I's time to examine my reading material. It leaves me undernourished, brain-depleted, contemptuous of my own reading habits. All I read is the various thrillers--the more exciting, the better. But what food for thought, for provocation comes from those? Oh, yes, the Alex Cross novel about Alex going to Africa in pursuit of a criminal really wasn't that believable, yet Patterson could --and did--include meaty information about African teens, orphaned and brainwashed boys, their access to power and what it might mean to them. Oh, the horror, the horror. This particular assassin, their controller, used them in his kills. So, I learned about killers and a horrible type of killing. Not believable? Wrong, it's true--hmmmm.
In another thriller, I learned about the horrors in current Russia--and what nightmares they bring! Again, killing and more killing.
Ask me about a a provocative book, one that instigates, invigorates, and is worthy of time spent in its envelopment. Quick, name one! "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee. I've read that one twice and seen the movie twice. What instigation, what provocation! A professor seduces one of his students and continues to trick her into sex until she cracks. He is released from his job and seeks out his distant daughter who lives out in the veldt, where she grows flowers to sell and makes a quiet life. During his stay she is raped under questionable circumstances and the professor is brutalized. Both survive but are equally affected and changed by their experiences. She quietly compromises herself to accept her pregnancy and what it means in her surroundings (intentionally left vague here by me), whereas the professor wants to fight. Finally, he returns to the city to find his former student, only to be rejected and humiliated by the family. He returns to his own daughter and accepts the inevitability of her decision. He has no choice because he has nowhere else he can go. Now he is compromised.
What's the disgrace? Obviously, his fall from grace as a respectable professor, his tainted seduction of the girl lead to his disgrace. But more is going on. The daughter is disgraced by her rape. The professor is disgraced by his inability to protect her or himself. It goes on, more disgrace, leading to final decisions and acceptance of what is rather than what could be, although that concept is also part of the story. This novel is not entertaining or thrilling (like my crime or spy books), but it shows human nature in tumult, in despair, in disgrace, and then choices. I will read this book again for its beauty of language and for a story of human dignity.
The following is the last paragraph in William Faulkner's acceptance speech for the Noble Prize in Literature. I don't think anyone has ever said it better about the role of the writer.
"I believe that man will not
merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he
alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he
has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and
endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these
things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his
heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and
pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the
glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record
of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him
endure and prevail."
In "Disgrace," the professor returns to his daughter, I think, because of her "courage and honor and hope..."--all of which compensate for the disgrace of the rape and his own fall from grace. They both will "endure and prevail." "Disgrace" is one of those great novels that a well-read person should know.
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski