Friday, July 15, 2011

The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.


No snow last Tuesday. Snow every day since... Mount Wellington as viewed from Ashfield Street, Sandy Bay. July 2011.

Two books this week, both excellent!

If Beale Street Could Talk is James Baldwin's fifth novel. I only know Baldwin through his reputation, and after finishing this one I am kicking myself that I’ve left it so long to read one of his books.

A love story set in Harlem in the early-1970s; the novel evocatively recreates a certain time, space and community. Exploring the complex interweaving of family, culture, race and justice, it strikes a lovely balance between sweet and sad; anger and forgiveness.

Despite the overwhelming injustice of the story, and the anger that this injustice generates, the novel is ultimately an optimistic one. It stresses the importance of the bond between those who suffer from oppression, especially between members of a family; a bond that otherwise would not be experienced if circumstances were brighter. As society disintegrates in a collective sense, smaller human unity will become more and more important.

I liked it an awful lot, so if it sounds like your bag, head down to the nearest library.

The second is Human Voices, by Penelope Fitzgerald. Drawn from her own work experience, the novel takes place in the halls of Broadcasting House (the BBC’s London headquarters) during the Second World War. This is a novel of details with the most scant arc of a plot. Stuff happens – sometimes quite dramatic things, sometimes quite ordinary things – but overall this is a narratives more about atmosphere and place, rather than any particular climax.

Like If Beale Street Could Talk, its strength is in creating an incredibly redolent portrait of a time and place that bears little resemblance to the here and now. Fitzgerald’s cast of characters is amazingly rich and diverse, give the length of the text.

This is a book well worth immersing yourself in for a few days.

9 comments:

altadenahiker said...

I find plots distracting, unless I'm told the ending at the beginning, in which case then I can enjoy the story. So the second one sounds tempting.

But I like Baldwin's essays. I remember on in particular that he wrote while living in Switzerland.

Tash said...

What a gorgeous view...waiting for snowy peaks.
I read Ms. Fitgerald's Bookshop. I liked it but was saddened by, yet accepting (in an "Ah, that's life" sort of way) of the ending
Will go read some of Mr. Baldwin's work

Kris said...

Altadenahiker, it sounds like it would be right up your alley!

Tash, I've been trying to get a decent shot of the snow all week, but they're not quite turning out for me. Today has had the best light in ages, but I forgot my camera!

Roddy said...

Do you carry your phone with you? If so then try taking a pic or two to compare.

Kris said...

My phone is not advanced enough to take photographs.

Brian Miller said...

wow. long time no see. glad you dropped in...nice snap man. always looking for a good read...

magiceye said...

love the composition of that image! lovely!

as for the book, sure, will check it out!

Roddy said...

Yeah, phones are terribly rudimentary.

Kris said...

Brian, I have some snow shots, they'll appear soon!

Magiceye, I hope that you escaped last week's events safe and sound.