Monday, December 10, 2007

A plethora of reading...

Since my computer was out of the picture over the weekend, I read! Read read read. I wish I could say it was one of those chilly weekends where one finds it suitable to cuddle up in blanket with a cup of cocoa. Alas, such was not the case. It was in the mid-70s all weekend, and it's not suppose to cool down again until the weekend. By then I'll be on a plane to Texas and back to the hot December weather. Oh well, such is life.

Back to the books...

You may recall my extreme happiness in having two great books on the go: Special Topics in Calamity Physics and O Pioneers! I dove diligently back into O Pioneers! on Saturday and Sunday, and I polished it off early yesterday morning.

My first encounter with Willa Cather was in a Modernism class in graduate school. We read The Professor's House, one of her less revered novels, although a "less revered" Cather is far more respected than most authors ever hope to be. I bought O Pioneers! on a lark one day at Books-a-Million when I found an attractive, cheap copy.

What I love most about Cather's writing is the accessibility. It's very reader-friendly in much the same way as Hemingway. That is, while the writing is simple and straightforward, there is a ton going on under the surface.

O Pioneers! is the story of Alexandra Bergson and her immigrant family. The book opens when Alexandra is an adolescent and her father is a failing farmer. Alexandra grows and learns increasingly more about methods of farming and begins to take chances on the land. When her brothers wish to sell off the farm after their father's death, Alexandra urges them to hold onto the investment and weather the hard times. Eventually Alexandra triumphs and the farm becomes a booming success. However, Alexandra also finds that she's lost along the way...lost the opportunity to marry her friend and confidante, Carl Lunstrom.

Cather's masterpiece is split into five episodes, each detailing a different point in the Bergson's life. Aside from Alexandra's endeavors, Cather details the loves and losses of her younger brother, Emil, whose university education and interests set him apart from the majority of boys on the prairie.

My first reaction to this book was one of wonder. It sort of reminded me of the 6th grade when I read my first Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, Little House in the Big Woods. I remember marveling at Wilder's descriptions of frontier life. The preparation of food, crops and animals and other daily how-tos. Cather includes many related details, but her writing is by no means overdone or loaded down with extraneous detail.

Beyond the wonderful descriptions of frontier life, Cather paints a wonderfully strong, forthright, admirable character in Alexandra Bergson. Cather elevates her protagonist to epic proportions in her efforts to tame the land. It's rare, especially in this time period in literature, to run across so significant a female character.

As usual, Cather does not disappoint, and this one garnered a 10/10. Another favorite of the year, perhaps!

On the other side of things--the not so positive side--I read Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, by Chuck Palahniuk. Admittedly, I'm not an avid Palahniuk follower. I read an enjoyed one of his books--Lullaby--and I'm continually amused by the premises of his books. However, I haven't tripped over myself to get caught up on his work thus far. When I visited Pomegranate Books, my very favorite independent book store a few months ago, I was on an essay kick. I picked up Palahniuk's collection just for the fact that the essays would likely be off the wall and exceedingly interesting.

I was partially right.

The book is split into three parts...general essays he's written for magazines, portraits of celebrities, authors, etc., and finally a section of personal essays. The general essay section chronicled the wild and weird from the near-obscene Testical Festival near Missoula, Montana, to three ordinary men who repeatedly spend their time and money constructing bigger, stronger, grander residential castles across the U.S. While these essays were interesting in their own right, I found it much more worthwhile to take a stroll through Palahniuk's psyche. He related a number of anecdotes that led to his writing Fight Club, shared some tragic tidbits about his childhood, and ruminated on his friends, the ups and downs of writing celebrity, and various cultural assumptions.

Overall, I have to say the book was just "meh." I enjoyed parts of it very much, and others pushed me to skim. At the end of the day, a 6/10. But I read it in a day's time, and it wasn't a total waste of time. Devoted Palahniuk fans might enjoy it more than I did.


  1. I picked up "Stranger than Fiction" too, recently, mostly because of the essay about the Testicle Festival. Having lived near Missoula for nearly three years I've seen dozens of billboards for the event, and debated the virtues of the "Oyster of the West" with my friends. Hee...eww. Never went myself, but it's one of those things that really gives Montana its, er, character. :)

  2. Sarah (loose baggy monster)12/11/2007 8:57 AM

    I have to say, I've been to a similar "Testical Festival," and I actually tried an "oyster of the West," if only to watch the men in our group squirm. Tastes like chicken!

  3. Hurrah for a reading weekend although it's too bad it's because were computer-less!
    Willa Cather is one of those authors I really need to read again. I know I read O Pioneers but it's been so long that I don't even remember any of it.

  4. Jen, the testicle festival essay was oddly intriguing and disturbing.

    Sarah, I was pretty amazed and sickened by all that went on at this festival. Not so much the testicle part of it, but all sex! LOL

    Iliana, definitely give her another go. I think you'd really like her writing.

  5. I've BEEN to the Testicle Festival! It, too, was oddly intriguing and disturbing. This was the same year I was introduced to Brains'n'Eggs at a Missoula establishment! We truly know how to enjoy our beef!

  6. I am enjoying Cather's "Death Comes for the Archbishop" using a very nice free reader, Aldiko, on Droid X. I find her weaving of cultural and historical setting enthralling, and am looking forward to "O Pioneers" for my next read (also available free, BTW).


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