Sunday, January 4, 2015

Will I Read All of Willa?

photo by Anna Reavis
What was any art but a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself -- life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose. 
Willa Cather

Let me begin by saying I love Willa Cather.  But I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about Sapphira and the Slave Girl.  Maybe part of the problem is that I dislike so many of the characters.  And while there is some element of redemption in the fate of one of the main characters, Nancy, there seems to be no change of heart or growth of character in the others.  It's really strange to me that the same person who wrote this also wrote My Antonia.  Some of Cather's works seem more simple and entertaining, while some transcend entertainment and become art.  I have also read Death Comes for the Archbishop and O Pioneers!, and while I don't remember loving them as I did My Antonia, I do remember them as more complex and more...literary?  Is that the word I'm looking for?  Sounds so pretentious to pass judgment on the "literary merit" of a work, but I guess that's what I am doing. 

As a rule, I shy away from using the phrase "favorite book," as it would be impossible and I think unjust to choose a favorite, but My Antonia is certainly one of my favorite books, and it was pure serendipity that I read it at all.  I had read Sapphira and the Slave Girl at Wake in some upper level English class (maybe Literature of the South), and I had read O Pioneers and Death Comes for the Archbishop at some point along the way on my own.  Because I had not remembered loving any of the three, I may never have sought out more Cather.  But...when travelling, I usually read some or all of a random book I find in the house or condo I am in.  On a trip to Alaska in 2000, I found an old, slightly battered copy of My Antonia in the house I was in, started reading it, and fell in love.  I have since shared it with my daughter, and it is now also one of her favorite books.  I'm almost afraid to re-read it.  What if it doesn't live up to the hype I've created in my head?

What I would really like to do is find out more about Cather and her life and then read all her works in order of publication to see if I can gain some understanding of the variance in her work.  Maybe that can be a summer reading project.  January will be spent finishing Dr Zhivago and David Copperfield, both of which I am loving, but neither of which is a quick read.


Laura @ The Shabby Rabbit said...

I've owned a copy of My Antonia for years and haven't gotten to it, now I want to hurry and get to it!!

I read Zhivago in January too, I don't know if that helped me appreciate the book more or feel the winter more acutely! :)

Amy said...

I would definitely recommend My Antonia. I seem always to want to read the Russians in January.

Barbara Bartels said...

I have not read Cather, which kind of surprises me because I have read so much of the American canon, Maybe I will take it up. I also don't like to label books as favorites because when I start to think that way I realize I am drawn to different books for different qualities and I can't choose. But sometimes there are books or authors that speak to you so strongly and so to your person that they sweep you away. Sounds like Cather does that for you.
By the way, I am going to see Wild this week. I never read the book but remember your very strong review of it and that is partly what motivated me to plan to see it.

Amy said...

I think you would like Cather; I think she would probably speak to you too.

Wild the movie is good, but Wild the book is great. The book is full of introspective self-discovery that is hard to translate on the screen. I hope you like the movie, but definitely put the book on your TBR pile!

thecuecard said...

I have read one Cather novel: My Antonia which like you - I loved. I read it long ago and would like to read another of her books. I think it's a good idea to read them one after another. Like a Cather-readathon

Amy said...

We should totally have a Cather-readathon.

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