Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy Birthday Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow's book Herzog comes in at number 42 on our list and we will be reading it in March of 2017.  Many would argue that Saul was the greatest author of our time.  Since today would have been his 97th birthday it seems to be the perfect opportunity to tip our hates to this literary genius.

In doing so I would like to share one of my favorite quotes from him;

“Boredom is the conviction that you can't change ... the shriek of unused capacities.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

O'Connor was famous before she was famous

Long before Flannery O'Connor was a famous author she was famous for another reason.  Watch this clip from 1932 clip that was played in movie houses across the country.

Click HERE.  I cannot figure out how to embed it.

Here love for birds grew as she did.  By the time of her death she had dozens of peacocks and other birds living on the farm with her.  According to our guest blogger who will be posting later this month she also loved to drive a short distance away to visit a small place called "Goat Town".  This small town was so small it didn't even have a stop sign or light but it did have one small store that tied its goats to the railing earning the town its nickname.  She even drove visitors over to the town to see all of the goats.

I know here love of peacocks does little to help us in our study of Wise Blood but I found it too interesting not to share.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What is Lupus?

When I read that Flannery O’Connor died of Lupus my first thought was, “That is really sad.  What is Lupus anyways?” 

According to my research it is a systematic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body.  The official name is “Systemic Lupus Erythematosus” or lupus for short.  With this disease the immune system actual turns on the person’s body and it begins to attack itself.  This causes inflammation and damages tissues at the site of the attack.  Most commonly the systems that are most affected include the heart, joints, skin, lungs, blood vessels, liver, kidney and nervous systems. 

This disease is hard to diagnose because of the fact that it could possible affect so many different areas mimicking other possible health issues.  This was the case with O’Connor.  She had been sick for a while (even had a floating kidney issue) and had been diagnosed with arthritis.  She wasn’t officially diagnosed with lupus until 1950 (she found out about the diagnosis in 1952).

Today this disease is treatable, though not curable, and most patients live a long healthy life despite the disease.  In O’Connor’s time this was not the case.  Being diagnosed with Lupus was a death sentence and usually meant that the person had 5 years to live or less and the death would be a slow painful one.  O’Connor knew this fact having watched her dad die from the same disease.

Because of her status O’Connor was able to take the latest and greatest in drugs to treat Lupus and was able to defy statistics by living 14 years with the disease.  During this time she completed most of her work writing up to the very end.  She did have frequent flares of the disease that caused her great trouble and she was forced to use crutches to walk for the last 9 years of her life. 

O’Connor never made a big deal of her disease.  She instead focused on the things that mattered most to her.  Because of this instead of spending her final years at home mopping she instead set out to write things that would forever change the world.  The simple fact that we are reading her book on the list of the 100 greatest novels shows that she accomplished her goal.  In 39 short years she accomplished what the average writer cannot accomplish in a lifetime.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Who was Flannery O’Connor?

As we begin our reading of Wise Blood we look first to the life of its author. 

Mary Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah Georgia to Edward and Regina O’Connor.  As a young child she already showed signs of the complex, multifaceted, somewhat mischievous, individual that she would become.  Stories abound of her bring tomatoes for the teacher instead of apples, chewing snuff in class and shooting rubber bands from her braces behind the nuns backs.  Family and friends recognized at a young age the genius and talent she possessed but few could guess the celebrity that she would become.

As she grew she quickly proved that she cared little for what others thought of her.  She was willing to pursue her own interests regardless of what others thought.  While most girls here age enjoyed playing piano, dancing or chasing boys she instead focused on drawing cartoons (or using linoleum cutting) and writing.  These interests stayed with her the rest of her life and she pursued them with wholehearted devotion.  She never did find a need for piano, dancing or even for boys spending her entire life single. 

In 1941 her father died of Lupus.  Flannery was forced to watch the man that she adored most in the world suffer a horrible slow painful death at the age of 45.  She spoke rarely of her father again.  According to those who knew her best this silence showed how deep her love had been and how deep her hurt was at his lose.  She spoke rarely of the things that mattered the most to her.

After graduating from Peabody High School in 1942 O’Connor enrolled in an accelerated program at George State College for Women at the young age of 16.  There she continued to grow as both an artist and as a writer.  Many of her students believed that she was more on the level of the faculty than the other students.  She graduated in 1945 with her B.A. in Social Sciences and from there moved to Iowa to attend the University of Iowa.  She first entered into the journalism department but soon entered into the Writer’s Workshop program.  While in this program O’Connor’s genies began to show even more causing most of the class to be intimidated by her. 

After finishing her schooling and a year fellowship writing O’Connor moved to Saratoga Springs, New York to live at Yaddo, a refuge for artists.  From there she moved to New York City for a short time and then to Ridgefield Connecticut to live with Robert and Sally Fitzgerald.  It was her that she completed most of her work on Wise Blood (although the most important work would be done later and we will look at this in a further post).

In 1950 O’Connor had her first flare of Lupus and was diagnosed with the disease.  Surprisingly her mother kept the diagnoses a secret from her for 2 years.  Because of the disease she was forced to return to Georgia to live with her mother in Milledgeville on a farm called Andalusia.  It would be here that she would spend the rest of her life writing and suffering through flares of Lupus.  She was able to travel and speak some between the flare ups and even had an audience with the Pope in 1958.  Her final tally of works includes 2 novels, a collection of short stories, and a few other pieces. 

Flannery O’Connor passed away on August 3, 1964 from lupus following a surgery.  She was 39 years old.  At her death America lost one of its most promising young writers.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Introducing the first 100 Novel Challenge Book Giveaway!!!

This may not be the exact cover look.
In July we will begin reading the novel The Trial (Der Prozess) by Franz Kafka.  It is the story of a man who is arrested and prosecuted without ever being told the nature of his crime.  This will be the third novel of our ‘100 Novel Challenge’ and it will be the first novel we have read so far that was not originally written in English.  If you are a proficient reader of the German language you will find this novel for free on the Kindle and you will have the opportunity to enjoy reading it in its original language, but the rest of us will have to settle for reading a translation of the book.

Of course, the translations of the book are not free.  Let me take that back.  The translations of the book are not free for most people.  One of my lucky readers will receive a free copy of this book the first week of next month courtesy of the 100 Novel Challenge team (me).

Here is how you can enter to be that lucky person:

For 1 entry into the contest this post needs to be shared on your Facebook Wall or Twitter feed.  When you have completed this mission comment here to let me know.  I don’t believe that anyone would sacrifice their integrity for a free $10 book so there is no need to leave links to the tweets or posts. 

I am allowing 5 shares on each platform (no more than 1 per day) before the end of June meaning that through this method you could be entered in the contest 10 times.

For 5 entries into the contest simply create a blog post on your own blog, or a link on your personal website regarding the 100 Novel Challenge.  Please leave a link in the comment section below so that we can all check out your site/blog.  This will be a great way for us to get to know each other better as well.

Finally, for 5 entries into the contest write a review of one of the books that we have read (Frankenstein or Wise Blood) for an online bookstore such as Amazon.  In the review state that you read the book through this challenge.  If the user agreement does not allow for links do not link back to this site but i you can please do.

Through these methods you have the opportunity to enter this contest 20 times and if all goes well many people will join us making it possible for me to give away many more books. 

The winner will be announced on June 30th.

Good luck!

Friday, June 1, 2012

A brief introduction to Wise Blood

Good morning! Let me be the first to welcome you to the month of June.

 Many people are excited because the month of June marks the first full month of summer. They will all be outside working in the yard or catching a game at the local ballpark. Most of the kids are home from school and vacation season has finally begun. As readers we have an extra reason to be happy for June. This marks the second month of our ‘100 Novel Challenge’ giving us the opportunity to read another of the greatest novels of all time, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.

 Wise Blood was published on May 15, 1952 marking the beginning of a short but powerful writing career. The publishing of the story of Hazel Motes didn’t attract a great deal of positive attention at first. One of the first critics even went as far as to say that it was the “work of insanity”. Another critic wondered “if the struggle to get from one sentence to the next is worthwhile”. Reactions from Flannery’s family were not any better. Regina, Flannery’s mom, fell asleep on page 9. A cousin of hers ordered advance copies to send to all of her friends (the local priests) without having read a word of the book. When she finally received her copy some say she was so upset by what she read that she spent a week in bed and then sent apologies to everyone she had sent a copy to. Another older relative simply sent her a note stating, ‘I do not like your book’.

 That first wave of poor reviews was followed by reviews that gave the exact opposite opinion of the book. The New York Herald Tribune Book Review wrote that “Flannery O’Connor, in her first novel, has taken on the difficult subject of religious mania, and succeeds in telling a tale at once delicate and grotesque.” Newsweek called O’Connor “the most naturally gifted of the youngest generation of American novelists”. 

These mixed reviews show the complexity of the book we are about to read. If you are one who likes to surface read a book without looking for greater understanding you may finish this read shaking your head wondering what sort of drugs O’Connor put into her body. If you are willing to read for understanding though, you will find a deep and powerful message.

 I look forward to another great month of reading with you.

 Paper version.  I cannot find a Kindle version to link to.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Movie Frankenstein

As part of this reading challenge I decided that it would be fun to review the film adaptations of the book that we are currently going through.  With Frankenstein that became a bit of a challenge.  This book has been adapted more times than one could imagine in almost every way possible.  Within just a few years after the book was published plays were written based on this book, and it never stopped.  When the moving picture came on the scene this novel became fodder for dozens of movies as well. 

Of these multiple adaptations it would be almost impossible for me to review all of them.  There simply isn’t enough time in the day.  In order to keep myself from going crazy I decided to review just one.  I decided to review the one that is considered the greatest of them all.

In 1931 a film was released that was so shocking that viewers needed to leave the theater.  It was far too intense for most people and in some states portions of it were even banned.   Frankenstein suddenly became more than a work of literature.  Frankenstein was now a household name.
Unfortunately the household name was not all that close to the Frankenstein that we have grown to enjoy over the past month.  Much of the depth and beauty had been removed. 

Boris Karloff did a fantastic job of creating a monster that would inspire film makers for generations.  The work that he did is still touted today as one of the greatest monster portrayals in the history of film.  This monster though never lived on Mary Shelley’s paper. 

Despite the fact that I did enjoy this film I have to say that I was disappointed.  I was hoping for something closer to what I had read.  I was hoping to see the characters come to life on the screen before my eyes.  This didn’t happen.  Even the story itself was twisted to a point that very few elements remained. 

One could almost say that the script of this movie was much like the monster itself.  Mary Shelley’s work was cut to pieces and stuck back together in order to create new life.  The new horrific life created was nothing like the original, but was powerful in its own right.  This new life was so powerful that even though it was much different than the original it became even bigger than the original.  People around the world began to believe that this new version was in fact the story of Frankenstein.  They began to believe that the monster was a slow moving, stupid, psychotic, killing machine.  Billions of people recognize this new monster, and almost no one even knows that the original was something different. 

To this films credit though it is foundational to the modern horror film and for that fact alone I must tip my hat to it.  This is a movie that should be viewed by all, just don’t expect it to be true to the story.