Two novels about entitlement and something that sure isn’t love

I recently—and quite coincidentally—read two novels that, though very different, are nearly identical in theme, treatment of said theme and the ambivalent reaction I had to each of them.

marriage.jpgThe first of this not-really-dynamic duo was Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2011 “The Marriage Plot.” Eugenides said he wrote this novel as a way of determining whether novels using the what academics call “the marriage plot” could be written in a modern day setting. Well, not quite modern day, as it’s set in 1981, which he clearly remembers a little too fondly.

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The nearly insurmountable challenge of a 19th-Century novel

This post is a twofer. Two reviews for the price of one. This is because I have very little to say about the first novel I selected to fulfill the 19th-Century category of the 2016-17 Classics Challenge.

courage.jpgAfter living a month or so inside the head of the Rebels while reading “Gone With the Wind,” I thought I’d spend some time with the actual winners of the Civil War (though are there really any winners in war?) by reading Stephen Crane’s 1895 novel “The Red Badge of Courage.” I’d liked his short stories (especially “The Open Boat”) and was eager to read it.

I chose this book because it has been on my bookshelf for some 20 years and because it was short. It should have stayed on the bookshelf.

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You’ll enjoy your time with this ‘Gentleman in Moscow’

moscow.jpg“Have you read ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ yet?” the message from a Shelf Improver read. “I have not been so delighted in a long time.”

I had heard about the book, published last year to great acclaim, and was glad to hear this recommendation from someone whose taste I respect. So I was thrilled when it turned out to be the next book I had to read for book club. At 480 pages, it raised an eyebrow, but once I started, there was no stopping. It was, as promised, a delight from start to finish with plenty to talk about afterward.

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Back to the classics: ‘Gone With the Wind’ as a civics lesson

gone.jpgThe duly elected president of our country the other day asked, about the U.S. Civil War, “If you think about it, why? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

I think I speak for all Americans with brains and for thinking people everywhere when I ask: What the complete fuck?

Assuming he can read, he might find an answer (do himself no harm, either) by doing what I just did: I read “Gone With the Wind,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell about not just the Civil War, but its aftermath. I chose this book to satisfy the Classic by a Woman Writer category in this year’s Classics Challenge.

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‘The Shack’ is a slam dunk in the Crap Bucket, isn’t it?

shack.jpgSeveral years ago I tried to read Wm. Paul Young’s bizarre religious tract “The Shack” because, well, everyone was doing it. I got through about a third of it, realized it was crap and returned it to the friend who had loaned it to me saying something noncommittal and politic like, “I just couldn’t get into it.”

Fast forward to last month when someone in my new book club chose “The Shack” as our first book. I nearly dropped out. But being a good team member (something that is almost never recognized, much less rewarded anymore) and I found myself irritatedly skimming this book I had written off years ago.

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An elegy for a culture that’s killing itself

hillbilly.jpgI read J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” about a month ago, and still don’t know what to think about it.

Looking at it one way, the book is an engrossing first-hand story about the life of the rural poor—particularly those in Appalachia—and how one man got out, into the Marines, Ohio State University and into Yale Law School. Now, though Vance’s website says he’s a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm, he is better known as a talking head on cable news channels.

But “Elegy” is also a loving sepia-toned remembrance of a life that no one in America should be living and the people who live it.

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How many poets can dance on the head of a pin?

road.jpegThis is the time of year when students, vying to be their school’s commencement speaker, are furiously Googling “inspirational quotes for speeches.” Invariably, Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” will pop up. These speakers will use this beloved work to urge their fellow graduates to go forward on their own path, their argument boosted by the last three lines of the poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Turns out they won’t know what they’re talking about, because they have not understood the poem in the way Frost meant it.

“The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong” by David Orr is an examination of the phenomenon that is “The Road Not Taken” that is  fascinating, exhaustive and exhausting all at the same time.

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