Monday, April 10, 2006

What have I been doing with myself? It took me 27 years to finally read James Agee's A Death in the Family and that's 27 years too long.

"He felt that although his father loved their home and loved all of them, he was more lonely than the contentment of this family love could help; that it even increased his loneliness or made it hard for him not to be lonely. He felt that sitting out there, he was not lonely; or if he was, that he felt on good terms with the loneliness; that he was a homesick man, and that here on the rock, though he might be more homesick than ever, he was well. He knew that a very important part of his well-being came of staying a few minutes away from home, very quietly, in the dark, listening to the leaves if they moved, and looking at the stars; and that his own, Rufus' own presence, was fully as indispensable to this well-being."

I'm born and bred in the Northeast and can't envision leaving here. My family is here, my home is here, my roots are here. But there is a longing I have for the South. I've never lived there and barely know anyone from there. Yet, whenever I read a Southern writer like Agee, I feel like I'm reading a part of myself. It's something in the flow of the language; in the way a Southern writer can examine their life and articulate it in haunting tones. It's moving. Northern writers seem to be able to write generally about the world and social issues with great aplomb, but it's the South that turns literature inward. By writing about the people they know, they are able to encapsulate the entire spectrum of humanity. All those years of sitting on the front porch telling stories have generated generations of writers like Wolfe, McCullers, Agee, Faulkner and Welty and even Rick Bragg.

(I feel like I write the same posts over and over again.)

Now reading:
James Agee A Death in the Family
Gogol Dead Souls

On deck:
Amitav Ghosh Circle of Reason
Heidi Julavits The Effect of Living Backwards

Listening to:
Sitting near the open window in my living room, listening to the birds of spring and cars whizzing by.

8 comments:

Dorothy W. said...

How DO you say that guy Agee's name? Hard or soft "g"? Where is the accent? I couldn't have a conversation about him if I wanted to because I can't pronounce his name, and I'd embarrass myself. That, and I haven't read him.

Would you add O'Connor to your list?

M. Barresi said...

I think it's a hard 'g,' but don't quote me on that. I had always heard about A Death in the Family and knew I was going to read it, but never bought it. And my company publishes his other great work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which he travelled the South with photographer Walker Evans. Sort of an American version of Steinbeck and Robert Capa's Russian Journal in the 1920s.

And Agee's life is as tragic and incredible as the people he wrote about.

M. Barresi said...

I think it's a hard 'g,' but don't quote me on that. I had always heard about A Death in the Family and knew I was going to read it, but never bought it. And my company publishes his other great work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which he travelled the South with photographer Walker Evans. Sort of an American version of Steinbeck and Robert Capa's Russian Journal in the 1920s.

And Agee's life is as tragic and incredible as the people he wrote about.

M. Barresi said...

And I would include Flannery on the list. It's just that I've only ready Everything that Rises Must Converge. The South will forever remain Gothic and they carry that into their stories.

And I should have included Shelby Foote in the list (but the list is probably infinite!)

Spacewranglerize said...

Graduates of Emerson College should note that "breadth" has a d in it ;)

Do us proud!

Bud Parr said...

It's surprisingly pronounced like it's spelled. It's age-ee, as in a person's age plus long e. Not sure how I know that, but there it is.

Bud Parr said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I hope you're enjoying Dead Souls. Gogol is one of my favorite authors.

M. Barresi said...

Bud, unfortunately I've put Dead Souls aside for the moment. It became all too serious for me after starting out so funny and insightful. I know I'll pick it up soon enough to finish, but it was leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I read The Overcoat before and enjoyed that though...