Thursday, February 25, 2010

All the King's Men

I have a catalog of "favorite books", neatly listed on my facebook profile. I'm working one writing a review of all of them here on the blog. There are so many it's hard to pick just one, but if I'm asked for a single favorite, I always respond with All the King's Men. This Robert Penn Warren classic has it all. Romance, history, politics, scandal, intrigue. The characters are so compelling and the writing is superb. I first read it in AP English, with a teacher who adored the book. She instilled that love in us as well. We would spend whole class periods analyzing a single page of Warren's writing. None of the movie version's I've seen do it justice. It is a truly powerful story.

What is the story about, you ask? For those of you who haven't read it, All the King's Men is narrated by Jack Burden, a young man who becomes political aide to Willie Stark, an up and coming Louisiana politician. Known as "The Boss", Stark becomes the governor of the state, with aspirations of becoming a Senator. Corruption and scandal ensue. But the book also takes you back, and shares glimpses of Jack's past, with his friends Anne and Adam Stanton, and his mother's long line of husbands. We're also taken on a tour of Stark's past, learning how he went from a country boy to a successful and powerful politician. There are twists and shocking revelations throughout. The story is gripping and full of the political quandaries I love. But simple pieces of beautiful writing that stick with me the most, and that keep All the King's Men at the top of my all time favorites.

Whenever I am driving alone at night on a highway, I think of this passage, when Jack is traveling from his family home in Burden's Landing back to Baton Rouge in the middle of the night (because of an urgent call from "The Boss".)

"There is nothing more alone that being in a car at night in the rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people, there wouldn't be any you, because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren't you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you. There is only the flow of the motor under your foot spinning that frail thread of sound out of its metal gut like a spider, that filament, that nexus, which isn't really there, between the you which you have just left in one place and the you which you will be when you get to the other place.

You ought to invite those two you's to the same party, some time. Or you might have a family reunion for all the you's with barbecue under the trees. It would be amusing to know what they would say to each other.

Meanwhile, there isn't any one of them, and I am in the car in the rain at night."

It's that lovely? Driving alone is kind of like a respite, if we let it be. If we turn off the radio and put down our cellphones, driving alone is a kind of disconnectedness that it's hard to find elsewhere. And I love the idea of inviting all the different variations of myself from different parts of my life to meet each other. Maybe I will invite them all to tea.

Have you read All the King's Men? Have you seen the movie versions? Do you still love any of the books you read in school?

If pressed, what is your ONE top favorite book of all time?

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1 comment:

WhimsAndInconsistencies said...

I have read All the King's Men and the movie is in my Netflix queue. Actually I didn't like it all that much. I mean, it was good, but...maybe it's just that I'm not that in to politics? Maybe it's because I read it over three months which is not an easy way to really absorb a book. I will read it again sometime.

Most of my favorite books are the ones I read in school. Middlemarch. The Great Gatsby. Great Expectations.

And of course my favorite is Pride and Prejudice. :) You don't even have to press me hard on that one. ;)