Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

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Title: Wise Blood
Author: Flannery O’Connor
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Release Date: 1952
Rating: 5/5

Flannery O’Connor died at the age of 39 after publishing only two novels and 32 short stories. Wise Blood is the first of those novels and it’s Southern Gothic at its finest. What a shame she didn’t have more time.

“I preach the Church without Christ”…” where the lame don’t walk, the blind don’t see, and the dead stay dead!”

Wise Blood is a strange little book, but it has everything a Southern Gothic story needs; violence, religious fanatisism and grotesque characters. It’s grim, bleak and often absurdly funny. Simultaneously depressing and hilarious, a rare feat. Unlike most books I’ve read in this genre, I find that the characters in Wise Blood have little to no redemptive features. It seems that they’re not supposed to be realistic characters, but more a study in the way characters can work in fiction. That doesn’t make for a less interesting and entertaining read.

We have Hazel Motes, a war vet waging his own private war against a “blind” preacher with a degenerate daughter. He’s given up on the Christian truth and decides to start his own church, The Church Without Christ, to preach the opposite. In his anti-religion (and anti-sin, anti-soul, anti-redemption) campaign, he ends up engulfed by religion and images of Christ. His attempts to reject religion seem to have the opposite effect. He’s certain a new Jesus will emerge and that he is a prophet. He’s unsympathetic and unkind, but has lines that almost rival Joseph Heller in absurdity. I chuckled more than once.

Then there’s Enoch Emory, an 18-year-old zoo-keeper who hates animals, was thrown out of his house, has no friends and is obsessed by a mummified corpse in the local museum. He’s a despicable character too, but it’s hard not to be interested in someone who only does what his wise blood tells him, even if that is attempting to force about the Second Coming of Christ or putting on a gorilla costume. Arguably, Cormac McCarthy has based a few characters on Enoch.

“Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”

Within a very short space of time, O’Connor deals with some pretty big issues; faith, heresy, redemption (maybe not so much) and modernity – what the hell does it all mean? She does it with a steady hand and a tongue in her cheek. The narrative, like the characters, is disconnected. The language is sharp and on point, with dialogue written in the vernacular – something I just can’t get enoug of. I’m sure someone could show a straight line from Faulkner to O’Connor to McCarthy. The latter is obviously heavily influenced by the previous two. I’m a big fan of McCarthy, but I have a feeling O’Connor may just be his equal, if not more than that.

This is why I love to read.

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it”

Vacation book picks

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Choosing which books to bring is normally one of the harder things about planning a vacation. That’s under normal circumstances. This year, it’s been even worse. Why? Because I can’t take more than 2 (two!) books with me. And if I do see a bookstore along the way, I can’t go in and buy anything. All because my boyfriend and I have decided to spend our vacation time hiking around the Swedish and Norwegian wilderness. That means we’ll have to carry everything around with us in our backpacks, and let me tell you, 12 days worth of food takes up a lot of room. It also means that the books I decide to bring will probably get roughed up a bit. So I’ve decided to take books with me that are, first of all, not the heaviest reading (it’s a vacation, after all) and second, that I probably won’t be too upset about creasing. A mean thing to say, I know. Don’t tell them.

So far, I’ve picked Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. I’ve come across it several times in the past few years, but the main character is a Russian agent, and I don’t really like detectives and crime fiction. However, it was long listed for the Man Booker Award; the first thriller to be on that list, as far as we know (the lists weren’t always public). I know that makes me sound like a big ol’ snob, but I have generally enjoyed the Man Booker books I’ve read, so why not use that as a kind of guide? I’ve tried to read other thrillers or crime books that made big commercial splashes and found them to be tedious and silly. So here’s hoping this one got that “nomination” for a reason and is as thrilling as they say.

My other pick I’m even more uncertain about. I know very little about it and the user reviews on various sites are mixed, which has kept me from buying it sooner. But I came across it randomly in a store, so I figured I might give it a go. It’s California by Edan Lepucki. Unlike Child 44, California is one of my favorite genres; post-apocalyptic fiction. That’s about all I know and I have no expectations going in. Hopefully that’ll mean a pleasant surprise.

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No, of course I can’t go on three week vacation with only two books. Sure, we’ll be hiking a lot, but also hanging out in the tent, going on very very long train and bus rides, plane rides etc. Two books would never suffice. Maybe if one of them were The Stand by Stephen King or something (I’m still 13 hours away from finishing that audio book). So I’ll have to load up a bunch of other books on my Kindle. I’m thinking Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See, John Irving – A Prayer for Owen Meany, Flannery O’Connor – Complete Stories and maybe another thriller like Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train. There’s no telling what I’ll feel like reading, so it’s good to have choices.

How many books do you usually bring when traveling? Do you mind lugging around numerous paperbacks or do you just bring the Kindle, iPad, whatever? And do you, like me, often return home with way more books than you brought? I probably won’t this year.

 

 

Kindle vs paper

For years I refused to get an e-reader. I refused to read e-books period. I laughed scornfully when people suggested I get a Kindle. No, there was no way I’d ever betray my beloved paperbacks (and my few hardbacks), or in any way contribute to the death of the printed book. E-books weren’t real books, real readers read paper books. Real readers had shelves full of real books. E-readers did nothing for the decor.

Admitted, I still feel that way, more or less. And I still don’t think I could ever give up on printed books. Not only do I love looking at my books and getting new ones to put on the shelves (though it’s a lot of work when it’s all alphabetized), my reading experience is completely different when I read p-books compared to e-books. But I did eventually (because everything’s eventual, right?) succumb to the pressure and got a Kindle Paperwhite a couple of years ago. It’s a nice little gadget and when I first turned it on I was amazed at how much it looked like a framed sheet of paper. Not at all like reading on my phone or an iPad. But still, Kindle books cost almost as much as p-books and given that choice, I will always go with the printed one. Paying for a license to read a book just seems a bit… strange. I know Amazon has started the Kindle Matchbook, where you can get the e-book at a reduced rate when you buy the printed version. But the selection isn’t very wide. Not yet, anyway. So I mostly use my Kindle for different kinds of free books.

 

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A lot of people say that e-readers are great for vacations. People who need to work on those muscles, perhaps? I almost agree a little. But when I’ve been backpacking, I’ve had no trouble lugging 8 or 10 paperback books around with me, since I didn’t do long hikes with all of my stuff. So my Kindle has always been a kind of backup, in case I ran out of books. I always manage to find bookstores, so that hasn’t happened yet. This year, however, my Kindle might just prove its worth. I’m going hiking for almost three weeks in Northern Sweden and Norway. I’ll have to carry all of my stuff around all the time, and given the amount of food needed for that kind of journey, I won’t have room for more than 1 or 2 paperbacks. So I’ve made sure that a lot of the books I’ve recently bought for summer reading, I’ve also gotten as e-books. I feel a bit ambivalent about this. Sure, it won’t wear on my pretty books, but then, the wear is what makes the book…alive? Something like that. I guess I could just leave them open underneath other books to crease the spine…

 

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I’m sure the Kindle will do fine as a temporary substitute. Especially since I don’t have a choice. But overall I do find that I enjoy reading on my Kindle way less than reading a real book. I know this experience is different for everyone, and some people even prefer e-readers to real books (people be cray) but studies have shown that people comprehend less of what they read on an e-reader, compared to when reading a printed book. Not that I’m aware of not remembering what I’ve read – I think I do – but I do lose the sense of progress I have with a print. I’ve sometimes felt almost dizzyingly lost. Another argument for the p-book. A pretty good argument against it would be the whole environmental issue, but let’s not get into that. Or maybe just call it a draw?

No matter what, the Kindle just can’t compete with the p-book when it comes to making my house look all nice and bookwormy.

Every reader has an opinion on this. What’s yours? How do you do the whole e-reader vs printed book balancing? Do you also feel inexplicably guilty towards your real book when reading an e-book?