After not really enjoying “Foe”, reading “Watchmen” was what I needed. A classic comic book tale to sweep me away and let me wander through this eerily similar yet vastly different world created by Alan Moore. I’d already read most of “Watchmen” in the far past, and had already seen the movie, so I had a very clear idea of the events to come, yet I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the little things in this reading through. I spent way too long looking at the backgrounds of panels, just observing the world which was so meticulously created. I relished at finding hidden and cut off newspaper headlines which gave a bit more life to the dark painting of Nixon New York the characters inhabit. Hell, I even read all of the segments in between the chapters, something I wouldn’t have even fathomed as a kid.
Part of the reason I like “Watchmen” so much is the characters in the story. It sounds incredibly generic and overheard, but I enjoyed “Watchmen” mostly due to characters like Rorschach, The Comedian, and especially Bernie and Bernard (the kid and the man of the newstand). Funnily enough, all the characters I really felt connected to ended up dying in some way. I mention the characters because I feel like this is where a lot of “Watchmen”‘s beauty lies. I really can’t recall any comic book or even book/novel which had this many dynamic and interesting characters. The reader is constantly getting to know different characters better in these constantly connected interactions. Interactions which not only give context to the character, but are also linked to the main story, and give the whole world context.
Maybe this is something people might dislike about the book. I could see it being a bit of a jumbled mess if you don’t have the patience and time to sift through the endless narration of “The Black Freighter”, wondering why a crazy survivor/pirate story is constantly coming back. But it’s like any sort of world you can get lost in, similar to Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other similar franchise which has an incredibly detailed world and characters to get lost within.
Perhaps part of the reason I enjoy reading “Watchmen” so much is because it naturally divides opinion. There are those who believe Veidt is the true protagonist and saviour, yet upon closer inspection nobody is able to be a proper hero within the story. Veidt lies to the world, kills half of New York (including The Comedian, and many of the minor characters in the city of New York the reader grows to love), all in a crazy plan to restore peace. He even goes so far as to try to destroy Dr. Manhattan! Is this what a hero looks like to you? But the alternatives are just as morose, with the wild Rorschach as the other main choice. A vicious man who lives with no regrets, constantly searching for truth and righteousness. That is my hero.
Reading “Foe” took me directly back to when I was a child, and my parents forced me (didn’t let me read other books until I finished this one) to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. While I look back on the past today surely acknowledging the masterful writing of Mark Twain (especially because my father has a large portrait of him in the living room), even today I can’t bear to even think about “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. It’s not that “Foe” is a book I immediately disliked for any particular reason, it’s just that it came exactly at the wrong time for me.
The reason that I didn’t like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as a kid was because I often had a fat stack of Calvin and Hobbes comics waiting for me at the finish line. It’s remarkable how much the modern day case of “Foe” resembles this. After having just read one of my favorite (if not my definite favorite) book of the course by Primo Levi, and with “Watchmen” coming up right after, “Foe” seemed like an awfully misplaced book in this part of the year (especially for someone with very little self initiative and directive towards schoolwork). I would constantly be taking sneakpeaks at what was ahead, or thinking of reading a chapter of Primo Levi through again rather than simply reading Foe. On top of it all, I was in Los Angeles vacationing and working, so the story told by J.M. Coetzee was even more detached from my thoughts. It was a suffering existence of not properly getting immersed in the book, and truly not enjoying any part of it.
I just couldn’t handle the story, I didn’t like the way Coetzee meshed these worlds together, trying to be very artistic and fancy (changing names of characters etc.) when maybe just making up a totally new story would’ve been easier on everyone. Maybe a lot of my frustration with the book culminated when I read the final chapter. By then I had already been toyed with enough by Coetzee, and I simply wanted a resolution to this story I could not immerse myself within. Instead, the last few pages are nothing but a stacking up of things which bothered me about the whole book! Constantly trying to be overly artistic and perhaps impart some deeper meaning to the reader with a final chapter filled with (somehow) connected symbols and motifs which did not satisfy me or change my opinion of the book for the better.
While I’m sure “Foe” must be respected for the writing and maybe even for the story, but just like Mark Twain’s famous novel, it came at the wrong time and was never able to leave an imparting impression upon me.
After reading “Survival in Auschwitz”, I can easily say that it’s my favorite of all the books I’ve read so far this year. While the subject matter Levi was writing about was horrifying and tragic, the way in which he writes it all is beautiful. His writing reflects the bleak tone prevalent throughout the events, yet certain descriptions are so vivid that Levi brings this now dead world back to life. One of my favorite passages has to be the one in which he describes the rest siren of the camp:
“And at last, like a celestial meteor, superhuman and impersonal like a sign from heaven, the midday siren explodes, granting a brief respite to our anonymous and concord tiredness and hunger.”
And it’s not just this small passage which is so vividly described, every memorable instance Levi lived through in the camp is meticulously described. Reading the book, it was a constant experience of not wanting to read on (due to the tragic nature of everything written), but having a drive to know more about what had happened. Part of this is also due to the way the book is put together, while it is constantly fairly depressing, certain sections are thrown in (like the chapter entitled A Good Day) which give a sort of break to what could become monotonous and bleak descriptions of a horrible existence.
What I found incredibly interesting (after having read the book) is that Levi wasn’t a writer by profession. He was a chemist, who after these dark experiences in Auschwitz began telling stories of what he’d been through. Little by little, he began to write more, and using the years of suffering he’d been through, he channeled that into his poetry and other works. While this bit of biographical history might seem fairly uninteresting or not useful, I feel like it really shows the importance of writing.
I got this sense from reading “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and especially the small explanation Charlotte Perkins Gilman included with the story about her writing it. Writing truly seems like one of the few outlets for our mind. The way we cope with certain things is to write, probably because talking to yourself out loud seems like a fairly strange method. It’s something we have in common as a species which is becoming more literate, as it’s our way to communicate, share, reveal, and express what we feel. It seems like that’s a very important part of how Levi managed to write these amazing works, as it was his only outlet.
Amongst the well-known works of Borges, I’m glad we got the chance to read “The Cooked Cat” and “The Daisy Dolls”. These two were definitely my favorite, and probably rank within the top five of the whole Arts One reading list from this year. I liked them both for different reasons though, they were two different types of stories which left a very solid impression upon me.
“The Cooked Cat” is a story which shocks you. It doesn’t shock you with the actual cooking of the cat (considering it’s revealed in the title), but it shocks you because from the way this family is described, the idea of Aunt Pepa cooking a cat is completely possible. It was in the little things which the cruelty really got to me. The scene with the pharmacist, where he would flaunt his earnings, for absolutely no gain to himself. And maybe because it’s something to do with the people I’ve met in Italy (old ladies very similar to the likes of Aunt Pepa), or maybe it’s the way the story was written, but it was all incredibly realistic to me.
So while “The Cooked Cat” is a story which shocked me, “The Daisy Dolls” really made me reflect and think. While I may be completely wrong, but I felt like a large idea of the story was the idea of impressions. What I mean by this is more like “first impressions” or what you could call “judging something by the book of its cover”. Our protagonist, Horacio is a man who continuously does just that. He’s always trying to judge these scenes, interpret what they could be from just a single impression, only to often find out his first impression is wrong. Perhaps it ties in with the whole idea of dolls, and the way we would judge someone who has dolls and treats/loves them the same way Horacio does? I’m not sure about that point, but still, the rest isn’t so bad.
Perhaps what’s the most prevalent element within these stories is a heavy sense of darkness. And by darkness I mean sadness, desperation, and the idea of violence Jon mentioned. They seem really prevalent within south-american/spanish/italian writings, whereas novels and stories from other regions tend to have a bit of a lighter air. I don’t think this really says anything about the cultures, but rather is just a characteristic of their writing culture.