After last week’s notes about brain exercises, I thought maybe it was time for me to expand the modest effort I was putting on my brain. For some time I have been reading mostly popular fiction — crime, detective stories, mysteries. It’s all entertaining but not very demanding, even works by the late Robert B. Parker, a clever writer.
So I decided to stretch things. I would read two “serious” novels side by side, 50 pages here, 50 there. I think many seniors wanting to stretch their brains may want to try this.
I checked out two novels, quite different in scope and literary aims. One was William Faulkner’s “Light in August,” a curious story of a pregnant woman’s walk from Arkansas to Mississippi in search of the man who promised to marry her. Faulkner is, of course, a Nobel Prize winner and admired by the Deconstructive French critics.
The other book was “Couples” by John Updike, who won the Pulitzer Prize for literature more than once (as did Faulkner). “Couples” could not be more different from “Light in August” with its sophisticated group of 10 New England couples involved in a sexual merry-go-round. Where Faulkner was opaque and moral, Updike is profane and explicit about sex and immorality.
Both books wind through 500 or so pages in telling their sometimes-mysterious stories, and in the end both portray a world that either uplifts or ends badly. In both cases, morality exacts a price.
Both of these books deserve seniors’ attention. They are not the fiction that most senior book readers will pick up. They are not easy to read; Faulkner has his own way of writing and ignored many of the accepted ways of spelling and punctuation.
Reading two such dissimilar books at once required almost a week (I usually read a pop fiction book in a day) and the ability to switch from the almost-biblical prose of Faulkner to the easier, everyday style of Updike. It was a week of concentrated reading and, of course, weighing the messages.
Was one book better than the other? Faulkner deals with a Southern morality, Updike with a modern sexuality. They carry a similar message. In the end analysis, morality and cutoff will rule.
I don’t want to suggest that seniors go out and read these two books (neither had been checked out of the library for years), but perhaps trying something a bit different to exercise the brain. Besides, it’s free.
Oh yeah, I then polished off a Parker fun book “Widow’s Walk” in half a day. No strain, no guilt.
Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.