Daily Archives: June 17, 2008

Forgotten Bread – Review

Forgotten Bread is a wonderful collection of poems, novel excerpts and short stories from some of the most famous first generation Armenian-American authors in the United States, complied and edited by David Kherdian. I find that usually when I mention Armenian literature, most people tend to think of William Saroyan. Although most of his work has permeated into modern society, (Come on-a my house my house – theme song for E!’s Girls Next Door), William Saroyan is not the only Armenian to garner an illustrious career, a much coveted education, and various levels or reputation in the States.

This collection includes snippets by seventeen first generation authors, preluded by seventeen introductions from second generation Armenian-American authors gives a valuable insight into the Armenian mind-frame and world. One of the most constant and steady themes I recognized in each selection was a sense of loneliness, alienation and a desperate search for identity and stability. In the crux of the Middle East, Armenia is a country that belongs to the world, but is still orphaned by tragedy throughout its history. Armenia is in the middle between western civilization and Middle Eastern mentalities. The lone Christian populous in an Islamic regime. Despite the various conquests, and the Genocide of 1915 by the Turkish government, Armenians have managed to survive. We have diluted ourselves throughout the world, sharing our stories, drinking our teas and reminiscing over the past.

Armenian story-telling is not superficial, and it is not overly dramatic. Armenian storytelling is an honest and raw look into the human psyche. Many of the authors in this selection write about their lives, write about their losses, or create characters that can better explain the author’s sense of being.

My favorite work was the poetry of Majorie Housepian and the short stories of  Leon Surmelian. Both hit a nerve with me, in terms of merging  Armenian traditions with American lifestyle, a struggle is never easy, no matter what the decade.

This book will be a welcome addition to any Armenian household, introducing new authors, providing stories from those already well known. I think other cultures would enjoy this book, to take a look into the lives of a forgotten nation.

Find this book at your local library

First-Generation Armenian American Writers

Forgotten Bread
Edited by David Kherdian
Heyday Books, 2007
ISBN 1597140694
481 pages
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Grub – Review

Elise Blackwell’s Grub is neither the most unique, nor the most cliche rendition of the starving artist saga, set in New York City. What I enjoyed about the book is the fly on the wall experience of spying on a group of young writers living in New York, struggling to write, to publish and win fame with their written work. This books it tauted as a retelling of George Gissing’s New Grub Street.

This books follows the loveless marriage of Eddie and Amanda Renfros, the budding relationship between Jackson Miller and Margot Yarborough, daughter of author Andrew Yarborough, and also that of Henry Baffler, the writer that cannot tell a lie. This group struggles to make ends meet financially, romantically and emotionally. Competition is ripe between couples, between friends and all six characters bring new levels of cynicism to the superficial powers that be, those that determine what sells and what doesn’t. Chuck Fadge is hoisted as a symbol of idiocy, and verbal trash, pawning off his limited skill set to future would-be writers. The funny thing, is that while Fadge does not deny who he is, the other set seem to be blindly following the same path Fadge laid down. There is competition and jealousy between friends, between lovers and even between father and daughter. I guess the old adage birds of a feather flock together, rings true in this lover, as writers, it seems, are only friends with other writers, either published or unpublished.

Elise traces the evolution of the writers, as they transfer from near-fame to quiet neglect, and struggle to get back to the top with cheesy best-seller formulaic writing. I’m not sure if this book is intended to insult readers, by its gripping and maybe truthful observations of what is popular and what is not. What sells and what doesn’t. There seems to be a theme in literature of what readers are looking for. It seems that in the past couple of years, memoirs have taken on a new life in the literary world, but were does that place regular fiction? People are now writing fiction and passing it off as memoirs because it garners more respect that way. If anything, I will now always wonder if the book I am reading is written from true devotion, or if it based on a formulaic diversion simply implemented to be a best-seller. Is one better than the other? For the author, obviously the latter will bring in more sales, but the former will cement his place in history with more reverence. Will the reader even be able to distinguish the formulaic from the genuine?

This book is very engrossing, with each chapter focusing on a specific character. The chapters are pretty short ranging from 2 to 10 pages, which in effect keeps the book going steadily and is hard to put down. Elise Blackwell does not dwell too long on any particular character, but each character has a unique depth with this someone trite struggling artist story. The point of the book, however, is not the story itself, but of the characters finding their own identities through their writing.

Find this book at your local library

Find New Grub Street at your local library

Buy this book on Amazon

Grub

Grub
by Elise Blackwell
The Toby Press (September 1, 2007)
ISBN 1592641997
356 pages

Greatest novel of all time…

Apparently, the Telegraph has named To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee as the greatest novel of all time. I read Lee’s one and only published novel quite a few years ago, and I remember it fondly as a vivid representation of racism, of honor and of love.

The top 5 on the list are

1. To Kill a Mockingbird [Harper Lee]

2. Lord of the Rings [JRR Tolkien]

3. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe [CS Lewis]

4. Pride and Prejudice [Jane Austen]

5. Da Vinci Code [Dan Brown]

What an odd selection. It is always refreshing to see that the classics are just as relevant now as they were when first written, in fact, most classics seem more relevant and famous now than before. It makes you wonder how well a book like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe would do if published this year? Would Charles Dickens’ still be the primary method of torture for every English class in every undergraduate university out there?

You can read the rest of the article below this link, as well as the Telegraph’s top 50 novels of all time.

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