Follow posts tagged #american lit in seconds.Sign up
If you give it more than a half second’s thought, it’s easy to see why John Green is such a phenomenon. He is breaking stereotypes and allowing us to rethink our ideas of “code heroes” and brilliant literary minds. In this day and age where communication occurs in a matter of key strokes and clicks, anything he says or does on the World Wide Web is — true to its name — spread worldwide immediately. He is changing the way we view authors right now, and the generation that is the target audience of his literary masterpieces are so lucky to see it. His novels, becoming classics as we grow up, aren’t all that different from those we study in school now. Of course the writing style has changed, and the topics differ in extremes, but the common themes of life-altering adolescence and the search for infinite indestructibility are present in both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Looking for Alaska; they are salient in not only Animal Farm, but The Fault in Our Stars as well.
What do we know of these classic authors, writers like Twain and Orwell and Alcott, Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Harper Lee? All we know is all we have been told, what reports made during their lives have traveled through time to reach our education systems and the minds of our youth. What primary sources have we ever seen to tell us Hemingway was really a depressive drunk, first and foremost proud and alone? How do we know and trust that these classic authors, known in totality by near any high school student in the USA, were who we are taught to believe?
John Green is changing history, you guys. He’s doing it by Tweeting, and running a blog, and making videos with his brother. He’s doing it by playing Chubby Bunny and making venn diagrams, allowing his readers to get to know him while he lives. Other authors do this, but none — in my opinion — like John Green. In one hundred years, our great-grandchildren will be in high school, and I think they’ll be reading his books. His are becoming classics right before our eyes, and in a hundred years, they’re going to be watching the Vlogbrothers in school and saying “this is who this author was,” and I think that’s so important. He’s breaking the stereotype of reclusive, intimidating writers being the only ones with true talent and poignancy, and that is so important. We can laugh all we want at the fact that John Green, absolute literary genius, has Sharpie marker all over his face, but all he’s doing is being a real person. And to the writing world, to this changing world, so newly reliant upon technology, that is so important; John Green is so important.
I Know That Feel Pat (My Favorite Scene in Silver Linings Playbook)
- Pat: "This whole time you're rooting for this Hemingway guy to survive the war and to be with the woman that he loves, Catherine Barkley."
- Dolores: "It's four o'clock in the morning, Pat."
- Pat: "And he does, he does, he survives the war after getting blown up. He survives it and he escapes to Switzerland with Catherine. You think he ends it there? No! She dies, dad! I mean, the world's hard enough as it is, guys. Can't someone say, hey let's be positive? Let's have a good ending to the story?"
- Dolores: "Pat, you owe us an apology."
- Pat: "Mom, I can't, for what, I can't apologize. I'm not going to apologize for this. You know what I will do? I will apologize on behalf of Ernest Hemingway because that's who's to blame here."
- Pat Sr.: "Yeah, have Ernest Hemingway call us and apologize to us too."
Zeitoun: Novel News
At age fifteen or sixteen I began a semi-permanent ban on television. The no-television-under-any-circumstances policy lasted from 1999-2001, with a reprieve on Sept 11, and then again enforced as of Sept 12. I began university in 2002, and from that point until the present I haven’t owned a functional tv. I’m still a voracious consumer of news - listening to daily reports on the radio and reading newspapers in print and online - just a consumer of news without the barrage of images to accompany the stories. This consumption pattern meant that in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans I didn’t see (m)any images of the disaster. I certainly heard reports, read stories of the damage, looting, and unpredictably zealous or absent support from the authorities.
So when I read that Dave Eggers - one of my long favoured authors* - had written another news-novel (more on the genre distinction in a moment) about one family’s experience of the Hurricane, I put it on my list. I admit that what I read amounted to novel news to me in the sense of altogether unknown news about the hurricane. I had little idea that so many citizens were wrongfully and illegally detained in the aftermath of the hurricane; I wasn’t sure about the reports of rape, looting, assault (though to be fair, the novel does a fairly poor job of clarifying whether these events did in fact take place; rather, Eggers points out that there were contradictory news reports and leaves it - frustratingly - at that).
Grounding the hurricane (ha!) in the story of one family - the Zeitoun family - allows the reader to care deeply about the disaster because it has been carefully and thoroughly personalized. I wonder whether the Zeitoun family already inhabited a host of compelling issues in contemporary American life, or whether Eggers emphasized these issues in order to craft a more compelling novel (okay, so I don’t actually wonder, but it’s worth asking the question), but whatever the case, the Zeitoun’s embody questions of race, religion, patriotism, the precarious middle class in ways that read as genuine and appropriately complex.
In terms of genre I have a hard time accepting the designation of ‘non-fiction’ (as assigned by my library). The book is a novel, a historical one, perhaps, or what I’m calling here a news-novel. It has the usual plot, characters, and setting, but more crucially in the ‘novel’ designation - for this reader, anyway - it has thematic preoccupations (what can one man accomplish when set against nature? against the state?), symbols (the flood, drowning, risks of water, rainbows, bleh), and a shifting point of view. Much like What is the What the news-novel asks the reader to accept that what is written is for all intents ‘true,’ but allows that in any telling there will be fictional elements. It is, in short, a genre I like.
*I also like Dave Eggers. Those with reservations who have only read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius would do well to try reading something else he’s written. I myself enjoyed AHWOSG, but see a stark (really) difference between the autobiographical work and his news-novels and short stories. So here’s my plug for an author I adore (not like he needs a plug, but still): he’s really very good.
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”—
Jack Kerouac - On the Road
The Negro Speaks of Rivers read by the author, Langston Hughes
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood through human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
This beautiful poem written with the Whitman “I” perspective is used by Hughes to personify the history of African slaves. The metaphor of the rivers explains the value in African culture. For rivers are the source of civilization, and they have given life to the peoples of history. “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” indicates that the African people, like the rivers, have given rise to civilization and built and given life itself to civilizations throughout all of history, from the pyramids of Egypt to the greatest contemporary nation with the banks of the Mississippi. And just as Langston sees the value in African culture, he witnesses the “muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.” He perceives the value in his skin color, it’s heart, and has witnessed it’s beautiful blossoming in the right moment, the sunset. Langston believes the soul of rivers is intertwined with the soul of his ancestry.