Posts filed under ‘October 2015’

Why is a Raven like a writing desk* – “Mrs. Poe” by Lynn Cullen

One of our favorite American writers gone wrong is Edgar Allan Poe.  His stories are haunting but maybe equally as
interesting is his bizarre marriage to his 13-year-old cousin and his death which is surrounded by urban legends of drunkenness, being found homeless in the street, etc.  “Mrs. Poe” is Cullen’s historical fiction novel about Poe’s affair with the little known poet Frances Osgood.  It all should be the formula for a pretty intriguing book.  But somehow Cullen is deftly able to skirt the intrigue and make this book a mundane and strangely redundant story.

mrs-poeIn 1845, Poe had become quite popular with his publishing of “The Raven.”  His wife, Virginia, was suffering from declining health as she and Poe made the rounds of the literary circles in New York City.  Like the Poes, Frances Osgood spent many evenings socializing in parlors with Whitman, Atwood and a whole other host of literary giants when she finally met Poe.  Frances and Poe seemed to have an immediate connection.  While Frances is married, her husband is a well-known philandering artist. She is lonely and destitute, hoping to publish some of her work.    She and Poe form a fast friendship which quickly grows into more.

There are clandestine meetings where gloves are left behind, whispers in crowded rooms, jealous spouses, gossiping neighbors.  And then there are more clandestine meetings, more rumors, love poems exchanged, societal gossip, some weird behavior by Poe’s wife, etc.  If you read the first one hundred pages of this book, you really can either read those pages again or read the second 200 pages because it is really all the same.  I hope I don’t ruin anything by sharing that they all do die at some point, so the cycle does end…eventually.

I am not trying to diminish  the research and work Cullen must have put into this book, but truly it is baffling how she has made her characters so predictably repetitive and mundane.  I have a young adolescent crush on Poe. He was one of the first writers I read that really scared me.  And the man himself has always been a bit of a puzzle.   But this book is just more of a curiosity then an insight into who Poe was.  I guess sometimes the riddle of the writer is best left alone.

*The unanswered riddle from “Alice in Wonderland”

October 21, 2015 at 12:44 pm 2 comments

America’s Favorite Pastime – “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach

UnknownI don’t enjoy watching baseball.  But I get the nostalgia of it. If you love baseball it is likely someone special took you to your first game and you sat shoulder to shoulder, squinting into the sun, just watching together. There was the smell of peanuts and popcorn, blue skies, the crack of the ball. It is a pastime that is greatly loved.  I have avoided this book because I just didn’t want to read a book about baseball, sorry to all the baseball fans.  But just like the movie “Field of Dreams” really isn’t about baseball, neither is this book.  I am just still trying to figure out what it really is about so pardon the fumbling here.

This is novel is set at fictitious Westish College, a small school on Lake Michigan.  Henry is a talented sophomore short stop, who is being scouted for the draft. He has been training with Mike, the Westish baseball team leader, to get better and bigger and faster.  Henry is graceful and agile and destined for baseball greatness. But then he throws that one ball that hits his friend Owen in the head.  And in a cloud of self-doubt and second guessing, he loses whatever baseball magic he had.

Every description of this novel, makes it sound like it is this bad throw that changes everyone’s lives. The school president, his daughter, Mike and Owen all are thrown in upheaval because of this one throw.  But to me it is not really the pivotal moment and I think that is a lazy way to talk about this book.

The novel, to me, is more about how we have certainty at points of our life and that is nice.  But really that is not how we find ourselves.  At times in our lives , we are sure we are in love or clear on our path to success or certain that our future is set. But when that all falls apart what do we do? That is the measure of greatness.  And every character in this novel, finds themselves at a crossroads and has to decide what next. So yes, there is the bad throw, but there is also the bad marriage, the crossing of boundaries that leads to bad decisions and consequences, the hiding of the truth which isolates. For each character they have their own bad throw that lands them somewhere dark and alone.

Harbach is a talented writer.  Sadly, parts of this novel dragged for me even with the brilliant writing.   What I find most intriguing about this novel, as I think about it, is that Harbach combined America’s favorite pastime, baseball with each character’s journey of self-absorbed doubt and introspection – the finding yourself that the talk shows all claim is so important.  I think with this combination Harbach is hitting on something else. Americans love these personal stories of finding ourselves through adversity.  In truth this is our other favorite American pastime.  Peanuts, cracker jacks and finding ourselves. It’s a home run every time.

October 12, 2015 at 12:50 pm 2 comments


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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