I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And the winner is...Tragedy as usual

On a slightly unusual paying assignment, I spent many hours analyzing Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Novel writing doesn’t get any better than this, Robinson deserves the Pulitzer Prize she won. I had read the book in the late ‘80s around the same time as I saw the film version with the luminous Christine Lahti. My memory of the film diluted some of the deep sadness of the story of two young girls who lose every caretaker they have until they end up with a mentally ill aunt. In the film, there was a hopefulness about the ending, while in the book it was clearer and more tragic. I've unashamedly confessed before how much I choose comedy over tragedy. But this was one of those rare books so gorgeously written that the lyrical voice of the text overcame the pain of the subject matter—isolation, dysfunction, insanity, suicide—you know all that fun stuff.

Housekeeping won the Pen/Hemingway Award decades before Robinson won the Pulitzer for Gilead, I was left contemplating how literary awards usually go to tales of excruciatingly painful experiences told with exquisite skill.

Tragedy truly is more timeless than comedy. Laughter explodes like fireworks, while the flame of solemn suffering burns on and on. Comedy is also more perishable because it's linked to the era when it was written. Even when freshly presented in its own era, not everyone will laugh. Worse yet, humor's shelf life expires when people stop understanding what's being mocked. Then there’s that irreverent anarchy element of even the mildest comedy that can make some people nervous--too nervous to give it an award.

That said, I don't think we have that much choice what we write. Even if I tried to go tragic, my irreverent brain wouldn't go for it.

June 30 to July 23, 1997 I read (or in many cases re-read):

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
Persuasion, Jane Austen
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Emma, Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York, Gail Parent

Look Ma, I Am Kool! And Other Casuals, Burton Bernstein, Ed.
Note: read some, not all, mostly Woody Allen

Blood and Money, Thomas Thompson
Here’s an appreciative review of this book

Hope and Fear in Washington (the Early ‘70s), The Story of the Washington Press Corps, Barney Collier
Note: poor dude appears to be coming apart at the seams and writing about it, and seeing it everywhere he looks.

Some kind of Hero, James Kirkwood
Note: Makes you yearn for J.D. Salinger, I really couldn’t stand this book…I did like some of his other stuff but not this one.
web profile

Future World, Mayo Simon and George Schenck
Note: Poorly written but it does have suspense appeal.

Smokescreen, Dick Francis

The Murderers, Emanuel Tanay, M.D., and Lucy Freeman

June 30 to July 23, 2007 I R3,

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
A modern classic.

Strange Candy, Laurell K. Hamilton
These short stories were polished and fun to read. One, A Lust of Cupids, was a light-hearted paranormal chick lit story, which is not what I think of when I think of Hamilton.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, James Shapiro
a comprehensive review.

This was fun. This historical perspective provided abundant insights for a Shakespeare fiend like myself. For example, Shapiro suggests a probable reason why Shakespeare reneged on his promise at the end of Henry IV, Part 2 to bring back the popular Sir John Falstaff in Henry V. Instead Henry V contains a report of Falstaff's death. Early in 1599 Will Kemp, the comic actor who played Falstaff, left the Chamberlain’s Men. There was likely no other actor equal to the part. Shapiro has some telling evidence to prove his speculation that Shakespeare also wasn’t too keen on wild and wooly Kemp’s famous habit of improvising jokes to get a laugh. During the same year he has Hamlet instruct the Player in Hamlet:

…And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them...Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2

George S. Kaufman had the same problem with the Marx Brothers:

Kaufman wrote The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, and A Night At the Opera for the Marx Brothers, but hated their improvisations. Once during an Animal Crackers rehearsal, he walked up onstage and said, "Excuse me for interrupting, but I thought for a minute I actually heard a line I wrote."
Gotta love
George S. Kaufman.