Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cadfael, Faulkner, and Cather

My overnight caregiving job has ended, my client deciding to make it through the night on her own, for which she deserves a lot of credit for working so hard to get healthy.

Besides the income, I find I'm most sad about the reading. During this job I was able to catch up on some classics that I'm so glad to have read/reread. I was just starting Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Grapes of Wrath and have returned them to the Library in hopes that I'll have time to resume reading sometime soon.

I tried reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner and didn't get very far. I had no idea Faulkner was "one of those," by which I mean one of those "language writers" like Gertrude Stein who consider the playing with language more important than story and character. I feel idiotic in saying that I need to know at all times what's happening, or at least to know that I'm likely to find out soon. Woody Allen wrote a very funny story years ago about his difficulty in understanding mimes -- "He's either folding a picnic basket or loading a sub machine gun" (or something to that effect) -- and that's exactly how I feel when reading Faulkner. How disappointing!

I got about halfway through My Antonia by Willa Cather and gave up on that, too. It's well enough written, and I could follow the story, but I found after a while that I didn't much care about what happened to the characters. And then came the story of a large group of people being eaten by a pack of wolves in Russia. Maybe packs of wolves in Russia, pushed to the brink of starvation, would do that, but I'm immediately suspicious of such stories, as wolves have for centuries been scapegoated and misunderstood.

I've been alternating these classics with the Cadfael Chronicles series by Ellis Peters, whose gender (female) I didn't discover until I was into the second book in the series. I'd seen one of the mysteries on PBS some time ago, because Sir Derek Jacobi is one of my favorite actors, and I wasn't much impressed with the mystery. But I'm glad to find the books are much better: more fun, and interestingly, more loving, which is about the last quality I would have expected to find in a detective series. In each of the three books I've read so far, Cadfael's affection for someone is at least notable, if not pivotal to the story. And it's not really fair to say that it's due to the writer being a woman because those of Agatha Christie's novels that I've read certainly don't meet that description.

I have yet to drag out the dictionary to learn the meanings of various terms (poniard and vagation, to name just a few), some of which are probably archaic; it will be easier to do that reading at home than it was at work.


Rosemary Carstens said...

Alice: Sorry your recent caretaking position (and perfect excuse to read) has ended, but I'll bet another comes along soon! It was so interesting to hear you talk about so-called classics, Great American Writers, who just didn't cut it for you. I think Faulkner is highly over-rated, one of a group of male writers of the time that were thought to be so fabulous at a time when women just weren't getting the recognition many deserved. Faulkner's female characters are stereotypical and wooden--some guy's idea of what a woman is without ever having bothered to dip beneath the surface. I could never get into War and Peace either. I know that these comments say more about me than about the books probably, but that's OK. I now give a book 50 pages and if it doesn't engage me, if I can't care about the characters, I toss it back on the pile. Too many wonderful books out there and so few years--

Alyce Barry said...

Thank you, Rosemary. The back cover text on the Faulkner was impressive, "one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century." I tried reading James Joyce years ago and had a similar experience. I sometimes wonder if it's an Emperor's-new-clothes situation, where critics are afraid to say "I don't get it" for fear of looking stupid. Just got home from the Library where I borrowed audio editions of "Moby Dick" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" on CD, hoping I can keep up with reading while doing dishes.