Sunday, August 29, 2010

"In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

My first thought when I started this poem was that I should really find out where this Blackwater Woods was, if it was a real place, since it was so important that the author made it the title of her poem. So I looked it up. It is apparently located in Blackwater Pond, MA, or at least that is what the articles led me to believe. It was also clearly the inspiration of many of her poems, as I found that she was very in-tune with and reverent of nature. It was truly fascinating how she could relate such simple instances in nature to such deep and precious feelings of her own.

Oliver begins her poem with the description of a forest, which foretold a less gloomy ending to her poem than actually was the case. The uplifting description of the trees as “pillars of light…giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,” and of “tapers of cattails…bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders of the ponds," gave me hope, at first. But then I realized that, when she speaks of the tapers floating away, she begins her tale of loss.

Everyone has their own way of expressing the misery and sorrow that they are forced to withstand, that is sometimes thrown unexpectedly into their path, that almost no one can avoid. Mary Oliver uses her unique style of poetry as an aid for herself and those who have met with the pain of living in a mortal world: it is a way to lessen the pain by communicating her feelings through nature. In it, Oliver speaks of grief, most likely over the death of a loved one, with her description of “…the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know.” This clearly speaks, to me, of the journey from this life to the next, a path which leads to a better place, but one that we will never fully understand in this life.

The line “…and every pond, no matter what its name is, is nameless now,” transitions the poem from her initially calm and peaceful forest into her tale of depressing familiarity with sadness and loss. She suggests three things that everyone must know in order to survive in this world: that nothing and no one lasts forever in this life, and that we should be able to “love what is mortal” knowing that it could soon be gone, “[holding] it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it.” But most importantly, she tells us that we should understand that the world keeps on turning, and, even though we should not forget to love and cherish these mortal things, and remember them still when they are gone, we must learn how to let them go. These words moved me, and I will not forget this advice easily, because it makes sense: everyone has something that they will lose in this life, but that does not mean that they should never love it in the first place.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald

What can I even say about The Great Gatsby? Besides the fact that every time it talked about the “New Rich” my mind jumped to Nouveau Riche from Modern America last year. It is such a crazy, deep, exaggerated book. I tried to do the “learn to write” text marking, and I can tell you that was not the best idea. I definitely should have gotten a little way through the book before I decided to analyze Fitzgerald’s writing style, because I have certainly never seen anything like it before in my life: his terminology was completely alien to me and I could hardly keep up with the hidden meanings behind every little detail. Of course that’s probably the whole point of that type of annotation, so maybe I didn’t totally fail with this book.

In any case, behind his confusing dialect and ironic symbolism, I realized that Fitzgerald was really an amazing writer, with the way he could make completely unexpected connections and the way he had some deep understanding of the motivations of a human being. He could connect a personality to an earthquake, a bootlegger to a god, and a location to a person. He perfectly portrayed the ignorantly hypocritical beliefs of Nick about himself and others that is so commonly seen in our prideful and conceited society. He also created a sort of festering irritation and indignation for me with the way Tom reacted so hypocritically to his realization of Daisy’s affair, because if there is one thing I hate more than anything in the world it is an ignorant hypocrite.

To be completely honest, I could hardly fathom how this man’s mind worked most of the time. Maybe it was just the fact that he was seeing firsthand the kind of situations he was writing about, and he felt the need to make a statement. All I know is that he could take something ordinary and make it something completely different in an uncanny and precise way. I was a little disappointed at the end, though, having endured the childish actions of most of the characters and the depressing outcome of their bickering, I was hoping for a little more optimistic ending and a little less symbolically discouraging fate.

Heart of Darkness- Joseph Conrad

I knew this would be a gory book when Marlow started his story with a mini-story about a man getting beaten to death by a fearful tribesman with a big stick. And I was pretty much right. With the successive detailed description of the sick savages and the bloody scene with the spear-impaled wheelman being only a few examples of the violent and ominous happenings. I don’t like disgusting descriptions anyways, but Conrad really seems to love the morbid details, which makes this book all the more unappealing to me.

Also, he made up some of the weirdest characters, like the woman at the beginning who he described as the fateful guardian of “the door of Darkness.” Foreboding right? Or the manager who makes people feel “uneasy” and has no apparent sense of humanity, I mean how does Conrad think of these things?

To add to my unhappiness at the idea of reading this book, the beginning was not only boring with its wordy descriptions, but also extremely confusing, jumping between storytellers and creating quick, choppy conversations within the story that I couldn’t follow, and Conrad randomly decided to slip these things in throughout the rest of the book as well.

Of course, I did find some things I didn’t absolutely hate about this book.

I immediately fell in love with Conrad’s poetic style and sound. His old fashioned dialect, although it sometimes used words which I had never heard before, was very eloquent and created perfect visuals for me most of the time. It reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, where the characters would always seem to find the perfect words for a situation and would have the most graceful speaking prose which made it sound so sophisticated.

Thanks to Mr. Moore and the text we read last year in which the author made a simile with the mind and tea leaves clogging a drain, I also love unique comparisons, and so, apparently, does Conrad. He did everything from comparing changing times to a lightning flash in which we only live in a flicker, to Marlow comparing himself to a little bird fascinated by a giant snake. It’s amazing how a simple description can create such precise visuals for a situation: when Marlow is describing the raised land which served as a fork in the river he was sailing down, he compared it to a man’s backbone showing just beneath his skin, and immediately the image of that river popped into my head. Typically I can never accurately picture an image which an author is trying to explain, so I was a little shocked at how easily that illustration worked for me. I suppose that it is just an easier form of writing for my brain to perceive, which made it so much more enjoyable for me to read this book.

The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini

With this book, I have to say that I was torn between disgust of Hosseini's vividly gory details coupled with his infuriatingly misogynistic culture--granted that this is not his fault--and admiration of his understanding of the severe consequences a single choice can manifest together with his ability to put a new twist on an old story.

As far as I could tell, when I started, this was just going to be a typical book where the ever loyal and na├»ve friend would make a huge sacrifice for his best friend, and possibly die because of it. The different culture put an interesting spin on things, but other than that I could pretty much see what was coming the whole first part of the book. It was only after Amir became an adult that I started to be shocked by a lot of what was happening, like Baba’s cancer and Amir going back to find Sohrab and pretty much everything that happened in Afghanistan. That was when I started appreciating the writing instead of being disappointed by the gruesome tone and the unoriginal plot.

There was also something I noticed about Hosseini’s general writing style. It had an extreme emotional impact on me the majority of the time, whether it was from anger towards the culture that constantly put down women, or embarrassment at the ever present cowardice of Amir, or happiness at the very end when Sohrab began to come alive again. I found myself falling into seemingly every writing trap that Hosseini slipped into his book, or at least the ones I noticed. Every one word sentence, every suspenseful chapter ending, every separated paragraph drew me in as a reader, sometimes against my will when I realized what was going on, but I suppose that just gives Hosseini more credit as an intriguing and meticulous writer.

On a different note, with The Kite Runner I started practicing my text marking. I tried the “establishing territory” type first, because I thought it might be easier to begin with. I found that I really enjoyed this kind of text marking, specifically because I got to pick out quotes that stood out and related to things in my life. I could relate to more than I expected, from Amir’s description of the “casually arrogant” remarks made by his stepfather to Amir faintly recalling a memory of his father and observing that “time can be a greedy thing- sometimes it steals all the details for itself.” When I got to really think about some of the quotes in context I found that many of them were almost perfect descriptions of the way I felt about certain things, which, I have to say, was exciting but at the same time a little sad, because someone else can say it much better than I can, that someone else being a 30 year old man who comes from a completely different lifestyle, but in the end I was more impressed with this book than I initially expected.