Tag Archives: Denis Johnson

David Baumann’s Book Review

Alone With Your Thoughts

By David Baumann

Anyone who has spent a legitimate length of Train Dreamstime alone knows how the mind can wander. When there’s no one to talk to, the mind can begin to form an inner monologue that you never knew existed. You can find peace and clarity in times by yourself, just as you many find anxiety and strife. It’s hard to even reach a place of such isolation in today’s world. Technology keeps us always connected, often preventing us from a true feeling of being alone in the world. These moments of inner peace can help many people reach important decisions in life, but just as easy, too much thought can lead to confusion of the surrounding world.

If you have never experienced this state of mind in your everyday life, the next best thing may be reading Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. The novel follows the life of Robert Grainier, an all American woodsman, as he lives his life in the rural northwest of early 20th century America. The third person narrator often delves deeply into the inner thoughts of Grainier as he loses his family to a tragic forest fire, and proceeds to live a life of isolation in a reclusive log cabin. Grainer travels around the area for work, befriends multiple animals, and recalls his past family and life. Maintaining what little optimism he has, “he lives a long life, owns one acre of property, has one lover, one wagon, two horses, and the train tracks that surround him.”

Reading this book brings you into the rigid northwest world of a working class America. Johnson creates a vivid landscape filled with looming forests and small blue-collar towns. The landscape sounds beautiful and luscious, yet provides an unforgiving harshness to many moments in the book. Grainier inhabits and embodies this world as he undergoes many changes. With his family tragically lost, his mind contemplates the spirits of the dead and his place as a community “hermit”. He has visions of legendary folk tales about wolves, and begins to howl late at night. Spending such long periods of isolation in the woods takes its toll on his mind. His surroundings become a character in itself, sending him messages and hallucinations of perceived importance. His mind often brings him to thoughts that make you question his sanity, yet never do you question if what he thinks is real. Everything is genuine with Grainier, his love, his fears, and his life. It’s easy to comprehend everything he experiences, even if you begin to question the actual authenticity of the events. No matter how insane his actions, his thoughts and emotion remain true.

Train Dreams remains pretty straightforward (despite some interesting encounters with wolves). It’s an honest representation of a simple man who copes with losing everything. The novel stands at a short 114 pages, yet feels much longer. It manages to span an entire lifetime with timely flashbacks and looks ahead. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to experience a truthful representation of the “man in the woods”. Denis Johnson beautifully creates the life and death of a simple man in a complex state of mind. Train Dreams is a quick read, but well worthy of a long discussion.

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Sasha Possick’s Book Review

One Man’s Ambition

By Sasha Possick

As a young adult, there is nothing that I enjoy Train Dreamsmore than a short and simple read, and that is exactly what I thought I had when I had checked out Train Dreams. Yet, that ended up to not being the case at all. Who knew, that with only 116 pages, Denis Johnson could pack so much detail into just one short novella.

This fictional story, based in the twentieth century, consists of the life of an orphan sent by train to Idaho . This boy came to grow up in the woods of Idaho, and worked as part of a logging gang. Throughout this entire novella, there are exuberant amounts of symbolism. Grainier, the main character in this novel, works the railroads and the forests helping to fuel America’s push towards economic progress. Grainier ultimately falls in love and has a child, but loses his wife and his baby during a wildfire. As a result, Grainier falls into a depression, and turns into a sad sadistic man. Grainier lives through many epic twists and turns in this novel, from driving a horse cart to sitting in on a biplane ride.

Throughout this novel Denis Johnson paints vivid pictures of vast nature landscapes that the reader can fully imagine. All of the actions, and things that he endures cause Grainier to seem crazy by the end of the short story. Johnson used a very interesting writing style when he crafted this novella, instead of each paragraph having a set structure, each paragraph shows that it is a “paragraph by paragraph story”. Throughout this novel Denis Johnson uses the third person narrative and makes you feel as if you are in the action. We watch Grainier as he witnesses America go through traumatic changes that altered the United States forever. This novella contains many twists and turns, along with sporadic changes from action packed to just Grainier lying back and relaxing. A short excerpt from the novel; “The wolves and coyotes howled without letup all night, sounding in the hundreds, more than Grainier had ever heard, and maybe other creatures too, owls, eagles, what, exactly, he couldn’t guess, surely every single animal with a voice along the peaks and ridges looking down on the Moyea River, as if nothing could ease any of God’s beasts.” This is a perfect example of Denis Johnson’s writing style and the way that he assists the reader in visualizing his writing. The language that Denis uses is infact difficult language, yet it adds to his style of writing and to the appreciation of the story’s setting.

I have read many books that far surpass the number of pages of this novel, however no other novel has had the same impact on me as this one did.

Calarco’s First-Ever Book Tasting

Yes, I already know what you’re thinking.

No, students did not eat the pie that was found in that one book during the mold removal. Come on people – that’s not even sanitary.

Yesterday, Ms. Davis’ Writing Semester class visited the library to eat brownies, cookies and the words of contemporary titles. They spent the class period exploring the library’s newer fiction and non-fiction books, and jotting down impressions on note cards in order to find books worthy of review.

Yes, review.

Next semester, readers, you will get a break from the dictatorship of book reviews that myself and Librarian Gette have carefully cultivated. We have agreed to loosen our iron fist grip and host the book reviews of Ms. Davis’ students.

Please look forward to future reviews from our very own students, but for now enjoy the impressions and responses of Ms. Davis’ Writing Semester course to our first-ever Book Tasting event.

Angus MacMullen:

My strategy for finding potentially interesting books consisted of reading through the list of recent additions until something catches my attention.  The first that stood out to me was Bicycling Science by David Wilson.  It seemed like such a random, mundane topic upon first glance, which made me instantly curious to see exactly what this book was about.  Unfortunately the book was checked out and overdue.  (apparently someone was so intrigued by the science of bicycles that he could not bring himself to return the book).

The second book that I looked for was Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson.  It describes the early history of the computer, both Turing’s and others’ conceptual ideas as well as the early applications of them, a topic that seemed interesting to me.  Unfortunately, this book also caught the eye of another classmate.  Perhaps I’ll have a look at it when he’s done.

The third book I found was Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash.  Apparently it’s not a very picky selection; the book is almost 700 pages.  I picked this book out simply because I knew that it would be funny.  Ogden’s obtuse use/misuse/abuse of the English language is amusing and often intriguing.  His style is unique; who else would invent a “Miss Goringe” simply to make that terrible forced rhyme?  I will enjoy flipping through this book, whether or not I choose it for the book review assignment later this year.

Chris Cahill:

I think the book tasting today definitely let me see a different side of the library. I’m in the library (for what feels like) 24/7 but I usually go for research. I really understood today the sheer volume of fiction and nonfiction books we are lucky to have! Also, thank you for the book reviews, I checked out two books and plan on reading both.

David Baumann:

I really enjoyed the “book tasting” assignment. We don’t usually get a chance to select any book we want to read for class, making it harder to always read something you find interesting. I think this session helped everyone better understand what kind of books they like to read. All the librarians were also extremely accommodating when you asked them for a recommendation.

Haley Gorman:

I had a great time in the library with Ms. Davis’ English class yesterday. I found some great books that I can’t wait to start and I’m glad to have found a John Green fan.

Jessica Larkin-Wells:

Thanks for helping us out in the library yesterday! I thought the book tasting was a good idea. I mostly browsed the cart of new books, and then looked downstairs at the new nonfiction section by the stairs. My biggest problem was choosing only one book to read, so I ended up checking out three. One is a nonfiction book about creativity, and the other two are novels. Usually I try to finish whatever books I start, but I might not finish all three, especially before the term ends. This project will be a good opportunity to read for pleasure during the school year.

Sasha Possick:

Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson was nominated for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He is famous for his novel Tree of Smoke. This seems to be a great novel and I am looking forward to reading more of it.

Bennett Amador

The book tasting was beneficial it gives us students a chance to glance at interesting fiction books we wouldn’t otherwise see because were constantly focused on scholarly novels and nonfiction.

Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is not really signing off because this blog is the product of student work…so those students are signing off)