Something I’ve been meaning to tell you

I’ve just finished Alice Munro’s collection of thirteen stories called “Something I’ve been meaning to tell you.” There was another book I read, inbetween Eggers and Munro, but I’ll be blogging on that later. I’m not exactly sure why it’s taken me so long to discover her writing, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. Munro writes about the ordinary; two sisters growing old with a story they both lived with, a woman’s life after her divorce, a grandmother’s view of herself in the eyes of a visiting granddaughter. And yet, it is so compelling, so human. Ben and I had a couple of arguments about books when we first moved in; I didn’t respect his love for fantasy and science fiction. I tried to explain why I held Salinger, DH Lawrence, Virgina Woolfe, Plath, Joyce and Steinbeck (I could go on) in such high regard and why I considered it “better.” It was difficult for me to answer, I just knew, in my soul that these writers are unique because they look into the real, the ordinary, the everyday and find something spectacular. Something so very human.

And so with Munro. The best story by far in the book was the first, with the same name as the book. And I loved it not only for it’s storytelling, or it’s simplicity. I loved it because it taught me something I’ve been struggling with in my own writing; how to make one character know that another one may not be telling the whole truth. In one simple sentence Munro lets us know that someone could be lying. Distrust — so very human.

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Goodbye JD

Margaret Atwood wrote in Negotiating with the Dead that “all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.” (p.156) Perhaps it is true that writers do write for the only reason that they fear their own death. I wondered today, in hearing the news of the death of my favourite author of all time, did JD Salinger write because he feared death? I’m sure his experience on the front line in World War II made him feel like he had no choice but to write. But as far as the world is concerned, the man stopped writing after the sixties. Or did he?

I was first introduced to Salinger by way of a university course called Religion and Literature at the University of Toronto. My professor introduced me to Franny & Zooey, which continues to be the most influential book in my life. My professor said that he half-hoped for the day Salinger would die, so that maybe his writing for the past fifty years would finally be available for us to read.

Sorry, my thoughts are a bit scattered with this post.

One day, in an attempt to save our relationship, my ex boyfriend presented me with the one thing I wanted most in this world – the no longer published writing of JD Salinger. The story goes that some man in Texas had a word document that contained transcribed versions of stolen pages from back issues of magazines that had once published the stories. They were in libraries in universities, scattered across America. Salinger refused to let them be reprinted. And after all the hype about the influence of his only novel The Catcher in the Rye it seems like Salinger had it with society, retreated to the mountains and refused to let anything else be published. The man in Texas had them in a digital format, and gave them to my ex to win me back. You might have figured out the end to the story.

But I have all his stories now (I think). And I love them. And I could read them again and again.

And like my professor I am waiting for the vault to open, to have more Salinger to read. Because I can’t get enough. This man changed my life, and made me want to become a writer. I am heartbroken that he is gone and that he had such a tormented existence.

My prof once said that Salinger regretted killing Seymour in A Perfect Day for a Bananafish. Seymour Glass was exactly what his name meant. He “sees” “through” society and the shit. But at the end of the story, Seymour kills himself because he can’t stand the superficiality. But the hero is the one who sees more, and should rise above it. He doesn’t kill himself. He dies, of natural causes, deep in the forest of the mountains of New Hampshire.

Thank you JD. You changed my life. I’m sad you are gone.

The Bell Jar

sylvia_plath

I suppose the only one benefit to being sick is that I actually can get some reading done. Having been holed up with my chronic bronchitus again for over a week I’ve had no choice but to finish off Murakami and move on to Plath (given that I don’t have a TV).

About one year ago, I impulsively bought “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, for no reason I can remember, but have shelved it as a result of Paris, new job, new boyfriend and too much work. But I’m halfway through, and I’m only sorry to know that there were no more books written after this one. It is an incredible book. It is so raw and honest, and feels so familiar. I liken it to the work of my favourite, J.D Salinger. I’m not sure if any literary scholar would do the same but their styles and genre of writing seem so similar to me.

I’ve already starting dog earing pages, where paragraphs have stunned me with their honest brilliance.

—-

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green-fig in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and off-beat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quiet make out.

I saw myself sitting at the crotch of this fig-tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest…”

—-

Being sick and reading are the two things that make me realize I’m not really doing what I want to do. And I might not always be able to do it. So I damn well better start.