Tuesday, September 18, 2007

POPULAR LIT (PART III) . . . My "I'll Gladly Pass" List . . .

. . . Faulkner . . . Talk about coincidences. This past weekend, totally unprompted and out of the blue, a friend sent me an email, in which she raved about her love of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying." As my dear, smart-mouthed son might say, "Well, I'm happy for her (smile)." Sadly and truthfully, Faulker has never done a whole lot for me. I have yet to feel the magic when I immerse myself in his work.

Sometimes I wonder had I taken more English/Lit courses in college, if might feel different about Faulkner and some of the other dead authors, whose works fail to move me. I'm saying, isn't College Lit where they hammer out a portion of your brain and replace it with loads of academic jargon and a bunch of other ivory-tower creations designed to keep you walking the straight, narrow and predictable paths of political correctness? No? Okay, my bad . . .

Anyway, the next author on the list of folks I'm supposed to like and regard with high-esteem, but dont--is guaranteed to draw shrieks and much pulling of hair (whether real, store-bought, processed or au natural) from certain quarters of the African American literary establishment. But here goes anyway . . . Richard Wright.

Black Boy. Native Son. Ah, no thanks. Keep it. Not for me. Really, I don't see the beauty. The angst, yeah, but not the beauty. Never have. Probably never will. To be fair, it's been years since I've read Black Boy. I should (and at some point will) probably read it again, because age has a way of changing things--perspectives in particular.

But I don't think there's any chance of me ever liking Native Son. The movie version of the book, starring Richard Wright as "Bigger Thomas" pretty much killed that for me. It's hard for me to watch that movie without either winching in pain or laughing (when and where I'm not supposed to). Very seldom do I ever say something is horrible, but truly, for me, the movie version of Native Son is just that. Were I ever forced to choose, I'd rather waste an hour of my life watching Flav Flav's ig'nant behind.

And this last one? Heck, I may as well go ahead and turn in my Sister-Girl card now . . . because it's more than likely gonna come back stamped REVOKED! as soon as I fix my lips to say anything negative about this person.

But to be clear, I don't dislike all of this author's work--just the one she's most famous for. Okay brace yourselves now. You ready? The title is . . . is . . . Their Eyes Were Watching God . . . (ducking, shielding my eyes and hanging my head in shame).

I can hear it now. "Oh, but the hummingbird . . . the rich symbolism . . . the love story . . . " Yeah, I know. Sorry, none of it moved me. Not in the least.

Here's the deal--I've owned the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, since the mid-to late '80s. Nope, I didn't buy it. It was given to me. A number of times over the years, I've pulled the text from the shelves, started reading it, found myself growing extremely irritated and within a couple of pages, found myself tossing the book back onto the shelves.

Part of the/my problem with the work is the dialect. I hate reading books written in dialect, especially that which is intended to represent the way rural, Black Southerners speak. I almost passed on The Color Purple for the same reason. Though, I must say, in keeping with the lonely, politically-incorrect course I've charted for myself, I enjoyed the movie much more than I did the book. Oh, what did I think about the movie version of Their Eyes? Plenty. But I'd best save it for another time (smile).

Let there be no mistaking though, Zora Neale Hurston, the tilted-hat-wearing, Black woman, writer, anthropologist and all-around character . . . Oh, I ADORE her! And the collection of African American folktales she packaged under the title Mules & Men is my kind of reading . . . even though, I'd dare say, like most "good" social scientists, Zora Neale made most of that mess up (LOL)!

On a more serious note, the sad thing for me, as it pertains to Zora Neale is that I didn't even learn of her existence until my final semester of grad school. Had I not been a student of anthropology, a Black female with Southern roots, who had an interest in writing fiction, this might not have mattered . . . But you know, it's been years and I still tear up every time I think about it.

In any case, what's your book? You know, the one everybody and his or her Grandmama praises till the cows come home, but you'd rather take a karate chop to the throat before you read it again? Come on, don't be scared! Fess up! I've already taken most of the hard blows for you . . .

Written while listening to Jaguar Wright's "Free" "Timing" "Told Ya" "So High" "Been Here Before" and "Cell Bock" from her cd entitled, Divorcing Neo 2 Marry Soul.

14 comments:

Michelle Davis Petelinz said...

Okay, I had to laugh at your preferring Flav over Native Son!

Mine, (as I prepare to turn in my Sistagirl card, and place it squarely on the table right beside yours) is: Beloved.
Didn't like it, didn't finish it. Didn't see the movie. No apologies.

Great post...see you this weekend, I hope!

Sheila Wilcox said...

I loved all the books you mentioned except for Navite Son. It was too full of hate, so I finished it through a cliff note pamplet (it was a requirment in college). Try reading Getting Mother's body by Suzan-Lori Parks. Its written in the order of As I Lay Dying, but you may find it more interesting. Each chapter is told in a different point of view as AILD. Parks also won a Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog. The play was full of meaning but the profanity was horrible. Its hard to beleive she was awarded for writing such filth. I loved the novel Beloved, but the movie was horrible (Actually, I love anything by Morrison). Oprah should have left that one alone. All in all, I've enjoyed all the classics I've read except Native Son. War & Peace, & Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy are my all time favorites. Just a suggestion, whenever you run across a classic & it doesn't open doors, try browsing through the cliff notes.

Trenee said...

I enjoyed Black Boy...until the Communist section. You know black people aren't allowed to say they don't like Richard Wright. Shame on you. :)

Lori said...

Michelle,
I hear ya. Morrison is truly a gifted writer. THE BLUEST EYE and SULA are two of my favorite books. I never get tired of reading them. SONG OF SOLOMON was pretty decent too. I have yet to read TAR BABY, but I look forward to doing so. But BELOVED, the book, it was okay. Like you, I've never been able to watch the movie. I did try. I watched about 30 minutes or so (on video) before I said, "Later for this."

Shelia,
I love GETTING MOTHER'S BODY. If you check my blogger profile, you'll see it listed among my favorite group of books. I've never seen the play TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, but I hope to do so one day. You're the first person I've heard say anything negative about it. I may see if I can't find a paper/print copy of the play and read it for myself.
Don't think I've ever resorted to Cliff Notes . . . feels too much like cheating to me (smile).

Trenee,
Well, I've already turned in my Sister Girl Card. Guess my Black Folk one is next (smile). Oh well.

Emanuel Carpenter said...

I'm with you Lori. I've never been much for attempting the classics. Of the authors you've mentioned, I only read "Their Eyes Were Watching God," which I enjoyed. (I worked for a community college bookstore and had lots of down time to read whatever was on the shelves that interested me.) This is when I first read Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" and just loved the way he transported readers with his descriptive imagery (though I was shocked about him calling a drummer a nigger). I understand he was a racist, which is why I haven't picked up another of his books.

Anyway, I would much rather read more up-to-date books that are relevant to this present life I'm living, not necessarily the lives of our ancestors. I got my share of required reading in high school and college. Now I choose to read whatever I want to read. In fact, just three years ago I finally read "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison (but I DID love it). Some literature can be great but a lot of it is just plain boring. The latest I've read and enjoyed are "Jump at the Sun" and "Nowhere Is a Place."

It's my understanding that most MFA programs are all about reading and disecting the "classics" AKA reading dead white guys. For that reason, I reconsidered getting in any MFA programs. I think I would be bored out of my mind. Besides, there are books you can find at the library and writer magazines that can help you become a better writer without having to succumb to the dreaded classics that help me sleep better than Tylenol PM.

I know people mean well when they recommend books to read (much like people who tell you what kind of book you should write) but sometimes you gotta do you and read for your own pleasure, especially when you're spending your own hard-earned money.

Lori said...

Emanuel,
Actually, I'm very much a fan of the classics. My tastes leans very much toward literary fiction. I just hate being told what I OUGHT to like.

Sometimes I think people just say they like something simply to be a part of the "in" crowd or because the wanted to be thought of as "learned."

Bottom-line though, I think folks ought to be left alone to read what they enjoy and want to read without others making such harsh value judgments about it.

Brian Dunbar said...

In any case, what's your book? You know, the one everybody and his or her Grandmama praises till the cows come home, but you'd rather take a karate chop to the throat before you read it again?

KS Robinson's 'Mars' trilogy. Everyone says they love it but I just cannot get into it. It's about a grand sweep of history but I like my SciFi with actual characters.

Oh he's got characters but they get lost in the huge canvas he paints.

Lori said...

Hey Brian D.,
I don't read much SciFi, but my son can't get enough of it. Thanks for stopping by the "Mix" and sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong Lori. One of the themes of Top Dog/Underdog had great meaning because it revealed the effects of abandonment. The brothers kept referring to their troubled upbringings throughout the play. But the profanity was horrible. Then again, it was simply the language they developed from their upbringings. Maybe she was awarded the prize for the rawness of the language which the brothers used to express themselves. Again, it was a language they developed through their environment& its sometimes referred to as a regular man's dialogue. However, most men don't use such language. And, the language probably centered around the anger the brothers felt. Also, throughout the play the brothers conversations centered around what they once had, what they lost, & what they yearned to gain. It was a very powerful play.

Nerd Girl said...

Hmmm. . . for me it would be Eudora Welty. I live in MS and that name is sacred around here - right behind God and Faulkner (who I don't care for either. Read one of her books (The Optimist's Daughter) and was floored by the amount of disappointment I felt.

Their Eyes Were Watching God was okay, but my favorie ZNH book is hands down Jonah's Gourd Vine.

My favorite book ever? 'Sippi by John Oliver Killens!

Lori said...

Anon (Shelia)
I'm not a big fan of "excessive" profanity either. It's unfortunate that particular issue lessened your enjoyment of the play. Hopefully, that won't be the case for me. But I do understand. My enjoyment of certain rap & hip-hop recordings would increase if the artists would only toned down the language just a tad.

Nerd Girl,
I stopped in Jackson, MS while traveling this past summer, and actually toured Eudora Welty's home and her gardens. It was interesting. I enjoy Welty's short stories, but I haven't tackled one of her novels yet.
Have you ever read her short story, "Why I Live At The P.O.?"
It's funnier than all get out (smile)!

You're a Killens fan? Cool! I've never read 'SIPPI, but I loved his COTILLION. Talk about a fun, thought-provoking, old school read (smile).

Hurston's JONAH'S WINE GOURD is another one I haven't read. But I think I have it around here someplace (smile). The one Hurston book several folks have suggested I read is MOSES: MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. It's a paraody based on the Old Testament's story of Exodus and told from a Black perspective. I'm a sucker for a decent parody and I've owned the book for years now. Hopefully, one day I'll get around to it.

Thanks for stopping by the "Mix."

Keith said...

I'm bored to tears by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. I have no intention of ever reading anything by them again, unless I find myself forced to to so in the unlikely case that I pursue a masters in fine a art.

My wife and I just read "Sula" for the first time and we thought it was fantastic.

At some point or another I've read everything you've mentioned and can only really co-sign on Faulkner. Didn't want to read it when I read it, and will gladly never read it again.

Shelia said...

I've read all of the books you mentioned. I consider them classics and not necessarily in the favorite category. One of my favorite books is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and of course The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Those two are classics and favorites in my opinion.

Lori said...

Keith and Shelia G.,
Thanks for stopping by the "Mix." I Appreciate your comments.