Monthly Archives: July 2016

“My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One” by Elena Ferrante

I couldn’t figure out how this book came to be on my Kindle. Sometimes I forget I’m not the only person using my account! Thanks, J, for spotting this wonderful novel, which was originally published in Italian.

What did I like about this book? I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I like authors who take childhood and children seriously. Ferrante never deviates from the point of view and story line of her heroine, who, in this book, is followed from about age 6 to 17.

What else? I decided to look up “literary fiction” to see if this book qualifies. Wikipedia tells me “literary fiction” has something more going on that just plot. It engages some important idea or concept. My Brilliant Friend deals with poverty, war, education (very interesting!), gender roles, social violence and other important issues, all within the framework of one life.

If I’m going to read “literary fiction”, I want to do it right… I consulted Thomas C Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor on the subject of symbolism. According to Foster, almost everything is a symbol, and most symbols carry both positive and negative connotations. (Foster was not so helpful as to list the symbolism of common objects.) One prominent symbol in in My Brilliant Friend is shoes. Speculating wildly, I would say that the shoes in My Brilliant Friend symbolize creativity, wealth and power. But fixing shoes (as one character does) symbolizes poverty and subservience.

So much for literary criticism…

“Elena Ferrante” does not exist. This is the pen name of a person who (despite international acclaim and major prizes) prefers to remain anonymous, and who has been quoted as saying “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors”. Her publisher has respected her wishes. Speculation as to her identity is rampant and sometimes detailed. I, for one, am content to enjoy the books and let the author use whatever name she chooses.

I plan to read more by Elena Ferrante.


My journals – private and otherwise

My private journals are GONE!

I kept a personal journal starting when I was a sophomore in high school. It was an assignment from an English teacher named Mrs. Gerhardt. We were supposed to write, if I remember correctly, 4 or 5 days out of 7. The emphasis was on trying out different writing styles – prose, poetry, short story… (Why did she skip the all important laboratory report?) I wrote only prose. What my teacher called the “informal essay”. A few weeks ago, I excavated my storage space and found my first journal!

I kept writing, with assorted interruptions, to this day. Forty notebooks covering FIFTY years! Most are spiral bound notebooks from the nearest available campus bookstore. A few are fine, leather bound volumes received as gifts. Some are small, others big and heavy. Many are tattered and food-splattered.

My journals were/are private. They have not been shared.

In addition to my personal journals, I kept a “reading journal” from about 2008 to 2013. It will become the property of my oldest son to use as he sees fit. (He is my “literary executor”.)

My reading journal ended when I began this blog, in May of 2013. It contains about 20% non-book-related entries, ranging from movie reviews to generalized rants. It’s public, written for the world to see, although my name is not given. I had imagined gradually transferring reviews from my book journals to the blog, but I’ve done only a little of that.

I found out that I like blogging! I post three or four times each month. There’s a good deal of “me” in my blog.

I intermittently kept another category of journals, “gratitude journals”. There are two or three of these. And one journal of “memories” for my sons. These additional, non-private notebooks will also go into the custody of my son.

The question of what to do with my private journals bedeviled me for years. Do you know the journal curse?

“If I die before I wake, throw my journal in the lake!”

Destroy it. Tempting. Maybe logical. My journals are unprocessed, full of complaints and worries and anger, as well as joys and happiness. I’ve no wish to hurt anyone’s feelings. But… fifty years of personal writing?! Surely it has some value.

Last summer at a 50th high school reunion (not my own) I chatted with a man who was both a journalist and an author. When I said I didn’t know what to do with my personal journals, he was most emphatic. Find an archive! A library! A repository! But don’t, DON’T, DON’T throw them away.

I did it. I’ve found a home for my personal journals. It’s an archive maintained by my religious denomination. This religious affiliation (acquired in adulthood) has been important to me. Someone may, someday, use my writing to learn more about our denomination. Who else might be interested? Feminists, environmentalists, scientists, educators, local historians? Perhaps a sociologist or psychologist. None of us knows what aspects of our lives might interest someone many decades in the future.

So I chose an archive and discussed my writings. I advise my friends and relatives not to investigate. If there’s serious dirt in there, it’s known to those who matter. Most of what I wrote is mundane. I’m holding on to my most recent journals, from the past three years.

I’ve spared my eventual survivors from having to make one difficult decision. If they seriously need to check on some aspect of family history, they can visit the archive and dig away.

So today was the day! I signed a “deed of gift”. There should be a toast for this occasion! To life? To pen and ink and paper! To the future, digital or otherwise!

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil by Gaiman

A friend handed me this book because “it’s as good as Terry Pratchett”! OK… but I’m ambivalent about Pratchett. See my eulogy, dated March 19, 2015. So where does this Gaiman novel rate on the Pratchett scale?

I would give if about at 90. Not as good as my absolute Pratchett favorites, but very good.

The plot (told entirely as a flashback): A child’s family life is disrupted by the suicide of a boarder. Strange events follow hard on – money keeps turning up – a lottery win, a found coin. Sounds good, but goes all wrong.

The child meets neighbors and they team up to wage a supernatural battle against the forces of disorder. It all makes sense when told from the eyes of the child.

I’ll take more of Gaiman with me to the beach. Perfect reading for a rainy day!