Friday, March 6, 2009

Since I'm sure the world is waiting, I will now pronounce my opinion of the debate over The Kindly Ones.  Of course, like many people with extremely valid opinions about books, I have not read the book in question; I'm only going by what other people have written about it.  I would like to think that there must be something worthwhile in there somewhere, or the book would not have been published in the first place.  Of course, it was originally published in France, and sometimes French taste can be a bit . . . quirky, n'est-ce pas?  But they were right about Mickey Rourke after all, weren't they, and it won the Prix Goncourt.  So maybe there is a reason for the book's existence buried in what sounds like a torrent of horror.  However, I think the following words of Gerry Donaghy, the head buyer for a bookstore in Portland, Ore., sum it up for me: "Do I [the putative reader] have the time and emotional resources to invest in a 1,000-page book on the Holocaust that sounds like a transcription of Pasolini's '120 Days of Sodom'?" 

If I want to learn how horrible the Holocaust was, a non-fiction account will do just fine.  The truth is horrible enough; it does not need to be fictionalized or embellished to make it even worse.  Sadly, true accounts of human cruelty abound; even more sadly, they are outnumbered by the actual incidences of human cruelty.  These accounts form a genre unto themselves, that must be studied if we are ever to understand how people came to perpetrate such crimes on others.  The question of the nature of evil, and how ordinary people can be swept into promulgating evil, is not only fascinating but also morally necessary to confront.  I would never advocate avoiding difficult subjects in books on either moral or aesthetic grounds.  But a fictional account of great violence must meet a different standard; we do not read fiction to learn things, in the sense of what happened when.  Fiction tells us something different; in this case, maybe what it felt like to live through a horrible time, or what it might have felt like to inflict suffering during that time, or how a mind can grow so twisted it could rationalize doing so.  So I would hope The Kindly Ones does provide something that is not available in a historical account of the Holocaust (although how the author could imagine his way into the mind of a sadistic former Nazi SS officer is a big question mark), and I'm curious to know what that something is, in an academic sense.  

I'm not a squeamish reader; in fact, I rather like dark, disturbing fiction, and have read some pretty disturbing non-fiction as well (The Rape of Nanking, for example).  I have no problem in general reading graphic descriptions of violence and sex.  I'm not objecting on prudish grounds; I just don't see myself sacrificing what little time I have to read to this book.  If somehow someday I finish my entire to-read list and have absolutely nothing left to read, I might read it, and then maybe I'll figure out what its raison d'etre is.  But if that ever happens, I'll check it out of the library.  

P.S. I'm quite peeved at Barnes & Noble for misspelling Jayne Anne Phillips' name, and thereby making me misspell it in a previous post.  As soon as I looked at the cover of her book Lark and Termite, I noticed that indeed there is an "e" at the end of Anne.  Never trust a big chain store.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

National Grammar Day

Sorry for the late notice: I just found out that today is National Grammar Day!  I'm pleased to find out that such a day exists; of course, I believe that every day should be grammar day.  I can't wait to try the recipe for the Grammartini.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Things I Noticed

Jayne Ann Phillips will be at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble tomorrow night (March 3rd).  Her new book Lark and Termite is on my to-read list, so I'd like to go.  Sorry to say I haven't read anything by her before, but since she is from and writes about my ancestral home, West Virginia, I feel I should look into her oeuvre.  Also, a friend has read Lark and Termite and recommends it.  On Thursday, March 5, Zoe Heller will be at the Lincoln Square B&N; her new book The Believers is also on my list.  She wrote the book on which the film Notes on a Scandal was based.   I like what she said recently in an interview for the New York Times: "I don't write books for people to be friends with the characters."  Thank the maker!  Here's another worthy quotation: "I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation.  In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both."  Flannery O'Connor, of course.


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About Me

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New York, NY, United States
Overeducated mom, addled by constant interruptions due to demands of family and dog, trying to read books and write coherent sentences about them. Luckily, yoga keeps me centered. Sharing my love of yoga through teaching helps make sense of it all. I have a yoga blog at Since 2015, it has been my pleasure to serve as a reader for Epiphany, a literary journal publishing fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art; on Twitter as @epiphanymag.


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