Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Reading



Here's What I Read in July

1. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy


It took me nearly all of July to read Blood Meridian. This was not my first experience with McCarthy; back in 2009 I read three of his books (The Road, Child of God, and No Country For Old Men) consecutively.  After finishing Old Men, I picked up All the Pretty Horses and got about twenty pages in before deciding to give myself a break from him for a while.  I started All the Pretty Horses for the second time this morning.

So I was not surprised to find that Blood Meridian is about unceasing, unmitigated brutality. It is comprised of scene after scene of massacres, murders, scalping, torture, and death. The central theme of the novel is the eternality of violence, and it is reinforced again and again throughout the book. The novel's message is that every human being is in a mortal struggle with every other human being, and the only way any can survive is through murder and destruction.

As these characters (the Judge, and, to a lesser extent, the kid) exist and thrive through their indiscriminate acts of violence against anyone in their path, so too does America.  McCarthy shows the indiscriminate destruction of Native Americans and Mexicans not as an unpleasant footnote of American history, but rather as the driving force that helped create the nation.  The book, which begins in Tennessee and moves west to its conclusion on the Pacific ocean (where "whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea"), demonstrates that the American nation was borne of bloodthirst and conquest. No one apologizes for this, least of all McCarthy.

This novel is so brutal that I found myself reading it three or four pages at a time before stopping for a break.  Add to this brutality McCarthy's dense, economical prose, his almost otherworldly word choice, and his long philosophical meanderings, and you can see why it took me so long to finish.  Having said that, McCarthy's writing is more powerful than that of just about any other writer alive today, and it's hard to feel anything but awe in reaction to his prose. The word most often used to describe his writing style is "Biblical" (or "neo-Biblical," whatever that means), and it's accurate.  The Judge is like Joshua (a neo-Joshua?) laying waste to every perceived foe in order to establish the Promised Land of America.  

For an example of McCarthy's power, take the last paragraph of the book, which I read three times, then read out loud to my wife, and then made my brother read. (Spoilers, sort of.)
And they are dancing, the board floor slamming under the jackboots and the fiddlers grinning hideously over their canted pieces.  Towering over them all is the judge and he is naked dancing, his small feet lively and quick and now in doubletime and bowing to the ladies, huge and pale and hairless, like an enormous infant.  He never sleeps, he says.  He says he'll never die.  He bows to the fiddlers and sashays backwards and throws back his head and laughs deep in his throat and he is a great favorite, the judge.  He wafts his hat and the lunar dome of his skull passes palely under the lamps and he swings about and takes possession of one of the fiddles and he pirouettes and makes a pss, two passes, dancing and fiddling at once.  His feet are light and nimble.  He never sleeps.  He says that he will never die.  He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite.  He never sleeps, the judge.  He is dancing, dancing.  He says that he will never die.
2. Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor

I've read a lot of poetry this summer, and this book was the second one edited by Keillor.  While I didn't like it as much as Good Poems for Hard Times, there were some winners, which I will link to now.

"Her Door" by Mary Leader
"Vergissmeinnicht" by Keith Douglas
"The Orange" by Wendy Cope
"A Bookmark" by Thomas Disch
"Elvis Kissed Me" by T. S. Kerrigan
"The Scandal" by Robert Bly




3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I read this book in 82 minutes.


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