever call you that?”
Silence. “No.”
“You don’t like it.”
“No, I do. It’s what my brother used to call me.” Samson couldn’t remember a brother, man who shared her eyes or mouth. That Anna had never mentioned her brother made Samson jealous, as if he were an old lover whose photograph she’d kept.” (Krauss 109)
At this point in the novel, Samson has left Anna. She is trying to move on with her life after being rejected by Samson, who doesn’t seem to want to know the people and events he forgot. It is ironic that it is Samson who, in a fear panic, reaches out to Anna. We don’t know exactly what is going through Anna’s mind in that “Silence” because the story is told from Samson’s point of view, but we empathize with her, we can imagine how difficult it must be to not be remembered by your own husband, to still have the memories in your head that he has lost.
Right before Samson gets the memory implanted, he reaches out to her yet again. In fact, every time he doubts or is afraid or alone, he thinks of Anna. This time, Anna speaks “clear and steady” (140) and after he’s told her that he missed her, asked if she missed him, then apologizes, she says, “It’s not a question of sorry. It happened and now we need to move on” (140). In this moment, he wants to remember her for the first time, wants to know if “he was the sort of person who took [her] elbow when cars passed on the street” (140), but he doesn’t ask and she says quietly that she has to go, then there is a long pause, after which she says, “Frank misses you” (140). Anna is present in the beginning of the novel and there is a three page epilogue at the end of the novel that is written in her perspective. For most of the story, though, she is an idea that Samson keeps returning to, trying to understand. This different but parallel suffering is just as important to make the theme of isolation meaningful as is the characterization of Samson, the main character.
Anna, Ray, Donald: they have intact memories and we only know the details about them Samson sees, and what do we find in? They are facing the same struggle Samson is. They are all trying to find ways to connect with others so as to ease their own isolation. Ray wants to transcend the limits of the mind and develop a way to transfer memories from one person to another in order to achieve true empathy. Ironically, Ray is a man deeply concerned with his own self-care. He maintains a diligent exercise schedule, eats the purest foods, and is vigilant about sleep. These seemingly meaningless details demonstrate his desperation. Is this multi-billion dollar science project fueled because he can’t reconcile himself to his own feelings of loneliness? It seems so, the way he lives like a robot, in a sterile, empty home.
So how can I use my acknowledgement of how the characters surrounding Samson make his struggle human, universal, more real to answer the discontent I’m feeling with how I’ve developed my own minor characters? As my book is a first person narrative, their heads are off limits (as in Krauss’ novel), so like in the case of Samson, it is through Eve’s eyes that we will see them. The answers to how to develop each minor character will vary and form was I write and revise. I have at least identified that in order to render Eve with more depth, she needs to consider a few people more closely, I (writer) need to give them a bit more space to speak, and in at least one case (Dani’s) the relationship needs to be reconciled..Minor characters will be a revision goal all its own, I think.


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March by Geraldine Brooks

The truth is, March was not one of the books I planned read for this mailing. It’s probably not a book I would have picked up at all on my own. My writer’s group chose it for March. To be honest, I have four papers to write for this mailing and since the last mailing I’ve read exactly four new books. March is one of them. This novel by Geraldine Brooks is written from the perspective of the father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and attempts to some degree to characterize the famous Bronson Alcott (inventor of recess!) through the imagined character of Mr. March. Mr. March has joined the Union Forces to serve as a Chaplain to Civil War troops.
When I first realized that I would either need to write about March or read another book in a hurry (not my preferred method), a topic to write on did not come to me. As I read, I write notes in the margins of my books and in the front cover and then go back to peruse those notes when it’s time to write these critical papers. The notes in March were spare and lacking in epiphanies. What to do? Then, I remembered one topic that came up in our book group discussion and some emailing that followed about Brooks’ use of diction. The narrative and the letters March writes home are remarkably formal, proper, and restrained. One of our book group members is a librarian who during her internship years once did some transcribing of Civil War letters. After the meeting, she sent us a link to where we could read them online. Another group member replied saying how surprised he was by how the letters she transcribed really did seem to match the style of March’s letters home, his narrative: so careful and polite. This set me to thinking about how diction is to some degree part of the setting, something to be considered when writing. But, how does one consider diction? Thinking about word choice is a scholarly exercise; writing is a practice of imagination. Then I thought: A-ha! This is about voice. And this is about practice. And, A-ha! I see what works for me. And I will come back to this A-ha moment and explain, but first I’d like to look at some lines from March and some lines from my novel in order to better demonstrate what I mean.
The refined, polite diction in March is indicative of another time and the words with which March narrates and write letters home transport us to that place as much as the other descriptions Brooks’ uses to take us to a time and place unfamiliar, long past. In one letter home, Mr. March writes: “My pupils, the old and young, progress apace with their letters. They open their heads to me now, and are no longer reticent. Josiah, who still ails and has a wracking cough that breaks your heart to hear, has nevertheless become a regular chatterbox, so that I can hardly reconcile him with the sullen, silent boy who met my boat” (Brooks 145). Notice in the first sentence the two introductory clauses before the verb and antecedent. This way of taking time to get around to the point, this gentle, polite voice, fits the chaplain Mr. March, who is earnest and of strong moral intention. This meandering style also contrasts with our contemporary voice, which leans toward concision and the striking out of extraneous words. Brooks’ novel abounds with introductory clauses, parenthetical clauses, clauses that elaborate, and so on. Words like “ails”, “wracking”, “ letters”, are antiquated, set us in a time unlike our own. The wordiness of phrases like “nevertheless become a regular chatterbox”, “can hardly reconcile”, and “progress apace” have the same effect. In a later section of narration, March muses, “Are there any words in the English language more closely twinned than courage and cowardice?…Who is the brave man—he who feels no fear? If so, then bravery is but a polite term for a mind devoid of rationality and imagination” (Brooks 168). With this kind of rhetoric, it was really quite natural to find myself reading a scene in which Ralph Waldo Emerson moved among the guests. The polite precision of Brooks reads quite flawless to me. I found myself reading with surprising enjoyment, reclining, my feet propped up, a blanket in my lap, willing to follow this clear, gentle voice. Afterward, after I’d mulled over the story with my writer’s group, I found myself thinking about how she came to find that voice while she was in the imaginative practice of writing. Maybe she read some of those civil war letters. Maybe she steeped herself in Emerson and his contemporaries. Maybe she listened to some of their works on tape. However she did it, I am impressed and thinking about the process of writing from the angle of the voice that tells the story, a voice constructed of particular words.
How does this all relate to my own work? Well, I just finished a critique session with my writer’s group in which one of my peers said that my piece had “strong voice”. I like to think so. I like to think I’m creating the voice of a literate, reflective, forty-something woman who has a story to tell about uncommon struggle and how she not only survived, but transformed herself in time, through movement. Her voice ought to be confident, enthusiastic, and reflective, not necessarily all of those all of the time. The story should move between those aspects of Eve (protagonist) as she recounts the story of her life from a mature point of view. Developing this particular voice has been a focus in writing this novel, my first longer work written in first person. How have I done this? By slowing down and listening. By writing the entire current draft out by hand, then typing it in later. By speaking. Yes, when I write by hand, when I type in what I’ve written by hand, I speak the lines aloud to test the voice, to make sure that each word sounds like Eve, who is teaching me more than I imagined she would. Reading March prompted me to ponder voice in my work and how to achieve clarity of voice.


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On The Road

“But, no matter, the road is life” (211). In my copy of On The Road by Jack Kerouac, this line is not just underlined, but circled, no note next to it. What was I thinking at the time? Looking back now, I’m thinking of how Kerouac makes Sal Paradise’s first person narrative not just a compelling quest story because of the pure adventure of it, but a quest about the quest called life we are all on, looking for “IT” (127). Kerouac universalizes Sal’s story by making him more observer than actor, through the repetition of certain words and ideas, and through the lines that bloom out of Sal’s pen as he comes to insights that lead to the final answer for him, that IT isn’t knowing, because “nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old” (310) but that meaning [IT] comes through being present in each moment, in recognizing one’s place in nature as a small part of something larger and often incomprehensible, but beautiful:
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies…and tonight the stars’ll be out…the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in” (310).
Sal is really more cameraman than actor in his own story, showing us where he goes, who and what he sees. Often he will declare an emotion, I was angry, for instance, or “I felt like an arrow that could shoot out all the way” (27), but he moves on quickly, shows us the next thing. He’s an inexhaustible cameraman, moving from close in conversations between people he’s with, to gritty close in descriptions of closed spaces, to wide-angle views of the beautiful nature that surrounds it all:
It was a wonderful night. Central City is two miles high; at first you get drunk on the altitude, then you get tired, then there’s a fever in your soul. We approached the lights around the opera house down the narrow dark street; then we took a sharp right and hit some old saloons with swinging doors. Most of the tourists were in the opera. We started off with a few extra-size beers. There was a player piano. Beyond the back door was a view of mountainsides in the moonlight. I let out a yahoo. The night was on” (53).
This passage because so neatly contains how he both describes the scene and then widens his lens again to see the mountains, the sky, the stars, the wide world. Sal is often looking to the mountains.
Our main character observes more than he acts, follows more than not, and is, in a sense, the unassuming, every man. We see this also in frequent references to his soul personified, “my whole soul leaped to it the nearer we got to Frisco” (59). This tale is universal in a grand human sense (soul) and also in the sense of describing the culture of a nation. Kerouac uses symbolism throughout to create a story that is also a cultural exploration, such as an American flag accidentally raised upside down by Sal, and in how at the start of Sal’s journey he travels to his first destination fed on the iconic American pie. And speaking of American\ America, I didn’t go through the entire book and count the number of times that one or the other of those words occur, but it is strikingly often, and Kerouac just as often refers specifically to the names of cities and waterways, and other landmarks more than he needs to, to emphasize the context of this story, which is without question about an American Dream of sorts.
Sal’s story is also made universal in those lines that just bloom out of nowhere with insight and that are carefully placed amidst gritty, realistic description and dialogue, such as “Prison is where you promise yourself the right to live” (132) or “Isn’t it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father’s roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life” (105). Even the use of second person here helps to asks universal questions, blur the line that distinguishes Sal from Dean or Carlo or any other American man trying to find meaning, in spite of everything, including his father.
I am not sure in particular at this moment, how I can apply this to my current work, but I see a broad connection. I am also writing a first person narrative that is also a quest for meaning and that I hope has universal appeal as On The Road does.


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Franny and Zooey

The “Zooey” section of Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger begins thus:

The facts at hand presumable speak for themselves, but a trifle more vulgarly, I suspect, than facts even usually do. As a counterbalance, then, we begin with that everfresh and exciting odium: the author’s formal introduction. the one I have in mind not only is wordy and earnest beyond my wildest dreams but is, to boot, rather excruciatingly personal. If, with the right kind of luck, it comes off, it should be comparable in effect to a compulsory guided tour through the engine room,with myself, as guide, leading the way in an old one-piece Jantzen bathing suit (Salinger 47).
This narrator intrusion, my analysis of it, the purpose it seems to serve, and how thinking about it served my own writing are what I’m going to discuss here. Among all my observations about these two Glass stories looking at this one small section of “Zooey” will best serve my own writing now. In writing this, I believe I will do some much needed work around some struggles I am having with my own intrusive narrator. In fact, once I had the idea for this paper, I had to go back and make some changes to my own work that I didn’t want to lose in waiting.
This intrusive narrator, Buddy (Franny and Zooey’s older, writer brother), is playful, clever, and self-conscious. Wordy, indeed. In stating how what will follow will be wordy beyond his “wildest dreams”, he is wordy about being wordy. A guide in a one-piece bathing suit? That had me laughing out loud. He further tell us that it’s not a mystical story, but a love story, and that it’s not really a story but a “sort of prose home movie” (47) After this introduction, Buddy addresses the reader directly only one more time (in a foot note), and he appears in the story indirectly by the inclusion of a letter he wrote to Zooey and a scene in which Zooey pretends to be Buddy over the phone to Franny in an attempt to lift her out of her moment of crisis.
That is what this story seems to be about, Franny’s moment of crisis, which has much to do with the spiritual text she is carrying around with her. I must have read this narrator intrusion when I first read these stories as a teenager, but it went right over my head. I finished the book wanting to pass out copies to everyone I know as if the book itself were my own spiritual tome, like Franny’s pilgrim book. But, I’m listening to Buddy now, and as I think he meant it do be, I don’t entirely trust his point of view. I see that he is the one who chooses what, as the saying goes, lands on the cutting room floor in his prose home movie. This is made clear by Buddy’s intrusion, his mention that Franny, Zooey, and his mother, “the three featured players themselves” (47) object to including certain details. I see now how Buddy urges us to focus on the love stories “pure and complicated” that are happening between members of the Glass family.
I’m not sure I think Buddy’s intrusion is fully realized. I can’t say it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t come full circle. Why does our tour guide leave us after that? I guess, he wanted to thrust us into scenes, which he does admirably. So much of these stories hinge on dialogue and such specificity in description. Some of the scenes leave me envious (the restaurant scene with Lane in “Franny”, the bathroom scene with mom In “Zooey”), actually. I see why, though, as a teen, Buddy’s little intrusion impacted me only as clever and didn’t influence my interpretation of the story or stand out as crucial to the narrative. Yet, now I’m wondering if he intended it to be and how the story might have been different had our Buddy returned to bid his readers farewell in the end. I don’t know, but it has me thinking about my own intrusive narrator, a persona I am set on but not entirely satisfied with in her (Eve’s) current state of being.
When I first created Eve, I thought that it would be effective to sustain suspense about whether she would live or die (after being hit by a car) in the end, but later realized that putting energy in that direction really wasn’t consistent with what I wanted the story to be about. It was just gimmicky and done in large part to save a scene in the place I thought it should go. But, you see, I didn’t fully listen to this epiphany. I still for some reason felt compelled to make it foggy for the reader whether she still lived as she told the story, even had this line, about how maybe she was dead.
How can I explain how my thinking about the narrator “Zooey” helped me to come to something that was really just waiting in the back of my mind to be articulated, fully realized? I sat down to write this paper and instead opened the document that contains my book and changed the second chapter so that not only was it clear that Eve was alive, but I put her in a particular place, allowed her to articulate her purpose, and it feels good. I’m happier with the story now. I want an honest, reliable narrator for this first person story of a life, reflection on a life. It makes sense for the reader to know that she lives and even where she is now telling her story from and why.


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