"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, July 22, 2016

2016 Reads, Update #2

We have now passed the second quarter of the year, meaning that half the year is over.  How time flies.  My update from last quarter is here and the initial plan at the beginning of the year can be found here  

I guess I’m behind on my reading, though it’s hard to say since I’m in the middle of a number of works.  The big thing that has altered my schedule is that I started a new project at work, which has really sucked up my time and energy.  There’s a lot to do at the beginning of a project.  Once I get things in an orderly and rhythmic mode, I should have more time.  Plus I’ve been captivated by the baseball season, and since I decided this year to purchase Major League Baseball’s all games access, I can finally watch all the Baltimore Orioles games.  That’s usually what I do at night now, watch my beloved Orioles play.

I read two full length books this quarter.  One was a non-fiction book, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times by a Benedictine abbot, Dom Jean-Charles Nault.  As I mentioned in my last update, this was an unplanned read decided by the Catholic Thought book club at Goodreads where I participate.  Acedia is curtly defined as sloth or laziness, but really it’s a richer term.  Wikipedia gets at the definition as a “listlessness” that prevents one from performing one’s duties, or as with the Desert Fathers, where the term originated, prevents one from praying or performing one’s devotions.  Wikipedia notes that Aldous Huxley identifies acedia as one of “the main diseases of the modern age.”  Abbott Nault agrees, and his argument was convincing to me.  With all the free time we have in contemporary life, and this need for constant stimulation, acedia overcomes the soul to where one’s devotions and responsibilities become stale.  Failed marriages and subsequent divorce is a product of acedia.  This was a fascinating read.

The other full length work I read was Jack London’s novel, White Fang.  When I selected this work, I was under the impression it was a novella, like its complementary work, The Call of the Wild.   White Fang turned out to be around 250 pages, definitely a full scale work.  The reason these two works are considered complementary is because The Call of the Wild has a dog, Buck, go from domestication to wild while White Fang takes a wild wolfdog, White Fang, to domestication.  It was a real fun read to be inside the mind and point of view of a wolfdog—and London captures it well—and parts of the story were brutal and hard to take, but ultimately the story turns on the love of a man for the dog. The brutality shows how brutal nature can be, and the love shows how positive a civilizing effect can be, and how much love is at the heart of civilization.

What’s interesting is that I read nine short stories this quarter.  I do have posts on a good portion of them on my blog.  I’ve been reading my poetry read for the year (Some Desperate Glory) and have posted a couple of poems.  I read the middle fifty psalms (51-100) in two translations.  I have not made much headway on left over works from last year, the Julius Caesar biography and annual book on writing, Artful Sentences

The major read I’m undergoing right now is Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a family, which I am finding to be a great novel.  I’m somewhere over a third of the way through.  I also posted my initial thoughts on this novel, here.  

I’ve also added a couple of unplanned reads.  They are both non-fiction works.  One is a biography, Saint Dominic by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P. and the other a devotional book, Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God by Romano Guardini. 

2016 is the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order, otherwise known as the Order of Preachers, and I needed to do something to commemorate the event.  The Dominicans mean a lot to me.  St. Catherine of Siena, the patron of this blog, was a Third Order Dominican, and of all the religious orders—and there are a lot of them, each with their own charism—the Dominican Order fits my nature best.  I’ll have to put out a blog to fully explain why.

RomanoGuardini was an Italian born priest who grew up in Germany and remained there.  He is a noted author of many spiritual works.  I believe I saw that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was his student at one time, but I am sure the Holy Father was a great admirer of Guardini’s work.  So this work fits the overall theme of this year’s reads of German authors.  Learning the Virtues was a book I had on my “to-read” list but when it became the Book Club read at Catholic Thoughts group at Goodreads this month, I had to make room in my reading schedule to fit it in. 

As you might imagine, I have now screwed up my annual reading plans.  Still I hope to get to the third volume of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, “Marius.”  I will certainly finish the psalms this quarter, and either I will finish the Julius Caesar biography or move to Dante’s Paradisio.  I’ll decide when I get to it.

Here’s what I have read so far this year and upcoming plans.

Completed 2nd Quarter:

“A House of Gentlefolks,” a short story by Evelyn Waugh. 
The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times, a non-fiction book by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B.
White Fang, a novella by Jack London.
The Book of Psalms, (Psalms 51-100) KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
“Hallelujah, Family,” a short story by Ludmilla Petrushevkaya, translated by Anna Summers.
“Wingstroke,: a short story by Vladimir Nabokov. 
“A House of Gentlefolks,” a short story by Evelyn Waugh.
“Miles City, Montana,” a short story by Alice Munro. 
“The Cabuliwallah,” a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. 
“1933,” a short story by Mavis Gallant.
“The Man Born Blind,” a short story by C. S. Lewis. 
“After the Storm,” a short story by Earnest Hemingway.

Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, a non-fiction book on writing by Virginia Tufte.
“A House of Gentlefolks,” a short story by Evelyn
Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew, a book of history and collected poetry by Max Egremont.
Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, a novel by Thomas Mann.
Saint Dominic, a biography by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P.
Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, a non-fiction book of Christian devotion by Romano Guardini.
The Book of Psalms, (Psalms 101-150) KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.

Upcoming Plans:

 “Gods,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
 “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Light of the World,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Marius,” Volume III of Les Misérables, a novel by Victor Hugo.

Completed: First Quarter

“Master and Man,” a short story by Leo Tolstoy.
Interior Castle, a non-fiction book on spirituality by St. Theresa of Avila.
“A Cup of Cold Water,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
“In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” a short story by Tobias Wolff.
To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel by Harper Lee.
Prayer for Beginners, a non-fiction book of devotion by Peter Kreeft.

“Saint Dymphna,” a short story by Mary O’Connell.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Matthew Monday: Matthew’s First Baseball Game

On June 24th we took Matthew to see his first baseball game, a minor league game between the Staten Island Yankees—the New York Yankees minor league (single A) affiliate stationed here on Staten Island—and the Pittsburg Pirates minor league affiliate, the West Virginia Black Bears.  Here are some pictures.

At the gate, Matthew dressed as a complete Yankees fan.

At taking a picture with the team mascots.  That’s Scooter, the Holy Cow.  If you know Yankees legend, you’d realize where they got that name.

It was one of those minor league special days where they (1) gave out a ball to each fan, (2) allow small kids on the field and at the end of the game run the bases, and (3) fireworks after the game.  It was a really good one to go to.

We got there early, and mother and child were restless.

Staten Island Yankees stadium is located right on the harbor with a magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline.  Here’s a zoomed in shot looking out over the right field fence.

And Matthew loving it on the field.

Single A league are the players just drafted, and Matthew got his new baseball that he’d just receive signed by one of the Black Bears players.  As it turned out, that player had been a local Staten Island kid who had gone to one of our high schools.  And to Matthew’s pleasure, they shared the same first names.  That young ball player was Matt Diorio, and he got a hit and an RBI.  We hope Matt makes it someday to the big leagues. Matt is number 18.

Here’s a picture Matthew took with my camera which he was very proud of.  He caught the Yankees pitcher in action.

As luck would have it, the Staten Island Yankees, who had trailed all night, tied the game up and won it in the bottom of the tenth inning.  You can see the box score here.   And here’s a picture of the fireworks.

What a spectacular night for Matthew.  He said “it was the best day of my life.”  Don’t take that as absolute.  He says that about a lot of days…LOL.  But he did have a great time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family by Thomas Mann

I’ve been reading Buddenbrooks a great novel by the German Nobel Literature Prize winner Thomas Mann, and I have to say I am engrossed in it.  I’m only a third of the way (completed 242 of 731 pages) and I am already convinced that this is ranks with the top tier of great novels.  It’s an epic, family generational novel centered on Buddenbrooks family that runs the family “firm” also referred to as Buddenbrooks.  The Buddenbrooks are a successful, upper middle class bourgeoisie family from Northern Germany.  Most of the novel is set in Lübeck, with occasional excursions into Hamburg and the German Baltic coast.  What a wonderful coincidence that this was the very region of Germany I visited and blogged about here a few years ago. 

The firm was established in 1768 by Johann Buddenbrook (let’s call him JB1 since there are a series of Johan Buddenbrooks) but that predates the novel.  The opening is set in 1835 with JB3 at the height of the family wealth hosting an extraordinarily elegant party on the occasion of buying a new home.   JB3 is also a Consul, which I take to be some part of the city government, and so family has both wealth and prestige.  More importantly, I think, is that we see the family at the height of harmony.  Here is the opening scene.  Monsieur Johan Buddenbrook is JB2 and Madame Antoinette Buddenbrook is his wife.  Tony is the daughter of JB3 and his wife Elisabeth, Madame Buddenbrook.

“What does this mean—What—does this mean…” 

“Well, now, deuce take it, c’est la question, ma très chère demoiselle!

Madame Buddenbrook was sitting beside her mother-in-law on the sofa, its clean lines accented with white enamel and a golden lion’s head, its cushions upholstered a pale yellow; she first shot a glance at her husband, the consul, who was seated in an armchair beside her, and then came to the rescue of her young daughter, who was perched on her grandfather’s knee near the window.

“Tony!” she said.  “I believe God made me—“

And little Antonie, a petite eight-year-old in a dress of softly shimmering silk, was thinking hard, her pretty blond head turned slightly toward her grandfather, but her grey-blue eyes directed into the room without seeing anything.  She first repeated “What does this mean,” then slowly said, “I believe God made me,” and quickly added, her face brightening, “—and all creatures,” and, suddenly finding the track smooth—she was unstoppable now and her face beamed with happiness—she rattled the whole article, as prescribed by her catechism, newly revised and published under the auspices of an august and wise senate in this year of our Lord, 1835.  Once you were moving, she thought, it felt just like racing down “Jerusalem Hill” on the sled with her brothers in winter: every thought vanished from your mind, and you couldn’t stop if you wanted to.

“Including clothes and shoes,” she said, “meat and drink, hearth and home, wife and child, fields and cattle…”  But at these words, old Monsieur Johann Buddenbrook burst into laughter, a high, pinched giggle that he had secretly kept at the ready.  He laughed in delight at being able to mock the catechism, had presumably arranged this little exam for just that purpose.  He inquired about Tony’s fields and cattle, asked how much she wanted for a sack of wheat, and offered her a contract.  His round, pastel pink, good-humored face—try as he would he could not look mean—was framed in snow-white powdered hair, and something like the merest hint of a pigtail brushed the wide collar of his mouse-gray frock coat.  He had not, at seventy proved untrue to the fashion of his youth; he had dispensed with lace between the buttons and the oversized pocket, but never in his life had he worn long trousers.  His broad double-chin rested comfortably on the wide lace jabot.

They all joined in the laughter, mainly out of respect for the head of the family.  Madame Antoinette Buddenbrook, née Duchamps, giggled exactly like her husband.  She was a stout lady with thick white curls at her ears, her unadorned black dress with pale grey stripes expressed simplicity and modesty, and her beautiful white hands clasped a small velvet reticule on her lap.  Over the years, her features had curiously become very like her husband’s.  Only the shape and lively dark hue of her eyes hinted at her half-Latin origins; her grandfather had been French-Swiss, but she was born in Hamburg.

Her daughter-in-law, Elisabeth Buddenbrook, née Kröger, laughed the Kröger laugh, which began with a splutter as her chin was pressed against her chest.  She was, like all Krögers, a person of great elegance, and though perhaps not a beauty, by her clear and cheerful voice, by her easy, sure, and gentle movements, she impressed everyone with her serenity and confidence.  Her reddish hair, which swept back high on her head in a little crowning swirl and lay in broad, carefully coiffed waves over her ears, matched well with her extraordinary soft white complexion and the few little freckles.  The most characteristic feature of her face, with its rather long nose and small mouth, was the lack of any indentation between lower lip and chin.  Her short bodice with high puffed sleeves was fitted to a narrow skirt of filmy silk patterned in bright flowers and open at a neck of perfect beauty, adorned by a satin ribbon glistening with a spray of large diamonds.

The consul fidgeted and bent forward in his armchair.  He wore a cinnamon jacket with broad lapels and leg-of-mutton sleeves that closed tight just below the wrist.  His fitted trousers were of a white, washable fabric and trimmed with a black stripe down each side.  The silk cravat wound around his stiff high-wing collar was fluffed to fill the broad, open neck of his multicolored vest.  He had something of his father’s deep-set, blue, watchful eyes, though perhaps with a more preoccupied expression; but his features were much less full than the old man’s. 

Madame Buddenbrook turned to her daughter-in-law, pressing her arm with one hand and giggling as she spoke into her own lap: “Oh, mon vieuw, always the same, is he not, Bethsy?”  She pronounced it “ollweez.”

The consul’s wife merely waved this aside with her delicate hand, setting her gold bracelet jingling softly; and then the hand performed a gesture peculiarly her own, moving from one corner of her mouth up to her coiffure, as if tucking back a hair that had strayed to her lips.

The consul, however, said with a mixture of indulgent amusement and reproach in his voice, “Now, Father, you are making fun of the most sacred matters again!”

This is quoted from the Vintage International Edition which has the highly acclaimed translation by John E. Woods.   

That opening scene seems so innocuous but it’s pregnant with meaning.  The elegance and wealth are quite obvious, as is the family harmony.  We see a touch of generational distinction between JB2 and JB3, which highlights the coming generational distinctions.  It is from this wealth and success that will have a downward slope as the novel progresses.  What is most interesting is that Mann opens the novel with a discussion of religion, and indeed the Buddenbrook’s Christian (Lutheran, to be exact, though I don’t know if that’s distinction of significance) faith plays a large role the novel.  It is also interesting that eight-year old Tony is at the center of the religious discussion because from what I understand as a mature woman she will have lost her faith by the end of the novel.  So in parallel with the decline of the business and the decline of the family as the Nineteenth Century progresses we have a decline in faith.

The style of the novel owes a great deal in my opinion to Stendahl’s and Leo Tolstoy’s novels.  The novel clearly ascribes to Realism as the aesthetic principle, and in the novel that means excruciating detail as it tries to recreate reality.  Also the genre evokes the family saga novel. That Wikipedia entry lists a number of family saga novels, but the family novel this reminds me the most isn’t even listed there, that is D. H. Lawrence’s novel of the three generations of the Brangwen family in The Rainbow.  

As with many of these epic, family saga novels in the tradition of Realism there are a huge number of characters to keep straight.  Here is a little family genealogy chart I’ve put together that might help the reader.

Old Johann (JB2),
  Josephine (1st wife)
Gottlieb (1st son, mother dies on childbirth), Stüwing (wife)
Children Frederike, Henriette, Pfiffi
  Antonette  (2nd wife)
            Johann (JB3), Elisabeth (wife)
                        Thomas (b. 1825)
                        Antoinette, “Tony” (b. 1827)
                        Christian (b. 1828)
                        Clara (b. 1838)

Tony marries Bendix
            Erika (b. 1846)

Thomas marries Gerda
            Johann “Hanno” (JB4 b. 1861)

It is striking that the opening lines of the novel asks, “What does it mean?” lines uttered by Tony.  It is pointing the reader to the question, what is the cause of this great decline?  I cannot admit it is clear to me yet, here after reading one third of the novel.  I’ve listed in the back cover a series of possibilities, and I’ll share them with you.  They may all be part of a grand reason in an intertwined sort of way, but I don’t know.  Here’s my list, based of course on inductive reasoning from various scenes, in no particular order:
1. Breakdown of the family
2. Loss of faith and idealism
3. Rise of the lower classes displacing the middle and upper
4. Economic degeneration
5. Breakdown of social order
6. Wealth gained without work or sacrifice
7. Increase in the material aspects of life
8. Wealth as a dissolver of noble values
9. God’s will

Finally I want to provide one final scene from the beginning of the novel that crystallizes the idyllic life at the beginning of the novel.  Elisabeth has just given birth to their last child, Clara, and Consul Johann (JB3) leaves his writing desk to check on his wife and child.  Jean is the name his wife uses for him; Klothilde is a niece the Buddenbrook’s are raising at their home.   

He heard the sound of dainty, hasty chimes.  Just above the secretary hung a painting in muted colors, a depiction of an old-fashioned marketplace and a church, and in its steeple, a real clock had just struck ten in its distinctive tones.  The consul closed the case full of family records and carefully put it away in a black drawer of the secretary.  Then he went across to the bedroom.

Here the walls were hung with dark fabric in the same large-flowered pattern used for the long draperies of the new mother’s bed.  A feeling of peace and convalescence, of triumph over fear and pain, hung in the air, along with the scents of eau de cologne and medicines, their traces blended by the gentle warmth of the stove.  Only dim light filtered through the closed curtains.

Both grandparents were standing side by side, bent over the cradle and watching the sleeping child.  The consul’s wife, however, lay in bed, wearing an elegant lace jacket, her reddish hair perfectly coiffed, a happy smile playing over her rather pallid face.  She put out her lovely hand to greet her husband, a gold bracelet tinkling at the wrist, and as was her habit she turned the palm upward as far as possible, which seemed to heighten the warmth of her gesture. 

“Well, Bethsy, how are you feeling?”

“Splendid, splendid, my dear Jean!”

Her hand still in his, he turned toward his parents and lowered his face to the baby girl, who was breathing in rapid, noisy gasps, and for a whole minute he took in the warm, benign, touching fragrance she emitted.  “God bless you,” he said in hushed tones, kissing the brow of this little creature—whose tiny, wrinkled yellow fingers bore an awful resemblance to a chicken’s claws.

“She drank and drank something wonderful,” Madame Antoinette remarked.  “Just look at the stupendous weight she’s gained.”

“Would you believe me if I say she looks like my Netty?” old Johan Buddenbrook said, his face absolutely radiant with happiness and pride.  “Those flashing black eyes, the devil take me if …”

The old woman modestly waved this aside.  “Ah, how can anyone speak of resemblance at this point?  You’re going to church, Jean?”

“Yes, it’s ten—high time we left, I’m just waiting for the children.”

And the children could be heard now.  They were storming noisily down the stairs, to the accompaniment of Klothildes’s audible, chastening hisses; but when they entered the room, all dressed in their little fur coats—St. Mary’s still bore winter’s chill of course—they did so softly and cautiously, first of all because of their little sister, and second, because they had to compose themselves for Sunday worship.  Their faces were red and excited.  What a holiday!  The stork, definitely a very strong and muscular stork, had brought all sorts of marvelous things beside the new sister: for Thomas, a new sealskin school bag; for Antonie, a large doll with real—how extraordinary!—real hair; a colorful picture book for well-behaved Klothilde, who in her quiet, grateful way was occupied almost exclusively with a bag of sweets the stork had also brought; and for Christian, an entire puppet theatre, complete with Sultan, Death, and the Devil.

They kissed their mother and were permitted one cautious peek behind the green silk curtains, and then, together with their father, who had thrown on his cape and picked up his hymnal, they quietly set out for church, the Sunday calm broken only by piercing cries from the newest member of the family, who had suddenly awakened.

What a beautiful scene.  The birth of a child is the ultimate blessing.  Again it is pregnant with meaning.  I won’t get into all of it, but notice the painting in the first paragraph I quoted.  It displays a marketplace and a church, representative of the values of Christianity and the commerce, the values which are at the center of the novel.  Here they are crystallized in an idyllic moment.  But also in the painting is a clock, a symbol of time.  Time in the painting is frozen, and so the idyllic moment is frozen, but time in reality will progress, and change will head downward.

So far I adore this novel.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Art: Frescoes of the Padua Cathedral Baptistery

I don’t know why I’ve never heard of Giusto de' Menabuoi.  He is an early Italian Renaissance painter (1320-1391) known for his frescoes in the Baptistery at the Cathedral of Padua, otherwise known as the Duomo di Padova.  You probably know of the early Renaissance painters Giotto and Cimabue, and of course people know of the great ones from the later part of the Renaissance.  But take a look at some of these frescoes and tell me if you think as I do that de' Menabuoi belongs in that company.

Here’s a total view where you can absorb the entire baptistery as a whole.

But you really have to take in each panel on its own.  For instance, here’s the crucifixion.

And here is the wedding at Cana.

Now if you go to The Web Gallery of Art, you can scroll and zoom in each fresco.  

Now if you want a thrill and have a close up of some of the most divine art you will ever see, Aleteia, the Catholic web magazine, has used one of those copter crafts with a camera to fly close up through the Baptistery and see de' Menabuoi’s gorgeous frescoes.  Go here.   Make sure you watch all the videos and flip through all the images.

This was my comment there in the comments box: “Oh wow!  That was breath taking.  Beauty is an understatement.  I would say it's Divine!  Divine with a capital "D."  How come I never knew about this?”

Truly Divine!  I’ll even double this as a Faith Filled Friday post.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lines I Wished I’d Written: After the Storm by Ernest Hemingway

Here’s the opening paragraphs of a fine little short story by Ernest Hemingway, “After the Storm.”  The story is told in a dramatic monologue, that is, in first person telling a story to an implied listener.  As a story goes, it’s not very complicated.  I think the story is set in the Florida Keys, and the narrator tells a tale about being the first to find a sunk cruise liner after a hurricane, and he tries to go under to steal whatever is of value inside the hull.  He gets nothing because it he finds it impossible to crack open the port window under water.  The narrator is rather amoral in that he has no consideration for the four hundred and fifty drowned people inside, including a woman he sees through the port window with her hair floating about her.  He really only cares about the money inside.  There is a leitmotif of the birds about the scene, which connects the birds as amoral scavengers to the narrator’s persona.

What first struck me about the story were the first few paragraphs which have nothing to do with the sunk boat, but set the tone for the rugged, amoral world the narrator lives in.  His world is the same tooth-and-claw, self-sufficing world of the birds.  It’s incredible finesse how Hemingway covers so much ground in these few paragraphs.

It wasn’t about anything, something about making punch, and then we started fighting and I slipped and he had me down kneeling on my chest and choking me with both hands like he was trying to kill me and all the time I was trying to get the knife out of my pocket to cut him loose.  Everybody was too drunk to pull him off me.  He was choking me and hammering my head on the floor and I got the knife out and opened it up; and I cut the muscle right across his arm and he let go of me.  He couldn’t have held on if he wanted to.  Then he rolled and hung onto that arm and started to cry and I said:

“What the hell you want to choke me for?”

I’d have killed him.  I couldn’t swallow for a week.  He hurt my throat bad.

Well, I went out of there and there were plenty of them with him and some came out after me and I made a turn and was down by the docks and I met a fellow and he said somebody killed a man up the street.  I said “Who killed him?” and he said “I don’t know who killed him but he’s dead all right,” and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and trees blown down and everything blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside of Mango Key and she was all right only she was full of water.  So I bailed her out and pumped her out and there was a moon but plenty of clouds and still plenty rough and I took it down along; and when it was daylight I was off Eastern Harbor. 

Brother, that was some storm.  I was the first boat out and you never saw water like that
was.  It was just as white as a lye barrel and coming from Eastern Harbor to Sou’west Key you couldn’t recognize the shore.  There was a big channel blown right out through the middle of the beach.  Trees and all blown out and a channel cut through and all the water white as chalk and everything on it; branches and whole trees and dead birds, and all floating.  Inside the keys were all the pelicans in the world and all kinds of birds flying.  They must have gone inside there when they knew it was coming.

I lay at Sou’west Key a day and nobody came after me.  I was the first boat out and I seen a spar floating and I knew there must be a wreck and I started out to look for her.  I found her.  She was a three-masted schooner and I could see the stumps of her spars out of water.  She was in too deep water and I didn’t get anything off of her.  So I went on looking for something else.  I had the start on all of them and I knew I ought to get whatever there was.  I went down over the sand-bars from where I left that three-masted schooner and I didn’t find anything and I went on a long way.  I was way out toward the quicksands and I didn’t find anything so I went on.  Then when I was in sight of the Rebecca Light I saw all kinds of birds making over something and I headed over for them to see what it was and there was a cloud of birds all right.

I could see something look like a spar up out of the water and when I got over close the birds all went up in the air and stayed all around me.  The water was clear out there and there was a spar of some kind sticking out just above the water and when I come up close to it I saw it was all dark under water like a long shadow and I came right over it and there under the water was a liner; just lying there all under water as big as the whole world.  I drifted over her in the boat.  She lay on her side and the stern was deep down.  The port holes were all shut tight and I could see the glass shine in the water and the whole of her; the biggest boat I ever saw in my life laying there and I went along the whole length of her and then I went over and anchored and I had the skiff on the deck forward and I shoved it down into the water and sculled over with the birds all around me.

I had a water glass like we use sponging and my hand shook so I could hardly hold it.  All the port holes were shut that you could see going along over her but way down below near the bottom something must have been open because there were pieces of things floating out all the time.  You couldn’t tell what they were.  Just pieces.  That’s what the birds were after.  You never saw so many birds.  They were all around me; crazy yelling.

Hemingway at his best is such a fine prose writer.  

The story is not open to the public on the internet, but you can listen to it being read by Stacy Keach.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

List: Literary Books That Have Shaped American Life

I came across this list of “The books that have shaped American life” by Tracy Mumford from Minnesota Public Radio.  It’s a list of the most influential books that have shaped American life as voted by their listeners.  But more importantly, they got the inspiration to compile such a list from The Library of Congress, which put together list of “Books that have Shaped America.”  Their website doesn’t say how they compiled and discriminated to form this list, but it’s a much better list than the listener generated from Minnesota Public Radio.

Well, that gave me an idea of me putting together such a list from my perspective, and what better day than the Fourth of July to celebrate American literature.  What I listed here is what I perceived as the 50 most influential literary works of American literature.  They may not be the best literary works, but I think they had the most impact on American literary culture.  I limited myself to one work per author, and in some cases I listed collections put together posthumously.  I know; there may be some glaring omissions but I either have not read them or I did not perceive them to have had a cultural impact yet.

So without further ado, here are what I think are the 50 most influential literary works in American literature, in no particular order.

1.      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
2.      The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3.      Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
4.      Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
5.      Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau
6.      On the Road by Jack Kerouac
7.      Moby-Dick; or, the Whale by Herman Melville
8.      Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
9.      Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
10.  Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe
11.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
12.  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
13.  All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
14.  The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
15.  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
16.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
17.  The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
18.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
19.  The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
20.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
21.  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
22.  Poems by Emily Dickenson
23.  Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill
24.  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
25.  The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
26.  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
27.  The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
28.  The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
29.  Harmonium by Wallace Stevens
30.  Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
31.  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
32.  The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson
33.  The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
34.  The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
35.  Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
36.  Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
37.  My Ántonia by Willa Cather
38.  Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
39.  Beloved by Toni Morrison
40.  The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
41.  Native Son by Richard Wright
42.  The Collected Stories of O. Henry by O. Henry
43.  Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
44.  Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
45.  The Complete Tales of Washington Irving by Washington Irving
46.  The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost
47.  Collected Stories by Raymond Carver
48.  The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
49.  Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis
50.  Rabbit, Run by John Updike

So, out of curiosity, what would you take off this list and what would you add?

Happy Fourth of July!