James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain

* 1001 Books Book
Baldwin, J. (1995). Go tell it on the mountain. New York: Modern Library. 9780679601548

The title of this book alone piqued my interest. Prior to  checking it out from HCPL, I was quite wary of this book. Nevertheless, my curiosity beat out my fear; after all, I’m strong in my beliefs.

Generally speaking, this semi-autobiographical novel follows characters connected to a storefront Pentecostal church in 1930s Harlam. It’s a day in the life sort of thing as well as a multi-generational  story.

The main character is John (James Baldwin), a young teenage boy being reared by his victimized mother Elizabeth and her husband, the strict, violent “preacher” Gabriel.  Gabriel abuses his family and seems to “have it in” for John, more so than John’s siblings. In return, John despises his father and fantasizes about killing him.  When John has such dreams and homoerotic feelings, he feels the wrath of God.

John shares center stage with his parents and his Aunt Florence as well. Still and all, it’s mostly John’s story. In addition to all of the abuse, John carries the burden of being held to high standards. He is expected to be a preacher when he grows up, unlike his impish younger brother, Roy. So, the reader sees the fateful day where John must decide between duty and temptation.

I have a feeling that this was a good book. The prose is clear and illustrative. These could be people I know. Yet, I didn’t enjoy it much. I’m tired of reading about abusive fire and brimstone spouting types at the moment. I felt Baldwin’s pain but I’m weary of reading about violent Christians. Maybe I should reread Cry, The Beloved Country.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Word Bank: (pending)

  • Come to Jesus
  • Fundamentalist
  • Pentecostal
  • Seventh Day
  • Storefront
  • Threshing Floor

Places: Harlem & Manhattan, New York; Georgia

For more on James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, please check out the following links:

Salinger’s Franny and Zooey

* 1001 Books Book

Salinger, J. D. (1961). Franny and Zooey. Boston: Little, Brown.

In 2009, I saw this book on the 1001 Books list. In finding that I hadn’t read much published from that time (the 1960s) and the brevity of the work, I determined to read it. Yet, this book took me a long time to read – nearly a year. The main reason I’m writing this post is in recognition of the late Salinger.

The novella contains two parts. Part I: Franny begins with undergrad Lane Coutell awaiting his fashionable girlfriend, Franny Glass, as her train comes into Lane’s college town. They are set to watch the “Yale Game.” The lovely Franny greets Lane, clutching The Way of the Pilgrim. The couple proceed to Sickler’s, the restaurant where all want to be seen. Lane talks incessantly and irritates Franny. Franny tells of her book and realizes Lane cares noting about her interests in “praying without ceasing.” Already feeling queasy, Franny faints. When she comes to, Lane rushes out for a taxi, leaving Franny “praying ceaselessly.”

Part II: Zooey introduces Franny’s older brother, genius Zooey Glass, and her mother, Bessie. Still suffering from the breakdown at Sickler’s while at her parent’s Manhattan home, Zooey offers Franny advice and help on Franny’s recovery.

I finished the first part quite quickly but became bogged down by the second part. Many have called this novella disjointed and I agree.I thought Franny’s existential crisis was very realistic and found her intellectual superiority most understandable. I even appreciated how Zooey steers her away from belittling people less intelligent than herself.

Part II was choppy. As it introduces the whole family (nearly reminescent of The Royal Tenenbaums) the readers only see Franny and Zooey, the youngest of the Glass genuises. These characters became tedious for me, unlike the Tenenbaums, to the point where I didn’t care what happened to them. I didn’t even like them anymore.

After reading this book, I found out that Franny was published in The New Yorker a couple of years prior to that of Zooey. In 1961, Salinger published the two in one volume.

Okay, Salinger had some good, raw material here. However, it’s undercooked, even for someone who takes her steak medium rare.

Two out of Five Pearls

Word Bank: intellectualism, mysticism, section man

Places: Ivy League school, One of the Seven Sisters, Manhattan

For more on J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, please check out the following links:

The first part, “Franny,” is significantly shorter than the second. It takes place in an unnamed college town during the weekend of “the Yale game” and tells the tale of an undergraduate who is becoming disenchanted with the selfishness and inauthenticity she perceives all around her.

The second much longer section is named for “Zooey”, Franny’s brother, older by five years, a somewhat emotionally toughened genius who at the age of twelve had “a vocabulary on an exact par with Mary Baker Eddy‘s.” As Franny suffers a spiritual and existential breakdown in her parents’ Manhattan living room – leaving Bessie, her mother, deeply concerned – Zooey comes to her aid, offering what he thinks is brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice.