He's been a strong supporter of the library for the last few years, but can now only amplify that by way of his service on our board. He starts off his first round of Picks by looking back to last Spring...
Frank's PicksAs part of Ferndale Reads last year, Dr. Gregory Sumner, professor of history at U-D Mercy and the author of "Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's Life and Novels, gave a talk about Vonnegut and his works, using an unconventional term to refer to one's first experience with an author. When he polled the assembly to ask what was their first Vonnegut read, he called it a "gateway." So, with a salute to Dr. Sumner, I present here, with one exception, a collection of my "gateway" novels.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Achebe's death was the reason I finally read this book, a gift many years ago from a colleague whose husband is a professor of African studies. Our hero is Okonkwo, a champion wrestler and leader in his village who manfully defies his father's example of cowardice and many unpaid debts. This novel, despite Okonkwo's end, wonderfully describes honor and not joining the masses in their capitulation to missionaries, and is a lesson in seeing value in one's background, even if conventional society--whatever that really means--thinks otherwise.
The Immoralist by André Gide
This was assigned reading in high school, more than 25 years ago. The narrator of this novel is Michel, a French intellectual who is on honeymoon in Tunis with his wife, Marceline. Both of these characters suffer from tuberculosis, which claims Marceline's life, but becomes a life-changing experience for Michel, as his focus changes from the intellect to pleasure. What has stuck with me for all these years is the love and care between Michel and Marceline, something not all that evident when these true strangers were introduced, and that a life event can change one's perspective.
A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway
I have taken much heat from friends for enjoying Hemingway, quickly pointing out the author's macho behavior and misogyny. In this second of Hemingway's novels, we follow the love affair of American military ambulance driver Frederic Henry and English nurse Catherine Barkley. Perhaps it was my youth and circumstances when I read this (I was a fifteen-year-old in an all-boys school), but the affair was not what has stayed with me these past 27 years. Still fresh in my mind is the camaraderie in both battlefield and hospital between the soldiers on the Italian front during the First World War, and the frequent drinking of vermouth, something I had not heard of until then. Despite the criticism of his character, I believe Hemingway is one of America's greatest writers.
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
Not only was this my gateway to Potok, it was his novel, published in 1967. Its protagonists are friends Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders, both Orthodox Jews of different stripes who live in 1940s Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Reuven is a "modern" Orthodox Jew who fully engages in the modern world, a world that more than piques Danny's interest. Danny is first in line to succeed his father as head of a Hasidic dynasty, something he really does not want but rather desires the study of Freudian psychology. This novel explores the boys' friendship, which is interrupted by Danny's father forbidding it because of Reuven's fervent Zionism and desire to see a Jewish nation in the Middle East, something Rabbi Saunders later reluctantly accepts after Israel's founding in 1948. In this novel, Potok very well presents the struggles between and within generations in a changing world.
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
This one's not a gateway novel, and if it weren't for me giving Vonnegut a second-chance with "Slaughterhouse Five," my Vonnegut journey may have ended with an aborted attempt at reading "Galapagos." So, thanks to Ferndale Reads, I am a Vonnegut fan. I've never read works by an author and wondered about what is real and what is not. In "Breakfast," town mogul Dwayne Hoover seemingly has it all, a Pontiac dealership, a Burger Chef franchise. But he's also obsessed and in this book, Vonnegut shows us with a man with inner demons explode after his delusions get the best of him.