My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
Now this is a really BIG subject. A huge land, with a history packed with adventure, filled with people who've been drawn from virtually every corner of the globe. Do we examine the landscape, the history, the current, for you can be sure that I will be reading about the people.
I shall start with the work of James Michener. On my shelves are a number of huge tomes, but two I return to re-read are "Centennial" and "Chesapeake". As is the way with Michener, both tell the story of one particular place, starting with the geology, the early animal and plant life, building up to man's arrival and his progress against the backdrop of his locale. "Centennial" is the story of the West - Colorado - of horses, of Indian nations, of trappers and traders, of homesteaders, of ranchers and those seeking gold. "Chesapeake" tells of the great Bay in Maryland. The geography and geology is completely unalike that in "Centennial", so rather than horses you have fish and geese, later there's fishermen and their dogs. Of course, there are still Native American Indians but we also have slaves, Quakers, pirates and Captain John Smith. Michener is known for the amount of research he does prior to writing each novel - rumoured to be around 200 books - and it shows. The stories are as fascinating before the arrival of man, as they are after ... which is an extraordinary statement for me to be making. The only thing I'd complain about with Michener novels is the ending - they just kind of get up to date and then stop. But then he is telling a tale and that tale finishes when he brings it up to date, but don't expect a big happening, 'cos it won't be there. But do read them, they are simply epic.
"Flight Behaviour" from Barbara Kingsolver is a wonderful read. I was drawn by the cover (unusually shallow for me) but then wondered how the raw bones of the story would provide something so praised. But it did. Kingsolver weaves together of two stories - that of a change in the migratory behaviour of the Monach butterfly with that of Dellarobia - an Appalachian farmer's wife who discovers them in the woods behind her home. So whilst we examine the change to our eco-system and its long-term impact, we learn about Dellarobia and the life she and her family lead - a familiar one in these parts, that of existing from hand-to-mouth, of hard physical work and a social life built around the local church.
"The Help" and the work of Toni Morrison write about life in the south, where despite changes in the law, things remain surprisingly unaltered to this day, if you're black. Kathryn Stockett's work receives wildly differing reviews. For too many, the author and the central character being white, means we're still seeing a white perspective. One reviewer was upset that her ancestor's unhappy experiences were being told in a feel-good tale. In contrast, Toni Morrison's works are certainly not feel-good. She addresses the problems faced by her race in the US head on. "Song of Solomon" tells of oppression, of hatred, of fury, of a justified rage. Each character has their say and each have some measure of this rage. Powerful, not easy to read, but so worthwhile.
I'll finish with two short books on this big subject: F Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby" and John Kennedy O'Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces". The former was written in what has come to be known as the roaring twenties, with the latter based in the sixties. The former is based in Long Island, New York whilst the latter takes place in New Orleans. Gatsby is handsome, rich and generous, Ignatius is ugly, selfish, self-absorbed, arrogant and a bully. Both are regarded by critics as great American novels. I absolutely loved one, but wearied of the other. The writing in each is sublime, but it is difficult to love a book when you find all the characters wearisome. I chuckled to start, but Ignatius just kept on going. He was a bully and I just wanted him gone. Gatsby also kept on going - or tried to - all for his obsessive love of Daisy.
So, why did I love one and not the other. Was it more fun? No, not at all, rather it was sad and layered. Nick and Gatsby were characters to like, even to admire. The fact that most of those in Gatsby were not - that contrast simply made them more so. In Dunces, there was no-one to like, certainly nothing to admire. I'm prepared to be told I've no sense of humour - but humour is like everything - a matter of individual taste and opinion.
So, have you read any of my offerings? Did you enjoy them, or not? What great american literature should I be adding to my TBR list?