Recently Read: January Edition

My Ántonia
Willa Cather

A vision of the American West that was already gone when this went to print. I love novels from this period. Cather makes the scenery come alive, similar to what Wharton does in Ethan Frome, though often achieving opposite effects. To oversimplify, one could say Ántonia is hot and Ethan is cold. I love that the book is about the difficulties and joys of growing up in migrant and farm communities. Though I won’t use this time or space to explore this, my sense is that Cather’s narrative voice works similar to Joyce’s in Portrait, without the overt structural and stylistic elements. Cather’s adult Burden is narrating, unlike the young to old Stephen in Portrait, but the idealism he sees in his surroundings and in Ántonia, changes to a kind of realism by the end. There is a sequence about wolves that I liked so much I haven’t gone back to reread it. Like Jim’s first vision of Ántonia, I’m savoring my memory of it before I start examining its reality of phrase and clause.


Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film
Carol J. Clover

Considered a classic by those that read this kind of thing, it’s also the origin of the term “Final Girl.” Though she tackles sometimes complex theories Lacanian and otherwise, Clover has a readable, even admirable, style. I found the first half of the book a particular pleasure to read, and the second half not as much (and by that I don’t mean it was bad or anything). Maybe I wasn’t as interested in the material. Maybe I should have slowed down my reading. I plan on rereading; I’ll figure it out then, but the problem was likely me. There’s only so much I can process on a first read.


Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
Zadie Smith

I’m kind of embarrassed that I haven’t read any of Smith’s novels yet, but I’ve watched and read hours of interviews and was excited to learn about this essay collection. I love hearing people who love books, whether or not they are writers, talk about them. She’s an avid reader of both classic and contemporary literature. In more than one interview she has also mentioned living in uncertainty, doubt, and indecisiveness, hence the collection’s title. I appreciate the willingness to say “I don’t know” or “I can’t decide right now.” I say these statements all the time. I came for the essays on Pnin and David Foster Wallace, but I left remembering the essays about her family, particularly those about her father.


Off Message
Joel Brouwer

Brouwer is one of my favorite contemporary poets. One of the few poets that I’ve heard rather than read first. He read a poem about boring dreams that had an allusion to Un Chien Andalou (1929), which immediately won me over. We were in the Chukker. I don’t recall ever speaking to him face-to-face, except I may have awkwardly told him I liked his writing. His first book came out around then and I’ve been reading them ever since.

There’s an engagement with the present, even when he’s writing about the past, that I like about his work.  That engagement includes an intelligent and comical way of handling contemporaneity in which the speakers give themselves over to the experience of it all, while simultaneously interrogating it. This within-the-worldness is something I appreciate about his poems and have wanted to do in my own. Maybe there’s something Beckettian there I’m sensing or reading into it. Maybe none of this makes sense. Either way, his work is a continuing inspiration.



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