Wednesday, January 13, 2010
So, why am I reading Breathing Lessons? Well, because of my mother of course. Lately, my mother has been graciously indulging my suggestions and actually liking them. From Richard Price to David Foster Wallace, she's expanding her literary horizons and most recently, she's hooked on The Wire. I don't know about you, but I think my mom's pretty cool. And so I've been throwing stuff her way and naturally I thought it only fair that I read some of her favorite authors, Anne Tyler being one of them.
Reading Anne Tyler allows me to better understand my mother and the way she views the world. The main character is middle aged (like my mother), white (like my mother), middle class (like my mother), a wife and mother (like my mother), in a stable (although idiosyncratic) marriage (like my mother), and has adult children (like my mother). The foundation for identification is there. But also, the subject Tyler chooses to ponder I imagine my mother connecting with as well, which is for the most part, the everyday, the routine, the regular ebb and flow of life.
Maggie Moran is at the center of this meandering narrative, which is kind of a road trip novel. Maggie and her husband Ira travel to neighboring Pennsylvania for a funeral and take a small detour on the way home, visiting their son's moderatley estranged ex-wife and grandchild. Very little "happens" in the novel, the narrative told mostly from Maggie's perspective, which is abound with flashbacks, recalled memories and discursive storytelling, all of which Tyler does masterfully I might add.
The novel is surprisingly sad. As it progresses, the reader begins to realize that Maggie has an "unrealiable narrator" quality, or at least, heavily distorts events and people so as to mold them into her pleasant idea of life. Or maybe that's just Maggie's reality. I don't believe she distorts anything maliciously. Though the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Wait, no, I'm not saying she's going to Hell. Just saying, she's not a bad person.
"Maggie had a sudden view of her life as circular. It forever repeated itself, and it was entirely lacking in hope." pg. 315
"Ira's marriage was as steady as a tree; not even he could tell how wide and deep the roots went." pg. 157
Friday, January 8, 2010
I think I'm gonna have to read this again because 1. it was very good and 2. there are a lot of allusions going on and I'm not sure I connected all the dots. References to the Adams Family, Daedalus and Icarus myth, Minotaur and the Labyrinth, Proust, Camus, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ulysses and James Joyce, etc. So it's worth a second read, for sure.
The art is excellent. I know I've been saying that a lot about the graphic novels I've been reading but, well, they've just been really good. I can't talk too much about the plot without giving away pretty much everything so I will say it's about memory as reality, distorted truths, uncovered truths, family, sexual enlightenment, complex paternal relationships, and gardening.
Bechdel says this about her art..."It's very important for me that people be able to read the images in the same kind of gradually unfolding way as they're reading the text. I don't like pictures that don't have information in them. I want pictures that you have to read, that you have to decode, that take time, that you can get lost in. Otherwise what's the point?"
I don't know where to begin. This took me a while to finish mostly because each page is packed with information, so it makes for some slow reading at times. Basically, the "War on Drugs" was first waged, and continues to be waged, for political reasons, getting presidents and various politicians elected because they vowed to be "hard on drugs". What that usually translated into was massive amounts of government money spent on law enforcement and prisons. And that's about i...more I don't know where to begin. This took me a while to finish mostly because each page is packed with information, so it makes for some slow reading at times. Basically, the "War on Drugs" was first waged, and continues to be waged, for political reasons, getting presidents and various politicians elected because they vowed to be "hard on drugs". What that usually translated into was massive amounts of government money spent on law enforcement and prisons. And that's about it. Republicans thought that drugs was an individual ailment and those individuals should take responsibility, and Democrats basically thought it was a larger social responsibility, with issues of race and poverty coming into play. The reality is that it's both...which is hard for politicians to get elected on, so they have to choose one or the other.
Baum is clearly biased, not towards drug abuse, but the blatant distortion of statistics and facts that was going on during this approximately 30 year period in American history. He doesn't try to hide this bias in any way, so it's not like he's trying to pull a fast one on the reader. His most obvious bias is towards marijuana, which he portrays as being the scapegoat for the "War on Drugs", mostly because all other users of all other hard drugs didn't really add up enough users to wage a war. So pot was painted the ultimate villain by Mr. Nixon, even though a a commission of Nixon's own choosing concluded that marijuana prohibition was not in the national interest and they recommended legalization. He obviously ignored this report. Nixon wanted to wage a war on the marijuana culture more than the drug itself, as he saw it as a threat to American ideals, something set a part from the mainstream. Again, to use it as a political weapon.
So there's just too much to summarize, but basically the "War on Drugs", at the time, destroyed civil liberties, including most of the 4th Amendment, revamped the prosecutor's role to focus on drug enforcement, clogged up our judicial system without allocating proper funds, and massively distorted drug statistics to scare the American public into thinking their was a drug epidemic sweeping through the schools. And way way way more stuff that is ridiculous. Also, there is no statistical evidence that connects drug abuse with crime. A rise or decline in one doesn't mean squat for the other. Seriously.
"While nobody was saying that drawing hot, psychoactive smoke into the lungs was good for one's health (except perhaps in prescribed medical circumstances), many researchers were saying that a society that tolerates alcohol, tobacco, and bacon-double-cheeseburgers cannot on medical grounds justify jailing people for smoking marijuana." pg. 150