Let me share some thoughts I had yesterday, as I was taking my daily walk. I finished reading ‘Drop City’ by T.C. Boyle this week, and I consider it a really fine book. But strangely enough, I almost stopped reading it about a quarter of the way in. And since that book, I’ve been reading another one; ‘A Ticket to the Circus’ by Norris Church Mailer. This second one is basically an autobiography, in which Norman Mailer plays a very important role. And so, a lot of my thoughts were related to Mailer as a writer.
But first, let’s look at ‘Drop City’. This book did not get a lot of rave reviews, and even before I started reading, I encountered a some criticism concerning the way he described the hippie commune. As it happened, I spent some time in California during the 60s, and had the advantage of visiting a number of communes at that time, as well as making friends among the hippies. When I started reading his book, I too felt that the descriptions of the hippie commune was inaccurate, and that the commune members seemed closer to the stereotype of the lazy hippie who’s interested only in sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
But as I continued to read, I realized that these weren’t the hippies of the 60s who’d tried to build a new culture based on alternative values. These were the hippies of the 70s, at a time when there was a drift towards decadence, and many of the original pioneers had already gone on to build their personal lives, and had given up on some of the original ideals of the 60s. What’s more, there was a counterpoint in the narrative. Alongside of the hippies, Boyle presents us with the highly independent and slightly anarchic pioneers in Alaska. What we get is really a comparison between two paths towards a more ‘natural’ life style, where freedom is most important, and there is less need to accommodate the conventions of the establishment. By the end of the book, I felt that he had offered us some very important lessons in self reliance, freedom, and the commitment needed to going ‘back to nature’. I liked the resolutions of the different problems and conflicts in the story. It’s a book I can recommend.
As I have said previously, Boyle has a way with words. He expresses himself beautifully, and can paint a fascinating and intriguing picture in words. This has been true in all three of his books that I read. And after reading this one, I will be reading more of his work. There are some writers whose talent lies chiefly in their ability to bring a scene to life; in their elegant use of the language. I have read works where the writing itself was more important than the story; where the prose was so beautiful, that reading was as much a pleasure as listening to music. But to me, what is more important than all the rest, is having something to say. I’m not looking for a ‘page turner’. Nor do I wish to sit on the edge of my seat. I like something to think about.
Among the criticisms that I encountered regarding ‘Ticket to the Circus’ were complaints that Norris Church had written too much about herself, and in too great detail. That what was interesting was what we could learn about Norman Mailer, the celebrity author. I can understand this complaint, because there are parts in the beginning of this book that just aren’t that interesting. But I do believe that Norris was very straight forward and open with her readers, and we get to know who she is as a person. And so it is easier for us to understand how she saw Mailer, and gives a lot of credence to her narrative. And of course, once she starts describing her life with Mailer, it becomes very interesting; especially for those who read a lot of his writing. It’s the sort of book I would only recommend to those who really loved Norman Mailer. And to the rest of the reading public, I’d suggest reading Mailer himself.
To those who are unfamiliar with Mailer, I would recommend, as in introduction, the first column of ‘Quickly: A column for slow readers’, which was included in his book ‘Advertisements for Myself’. And after that, maybe the fiction that is listed in the second table of contents of that same book. Mailer could tell a story well, as he did in ‘Naked and the Dead’, ‘American Dream’, ‘Why are We in Vietnam’, and ‘Harlot’s Ghost’. But he was always thinking, and had a very crystallized set of values, which could be found in all his writing. I believe that he revolutionized the profession of journalism by writing about topical subjects from an extremely subjective point of view. Before that, journalists tried to present themselves as objective… even if they weren’t. And since his pioneering efforts, most of journalism has become subjective, and often we are exposed to an egoistical display. I don’t think the change in journalism was great, though. But it did encourage writers to make a commitment, when it came to values. Some criticized Mailer, saying that he was such an egomaniac, that he indulged himself in casual pronouncements, when he should have dug deeper. But though I don’t agree with all of his ideas or values, I do think he was thought provoking.
This week’s photos are from my walk in the park. I got a kick out of watching the shy rock badgers visiting the public park to enjoy the grass. This is rather rare. When they see people, they flee.