Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 3: Bullet points are for AWESOME people

**DISCLAIMER: This post contains spoilers and more GIFs than words.**

THINGS are happening. TOO MANY things. So I'm busting out the emergency bullet points.
  • Hungry children watch Ma cook stew . . . and then make the Joads reallllllly uncomfortable while they're trying to eat.

  • Casy gets taken to jail after kicking a deputy in the THROAT.
  • Connie gets to California and promptly runs away after realizing he won't be able to own an ice box.

  • Uncle John is the MOODIEST.
  • The Joads settle in at a government camp (aka UTOPIA) and set themselves up for more heartbreak I'M SURE.
  • Ruthie and Winfield have an adorable sibling moment involving a newfangled toilet contraption.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 2: It's not Tuesday?

**DISCLAIMER: Readalong post, spoilers . . . you know the drill.**

Since I'm still not QUITE finished with this week's reading and it is, in fact, Wednesday right now, I'm a'gonna blurt out some thoughts so I can do what I really want to do, which is read what everyone else wrote look at everyone's GIFs.

Chapter 12: Someone (I think Laura?) said something smart about the book being full of biblical references, and here one is!
"66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there." (p. 128)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is most probably an "exodus from Egypt" comparison. And THEN there's that whole tedious paragraph about all the cities 66 runs through, and that reminded me of biblical genealogies (this guy begat this guy who begat that guy).

Chapter 13: There are ladyfolk sitting in the front seat now. I don't understand why that's suddenly allowed, but I'll TAKE it. Also, Steinbeck killed a dog and Grampa in the same chapter, but neither of those things hit me as hard as this:
"On her mattress, away from the fire, Granma whimpered softly like a puppy. The heads of all turned in her direction.
Ma said, 'Rosasharn, like a good girl go lay down with Granma. She needs somebody now. She's knowin', now.'
Rose of Sharon got to her feet and walked to the mattress and lay beside the old woman, and the murmur of their soft voices drifted to the fire. Rose of Sharon and Granma whispered together on the mattress." (p. 159)
Chapter 14: "For the quality of owning freezes you forever into 'I,' and cuts you off forever from the 'we'" (p. 166). Careful, Steinbeck. Your Communist is showing.

Chapter 15: "Mae really smiles with all her might at truck drivers. She bridles a little, fixes her back hair so that her breasts will lift with her raised arms, passes the time of day and indicates great things, great times, great jokes" (p. 167). You lost me at "back hair."

Chapter 16: Someone mentions splitting up the group, and Ma brandishes a jack handle and sasses the men into submission. You NEVER split the party, and you never mess with a woman wielding a metal rod. Some truths are universal.

Chapters 17 and 18

Sunday, October 14, 2012

This Is How You Lose Her: A rare appearance by my Serious Face

I just put the book down, and my thoughts are all in a jumble. This is probably the point where most people  say, "Junot, my friend, you've done it again." But I can't say that, because this is my first encounter with Señor Díaz. So instead I'm just sort of sitting here, staring into middle distance.

I don't even have a cigarette for ambiance.

Basically, this book is 213 pages of heartbreak. It's not end-of-the-world-as-you-know-it heartbreak; it's worse. Because you can't distance yourself from this kind of heartbreak. You've felt it before, and you'll relive it on every page: 213 reminders of all the times when you loved unwisely or were unwisely loved.

But before you take this as solid advice never to make direct eye contact with this book, let me try to explain why you should probably find a copy immediately and challenge it to a staring contest. (Not you, Mom . . . you would undoubtedly hate this book. Run away, fast as you can.)

The narrative thread carries through nine short stories. Most are told from the perspective of Yunior, a young Dominican transplant to the States with some mixed-up ideas about love. I guess he sums himself up pretty well on the first page.
"I'm not a bad guy. I know how that soundsdefensive, unscrupulousbut it's true. I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good." (p. 3)

I know, I know. This is what terrible-awful people say. This is what serial abusers say. But this declaration is the key to everything. Because Yunior is not always good at loving, either romantically or as a son and brother; in fact, he's really bad at it. But in a lot of ways, his experiences are universal. And the reason we should read books like this, even though they aren't pretty and even though they break our hearts, is that we really need to remember this about ourselves: We are weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. And as broken as we are, we can still love.

If that isn't reason enough for you, read the book for passages like this:
"Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal as one might hold a baby's beshatted diaper. . . . You glance at the offending passages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.
This is how you lose her." (p. 48)
SOURCE: Díaz, Junot. (2012). This Is How You Lose Her. New York: Riverhead Books.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grapes of Wrath Week 1: Gender roles and other thinky stuff

**Disclaimer: This is part of a group readalong, which means if you've never read Grapes of Wrath, this post might resemble hearing only one side of a phone conversation. But maybe you're into that sort of thing? So proceed as you will.**

Steinbeck is doing some pretty fascinating things with gender roles. Right away, he described how the women look to their men to assess how severe a situation is. "Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole" (p. 4). Depression-era women and children depended on their menfolk. This is not news.

Boom . . . serious picture.

But THEN Steinbeck subverts that expected framework (and breaks my heart a little) by throwing Ma Joad into the mix.
"Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. . . . She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." (pp. 79-80; emphasis mine, and also a good candidate for being tattooed somewhere on my person)
This paragraph WRECKS me, and I think it's because this is a description of MY mom. (Mom, if you're reading this, this is YOU.) It's beautiful, but it's also tragic, because the STRENGTH and self-denial required by such a "great and humble position in the family" . . . I can't even imagine.

And then there's Granma, who damn near took her husband's butt cheek off with a shotgun, and in so doing earned his admiration . . . because he's impressed by that sort of thing.

And Steinbeck made another nod to changing gender roles when the preacher took over salting the pork, despite Ma's protestations that it's "women's work." The preacher replied, "It's all work. . . . They's too much of it to split it up to men's or women's work" (p. 117). Quite right, Casy, and way ahead of your time.

But the Joads do still observe some gender rules of conduct. For example, even pregnant, Rose of Sharon (WHAT is this name? No one wants to say that whole thing every time.) must ride standing up in the back of the truck because the patriarchs of the family get the honor place beside the driver. And that's just how it is, whether anyone likes it or not.

And now some scattered observations:

1. Steinbeck's tangents about soulless tractors, while beautifully written, seem . . . a little overdramatic?


2. "A man didn't get enough crop to plug up an ant's ass" (p. 50). This, my friends, is why Steinbeck is one of the greats. Pure poetry.

3. These people live in a HARSH world. This is how you can tell: Pigs get into the house and eat babies, bulls gore men to death over by the barn, women bludgeon solicitors with live chickens, and a man can get 7 years in prison for killing in self-defense.

4. This description of the oldest Joad boy, Noah: "He lived in a strange silent house and looked out of it through calm eyes. He was a stranger to all the world, but he was not lonely" (p. 85). Whoa.

5. Steinbeck's Tom Joad:
"His eyes were very dark brown and there was a hint of brown pigment in his eyeballs. His cheek bones were high and wide, and strong deep lines cut down his cheeks, in curves beside his mouth. His upper lip was long, and since his teeth protruded, the lips stretched to cover them, for this man kept his lips closed." (p. 5)
Hollywood's Tom Joad:
Eh, close enough

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grapes of Wrath readalong: Mmmm, wrathy grapes

Ohhhh, Steinbeck. What happened to us? We used to be so close. I was 13. You were . . . never mind that. But, oh! The times we had. First, you made me sad with Of Mice and Men. Then you made me sad with The Red Pony. THEN you made me sad with The Pearl. And then you made me REALLY sad with East of Eden. I don't remember all the details, Steinbeck, but the ANGST . . . you totally got me.

You and I have always been like . . .
I stayed away from all things Steinbeck for a looooong time (basically the entirety of my adult life thus far) . . . because angst. It's exhausting.

But here I am, about to read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time, with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite months. And there will be sad GIFs and angry grapes, and I'm sure also a new-found adult appreciation for Steinbeck that isn't based solely on hormones.

What? I didn't say NO hormones. *swoon*