“Heaven’s My Destination”

Heaven 01

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Thornton Wilder’s 1935 novel. I read it from my beautiful Library of America edition.

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3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Traveling textbook salesman George Brush butts heads with others by adhering to a strict religious and moral code.

A mostly episodic tale in the style of Wilder’s The Cabala and Theophilus North, but instead of solving the problems of others like those leads, George Brush leaves a trail of angry and perplexed people behind.

I hate this complaint, but I can’t figure out the point of Heaven’s My Destination. Why did Wilder write it? What is he trying to say? Brush grapples with his faith – questioning it, losing it, seemingly finding it again – but he seems to be at the same place in life in the end as he was in the beginning (perhaps a little more mature…?).

In any case, Brush belongs to that genre where a simple man, speaking his truth, causes ripples around him. (Being There is of a similar vein.) In these tales, we’re supposed to see the virtue of simplicity and faith but Wilder seems to be turning it on its head. Brush is often wrong. He meets people who believe in evolution and science (and women who smoke! God forbid!) who defend their beliefs much more eloquently than Brush. And he refuses to engage in dialogue with them, instead arguing and stalking away.

There’s also a Vonnegut flavor here; somewhere between Player Piano and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, except that Wilder loves all of his characters and all of humanity. He sees people as misguided, not inherently evil.

Even if I’m unsure of the point of all this, I enjoy spending time with Wilder’s characters and prose.

Because I read a Library of America edition containing several other Wilder books, the page numbers are strange (250-408). There’s a very good Notes section in the back that I will use for references when possible. When I do that, I’ll include the page it’s on.


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“Fight Club”

Fight Club

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 debut novel, a fixture of pop-culture after David Fincher’s 1999 film. I read a first edition hardcover.

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3 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 3

Seen the Movie: I turned fourteen in 1999. I have seen the movie so many times…

The Plot:

A modern thirty-something with a perfectly fine life (condo, career, college degree) is drawn to a suicidal woman and anarchist man.

Oh, Fight Club. I pray for you to be satire and worry that you are actually taking yourself seriously. Please be as convinced as I am that your narrator is a whiny, privileged white man who is making his own problems. And please be trying to convey that Tyler Durden is a terrible figure to idolize.

Fans of Fight Club can be abrasive. Some seem to believe that Tyler is the hero of this piece, totally missing the point (like how some men read The Collector and decide that kidnapping a woman would be jolly good fun).

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 4/4)

Lessing 05

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Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

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[129] “Mrs. Fortescue”

1 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Fred has conflicted sexual feelings about the upstairs tenant, Mrs. Fortescue, and his teenage sister, Jane.

A cruel, ugly, meaningless story which feels depressingly male or from the viewpoint of a self-hating woman.

I’m a horror fan and I’ve watched my share of torture-based movies. They’re not my favorite. They usually lack a point beyond, “look how gross this is – can you handle it?” This story is the literary version of that: “look how depraved and cruel and twisted this boy is – can you handle it?” I can read it, but I’m not going to like it if you don’t give me a point along the way.

[130]

He scooped [the baked beans] out of the dish with the edge of his fried bread, and she said: “What’s wrong with the spoon?”

“What’s wrong with the bread?” he returned, with an unconvincing whiskey glare, which she ignored.

(p.512) Continue reading

Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 3/4)

Lessing 04

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Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

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[86] “Each Other”

 2.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

A brother and sister carry on an affair.

Other than the incest, this story is written like any husband-goes-to-work, lover-comes-over affair. There’s not enough here to become more than a shock piece. There’s no context, the characters are paper dolls. I need more information: How did this sexual relationship start? When? Where are their parents? Do they have any other family?


[87] “Homage for Isaac Babel”

3 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

A young girl tries to read Isaac Babel to impress an older boy.

[88] First question: Who was Isaac Babel?

Isaac Babel (1894-1940) was a Russian-language journalist, playwright, literary translator, and short-story writer. Loyal to, but not uncritical of, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Babel fell victim to Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge as a result of his long-term affair with the wife of NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) chief Nikolai Yezhov.

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 2/4)

Lessing 03

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[44] “The Other Woman”

4 out of 5 stars.

 The Plot:

Rose breaks her engagement after her mother’s death, then spends years searching for what she’s lost.

Another 50+ page story. It has the same problem as “The Eye of God in Paradise” (Post 1, note [26]), feeling like two stories awkwardly glued together. The first half, following Rose, is a beautiful and sad meditation on a woman losing everything during the war. After her father’s death, the perspective changes to her married lover, Jimmie, turning into a tale over to a pathetic double-crosser. Though the end is pleasantly unexpected.

[45] First sentence:

Rose’s mother was killed one morning crossing the street to do her shopping.

(p.157)

[46]

“Being sorry doesn’t mend broken bones.”

(p.157)

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 1/4)

Lessing 02

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Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

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[1] “The Habit of Loving”

4 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Aging George marries a younger woman, if only to ease his loneliness, before understanding her own pain and depth.

Written so well.

[2] Reference:

George and Bobby drank a great deal of red wine and of calvados.

(p.13)

 

Calvados is an apple brandy from the Normany region in France.

[3]

“You know what, George? You’ve just got into the habit of loving.”

“What do you mean, dear?”

She rolled out of bed and stood beside it, a waif in her white pyjamas, her black hair ruffled. She slid her eyes at him and smiled. “You just want something in your arms, that’s all. What do you do when you’re alone? Wrap yourself around a pillow?”

He said nothing; he was cut to the heart.

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Introduction)

Lessing 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

Post 4


Thirty-five of Doris Lessing’s short stories, taken from four previous collections and published in 1978. I read a used first edition hardcover.

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2 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

What a strange reading experience. Two hundred pages into Stories’ 625-page running length, I was thinking that I might have the rare 4- or 5-star short story collection on my hands. Then the 1-star stories began to creep in. I soon found myself turning on the book.

I need more than beautiful writing to stay engaged. I take no joy in reading an entire story about the weather in a park. I need plot or compelling characters.

Lessing’s greatest strength is showing her characters as humans with their own motivations, strengths and weaknesses. There are rarely villains in these stories, no matter whose viewpoint we follow. There are unlikeable characters but even then we often see where they are coming from.

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