Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Episode 27: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr with Lou Anders

Last episode's guest Lou Anders returns with more storytelling tricks, including a way to break your story into four quarters: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, and Martyr.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Believe Care Invest: Jane Eyre

10 year old Jane, whose parents died of Typhus, lives with her aunt and cousins, all of whom despise her. She finally fights back, and is sent to a creepy room to await punishment.

Why Jane might be hard to identify with: No reason. She’s intensely sympathetic.

  • She slips off to read, and we get a snippet of the verse she reads.
  • We see glimpses of her vivid imagination, including “a black, horned thing, seated aloof on a rock.”
  • Pop culture of the day is name-checked, including “Pamela”
  • “Why was I always suffering, always brow-beaten, always accused, forever condemned?”
  • She feels she deserves her abuse on some level: “She really must exclude me from privileges intended only for contented, happy little children.”
  • Her reading is interrupted and insulted, which obviously, since we’re currently reading, is going to bond us to her.
  • He has vivid fear of further abuse: “every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh on my bones shrunk when he came near.”
  • She’s poor: “You have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not to live here with gentlemen’s children like us, and eat the same meals we do, and wear clothes at our mamma’s expense.”
  • She fears she’s the monster at the end of the book. In the mirror in the red room, she sees herself as “the strange little figure there gazing at me, with a white face and arms specking the gloom, and glittering eyes of fear moving where all else was still, had the effect of a real spirit. I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming up out of lone, ferny dells, in moors, and appearing before the eyes of belated travellers.”
  • She’s over-punished for everything while her peers can get away with anything.
  • Her aunt insults her for being “a questioner”, but we like that about her.
  • She fights back physically. “I resisted all the way: a new thing for me.” It’s always good to begin a story at the moment that longstanding problem becomes untenable.
  • “I was conscious that a moment’s mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths. ‘Hold her arms, Miss Abbot; she’s like a mad cat.’”
Strength/Flaw: Defiant / disagreeable

Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Annotation Project: Jane Eyre

“Moby-Dick” had not been published yet, so it’s not mentioned (but parallels still abound.) Download this here. BCI tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Believe Care Invest: The Firm

Mitch McDeere, graduating third at Harvard Law, interviews with a tax firm based out of Memphis. They make him an offer so generous he can’t refuse. He goes home and tells his wife they won’t be poor anymore.

Why Mitch might be hard to identify with: He has a passion for tax law! Not exactly getting innocent people off death row. Sounds terribly boring. He’s also easily seduced by money and doesn’t notice or care that the firm only hires white men.
  • The bald-faced racism and misogyny of the firm feels startlingly real.
  • The details of Mitch’s life create a believable working class portrait.
  • The author is a lawyer, and there are lots of real details: Mitch says in his interview, “I enjoy research.” Grisham then tells us, “They nodded and acknowledged this obvious lie. It was part of the ritual. No law student or lawyer in his right mind enjoyed research, yet, without fail, every prospective associate professed a deep love for the library.”
  • He falls into this trap because he and his wife are very poor at the moment, with a Mazda hatchback they have to jump-start every time they use it. It’s a big deal when their wine has an actual cork.
  • He’s clearly had a pretty traumatic life: His dad died in a mining accident, his mom remarried a bad man, a brother died in Vietnam, his other brother he won’t discuss, he had to quit football due to a knee injury.
  • He’s been a second-class citizen at Harvard, having been to a weak undergrad school and not having the money the other kids have.
  • We get little hints (that Mitch misses) this may be a very evil firm, killing partners who try to leave. “It is a rare, extremely rare occasion when a lawyer leaves our firm. It is simply unheard of.”
  • He’s hungry, and we like that.
  • He’s full of tricks and traps at the interview. He doesn’t know who will be interviewing him, so he memorizes the alma maters of all 41 partners. When one of them implicitly criticizes him by saying “I don’t imagine Western Kentucky is much of an academic school,” he responds by saying “Sort of like Kansas State.” They’re impressed that he could respond that way.
  • He’s willing to keep secrets (the whereabouts of his living brother) even in situations where he’s got huge incentive to tell all.
Strength / Flaw: Ambitious / Greedy

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

The Annotation Project: The Firm

Hey, I’ve been doing a lot of literary books, so it’s time for a break from that! Download this here. BCI tomorrow.


Monday, April 05, 2021

Believe Care Invest: Catch-22

Air Force captain Yossarian malingers in a military hospital in Pianosa, Italy. He and his friend Dunbar goad and mock a Texan who thinks only certain types of people should vote. Yossarian is required to censor mail to and from the enlisted men, does so in bizarre ways, and signs his work “Washington Irving”, which results in an investigation.

Why Yossarian might be hard to identify with: He’s refusing to fight Hitler, which is different from trying to get out of Vietnam. He says he’s madly in love with the chaplain, but we sense that Yossarian is not really capable of real friendship. He’s dead inside. He writes sadistic letters to his loved ones at home. He falsely accuses the Texan of murder. We already get a sense here in these early pages that his attitude toward women is terrible.

  • Dozens of ironies make the world real to us. He signs the letters “Washington Irving” out of boredom, then a C.I.D. man checks into the hospital to investigate, but they can tell he’s an investigator because he finds censoring letters too boring and refuses to do it. Then we they all decide to check out of the hospital so they don’t have to be around the Texan anymore, only the C.I.D. man remains behind because he’s caught pneumonia in the hospital.
  • And of course, looking past these ten pages, we’ll find out about Catch-22: You can get out of the army if you’re crazy, but if you’re trying to get out of the army, that proves you’re sane.
  • Everybody wants to kill him. We don’t really get a sense of it yet in this first chapter, but he’s almost killed by enemy flack every time he goes on a bombing raid (a fellow flier will painfully die is his arms in a scene we get flashes of over the course of the book) and the glory-seeking Colonel keeps promising they can go home after a few more missions and then endlessly raising the number of missions. 
  • We also eventually find out that the men are killing each other in various ways, so Yossarian is in constant danger.  One by one, all of his friends will die, in increasingly absurd and meaningless ways.  
  • He hates the Texan’s bigotry, so we can tell he’s basically a good person, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
  • He’s funny. He and Dunbar mock the Texan together with good “Yes and” comic timing. The many bizarre ways he comes up with to censor the letters are increasingly funny, and a parody of writing instruction.
Strength / Flaw: Witty / Dead inside

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Annotation Project: Catch 22

Warning: “Moby-Dick” will be mentioned again! Download this here. BCI tomorrow.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Believe Care Invest: Invisible Man

An unnamed Black narrator in 1952 lives underground in Manhattan in a room lit with 1,369 light bulbs, powered by stolen electricity. He remembers various incidents from his life, including a time he threatened a white man with a knife for insulting him, and a time he tried reefer while listening to Louis Armstrong. As the first chapter begins, we flashback to a time he arrived to give a speech to white rich people, only to find he was expected to fight other young black men first.

Why the unnamed narrator might be hard to identify with: He doesn’t have a name. He’s bizarre. He’s a quitter. He seems equally disdainful of everyone, black and white.

  • He’s coyly hiding secrets from us that he promises to reveal later: “I live rent-free in a building rented strictly to whites, in a section of the basement that was shut off and forgotten during the nineteenth century, which I discovered when I was trying to escape in the night from Ras the Destroyer. But that’s getting too far ahead of the story.”
  • The 1,369 light bulbs make for great imagery, and provide a lot of meaning. Of course if you’re surrounded by light bulbs in every direction, then you’ve still got black skin, but you don’t cast any shadows. The hero’s goal seems to be blackness purged of darkness, and he’s visualizing that problem, making it come alive for us.
  • He’s a man of particular tastes: “Sometimes now I listen to Louis while I have my favorite dessert of vanilla ice cream and sloe gin.”
  • Long before he abandoned society, he was told by the world that he had no place there: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
  • He tells us that the more he tried to fit in, the more he ironically felt like a traitor. Because his grandfather told him on his deathbed to feign subservience and then betray the white man, then every time he tries to do what white people want him to do, he worries that he’s just following his grandfather’s dictum and he’s secretly a traitor.
  • He’s disconnected and self-conscious: “Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around.”
  • He’s hiding from the world now, but he claims that he was once a total badass: “One night I accidentally bumped into a man, and perhaps because of the near darkness he saw me and called me an insulting name. I sprang at him, seized his coat lapels and demanded that he apologize. He was a tall blond man, and as my face came close to his he looked insolently out of his blue eyes and cursed me, his breath hot in my face as he struggled. I pulled his chin down sharp upon the crown of my head, butting him as I had seen the West Indians do, and I felt his flesh tear and the blood gush out, and I yelled, “Apologize! Apologize!” But he continued to curse and struggle, and I butted him again and again until he went down heavily, on his knees, profusely bleeding. I kicked him repeatedly, in a frenzy because he still uttered insults though his lips were frothy with blood. Oh yes, I kicked him! And in my outrage I got out my knife and prepared to slit his throat, right there beneath the lamplight in the deserted street, holding him by the collar with one hand, and opening the knife with my teeth”
  • But he admits that this is not the personality he will display for most of the book: “Most of the time (although I do not choose as I once did to deny the violence of my days by ignoring it) I am not so overtly violent.” It’s common to get us to invest in a reader by giving a brief flash of their bravest moment, even if they won’t be that way for the rest of the book.
Strength / Flaw: Defiant / Disaffected

Friday, April 02, 2021

The Annotation Project: Invisible Man

I had forgotten all the ways this book is in conversation with Melville! An appropriate follow up. Download this here. BCI tomorrow.