Tag Archives: Southern Fiction

Masochistic Reading

WHY?! Why do I read things that hurt me?!

I just finished Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King and I’m SO DEPRESSED!! My Goodreads review simply stated, “this was sad 75% of the time, and I’m not about that life,” but AM I?

I am known for my commitment to intake as much WWII and Holocaust information as I can (seriously, I imagine my Nexflix documentary history has me on some sort of watch list). Now, we all know how those stories turn out; aside from the general overthrow of the Nazi party, there is very little about that time that was… uplifting. Every time I read Holocaust literature, it makes me cry. It gives me nightmares. It weighs on me as I continue living my privileged life. Nevertheless, as soon as I finish one, I anticipate which will be next. If these stories continue to break my heart, why do I continue to seek out more? In this particular case, it’s hard to explain, but it’s a matter of respect and remembrance. My life has been beautifully and blessedly persecution-free, so the least I can do is read the stories of those who have endured things beyond my comprehension in order to give respect where respect is undoubtedly due.

If you know anything about The Serpent King, you may be asking, “why are you rambling about the Holocaust?” Valid question, since Zentner’s work has nothing to do with WWII. However, similarly, it was crushingly sad for the majority of the novel. It tells the story of three high school kids living in a poor, rural area in Tennessee. It addresses difficult topics like domestic abuse, child pornography charges, being disowned by one’s own parents, depression, bullying, and the loss of a loved one. It was heavy and disheartening, and I know of at least 5 trustworthy reader friends who LOVED IT. WHY?!?!?! Why love this? Yes, I’m from the South so yes, I find the small-town characteristics to be relatable. Aside from that, nothing about this book was relatable. I wasn’t bullied or “othered” in high school, I don’t find myself swimming in a sea of racism every time I go home to southern Georgia, I didn’t endure alcoholism or abuse or extreme poverty during my childhood and I didn’t watch friends endure it. This depiction of life in the South is far more severe than my actual experiences while growing up there, so why did others from the South recommend it to me?

I think we all have our own “thing.” That something that speaks to you and calls out to your interests. Whereas Holocaust literature is something that educates me on the experiences of a certain peoples, it may be Southern Lit that educates others. Again, my privileged childhood may be the reason that I can’t find solace in this depiction that directly contradicts my own experiences, but it may parallel the experiences of others. And sadly, it may parallel the experiences of my current and/or future students. I couldn’t disconnect the experiences of the protagonists with the possibilities that my own students are enduring these horrible circumstances, which further contributed to my depressed state. This book hurt my heart; I will NOT seek out more books like it, nor will I recommend it to anyone who enjoys being happy and unburdened. The fact still stands, though, that people I trust derived joy from this text. It caused them sorrow; it made them cry; and yet they value it. Book masochism at its finest.

First of all, sorry for all the caps. The wound is still fresh. Secondly, does anyone else experience this? Are there any stories that cause you pain but you just keep coming back for more?

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Lindsay

L: Review of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” & a Southerner’s Rant

The news of an upcoming release to Lee’s solitary novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was understandably followed by large amounts of hype, excitement, and eventually ado over the supposed circumstances of the release. I’m not getting into that; form whatever opinion you like about it. My choice to be optimistic and believe that this release was intended as a gift to Lee’s readers, however, was greatly supported by reading Go Set a Watchman, since Lee’s talent, writing style, experiences, opinions, and ultimate message practically jumped out of every single page.

Photo from Goodreads.com

Photo from Goodreads.com

The prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird follows Jean Louise Finch’s, a.k.a Scout’s, return to Maycomb, AL from New York as a 26-year-old adult. Since Lee reportedly wrote Go Set a Watchman prior to Mockingbird, the first portion of the book seems to be focused on setting the stage and introducing readers to Maycomb and its inhabitants, as well as to the Finch family. Since we all are well acquainted by now, I enjoyed this part as simple reminiscing and story-telling before the plot thickens and the moral dilemma presents itself. When it happens, it happens fast, and as expected, deals with the sensitive nature of racial tensions in the South in what I’m assuming is around the 60’s or 70’s. The tensions rise as the issue is dissected and I was closing in on the final twenty pages before the resolution and grand moral lesson decided to make an appearance. I was not disappointed.

Although the main message of racial peace and understanding echo throughout the entire book, the finale is focused more on the personal growth of Jean Louise Finch and her struggle to see her father as anything other than perfect and righteous. As readers, we too grapple with any depiction of Atticus Finch that reflects anything other than the moral compass of justice and peace that we grew to know in Mockingbird. We, too, experience the confusion and disappointment we feel in Jean Louise, and simultaneously reach understanding and realization of reality in Lee’s resolution. To Kill a Mockingbird stands firm as Lee’s moral teacher while Go Set a Watchman establishes itself as a lesson in personal growth and awareness. I thought it was a lovely addition to the story of the Finch’s, but Mockingbird still hold the title as Lee’s best and most influential work. I imagine that anyone who loved Mockingbird, loves the South, or loves moral lessons would adore it and I highly recommend it to any and all.

Fort Gaines, GA right around the time of "Mockingbird"

Fort Gaines, GA right around the time of “Mockingbird”

As a sidebar, this book didn’t only speak to me in terms of morality and justice, but also on a personal level, much akin to my feelings about Mockingbird. The very first line takes me home with its mention of Atlanta and the delight in returning home to the South. I’m from a tiny town in southwest Georgia (population of about 1,000) that borders the very same Chattahoochee River mentioned by Lee; we used to say that Alabama was so close that you could spit on it, so many of the specifics mentioned by Lee are delightfully personal to me. The Creek Indians she mentions in passing as the original inhabitants of what became Maycomb, AL are my honest-to-God ancestors; the displays of regional dialect (a.k.a. “yessum” and “not a-tall”) are daily realities in my home town; coming home to find strangers inhabiting the homes and properties built by ancestors and enjoyed by countless generations is a struggle every time my sister and I return home. Lee has a wonderful way of painting a picture of the reality of small town life that few outsiders understand or attribute to the South.

Viewing Alabama from our balcony

Viewing Alabama from our porch

We are all aware of the reputation we have among other states and countries of being slow-speaking, dim-witted racists. I won’t get into the Civil War, because that can of worms need not be opened, but I must say that Southerners are not delusional, and we fully understand that that was a different time and the way things were then was by no means right or excusable. I won’t deny that the South still has a long way to go before equality is a reality, but so does everywhere else. I’ll be the first to concede to the fact that a lot of racists live in the South, but I refuse to accept the sweeping generalization that Southerners are racists. Just as is the case anywhere else, prejudices are possessed by individuals, not groups; groups may form based on prejudices, but the individuals are the ones possessing and acting upon those prejudices, and the South has just as many moral and unprejudiced members as anywhere else.

My family's museum; photo cred to vanishingsouthgeorgia.com

My family’s museum; photo cred to vanishingsouthgeorgia.com

My parents raised me to see every person as an individual by displaying that courtesy themselves, therefore my prejudices are few and my tolerance for injustice is low. I understand Jean Louise better now, having read Go Set a Watchman, because I would feel the same betrayal and rage if I heard a single utterance of racial prejudice come from my heroes. But I don’t, because my heroes are those who see individuals, not generalizations. I encourage everyone who is unfamiliar with the South to give us some credit; we cannot escape our past, but we are learning from it and fostering a more understanding generation. Uncle Jack Finch said it best:

“That’s the one thing about here, the South, you’ve missed. You’d be amazed if you knew how many people are on your side, if side’s the right word. You’re no special case. The woods are full of people like you, but we need some more of you.”

Rant over. Thank you for your patience. Please go read Go Set a Watchman and let me know what everyone thinks!

Headed to Alabama

Headed to Alabama

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Lindsay, Real Talk