Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Magical Thinking
Augusten Burroughs

Another collection of stories based on his real life, Augusten Burroughs writes with his usual dark and brilliant humor. As he is the main character, he satirizes himself.

The collection begins with a story about his effort to achieve stardom at age seven when he was selected to be in a Tang commercial. He wants desperately to be chosen but isn't and is quite devastated about it.

In another segment he tells us about his studying to become a Barbizon model in his teens. It includes frank stories about his dysfunctional family of origin, alcoholism, dating woes, relations with Catholic priests, boredom and frustration as an advertising copywriter, and even his hygiene issues.

One of my favorites in the collection, is a New York story about Burroughs' battle of wills with a domineering cleaning lady. Hilarious.

In "The Rat/Thing" he takes the New York thing to extremes when he reveals what he will do to get rid of a rodent intruder.

He both revels in and criticizes American obsession with celebrity culture and aspirational advertising. The shallowness, especially in gay men, is both scorned and celebrated. The collection ends on a slightly more reassuring note with several stories about a promising sounding relationship with a man named Dennis.

Readers are waiting expectantly for the continuation of his life's saga.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dawn Powell
The Diaries of Dawn Powell

Across the continent and around the world countless men and women have written diaries and journals. Their styles and contents are as varied as the writers themselves. The reasons for keeping diaries is also diverse. The diarists' insistence on asserting their own personal voices reflects a picture of their lives, hopes, fears, and disappointments. Diaries also show glimpses into the pastor history of the author and oftentimes provides readers with a written account of what was happening in the world at the time of the writings. The recent discoveries of The Diaries of Dawn Powell has given rebirth to her long-forgotten novels as well as many of her other written works. Since the publication of her diaries, public interest has also risen in Powell's personal, professional and social life. Tim Page, the compiler and editor of Powell's diaries says, "The hope is that their publication may spark greater interest in a neglected and misunderstood figure in American letters. They have extraordinary value as autobiography, literature, social history and psychological case study."

Powell had a difficult time selling her novels during her life because she refused to give in to the popular, fluffy story lines that people seemed to want during the Depression years. Powell had written several novels and numerous stories for the New Yorker magazine and other popular magazines. She had one novel, Dance Night, that sold fairly well, but she had a difficult time motivating herself to finish other works to be published. Throughout her diaries, Powell expresses knowledge of the causes of her lack of ambition. Page has discovered, through her diaries that she placed truth on paper for others to find after she was gone. He tells us "heavy drinking that was debilitating at times, recurrent and often mysterious health problems, and what might now be described as bi-polar personality disorder, contributed to this lack of ambition. However, it is amazing that she could still write as well as she did, considering the emotional and physical problems she had to deal with.

Powell's frustration with writing for popular public are reflected in her diaries again and again. After analyzing her beliefs about writing and how they contributed to her money problems, Powell finally decided to write what the public wanted. Se commits to her diary alone that she was not happy about it. "A sincere symphony from a serious composer is nothing -- but one from a celebrity is something else again. From now on, by God, I am determined to distort every thought into tawdry easy lines the world can applaud."

Giving the public what they want too often requires one to sell out on his or her own principles.

Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer is a South African writer, political activist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Her writing has long dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. She was active in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress during the days when the organization was banned. She has recently been active in HIV/AIDS causes.

The sixteen stories in this collection, like most of Gordimer’s work, take readers beneath the surface and cliches, beyond news reports, international maneuvering, and daily violence to the hearts of those who suffer from, fight against, tolerate, ignore, or promote the injustices of apartheid.

The title story, Jump is about rites of passage. A safe house holds a willing confessor (the public head of a rebel organization) to the atrocities of a regime planning to bring down, or destabilize, the legitimate black government. He has long since outlived his usefulness, as he's repeated his story again and again to the world's press, publicly explaining the questions about why he finance a brutal campaign that tried to overthrow the government, and why he supported a secret army that burned villages, killed indiscriminately. His answer, painfully related, is the horror story that is Jump. Heading up the rebel army, he saw the conflict for his country in terms of pins pushed forward on a map, in euphemisms that disguised the reality of the bloody and brutal conflict.

Gordimer accomplishes several things in this story. She draws a parallel between the rite of passage inherent in making a first jump in parachute school, and that of ending his life after unburdening a soul ravaged by the knowledge of what had been done to people in his name. The irony of his final jump would be that he would be jumping into the midst of a ghetto, filled with children made orphans, and men and women who bore the physical and mental scars of years of internal conflict, made possible by him.

The other
stories in this volume are about the various ways such as change, acceptance, avoidance in which individuals cope with the society they live in.

I strongly recommend this book. It is an excellent read and I can see why Gordimer is so deserving of the Nobel Prize.