Quicksand by Nella Larsen (CC Spin #21)

Frankly the question came to this: what was the matter with her? Was there, without her knowing it, some peculiar lack in her? Absurd. But she began to have a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness? Why couldn’t she be happy, content, somewhere? Other people managed, somehow, to be. To put it plainly, didn’t she know how? Was she incapable of it?

Back in January of 2018 I read and reviewed Nella Larsen’s 1929 classic novel, Passing, and noted that I’d hardly ever come across a novel as slim yet as jam-packed with ideas ripe for discussion. I could definitely say the say thing about Larsen’s first novel, Quicksand (1928.) Both are arresting, probing explorations of race in early twentieth century America, both very readable. And while Passing is perhaps the tighter story, I found Quicksand to be the one that presented me with even bigger ideas to contemplate.

When we meet Helga Crane she is a young biracial woman (her father was black, her mother a white Danish immigrant.) Her mother died when she was very young and she never lived with her father; Helga feels adrift and as if she has no “people.” She is teaching at a Southern school for African Americans and engaged to a male teacher at the school. But she is not happy and doesn’t agree with the school’s educational philosophy. She makes a snap decision to leave the school and go to Chicago, where her mother’s brother lives, to see if he can help her begin anew. So begins her search for belonging and happiness, which takes her from Chicago to Harlem, to Denmark, and back again to the American South.

But just what did she want? Barring a desire for material security, gracious ways of living, a profusion of lovely clothes, and a goodly share of envious admiration, Helga Crane did know, couldn’t tell. But there was, she knew, something else. Happiness, she supposed. Whatever that might be.

Helga never does seem to find a place where she is viewed as a human being, treated superficially as an exotic, sexualized beauty in Denmark and feeling trapped in Harlem by strict rules of social etiquette and her companion’s obsession with ” the race problem.” I felt sympathy for her but also at times felt irritated by how rashly she made major life decisions. She was a compelling character and I eagerly turned the pages to see if Helga would ever find a safe place to land. Her life takes a surprising turn towards the end of the book, but I won’t spoil anything because this short classic is worthy of a place on your TBR.

This knowledge, this certainty of the division of her life into two parts in two lands, into physical freedom in Europe and spiritual freedom in America, was unfortunate, inconvenient, expensive.

Larsen is a thoughtful writer and her biography is ripe for a good biopic. Quicksand seems heavily autobiographical and I wondered how much more she could have written if she grew up in a later time, a time where biracial people’s lives weren’t so restricted by laws and societal conventions. She spent most of her life as a nurse, a career at which she, by all accounts, excelled and enjoyed. There are three short stories I haven’t yet read but that is all that’s left of her work for me to read. It’s a shame there isn’t more to explore, but I’m grateful to have found the novels she left behind.

This is the 16th book out of 51 on my Classics Club list, which you can see in this post.

Classics Club Spin #21 List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! I am so grateful for this prompt because otherwise the classics on my TBR list would get pushed down to the bottom. Having this nudge is a life-saver.

I chose 20 books from my master list and put them in a random number generator. Here’s the result:

1. The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy

2. Beloved – Toni Morrison

3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

4. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

5. Quicksand -Nella Larsen

6. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko

7. The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison

8. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

9. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell

10. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery

11. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

12. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

13. 1984 – George Orwell

14. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

15. Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner

16. Howard’s End – E.M. Forster

17. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

18. The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

19. The Warden – Anthony Trollope

20. Native Son – Richard Wright

I’ve got some chunksters in there which makes me a bit nervous, but I’ve got to read them sometime. We’ll find out Monday which number is picked and I’ll post then. I’ll have to read and review my classic by October 31.

What would be your pick from my list?

Reading Round-up and The CC Spin Result

Hello friends, I hope you’ve had a good week! It’s time to do a little catching up and finally tell you what my Classics Club Spin result was.

Recently Finished Reading:

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin.

5519730This is the third book in the Inspector Rebus series. In this one the Inspector gets called down to London (from his home base of Edinburgh) to assist on a serial killer case, chasing a suspect nicknamed “The Wolfman.” There’s a lot about the psychology of serial killers here, and I liked how open-ended the case was right until the very end. Rankin highlights the tension between the English detectives and our Scottish protagonist. He’s not exactly welcomed with open arms. There’s a subplot about Rebus’s family, his daughter and ex-wife who live in London, and how he’s not exactly been the most present father. And another cringe-worthy romantic relationship – my least favorite element of these books so far. Rebus is kind of a screw-up in that area. I am not sure that I really like John Rebus, but he’s interesting and funny and complex and I like reading *about* him. And I’m a softie for a maverick detective. I eagerly anticipate getting to read the next installment.

Currently Reading:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up by John Carreyrou.

37976541I’m listening to the audio book of this from my library, and it’s BANANAS. I can’t even begin to comprehend the amount of money poured into this half-assed, shady, unethical operation. The hubris, megalomania, and privilege of Theranos’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes is mind-boggling. It’s a highly entertaining and eye-opening read. I’m ignoring my usual podcasts in favor of this book. I definitely recommend it. The narrator is nothing special, but the book is just so… wow. One heck of a story here. I’m about half way through.

Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope by Karamo Brown.

43253544I’m OBSESSED with Netflix’s Queer Eye and all the guys. They are just the most joyful and kind-hearted people and their show makes me happy. So of course I’m going to read any memoir that one of them writes. (And I do like to read celebrity autobiographies.) Karamo is laying it all out there. I’m halfway through this and he’s just discussed his addiction to cocaine that nearly killed him, an interesting take on colorism and gender, and his love for his church and how he won’t let anyone cherry-pick Bible verses to denigrate who he is. He comes across just as confidently as he does on the show, and I like how he is baring all of his past mistakes honestly. I recommend this if you’re a fan of the show.

CC Spin Result:

The number chosen in Monday’s spin was 19, which means I’ll be reading Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I’m really excited to finally read this and I own a copy already which is nice. Here is the Goodreads blurb:51MDxGgSUmL

The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.

Have you read this?

What have you recently finished?

Classics Club Spin # 20!

It’s time again for another Classics Club Spin. I am so grateful for these Spins or else I really would take ten years to complete my list instead of five. Here are the rules:

At your blog, before next Monday 22nd April 2019, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List.

On Monday 22nd April, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 31st May, 2019.

This is perfect timing for me because I will be DONE WITH THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO soon! (Maybe even tonight.) Woo-hoo!

Here is my Spin List (in alphabetical order by author:)

  1. Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury
  2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Bronte
  3. The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
  4. The Woman in White – Collins
  5. A Study in Scarlet – Conan Doyle
  6. Great Expectations – Dickens
  7. Love Medicine – Erdrich
  8. Howard’s End – Forster
  9. Cold Comfort Farm – Gibbons
  10. Nightingale Wood – Gibbons
  11. The Thin Man – Hammett
  12. Jonah’s Gourd Vine -Hurston
  13. Quicksand – Larsen
  14. The Blue Castle – Montgomery
  15. The Gowk Storm – Morrison
  16. Quartet in Autumn – Pym
  17. Ceremony – Silko
  18. The Warden – Trollope
  19. Brideshead Revisited – Waugh
  20. Stoner – Williams

We’ll see what number they draw on Monday.

Have you read any of these?

Thoughts on Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (#CCSpin #19)

And the darkness of John’s sin was like the darkness of the church on Saturday evenings; like the silence of the church when he was there alone, sweeping, and running water into the great bucket, and overturning chairs, long before the saints arrived. It was like his thoughts as he moved about the tabernacle in which his life had been spent; the tabernacle that he hated, yet loved and feared.

510dFZyJmyL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I feel like I got way with something by reading Go Tell It on the Mountain for the latest Classics Club Spin. We were supposed to be reading one of the longer books on our lists, but I only put ten “big books” on mine, and the spin result happened to be Baldwin’s 1953 first novel. The one I borrowed from the library clocked in at 291 pages. Oh well. Those big books are still waiting for me.

This is a challenging books to write about. It’s a family story and a coming of age story. Goodreads says it’s semi-autobiographical and my copy’s jacket flap quotes Baldwin himself as saying, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” I’ve now read three of Baldwin’s books, and I’ve seen the exquisite documentary about him, I Am Not your Negro, but I do want to read a biography about him or at least do some more research into this life.

Not only is this book challenging to describe but it was challenging to read as well, because I felt so bad for the main character, the young teenager John. His family lives in 1930’s era New York City, and his cold and critical father Gabriel is an associate pastor of a very Evangelical type of church. His world seems pretty sheltered and restricted, and you can feel John wanting to break free and explore the variety of experience that New York offers.

He stood on the crest of the hill, hands clasped beneath his chin, looking down. Then he, John, felt like a giant who might crumble this city with his anger; he felt like a tyrant who might crush this city beneath his heel; he felt like a long-awaited conqueror at whose feet flowers would be strewn, and before whom multitudes cried, Hosanna! He would be, of all, the mightiest, the most beloved, the Lord’s anointed; and he would live in this shining city which his ancestors had seen with longing from far way. For it was his; the inhabitants of the city had told him it was his; he had but to run down, crying, and the would take him to their hearts and show him wonders his eyes had never seen. 

Gabriel and John do not get along, and we come to find out that John is Gabriel’s wife Elizabeth’s son by another man. Gabriel becomes a bit more humanized and sympathetic as we delve into flashbacks of his story, and we come to understand in flashbacks how and why Elizabeth married him as well. The last section of the book is John’s feverish, nightmarish religious experience (salvation? conversion?) with an ambiguous ending.

Did I enjoy this book? Enjoy is not exactly the word – it was a surprisingly page-turning read. Some parts were more engaging than others, especially the back stories of John’s aunt Florence and mother Elizabeth. But I gave it four stars because of the beauty and precision of the language and the challenging spiritual imagery.

Time was indifferent, like snow and ice; but the heart, crazed wanderer in the driving waste, carried the curse forever.

Have you read this? If you’ve read Baldwin before, what is your favorite of his books? Are you interested in seeing the new film If Beale Street Could Talk (based on Baldwin’s 1974 novel?)

 

 

Classics Club Spin #19 Result!

I’m very late with my CC Spin result post, but better late than never. I’m excited to say that the number selected was #1, which made my book James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain. Here’s what Goodreads tells us about this classic novel:510dFZyJmyL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_

Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a semi-autobiographical novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.

I’ve been eager to read more of Baldwin since I have read and LOVED The Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room. The library copy I ordered from another branch is only 291 pages, so it’s not a “chunkster” (as we were prodded to try from the Classics Club moderators) –  I feel like I got away with something, tee hee! I’m going to have to get to 9781101907610those really big books sometime, though, in the next four years.

Have you read this? Have you read any other of Baldwin’s novels or nonfiction? Have you seen the phenomenal film about him I Am Not Your Negro? (If you haven’t, you really should!)

Classics Club Spin #19

Hello friends. I hope those of you who have been celebrating Thanksgiving have had a great few days. I’m delighted to write that it’s time for another Classics Club Spin! Here are the “rules:”

  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty CHUNKSTER books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Tuesday 27th November.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20.
  • Read that book by 31st January 2019.

Um, did they say “CHUNKSTER?” Gulp. When I looked at my list I noticed that I do have quite a few chunksters I haven’t even touched yet. Because I’m a wimp, my spin list is half 500+ page tomes, half “fun size” literary masterpieces (bigger books in bold type.)

  1. Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin
  2. Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
  3. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
  4. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
  5. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier
  6. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  8. Adam Bede – George Eliot
  9. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  10. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  12. The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
  13. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery
  14. Less Than Angels – Barbara Pym
  15. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
  16. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  17. The Warden – Anthony Trollope
  18. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  19. The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
  20. Native Son – Richard Wright

What from my list have you read? I’ll post the result next week.