Winesburg, Ohio

Ah, so I work at a bakery. (Small detail that I failed to mention in last week's post). It's a very southern bakery, and by that I mean that everyone who works there has been in the South for a very long time. The owners, I'll admit, are Bosnian, and several of the employees speak Spanish, so it's not as though everyone around me exhumes a Louisiana drawl. 

But there are many who do. And I don't mind listening to it. Last week I overheard some of my Southern employees talking about music styles, and one of them unapologetically mentioned that she loved Justin Timberlake's new music. And (only) in my head, I nodded along. Sorry, world; sorry, musicians who don't care about appearance and self-image and record sales. But "Mirrors" actually makes me happy. For now. But, we like what we like? (For the record, I think I was always a little slow on the uptake, as in: "new" music to me might actually be quite unpopular by the time I hear it. Oops.) But music tends to swirl. It travels like ants, sneaking to places you'd never expect. And music can make links between social classes--rich folks and poor folks can like the same music. Mozart gets morphed and classical musicians might even listen to rap. (Do they? It's just a guess). 

The book I tried to read this week--yep, I failed again, didn't finish it!--was Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, first published in 1919 by B. W. Huebsch and later published by The Viking Press and Penguin Group. This is a well-known collection of linked stories--not quite short stories, though they are short--but rather, a set of chapters that don't line up chronologically but do connect via characters and themes. The overarching theme of Winesburg is "Being Grotesque." 

As described in the opening chapter, to be grotesque is to arrange one's choices, personality and motivations around a single "truth." 


"It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood." 


This was not an easy book to read. As you can sense, it's pretty philosophical, and the characters make strange decisions. In order to establish this "grotesque"-ness, the author wrote them, (I think) as deeply molded by certain events of their past. Why is the book called "Winesburg, Ohio"? It seems to me that the title points to the notion of encapsulation of a certain way of life. Indeed, the whole of Winesburg is bound together by a certain strangeness. (Does every Midwest town, or even every town in the United States, even world, have an inherent cultural/societal glue?) 

Beyond that, isn't it crazy to consider that every person in every town maybe carries a certain paradigm of truth, a lens held up to the earth and to every other person, which tells him/her what matters, what doesn't, and why they exist on the earth. 

Is that so far from the truth? I don't think so. It does seem that certain truths carry greater weight, or popularity, than others. There are the various religions, and non-religions, and then there are simple things like: being in love is all that matters; or, I exist to be happy (hedonism). 

Anyway, it's interesting to think about. Onward, though. Into the next week, the next book, the next set of questions. Keep reading, eh? Keep living. Keep listening to music!


next week's book (is a reread): Cowboys Are My Weakness, by Pam Houston