Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.
In my first college English class, we read a startling poem written by a man I had never heard of. It began, "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds...:" Along with many who had encountered the work of e.e.cummings, I felt an astonishment at the boldness, the invitation to stretch the mind to view the world differently, to enjoy the play of words and form in the modernist style that was forming itself at the time he began his career. I have continued to read his work ever since--and even though some of it has been controversial and not always pleasing, he has remained a great poet to me.
Thus I was thrilled at finding this book, written by Susan Cheever and narrated by Stefan Rudnicki on Audible. I sat up late into the night listening to it with great pleasure. Cheever and her father apparently knew Edward Estlin Cummings, so she had some first hand experience of who he was.
Cheever says early in the book that e.e. cummings' great skill was, "seeing the world through language." Indeed, he played with form, punctuation, words in ways that invited the reader always to move beyond the bounds of the conventional and view life in very different ways.
I had not known much about Cummings' life before--and it was very interesting to hear how he grew up near Harvard, went to school there--providing the background for his intellectual development--and went on even to become a lecturer there, giving, not surprisingly, what he referred to as his "non-lectures." Even there he found it impossible to be conventional.
Cummings struggled with life--with his rebellious nature--partly against his father, perhaps against the traditional way of viewing society. He hung out with the likes of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Dos Possos--so they clearly all influenced each other in the development of the movement.
He probably struggled with his own self-esteem as well--being a man of slight build, who (despite being in WWI) was not as rugged as his father. Something that possibly put him into psychoanalysis at a time in the early 20th century when that was just becoming available. He was married twice, had a daughter whom he rarely got to see after the divorce from her mother, and finally happily spent the rest of his life with a woman he probably was not married to--Marion Morehouse. However, after the Great Depression, Cummings never again found it as easy to get his own work published or acknowledged as rapidly as it was earlier in the century.
Some of his later work was very controversial--Cheever does a credible job of laying the background of early influences in his life that possibly led to that. But this does not take away (for me, at least) the importance of his contributions to the entire awakening of our society by people who dared to create in new and unusual ways--to invite us all to see beyond the little boxes of our accepted reality. Susan Cheever has written a compact book that is filled with stories of the life and struggles of a man who had to express his world view through poems, essays, plays, paintings, in a way that broke through all conventions.
Maya Angelou has written another in a series of autobiographical books about her life. In this one, she describes the complicated and unpredictable relationship with her mother, whom she referred to for many years as “Lady.”
In her hallmark terse style of writing, she describes how she and her brother were sent to her paternal grandmother’s in Arkansas for several years, where she found a sense of security, even though recovering from the trauma of childhood rape.
There came a time when she and her brother were unexpectedly sent back to live with their mother—something that young Maya was not prepared for. But, Lady, their mother, seemed determined to find a way for herself and Maya to achieve a close mother-daughter relationship (often in spite of themselves) as they had to get to know, and get used to each other. Lady was determined to show Maya that even though she had not been present in her early life, she would never let her down after that. However, she tended to use unconventional--but often wise--ways of offering that support.
This book explores the journey—often filled with dangerous, unexpected circumstances—through which Maya and her mother learned to find a kind of trust and caring for each other. Lady had had a very involved--even exciting--existence apart from having children, and seemed to have to make room in her life for Maya and her brother. But over time, mother and daughter come to care deeply about each other and form a bond that eventually leads Maya finally to call her “Mother.”
Clearly many of the incidents in this book—often involving danger of various kinds—were influential in shaping Maya Angelou’s subsequent life. Her mother taught her to protect herself, but also to live her life proudly, to the fullest and never doubt herself. This is a very interesting story—one courageously told by one of America’s most beloved and respected writers. Recommend!
This was a very interesting book. I have long been interested in Chaucer as well as that entire period in history. I have only an average person's knowledge about the times, but very much wanted to hear more. John Gardner has written a great book--I listened at a leisurely pace over two nights--hearing about who Chaucer was, how involved he was in government, how he was cared about by others, and his place in literary history. There is a lot of insight into his writings and details of his life I found fascinating.
I want to emphasize that this is a truly good book--one that is worth the read. But if you are hoping to hear the excerpts of Chaucer's written works in the way you might have read them yourself as modernized translations, you'll have to be fluent in the Old English language instead. That was lovely and melodic, I tried very hard to understand what I could take in between just listening and my knowledge of the works of Chaucer (in modern English).
But at some point in the book, early on, there was a comment by the author that there was a glossary at the end of the book that translated the unfamiliar OE words into modern English. I felt a loss that Audible did not (to my knowledge) do anything to provide a link to a site somewhere where we could do that. I still think the book is worth 5 stars--it was well-written by a man who has a treasure's worth of information, and the narration was lovely--I really enjoyed the sounds of the Old English, and tried to use my limited knowledge of Chaucer's works to fill in what I could. What I was not able to understand (of the passages he quoted) I enjoyed, simply because the sounds were lovely. And I think that it was worth it, not having full understanding--I got to listen in a different way. Just wish Audible had made that part clear (or else this book might have been written for people the author assumed were more familiar with the Old English versions. But I don't think so, since it mentioned a glossary). Hopefully Audible can correct this--give us access to the glossary somewhere? I still recommend this as a lovely listen (to the Old English passages, just as they are) and information about Chaucer himself.