All About Books and Writing

I’ve been reading, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and enjoying the story as much as I did one of his other books, The Lincoln Highway. His writing style is most engaging, and sprinkled with witticisms and wisdom.

Most of the wry comments in this story come from the “gentleman”, and here’s one that made me smile. It’s in a scene where another character is showing him an American magazine that has pictures of dishwashers and televisions and even an automatic garage door. The Count asks, “What is an automatic garage door?”

“It is a garage door that opens and closes itself on your behalf. What do you think of that?”

“I think if I were a garage door, I should rather miss the old days.”

Not only is that an amusing line, it also reveals so much of the man’s personality and character as he’s watched the changes in Moscow from the early 20s to the 50s and definitely not liking most of it.

Book Blurb: In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

If you haven’t read books by Towles, I highly recommend that you remedy that soon, and I do hope he’ busy working on the next book.

In other bookish information, if you’re a writer, may I suggest you check out the blog post, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, and the Other by David Corbett on the Writer Unboxed site. Since I really like the work of those two authors, I was intrigued when I saw the title, and I wanted to understand the reference to the Other.

The point of the article is how writers use their imagination to write about people and experiences of other races and cultures, and do they get it right.

Corbett quotes from Morrison’s collection of lectures, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, to make several points. “My work requires me to think about how free I can be as an African-American woman writer in my genderized, sexualized, wholly racialized world. To think about, and wrestle with, the full implications of my situation leads me to consider what happens when other writers work in a highly and historically racialized society. For them, as for me, imagining is not merely looking or looking at; nor is it taking oneself intact into the Other. It is, for the purposes of the work, becoming.”

Corbett goes on to say that Morrison recognizes that certain White writers do succeed in portraying the Other successfully. She uses the example of the short story by Flannery O’Connor, The Artificial Nigger, referring to it as excellent.

Acknowledging that the word is horrible and hateful, with absolutely nothing to redeem it, Corbett points out that O’Connor doesn’t use it in a hateful way. She simply wrote the truth about Southern hypocrisy in matters of race and social norms, as things changed with the advent of integration. And White people of that era freely and openly used the derogatory term.

About O’Connor using the “N” word, Corbett wrote, “The word, used so liberally by the characters she describes so seriously, was a weapon they used to defend the last remnants of their shabby privilege, to define themselves against those others they so assiduously denied real personhood.”

Further into the blogpost, Corbett points out that Morrison doesn’t condemn those who write about Blacks in a way that is not honest or true. And she doesn’t support the idea of banning books or pulling them from the shelves of school libraries. And she certainly does not call for books to be rewritten to satisfy some sensitivity.

Maybe we could follow her example, as Corbett encourages us to do.

In the blog post, Corbett also cites theater critic and literature professor, Hilton Als, who admires O’Connor’s writing. The quote is from a 2001 article written by him for the New Yorker magazine. Als is also Black and, like Morrison, doesn’t find fault with O’Connor’s writing. “In O’Connor’s fictional universe, the Whites in power are the only ones who can afford to be innocent of their surroundings. O’Connor’s most profound gift was her ability to describe impartially the bourgeoisie she was born into and to depict with humor and without judgment her rapidly crumbling social order.”

With some dismay, Corbett admitted that he finds it very disconcerting that much of what we see as truth in our society today probably couldn’t be published because it risks making someone uncomfortable. That’s certainly true if O’Connor was submitting her story for publication now, a fact that makes me incredibly sad.

In a comment following the article, one person wrote, “I would be surprised if there are many authors today who don’t approach their work with some, or a lot of, thought about what the potential backlash might be, particularly if they are hoping to find a home for a debut novel.”

I responded with, “But isn’t it rather sad that writers today cannot write as honestly about the human condition as it exists in 2023 without having to do some sanitizing in order to get published?”

If you haven’t read Flannery O’Connor, I recommend that you remedy that, too.

That’s all from me for today folks. I do hope you have a great start to your week. No matter what is on your agenda, be happy. Be safe.

2 thoughts on “All About Books and Writing”

    1. You’ll enjoy the book, I know. I’m going to get his first book when I return this one to the library.

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