Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

I was surprised by how racist the characters in this book were. Not just the “bad guys” who are supposed to be racist, but the “good guys,” too. They’re not black people, they’re just blacks, as if that word defined their whole existence. There are two blacks out in the waiting room. And nigger. Everyone used the word nigger, the bad guys as a slur, but the good guys too as a simple description of who people were. What do you expect from a nigger? Ha, ha. They’re all so slap happy. Felt like the South of the 1860s, not the 1980s. Well, you know how they feel about the Civil War down there. I guess it really is still being fought.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Ancient Egypt edited by David P. Silverman

This was definitely one of the history book club selections I was sent before I started caring what they sent me. It was an interesting read, covering lightly just about every aspect of life in ancient Egypt. It tried to make the point that even if our perception of the ancient Egyptians is as a people obsessed with death, in fact theirs was a culture founded on the principles of life and rebirth. All that they did for their dead, which went beyond building monuments to maintaining on-going funerary cults, was done based on the belief that the dead lived again after death, just as the sun rose each day after sunset. The specific history was hard to understand, but the cultural aspects were well represented and interesting.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I both liked it and didn’t like it. There were parts that were outstanding, where the prose was crisp and real and put you exactly where you needed to be to understand the scene and the characters in it. But overall it left me wanting.

Okay, I know I know next to nothing about the beat generation and the post-war world of disillusionment in which the book was written. But is there anything that makes Sal feel sad or remorseful? Does he want to do anything with his life except bum around and get high? For the first part of the book I was convinced we were never going to hear any women in the story speak. They were referred to, but never given voice or center stage. Then Sal meets Terri, and I think the change has come. But he goes off, spinning in a new direction which is really the same old direction he is always spinning in. He’s reminded of Terri a couple more times in his travels, but the memory has little regret and no real fondness. The two great unspokens in the book are Sal’s wife, who we never meet or learn anything about, not even her name, and his time in the Navy during the war, of which we learn only one detail more--that he remembers what it was like lying in his bunk below deck while the ocean slipped away beneath him.

Then there’s the trip to Mexico near the end of the book, which I am sure is going to lead to their violent and messy ends, only to hear it turn into the biggest drug orgy in the whole sorry tale. The end is an anticlimax to say the least. Looking back on his time on the road, Sal sometimes thinks of Dean Moriarty, thinks of old Dean Moriarty. It reminded me a little of Catch-22. I’m glad I read it, but wasn’t sure I would be while I was reading it. Unlike Catch-22, however, I don’t think I want to read On the Road again.