Thursday, April 2, 2009

Three Books

While I was away this weekend, I finished reading, read, and started reading three books. Here are my abbreviated thoughts on each.

Travels With Charley (John Steinbeck, 1962)
I've started reading this book at least once a year since I bought it at the Book Barn in my hometown the summer before I went to college. I decided that in honor of a road trip I took two weeks ago, I would start it again, and since I've been hoping to write something about masculinity and America and the open road, I decided that maybe I'd finish it this time. I did. It was good. Not as good as any of Steinbeck's fiction (I love Steinbeck's fiction), but certainly good and an interesting piece that touches upon manhood, loneliness, identity and, surprisingly for me, race. I'd set it as required reading for your next road trip.

Modern Life (Matthea Harvey, 2007)
In general, I love Harvey's poetry. However, she was writing her Robo-Boy series while I was taking her course at Sarah Lawrence, and at the time I wasn't fond of them at all. In Modern Life, however, I see them as the transition between her older, more sentimental poetry and the new, harsher pieces. Her form tends to get in the way a bit at times ("The Future of Terror" and "Terror of the Future," not actually abecedarian, but still irksome, stand out), and I think that distracts from her ideas and surprises, which I always thought was the strongest part of her work. I think I'm also moving on from her work a bit and appreciating a different sort of poetry than I used to, so that might contribute to my negative feelings.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006)
I felt like there were an awful lot of connections between this book and Modern Life, but probably only because I'd read one right after the other. The Road's greatest strength is its language, which reads at times like poetry. McCarthy manages to create beauty in his language in all the places where he cannot create it in his bleak landscape. By the end, it felt like a hopeless and much less stark version of The Old Man and the Sea. The ends to each section were generally lovely and moving, and the book is a ridiculously quick read, but I think I'd rather be reading The Old Man and the Sea, which is saying a lot, because I really hated that book in high school.

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