Coffee Sunday: The Invisible​ Man; Ad Astra

September has not been the month I wanted it to be. My feature writer this month was Sylvia Plath. Though it began well with a post about her biography and a second post about two of her most famous poems, my progress soon derailed. Why? On an emotional level, it derailed because, though I found genius in Plath, I also found despair. Perhaps knowing she had died via suicide biased me against her work because almost every poem I read felt like a goodbye letter, an implicit suicide note. When I review anything on this blog, I ask myself: What did I pull from this? What’s my take away? How do I interpret this? Since my interpretation for almost everything she wrote felt the same, I lost motivation for writing the reviews of her work.

That, of course, was the wrong response, but I also realized during the month that Sylvia Plath was the wrong choice for a feature writer, at least at this time. Two facts made her the wrong choice: 1) Though she wrote both fiction and poetry, she’s known more for her poetry than her fiction, and 2) My knowledge of her was incomplete, and I had no familiarity of her work. Since poetry has a long-established role in history—it existed before novels or short stories—I don’t want to ignore it in my blog reviews. But my focus, as both writer and reader, has always been more towards fiction than poetry. I fear I need to reeducate myself into how to read, analyze, and understand poetry before I can explore the work of poets in this blog. Since I tend to undertake that study, I hope in a year or so to give poets and their poems good exploration in these pages. 

As for not knowing Sylvia Plath well enough to write about her, the solution lies in giving myself the needed time for research. It is my intention in the feature writer program to intermix writers with whom I’m unfamiliar with the writers I know well. When I was in college studying literature and writing, one of my writing teaches, John Keeble, gave us an interesting assignment. Choose a writer whom you’ve never read before and read two novels by him or her. (I chose Bernard Malamud and never regretted it!) I want to do the same assignment here. I want to select writers whom I’ve heard about but had never read, or had not read enough. To do that right, I need to spend two months researching the writers and reading their novels and short stories, and one month for writing and publishing the reviews. Since I failed to give myself that three-month cycle with Sylvia Plath, when it came time to write the reviews, I didn’t know enough of what I wanted to say. I needed more time and exposure to her work to break through that initial reaction to dismiss every poem as a goodbye letter. 

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

As I move into October, I’m not going to have a feature writer for the month. I’ll publish a few more reviews of Plath’s work—focusing on her novel The Bell Jar and her short stories. My feature writer for November is Joyce Carol Oates. Though I’m not the stranger to her work as I was to Plath’s, she’s a writer I haven’t read enough. I’m currently reading Blonde, her fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe, and I’m finding it fascinating and beautiful. Since it’s over 700 pages long, I decided to read it first. Other works of hers I intend to read are The Triumph of the Spider MonkeyWild Nights!The Tattooed Girl, along with selected short stories.  

Last weekend, I finished reading H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. You might remember I had purchased this book in a joint volume with The Time Machine, which I had read the previous week. Though I enjoyed The Time Machine, I found The Invisible Man more entertaining. It’s a thriller about a scientist who turns himself invisible. He experiences three phases: excited by his success, frightened by it, and empowered by it. Since invisibility is power, and since power corrupts, he became drunk on that power, even driven insane by it, and that led to escalating violence, until the final confrontation. Since this novel had been adapted into several movies and talked about in popular culture for over a hundred years, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling its general plot. I knew the plot before I read it. Knowing the plot isn’t the same thing as experiencing the novel; it’s a novel well-wroth experiencing. 

For my movie outing last weekend, I saw Ad Astra. This is a movie that I think will divide audiences into love it or hate it. I didn’t hate it, but though many reviewers whose opinions I value loved it, I can’t join them in their praise. If A Space Odyssey wasn’t already taken as a title (subtitle, really), I suspected that director James Gray would’ve preferred that title for Ad Astra. Since it involves a boy looking for his long-lost father, it has more in common with Homer’s Odyssey than 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). As I watched Ad Astra, I often found myself thinking about the Kubrick classic, and I don’t think that’s accidental. I believe Gray, who, along with Ethan Gross, also wrote the screenplay, wanted to capture the look, mood, and wonder of 2001. I’m not the only one who noticed; those reviewers I mentioned above also commented on the similarity of those film. But another reviewer suggested it had more in common with Event Horizon (1997), and yes, the plots are very similar. Ad Astra also shares the end-of-the-world stakes of Sunshine (2007). When I first saw Sunshine, I thought: It’s 2001 for a new generation, but it’s not as good as Kubrick’s movie. Other reviewers saw the debt Ad Astra owes to these other movies as its strength; I see it as a weakness. Ad Astra felt derivative. 

Besides catching up on the reviews Sylvia Plath reviews that I should’ve written in September, I don’t have a definitive publishing plan for October. I’m going to continue reading the works of Joyce Carol Oates, and I’m finally beginning my planning for a new movie blog. I hope to launch that site in January. 

Keep reading.  

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