Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Book 10

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
  3. Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
  4. Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
  5. Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
  6. Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
  7. Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)
  8. Gibbs, Christopher H., ed. — The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (334 pages)
  9. Sendak, Maurice — Where the Wild Things Are (48 pages — though only 1 page will count towards my tally)
  10. Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God (215 pages)

Page count: 2275.

In one of the closest races in a long time—closer even than the current race for Democratic nomination for U.S. President—Their Eyes Were Watching God edged out the other contenders 2 to 1 to 1 to 1 to 1 to a bunch of 0s. Despite voter turnout almost as pathetic as in my last book poll, my readers have managed to recommend another literary gem to me. Every time I democratize my next reading choice, you have chosen a masterpiece for me.

It surprises me that Their Eyes Were Watching God was out of print and virtually unheard of for a few decades. Yes, it is notably distinct from other works by black authors from Hurston's generation, but it certainly is not in any way inferior to them. Clearly, the cause of Hurston's neglect was political. This is a shame that has thankfully been corrected in the last thirty years, as Their Eyes Were Watching God is as good a book as I've read in the past few years.

Hurston's novel is warm, lyrical, and colorful. The story recounts the blossoming of Janie as she matures from a little girl struggling to find who she is to a woman at one with herself. Her journey is extraordinary, fraught with gender- and race-based limitations imposed by her society; she eventually breaks through, finding self-assurance, love, and fulfillment. Hurston skillfully shifts perspectives and style, between first and third persons, between literary and colloquial, between realism and mythology, and succeeds not only in crafting a compelling love story but in making music through her use of words and painting some of the most sensuous and poignant images in literature.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 30th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
The book's amazing -- 'twasn't Hurston's literary style (or her race, honestly) that got her marginalized. She was an anthropologist; her work in Haiti--particularly the stuff on zombies--got her blackballed from the academy and the canon for quite a while. We owe Alice Walker big time for bringing Hurston back from the dead.
Mar. 30th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, I almost mentioned Walker and her 1975 essay in my write-up. I knew Hurston was an anthropologist and wrote a couple of books on African-American/Afro-Caribbean mythology and symbolism, but I didn't realize that's what got her in trouble. (Especially given she wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God while in Haiti.) I thought it had to do with her feminism (in a vocation dominated by men) and her radical views on the race issue, which ran contrary to the views expounded by the most prominent black voices of the time.

Edited at 2008-03-30 05:16 pm (UTC)
Mar. 31st, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)
We anthropologists and folklorists never buried her. I've read Walker's essay too, but believe you are starkly incorrect when you claim her work in Mules and Men and Tell My Horse got her "blackballed by the academy." Her ethnographic work was enormously well-received -- I have copies of glowing reviews in American Anthropologist on file somewhere, to say nothing of a warmhearted intro to Mules written by none other than "Papa" Franz Boas. Her work was on university syllabuses for decades afterward, and required no rehabilitation. Sorry to be so contentious, but Zora matters a lot to me, as does the prescience of my academic forefathers and -mothers.

As I understand it, Hurston left behind the social sciences to pursue her fiction career more fully. Her reputation in the latter department was done in by two things: first, the shifting winds of white literary fashion, which moved away from an interest in the Harlem Renaissance (Hurston's sometime collaborator Langston Hughes had his tough times in the 50s too, believe it or not, though that was largely because of his Communist sympathies), and second -- and more damningly for the black literary community and the remaining progressive whites who supported their efforts in the 40s and 50s -- Hurston's seemingly rightist politics when it came to race and integration. Hurston repudiated Brown v. Board of Education, for instance, claiming that weakening African American culture by melding it more closely with that of whites would not do blacks any lasting good. Zora, in short, wasn't PC by the standards of the time.

During the same time period, however, she was experimenting with broadening the ambit of her written work to explore the experiences of poor Southern whites (in Seraph on the Suwanee), which complicates any interpretation one might advance of her attitudes toward race. I myself am fondest of her essay "How It Feels To Be Colored Me," which I highly recommend; it's widely anthologized and should be easy to find.

I can find no evidence anywhere to support the idea that Hurston's star fell in or out of the social sciences sky because of her work on voodoo, hoodoo, or obeah. Where are you getting your information from? I've never heard that theory, and as I said, I find it mighty suspect given the number of written sources I've seen that praise her fieldwork and scholarly writing (other fans include such anthropological luminaries as Grand Old Dykes Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict).

As you may have surmised, Zora Neale Hurston means a lot to me; she is one of my genuine heroes in this life, and the only mistruth about her I'm willing to let stand is the one she herself told about her real age. :)

Edited at 2008-03-31 01:55 am (UTC)
Mar. 31st, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Sweet Jesus, John. I'm only skimming this, 'cause I need to write about four papers. There's a woman in one of my classes whose doing her doctoral work on Haitian zombies; she discussed Hurston at length in my undead class. I didn't grill her for sources, but she did suggest that the zombie bits got her in trouble. I'd be happy to provide Helen's email address if you want to argue with her.

Mar. 31st, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)
Whoa. I realize my response was long and more than a little impassioned, but if someone casually, even harmlessly posted an erroneous claim to LiveJournal about something deep within your academic bailiwick, wouldn't you write back at length, too? Admittedly, I've been out of the game for some years now, but as I recall this is what academics do when they feel there's a misstatement out there: they correct it, and offer as much evidence as they can for whatever version of the truth they believe to be, um, true. I am sure my tone was pedantic, but I tried hard to keep it from becoming hectoring.

In any case, I wasn't having a go at you ad hominem, though I supposed I'd be interested in the abstract to write to Helen about claims that continue to boggle me with their improbability. Meanwhile, if I can presume to tender a piece of advice which may offend (though that is not its intent), speaking with seeming authority on issues where one is by no means authoritative will invariably rouse the ire of some crusty old academic, retired or not, and is therefore best avoided. You have a tendency, not uncommon among graduate students, to declaim, and while that can be damn impressive in areas where you know your shit cold, it's a bad habit anywhere else. It's taken me years of teaching bullshit-wise high school kids to lose that act myself.

Ehh, this sounds more hostile than I mean it to, and I'm half tempted to delete the whole thing and leave well enough alone, especially since this isn't even my journal, and because I'm crazy fond of you. I really enjoy hearing about your studies and your progress toward your very own Useless Degree (ironic tm), and wish you lots of luck, prestige, and future disciples. You will doubtless have earned them.
Mar. 31st, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)
It does sound hostile and frankly borders on the offensive, but I'm willing to let it go. I wouldn't have commented on Hurston in an academic forum; as you say, she's not an author I've studied at length. Thank you for the well wishing.
Mar. 31st, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
*sigh* I broke one of my cardinal rules here regarding potential flames, and took bait I should have passed up. Suffice it to say that your friendship matters more to me than any argument. I'm sorry to have offended you, and will drop the matter right here.
Mar. 31st, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
p.s. spwebdesign, sorry for hijacking your pro-Hurston thread.
Mar. 31st, 2008 07:17 am (UTC)
Are you kidding?! I wish all my posts generated this kind of response!

FWIW, your view seems more inline with both the foreword by Mary Helen Washington and the afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. They both suggested Hurston's radical right-wing views on the race issue were her undoing—her fall from grace was driven by politics, not anthropology or literature. But then, what do I know? I'm just a casual reader whose knowledge of this subject doesn't extend past the novel, foreword, and afterword; I'm certainly not equipped to argue with an academic on the subject.
Mar. 31st, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)
I love "Their Eyes" -- I used to teach it -- and Hurston in general. She is one of my personal heroes: novelist, storyteller, anthropologist, folklorist, voodoo priestess. I strongly recommend her "Mules and Men" if you enjoyed Janie and Tea Cake.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

December 2016
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner