Monday, April 21, 2008

Depressing Books for Happy People

I have always thought of us as a cheerful family, which is why it is so strange that we particularly love art that's a bit, how to say, emotionally fraught. There was the time my mother came to visit us in New York and what she really wanted to do was see a play about torture, a museum exhibit about slavery and some public art about starvation. So I was amused this afternoon when I got an email from her:
Just finished reading Christa Wolf's book which I mentioned, One Day A Year. If you want the whole (tragic) history of the world 1960-2000, this is the book for you!
And it was with only a bit of irony that I replied:
Sounds awesome! I'll take it out at SFU once the new semester starts, because then I'll get the full semester loan. I looked it up and it's 600+ pages.
I was chuckling over my mother's tendencies, when I looked in my purse and found the book I had recently recommended to her, Defying Dixie, a history of the precursors to the civil rights movement, most of which were Communist or other far-left movements and which have been completely erased by history. Fascinating book; not cheerful. I also recently made Winnifred and my mother come with me to a play by Dürrenmatt, the guy who famously said, "a story is not over until it has taken the worst possible turn." And both of them plus Future Minister of Discourse were dragged to the Tony Kushner adaptation of "The Dybbuk," which, with its theme of God's betrayal of those who love him the best, makes the original (which is about the betrayal we propagate when we forget old loved ones--a metaphor for first-world Jews' failure to save more Eastern European Jews from starvation during WWI) seem like a walk in the park.

Then I remembered that Writing Sister recently recommended Everything Must Change, a novel about "asceticism and devotion to a cause in a materialistic modern society." That sounds like a hoot too.

Ozzie Sister occasionally sends me reading material from Down Under; most memorably a great book about Holocaust survivors. So beautifully written, almost poetry. You could kill yourself it's so sad.

It seems we've all got the bug: hard art is our thing. Ah, well. Happy families are all alike, anyway.


Carolyn said...

Dear Sis:
I have been trying to intersperse my serious, sad reading with lighter things. Looking over at my shelf, hmmm. Well. I recently read two books by the Canadian humourist Will Ferguson: Happiness (a novel) and How to Be a Canadian (a spoof advice books for immigrants with tips like, Whatever you do, don't learn the national anthem. We don't know the words--you shouldn't either. Nothing will mark you as a foreigner more than this! Just now I'm reading a good book called Sacré Blues by Taras Grescoe, which is one writer's attempt to get to the bottom of what Quebec is all about. Some of it is quite serious but he sees the funny side of things as well. Aside from that, well, just got out A.L. Kennedy's new book, Day, set in World War Two. Okay, maybe that one won't be so cheerful. And then there's a volume of poetry by the Welsh poet Alun Lewis, who killed himself... Yeah, I see what you mean, Faith. I'll keep working on those cheerful titles. Carolyn

Susan3575 said...

Like all our family, I guess, I love tragic stuff. Here are two suggestions for truly horrifying but gripping novels I've read recently: "The 13th Tale" by Maggie O'Farrell and "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox" by Diane Setterfield--both guaranteed to devour your time and chill your blood.

On the flip side, I also love your blogs.

javier hernandez-miyares said...

your mom and i would get along. terror has an awful symmetry.

Butchery on Bond Street said...

Faith - I;ve been bad but I am making t'shuvah by reading back in your blog tonight. This piece is amazing. "More please,?" said little Oliver...

aldsoguts from Ben and Frances in NYC

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