Upon the death of J.D. Salinger in January 2010, the New Yorker quickly compiled a list of short stories that the author had published with that magazine during the early years of his career. If you’re a subscriber to the New Yorker, you can access and read these stories, as well. Pretty cool, ‘ey?
From most accounts, J.D. Salinger was an obsessively private man, particularly so after the publication of his novel, The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951. He was known to sue those who infringed his privacy and the sanctity of his literary work. There seems to be a long list of biographers that have borne the brunt of Salinger’s litigious bent, and in 2009, he successfully sued Fredrick Colting, a Swedish author, preventing Colting from publishing a novel he had written about a grown up Holden Caulfield.
I’m sure the advent of the internet, blogging, Facebook, Twitter and so on would have irked poor old Salinger, and no doubt, the ability to access the information linked below, with a simple click, would have him turning furiously over in his grave.
So if you dare to disturb the dead, have a read of the linked articles and websites below. He led a fascinating life, including dating Charlie Chaplin’s future wife; participating in D-Day on Utah Beach; and at one time or another practicing a number of different religions.
I think ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a good place to move on to from Lawrence Durrell’s, ‘The Alexandria Quartet‘. It is probably the most readily available book in the world and its only 214 small pages long.
How about it gang?
Published in 1951, this homage to the difficult teenage years, was J.D. Salinger’s best known work and is still sells around 250,000 copies per year.
I’m sure we will all have plenty to say about this well-known American classic.
Read on, fellow book lovers.
For an interesting blog post on The Catcher in the Rye (a teenager’s perspective on a teenage protagonist), click here.
I’ve come to the administrative decision that “The Alexandria Quartet” by Lawrence Durrell is a brutal read. To quote:
“I have been looking through my papers tonight. Some have been converted to kitchen uses, some the child has destroyed. This form of censorship pleases me for it has the indifference of the natural world to the constructions of art – an indifference I am beginning to share. After all what is the good of a fine metaphor for Melissa when she lies buried deep as any mummy in the shallow tepid sand of the black estuary?“
Firstly, it seems almost impossible to find a copy of the four books that make up the quartet. I’m not sure how others have faired, but it took me a couple of months to track down a copy. I finally found three of the four parts at The Strand Book Store in New York. Later, I located Justine, the first book in the quartet, at the Argosy Book Store, also in New York. As much fun as this search was, it was a challenge.
Secondly, I have found it a very difficult read. I think its going to take me the rest of the year to finish it. So, for the sake of making this book club more than a one-book-a-year book club, I’ve made an executive decision to put it to the side and suggest another book.
Now, I promise that I will endure with it myself and will blog a post on it when it is finally finished. But unless I receive any violent objections otherwise, for now I’m going to suggest that we as a group move on. A new book will be suggested shortly.
To soften the blow of this disappointing news, here is a link to a performance by Umm Kulthum, Egypt’s most revered female singer.
Or for those of us with less classical tastes, click here.
Lawrence Durrell, the author of The Alexandria Quartet (our current book), has inspired the creation of an international society. Take a look at their website if you are interested to learn more about our current author of interest.
In honour of the Egyptian elections, our next book is The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.
Click here for the Wikipedia summary.
Unfortunately this book is currently out of print in the USA, so your going to have to stop in at your local library or second-hand bookstore to pick up a copy.
While googling recently, I came across this website setting forth commentary on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. It’s not the most informative piece of writing you’ll ever read, but nonetheless the author’s very honest opinions on the listed novels are interesting.
McCullers’ debut novel was published in 1940 and is listed at number 17 of the Modern Library’s List of 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. The book is also included in Time Magazine’s list of 100 Best Novels of All Time.
Below is an essay written by Richard Wright, an author who is also included in the Modern Library’s List (at number 20 for ‘Native Son’). Wright’s essay neatly covers some of the primary issues raised by the book. (*Spoiler Alert* – The essay includes storyline spoilers).
Looking forward to comments from readers.
Richard Wright. “Inner Landscape.” New Republic. 103 (Aug. 1940): 195.
“In her comments prefacing the outline she sent to a publisher, McCullers makes it clear that the novel is about “five isolated, lonely people in their search for expression and spiritual integration with something greater than themselves.” She explains the novel’s three-part structure as a fugue (a musical composition featuring several repeating themes): Part One introduces the broad theme of “man’s revolt against his own inner isolation and his urge to express himself as fully as possible” as one voice, first through John Singer and then through the other major characters. Part Two demonstrates the inevitable failure of each person, which is brought on by a combination of free will and environmental entrapment. Part Three functions as a coda; the situations of the characters ultimately end up worse than they were before Singer entered their lives.
McCullers sets off the novel’s principal theme—man’s struggle against isolation and his need for expression—by using five “counter-themes” (McCullers conceived her projected novel as a work of music). Each of these five counter-themes—the need for people to create a unifying deity or principle, the likelihood that any such manmade god will be an illusion, the societal suppression of individuality, the perversion of man’s urge to cooperate with others, and the shining moments of heroism that occasionally characterize otherwise ordinary individuals—develops and elaborates on the principal theme.
Out of the tradition of Gertrude Stein’s experiments in style and the clipped, stout prose of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway comes Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. With the depression as a murky backdrop, this first novel depicts the bleak landscape of the American consciousness below the Mason-Dixon line. Miss McCullers’ picture of loneliness, death, accident, insanity, fear, mob violence and terror is perhaps the most desolate that has so far come from the South. Her quality of despair is unique and individual; and it seems to me more natural and authentic than that of Faulkner. Her groping characters live in a world more completely lost than any Sherwood Anderson ever dreamed of. And she recounts incidents of death and attitudes of stoicism in sentences whose neutrality makes Hemingway’s terse prose seem warm and partisan by comparison. Hovering mockingly over her story of loneliness in a small town are primitive religion, adolescent hope, the silence of deaf mutes – and all of these give the violent colors of the life she depicts a sheen of weird tenderness.
It is impossible to read the book and not wonder about the person who wrote it, the literary antecedents of her style and the origins of such a confounding vision of life. The jacket of the book tells us with great reserve that she is twenty-two years old. Because the novel treats of life in the South, we assume that she is Southern born and reared. A recent news story says she is married and now lives in New York. And that is all.
I don’t know what the book is about; the nearest I can come to indicating its theme is to refer to the Catholic confessional or the private office of the psychoanalyst. The characters, Negro and white, are “naturals,” and are seen from a point of view that endows them with a mythlike quality. The core of the book is the varied relationships of these characters to Singer, a lonely deaf mute. There are Mick Kelly, a sensitive, adolescent white girl; aged Dr. Copeland, the hurt and frustrated Negro; Jake Blount, a nervous and unbalanced whiskey-head; and Biff Brannon, whose consciousness is one mass of timid bewilderment. All these characters and many more feel that the deaf mute alone understands them; they assail his deaf ears with their troubles and hopes, thereby revealing their intense loneliness and denied capacity for living.
When the deaf mute’s friend dies in an insane asylum, he commits suicide, and act which deprives the confessional of its priest. The lives of Miss McCullers’ characters are resolved thus: Mick Kelly is doomed to a life of wage slavery in a five-and-ten-cent store; Dr. Copeland is beaten by a mob of whites when he protests against the injustices meted out to his race; Jake Blount stumbles off alone, wistfully, to seek a place in the south where he can take hold of reality through Marxism; and Biff Brannon steels himself to live a life of emptiness.
The naturalistic incidents of which the book is compounded seem to be of no importance; one has the feeling that any string of typical actions would have served the author’s purpose as well, for the value of such writing lies not so much in what is said as in the angle of vision from which life is seen. There are times when Miss McCullers deliberately suppresses the naturally dramatic in order to linger over and accentuate the more obscure, oblique and elusive emotions.
To me the most impressive aspect of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race. This cannot be accounted for stylistically or politcally; it seems to stem from an attitude toward life which enables Miss McCullers to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness.
In the conventional sense, this is not so much a novel as a projected mood, a state of mind poetically objectified in words, an attitude externalized in naturalistic detail. Whether you will want to read the book depends upon the extent to which you value the experience of discovering the stale and familiar terms of everyday life bathed in a rich and strange meaning, devoid of pettiness and sentimentality.”
The website Goodreads publishes information and reviews about books and authors. Here is what Goodreads has to say about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
And further, strictly for your amusement, a clip from a 1968 movie based on the novel.
I’m still reading our current book, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”, so before I complete the post for that book, I thought in the meantime I would give you a teaser post about Carson McCullers, the author.
The American author Carson McCullers was born in Georgia in 1917 and lived most of her life in the American south and New York. She wrote almost exclusively about the south and focused heavily on the themes of loneliness and the power of love. Many critics, including the Modern Library, consider “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” to be her masterpiece, which she wrote at the age of 23. McCullers suffered from poor health for much of her life caused by rheumatic fever and a series of strokes, and she died in New York at age 50. A Hollywood film is currently being made about McCullers’ life.
It may be of interest to those who live in Brooklyn, that McCullers lived communally for a while in the February House, an informal literary salon located in Brooklyn Heights. A series of writers and artists frequented the Brooklyn Brownstone that housed the February
House, including W.H. Auden, Richard Wright and even, Salvador Dali. The house was demolished in the early 1940s to make way for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
McCullers’ work inspired Susan Vega to write a musical homage to her.
Here are some other links about Carson McCullers that may be of interest.
Any and all comments welcome!