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Friday, July 27, 2001
I'm presently reading The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer. It's a long book (over a thousand pages), and it somewhat mirrors the story line from Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy.
Last night, I read a powerful sentence by Mailer:
The violence of Portland licked right up to the edge of the store and left a spew like that yellow foam on city beaches where old rubber dries out with jellyfish and whiskey bottles and the dead squid.What an amazing sentence! Such imagery! You feel the words when they're strung together so superbly.
How did I chance to be reading this? A few months ago, I read an article about Louis Menand, who recently wrote The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. Mr. Menand was asked what his favorite books were, and one of them was The Executioner's Song. He had high enthusiasm for this book, and I made a mental note to pick this up as soon as I could. I have not been disappointed so far, and I don't anticipate being disappointed.
I once thought it'd be an interesting exercise to describe the various threads between the ten books I've read so far this year, but the leading spark has been, more often than not, whimsy. Still, it delights me when whimsy leads me to text like I've read in Mailer's book. I'm savoring every bit of it.
Monday, July 23, 2001
A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe ran an article on Henry David Thoreau, the famous recluse/philosopher who wrote Walden. The article was about how people misunderstood Thoreau's writings. I read articles like this, and it makes me want to hole up in a library for a week reading Thoreau. What is there to misunderstand? What was his main message?
So over the past few nights, I've dipped into A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. This was his first published book (1849). I have one of those 'handsome home-library three-volume set' of Thoreau's work from the Book-of-the-Month Club: Walden, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and The Maine Woods.
The Boston Globe article said that A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is fairly impenetrable. The foreward to my edition states that reading this from cover to cover would be a tough diet.
I would somewhat agree with both of these. He spends a good portion of the book ranting. He goes from a detailed look at the specific biology on these rivers, to a discourse on various religions. Sprinkled throughout are pithy wisdoms ("He who resorts to the easy novel, because he is languid, does no better than if he took a nap."). This was a man who thought, and then wrote it down.
Every weekday, I go over the Concord River, on Route 3. It's a short bridge. Now I find myself looking down the river, as I pass by. It is so peaceful. And Thoreau canoed past this spot once.
I don't necessarily plan to read all of this book, but I will be dipping into it. I need something to think about when I go over that brief bridge.