Thursday, January 28, 2010

Author/ Attorney Louis Auchincloss Dies

The New York Times reports that Louis Auchincloss died on Tuesday night at the age of 92, due to complications from a stroke. His life was dedicated to literary pursuits despite a time-consuming "day job." Auchincloss had two careers: he was a full-time lawyer and a prolific writer. In his legal career, he specialized in trusts and estates for wealthy clients. In his writing career, he chronociled the lives of wealthy elitists living in mid-twentieth century Manhattan. Both careers reflect his life: he himself was a man of money and power who lived his entire life in New York City.

The NYT article discusses how Auchincloss managed to publish "more than 60 books of fiction, biography and literary criticism" despite being a full-time attorney for most of his life. "I think my secret is to use bits and fractions of time," Auchincloss is quoted as saying in an interview. "I trained myself to do that. Anybody can do it. I could write sitting in surrogate’s court answering calendar call."

Auchincloss' father was an attorney, but when used to visist his law offices, he said he was filled with gloom by "those dark narrow streets and those tall, sooty towers." He went to college at Yale, where he published stories in the literary journal, of which he later became President. He "yearned for a literary life." His first book was rejected by Scrivners and he decided to become a lawyer like his father, thinking that "a man born to the responsibilities of a brownstone bourgeois world could only be an artist or writer if he were a genius." He went to the University of Virginia Law School and then joined the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell.

He joined the Navy during World War II, which is when he wrote his first novel that was to be published. The Indifferent Children was published by Prentice-Hall in 1947, at which time Auchincloss was practicing again with Sullivan & Cromwell. He published this book under a pen name, Andrew Lee, because his mother thought it was "vulgur" and would destroy his legal career. It met with success, however, so he kept writing and publishing. It seems that Auchincloss' pursuit of writing was in some way tied to external rejection or acceptance, because he was dissuaded early on with the rejection of his firt novel, but enthused by the success of his first published novel, which spurred on many other short stories, essays, and novels.

He took three years off from practicing law to dedicate himself to writing, and then went to work for another Wall Street firm, Hawkins, Delafield & Wood. He wrote that at some point he stopped thinking of himself as a lawyer or a writer, and was "simply doing what I was doing when I did it." His novel The Education of Oscar Fairfax, published in 1995, is partly autobiographical and is a story about a "well-born Social Register type who abandons his dream of a literary career to join his father’s law firm."

I have been making it a habit to write for at least an hour (I aim for an hour and a half) every day, before or after work. If Auchincloss could write all of this while also being a lawyer, a husband, and serve on several committees for the city of New York, I can certainly keep writing. Next time I want to complain about being both a lawyer and a writer, I'll look to Louis Auchincloss for inspiration!

A Biography of Louis Archincloss:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Review: Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read this book a couple of years ago, and I'm reviewing it now because I'm giving it away on, now that I have it on my Kindle. Even thinking about this book and browsing through portions of it that I enjoyed makes me want to read it again. It was an addicting book.

The first half of it is mainly the ramblings of a former civil servant who lives in an underground basement-type dwelling in St. Petersburg. We quickly find that this unnamed narrator is cynical and detached. He thinks that he is superior to everyone else, but he is also very insecure. He is one of those people who never fit in with everyone else, and who feels angry and isolated because of it. He both hates that fact that he feels different from everyone else, and loves it, at the same time.

Certain parts of the first half of this book were boring and confusing to me. But the overall tone was fascinating, and the language just gribbed me. There are such beautiful and true passages in here! I'm glad I stuck with it because the entire second half of the book is told in a more traditional "story-telling" format. We see the narrator's beef with a former supervisor, we see him at a dinner party with his "friends", and, in my favorite parts of the book, we see him with a prostitute named Liza. At the same time he confides in Liza and uses her selfishly, he also lectures her about why she shouldn't be a prostitute, and how lovely her life could be if she were to leave that lifestyle. The ironic thing is that the narrator's life is empty and unhappy, and he wouldn't even have Liza if she were to take his advice. It's so strange to read because his advice seems so helpful and on point, yet, he clearly doesn't take it himself.

Here I'll post some quotes I liked from the book because the best part of it is its language. It is excellently translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. (I always wonder how translators can capture the original tone and language from Russian, which is so different from English!) There are long passages on marriage and family which I'm thinking of using for a reading at my upcoming wedding in October. I loved this book and want to re-read it and read more by Dostoevsky.

Quotes from Notes from Underground:

“At home, I merely used to read. Reading stirred, delighted, and tormented me.”

“It is impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something.”

“To be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.“

“But anyhow: what can a decent man speak about with the most pleasure?
Answer: Himself.
So then I, too, will speak about myself.”

“I’ve always considered myself more intelligent than everyone around me, and, would you believe, have even felt slightly ashamed of it. At least I’ve somehow averted my eyes all my life, and never could look people straight in the face.”

“Curses on that school, on those terrible years of penal servitude! In short, I parted ways with my fellows as soon as I was set free.”

“With love one can live even without happiness. Life is good even in sorrow, it’s good to live in the world, no matter how.”

“Man only likes counting his grief, he doesn’t count his happiness. But if he were to count properly, he’d see that there’s enough of both lots for him."

“What if everything goes right in the family, God blesses it, your husband turns out to be a good man, who loves you, pampers you, never leaves your side! It’s good in this family! Oftentimes even half mixed with grief it’s still good, and where there is no grief? Perhaps, once you get married, you’ll find out for yourself. But take just the beginning, after you’ve married someone you love: There’s such happiness at times, so much happiness! I mean, day in and day out. In the beginning, even quarrels with a h sband end well. Some women, the more they love, the more they pick quarrels with their husbands...."

“And how good to make peace after a quarrel, to own up to him, or to forgive! And how good, how good they both suddenly feel-as if they were meeting anew, getting married anew, beginning to love anew. And no one, no one ought to know what goes on between a husband and wife if they love each other. And whatever quarrel they may have—they shouldn’t call even their mother to be their judge or hear them tell about each other. They are their own judges. Love—is God’s mystery, and should be hidden from all other eyes, whatever happens. It’s holier that way, and better. They respect each other more, and so much is founded on respect. And if there was love once, if they were married out of love, shy should love pass? Can’t it be sustained? It rarely happens that it can’t be. Well, and if the husband proves to be a kind and honest man, how can love pass? The first married love will pass, true, but then an even better love will come. Then their souls will grow close; they’ll decide all their doings together; they’ll have no secrets from each other. And when children arrive, then all of it, even the hardest times, will come like happiness; one need only love and have courage. Now even work brings joy, now even if you must occasionally deny yourself bread for the children’s sake, still there is joy. For they will love you for it later; so you’re laying aside for yourself.
Isn’t this the whole of happiness, when they’re all three together, husband, wife and child? A lot can be forgiven for those moments.”

“I might not just dangle after you, but simply fall in love with you, and be glad if you merely glanced at me, let alone spoke. I’d watch for you by the gate, I’d stay forever on my knees before you; I’d look upon you as my fiancée, and regard it as an honor. I wouldn’t dare even think anything impure about you. Love! – but this is everything, it’s a diamond, a maiden’s treasure, this love! To deserve this love a man would be ready to lay down his soul, to face death.”

“For a woman it is in love that all resurrection, all salvation from ruin of whatever sort, and all regeneration consists, nor can it reveal itself in anything else but this.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Holiday Book-Giving Wrap-Up

I gave a few books this year for the holidays. One of them was John Grisham's latest book of short stories, Ford County: Stories, which I gave to my fiance's father. He already had it! So I am going to keep it for myself and get him something else.

I got my sister-in-law a book called Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, Expanded Edition, which is the journal of a first-year teacher in an inner-city school. My sister-in-law is a middle school math teacher whose class includes a lot of under-privileged kids, so I thought she might like the book, as well as the "25 tips for teachers" that was included in the updated version. I also got her the Cup of Comfort Devotional for Women: A daily reminder of faith for Christian women by Christian Women book.

I got my dad a lot of running books he wanted on Amazon. My favorite book-related gift I gave was the present I bought my little sister, who is 9 years old. I gave her Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Barnes & Noble Classics), along with the Alice in Wonderland [TV 1985] movie based on the book that I used to love to watch when I was little. I was hoping we could read the book together and then watch the movie, but of course we didn't get time! I hope she enjoys reading and watching it on her own.

As for books I received, I asked my family for a Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, U.S. Wireless), and I got it! At first I was hesitant to go electronic because I love the look and feel of real books, I love collecting them and having them near and looking at them. But I don't like toting them around on vacation, and I honestly have way too many of them; they are piled all over our small house. It's to the point where I really can't physically bring in any more books to the house! I also don't like holding onto a bulky book with both hands and pausing in my reading to turn the pages, etc. I decided to give the Kindle a try and became really excited about being able to have a bunch of different books on one small device, which is easy to take with me and easy to hold and read. So far I absolutely love it, and I'll give a more in depth review when I've had it a bit longer.

That took up the bulk of my presents and I didn't really want any more books because I'm trying to cut down and go light. My mom gave me Jodi Picoult's Vanishing Acts: A Novel.