I spent about a year in an awkward situation that started out with accidentally babysitting two adorable little kids. Bundles of joy are those two, an...moreI spent about a year in an awkward situation that started out with accidentally babysitting two adorable little kids. Bundles of joy are those two, and I'm not even being ironical. Mommies and daddies, when you ask nice single gals of even age with yourselves if they'll do you a favor and watch your kiddos while you go wine tasting for a night, do you usually mean, "Will you be my nanny?" I hope not. It is very uncomfortable to get out of that kind of situation. Anyway, Olivia was an invaluable friend during that year.
Last Christmas, I went shopping with the grandma of the kids, who we'll call "Mima." Mima told me that she had been Christmas shopping that day with the girl, and they had come across something that made the girl exclaim, "Mima, that's Miss Meri's favorite!" (This family requires Miss and Mr. before any adult names, which I personally find really creepy. Most kids I know call me Mers - pronounced "Meh-rs" not "M-er-s." When I told the girl she could call me Mers, she replied, with some attitude, "Why would I call you Mers? That's not your real name." I had to shamefully admit she was right, and we compromised with Miss Meri.) Back to the story - Mima suggested they buy this favorite thing for me as a Christmas present, and the girl agreed.
When Mima told me about the present, I spent some time trying to guess what it could possibly be and hoping it wasn't a princess dress, but I'm a bad guesser. Unfortunately for surprises, when I was dropping Mima off that night, I helped her carry in a bag of presents. As I was setting it down, it fell open, and seeing what was inside I involuntarily exclaimed, "Hey! That's my favor- . . . wait a second!" Yes, as you may have guessed, it was a stuffed Olivia doll. She's wearing her Christmas outfit, which is pretty spectacular. Olivia is my favorite, it turns out. I think it's because she's good at lots of things.(less)
Everything is still tonight, like a friend was talking and I didn’t hear her until she stopped. Like absence. Coming back from vacation has that feeli...moreEverything is still tonight, like a friend was talking and I didn’t hear her until she stopped. Like absence. Coming back from vacation has that feeling of loss because all of the friendships resolve into something real, whatever that may be. Whenever I am away from home, I crave The Sun Also Rises. I think it got into my blood from reading it again and again at impressionable ages. Since I returned home this time, a couple of weeks ago, I can’t stop thinking about my friends in this book and their fiesta. And I’ve been thinking about the last line of the book and how pretty we all are when we are away.
It seems vulgar to talk about substantive things in this book, compliments or criticisms, because I think it’s one of my best friends, and one of my oldest friends. I probably don’t know any of you as well as I know The Sun Also Rises, so I don’t really want to go behind its back and tell you whether it’s an angry drunk or has informed opinions about war and taxidermy. I will tell you that it’s a comfort when I’m sad or lonely. Not a gentle comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.
I love getting away for a fiesta and the bonds and prejudices that come from being with people on vacation. I hate returning. Returning from vacation makes me really angry. We were waiting for the plane in Tanzania on the way back from Zanzibar, and I had just gotten to the end of The Sun Also Rises. I was so pleased to end the book and see the fiesta disintegrate, just as my own vacation did. During my last week on the island, I was reading another book, and I couldn’t even pay attention to it because I so badly wanted to read about Jake and Bill going fishing. I had to stop and change books on my wonderful Kindle (don’t hate). But, as I was sitting in the café at the Dar es Salaam airport, eating my grilled cheese and anticipating what Jake has to tell me at the very end of this book, suddenly it ended – TWO FULL PAGES BEFORE THE ACTUAL END OF THE BOOK. That is the type of evil I’m talking about of returning from vacation. I’m still mad about it, even though, of course, I finished the book when I got home to my printed copy.
I should probably tell you about how much I love the men in this book. Aren’t men sometimes lovely? And I love the women here, too, even though I cannot imagine a woman ever seeing herself or seeing another woman the way Hemingway writes her. She is always sort of framed and hanging in the entryway of the story so that as people are coming and going they see her and comment on her beauty and tragedy. But, there is always something that reminds me of Romeo and Juliet in Hemingway’s men. I know that A Farewell to Arms is really his Romeo and Juliet (and I love that book as much, even though it is more pristine and not as good a friend). But there is something of the way the men are here that is just the way the men are in R&J. They are all in love and all fighting. And Hemingway’s love stories are made so much more beautiful by being totally incompatible with life. The love is idealized, like maybe all love is, but like the story is not. He tells you about those pockets of comfort in life, but he also tells about what is on either side of them.
I guess I am talking around what I love about the men. I had forgotten in rereading this that there is the hovering analogy of the bulls and steers throughout the book. It is so beautifully done, without being vulgar and literal. I love that all of the emotion among the men – the respect and pity and friendship and jealousy and silent understanding – is there and tangible, but no one talks down to me about it or ruins it by bragging and explaining. Anyway, I have always been partial to Benvolio, and I think Bill is a sort of Benvolio character here, even though you will maybe say he is a Mercutio because of all of his chatter and utilizing. Maybe Jake is my Benvolio. Of course, Cohn must be Romeo. I love being told about all of them.
Mostly what I’m thinking about is the men being in love, even though the story isn’t only about that. The love stories here are so much the opposite of love stories that I am thinking about calling this book an anti-romance. Maybe I am wrong, though. They are about wanting and never having, and isn’t that the flash-bang of romance? Not, obviously, in the literary sense of “romance,” but in the Hollywood sense of romance. The Valentines Day sense. In the sense that vacations are romantic – living a life outside of your own that doesn’t even really exist. For a while now, I have been looking for what I find to be truly romantic in stories. By that I mean, what I find to actually sell me on the idea of love. There are those stories in which people dig deeper than romance to the place that Hemingway’s characters get to, the alienation of actually knowing each other, and then they dig past that to something that I think is love. Maybe that exists. I don’t think Hemingway believed in it, though, and I don’t know that it would have been very interesting to read about if he did. What he writes about, though, is beautiful and interesting, and it exists to me.
I have read this book more times than any other, and even though it is different to me each time, and I see something new, it is always a friend. I don’t really want you to read it. I am happy keeping it to myself. I mostly wanted to tell you about how I love vacations and hate coming back from them, and how it is always just like in the book. I also wanted to tell you about how Chapter 12 is probably my favorite writing that exists, and how I love the rain and I love it when Hemingway writes about the rain. I think Hemingway understood a lot of things differently than I do, but he talks about them so perfectly.(less)
In high school, I made the mistake of thinking that Hamlet was an angst-ridden loser who was pissed about having to take algebra when he “knew he was...moreIn high school, I made the mistake of thinking that Hamlet was an angst-ridden loser who was pissed about having to take algebra when he “knew he was never going to use it.” Not that I had any problems with angst. Big fan. I just thought he failed at angst. He wasn’t the dreamy eyed poet, he was the kid in class who made everyone cringe by shooting his hand up to complain about the abstract unfairness of the school system (or universe. Whatever). I saw the beautiful words, but they only meant words, they didn’t mean anything. When I read the play again in college, the profound beauty and compassion for humanity devastated me, and I realized that it is not about angst of any variety. Hamlet still breaks my heart, probably more than any other story.
I saw a staged production of Hamlet for the first time last month. A live show is almost always a good experience, and this certainly was. I grew up living pretty near the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I’ve gone to productions there as much as possible since high school. It’s a magical place (not so much in a ren-fest way, though a little. More in a professional-live-show-for-cheap way). It’s about three hours away from me now, so I took a couple of days, drove down, and stayed in a hostel across the street from the OSF. I’m assuming in this review that everyone has read or seen Hamlet, but if you haven’t (and this might drive some people nuts) I actually really like the Mel Gibson version. I’ve seen it a kagillion times, and I think it’s a solid version. Who better to play Ophelia than Helena Bonham Carter? (Other than Rachel McAdams in Slings and Arrows.) Anyway, like I say, seeing Hamlet in the wonderful Bowmer theater was a really good experience. I do, however, have a lot of problems with the production, all of which I will gladly share with you now.
A couple of things that don’t work in any production of a Shakespeare tragedy: hammy heroes, pyrotechnics, rapping and hip hop dancing, sign language that is not used for communication, extended martial arts scenes, and Kenneth Branagh. If I think of more, I’ll let you know. Mostly, when I see a play, I want to see the play, not the MTV version of the play. I find it insulting that directors seem to think I’ll understand Hamlet better if it’s MC Hammered at me. And I get that stage fighting is fun, but unfortunately TV fights look better. Maybe it makes it confusing that those things tend to work in the comedies, and directors get caught up in the comedy momentum. There’s some kind of self-reflexive irony framed by larger irony, though, when Polonius says, “brevity is the soul of wit,” and not only is Polonius a pompous old fool, but the entire production is also a pompous old fool.
So, in this version we didn’t have Kenneth Branagh or an extended martial arts scene, which is a mercy. They did, however, have everyone dressed like they were in an emo band. It worked at first, and then got really annoying. Also, there was this gimmick about the ghost speaking sign language, and that kind of kills me. And the play-within-the-play was a free-style hip-hop show. So painful. The thing is, it would be kind of cool to see Hamlet in all sign language with the words voiced over in the theater (or even subtitled). I would probably dig that. But, the way they did this was all wrong. The ghost said something in sign language, and then Hamlet, who apparently was the only character who spoke sign language, would say his lines. Then Hamlet would say his own lines. Fail. I’m not positive Hamlet was the only one who spoke sign language because there was a lot of exaggerated gesturing all around. Like when Hamlet mimed a shotgun to his head when he said, “To be or not to be.”
If Hamlet is not about hip hop and angst, then, what is it about? Hamlet is about being totally unprepared to face reality. Because what is more real than death? Hamlet is about the coolest kid in school (a prince, no less), not about a soulful nerd. Hamlet’s dad could beat up all the other dads; Hamlet has a beautiful girlfriend; Hamlet is spoiled, maybe even a little bit of an asshole, and then, suddenly, his father’s death forces him to recognize that the universe could be a hostile place. Don’t get me wrong – when the play starts he’s not the golden child he was the month before. He goes from being privileged and sheltered to having to face real loss, grief, and betrayal. He wants revenge, but also asks if life is really worth living in a world where those you love the most are the ones plotting against your life. But he didn’t start that way – it’s not just his nature to be melancholy. Fate cut him into shreds the minute before the play starts. Ophelia, too, (but during the play) loses the security of a happy ending, loses her love, loses her father. Both of these bright, advantaged, unprepared children wake up to the brutality of the world around them, and ultimately that awakening destroys them.
That type of tragedy profoundly resonates with me. I realized that both this play and the other favorite I saw in Ashland, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, are about rich people who trust the world to bring only good and then are crushed by reality. Maybe it resonates because of my own personal experiences, but I think there is also something about Hamlet that both transcends cultures and is immediate to American culture. As Nahum says, "Hamlet will be Hamlet. An ineffable tragedy of the human spirit that still resonates, even today." It used to be that the people sheltered from the realities of death were princes, but now look at us, with our hot running water, packaged meat, and sanitized hospitals. Tragedy and death are not part of our everyday lives, and I think many of us are as unprepared to deal with a hostile universe as Hamlet and Ophelia are. When we see our own mortality, we are not eased into it, but caught unawares by a specter we never knew was following us. We are in many ways perpetual children, like Hamlet and Ophelia.
Even then, maybe Hamlet is not tragic. Is it more horrifying to be surprised by death or to live a childhood that causes you to expect it? Although it is not my experience, the latter was probably more common at the time the play was written and probably continues to be so today. Nevertheless, that experience of betrayal by life must, on some level, be universal, whether people experience it young or old, once or many times. There is something innocent and wise and deeply human about both Hamlet and Ophelia because of it.(less)
Har har, puns! Although the phallic image on this cover has to be the male equivalent of vagina dentata. Brrrr.
I feel two ways about this book. First,...moreHar har, puns! Although the phallic image on this cover has to be the male equivalent of vagina dentata. Brrrr.
I feel two ways about this book. First, it's a good idea, and there are some cool patterns in here that are more masculine than you see in your typical knitting book. Most pattern books clearly live in active fear that you will fall into that tired sit-com stereotype and knit something awkward for your boyfriend. Look at these patterns, they say, they are 1920s themed or have kittens! Do not show them to a man, for their eyeballs will melt.
Anyway, this has some decent ideas. I really like the beer cozy idea, though I haven't made it yet:
I also like the Not-So-Rugged Scarf, but you will have to look at this book to see pictures of those because I can't find an open copy on the internets. Most of these patterns assume that any man who would use this book is more than 50% gay. And, fair. I made this manly scarf for my office-mate who is approximately 83% gay:
My only real issue with this book, other than the vests, is that the directions are not immensely clear, especially if you are a new knitter. They use a lot of abbreviations that did not seem to be well indexed in the back, and some stitches that were not explained in the front of the book. That seems like a bummer if this is supposed to be, as it is billed, "a hands-on guide." At least youtube can basically translate really clearly and easily any stitch you are confused about, but I did have to reference youtube a couple of times while making that scarf. Sometimes, I sadly wonder if knitting books are a little obsolete and blogs or knitpicks.com aren't really the way to go for patterns. Merry Christmas, my 83% gay office mate!(less)
**spoiler alert** I adore good monster stories. Wuthering Heights is one of the best. When I lived in Ukraine, I spent a stormy, tragic couple of week...more**spoiler alert** I adore good monster stories. Wuthering Heights is one of the best. When I lived in Ukraine, I spent a stormy, tragic couple of weeks gazing out over the snow-covered steppes of the East and reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. I became so absorbed in the drama and mystery of what happens when the British accidentally try to sell real estate to the undead that I didn't want to abandon that atmosphere even after I had finished Jonathan Harker's tale. Wuthering Heights, always beloved by me for its dark star-crossedness, was the obvious solution. Immediately as I started rereading the novel, however, I realized how similar Wuthering Heights is to Dracula, and that is how it became my favorite vampire story.
Initially, the structure of the two books inspired the comparison. A man, alone in a strange land, becomes trapped in the home of a sadistic and suspicious-looking host and writes a diary about the rumors of his host's history. Both journals seem deliciously tainted and unreliable, but somehow still able to uncover something resonant about the monstrosity of humans. Both demonic hosts are the victims of desire that cannot be quenched - desire that has grown murderous. Both hosts have female counterparts that are way more scary and evil than themselves. And (*spoiler*) both stories have suspiciously tidy endings that don't even come close to redeeming the ruination of most of the characters. So excellent! I am not arguing that Emily Bronte intended this story as a straightforward vampire tale. The essence, however, of any vampire story is an exploration of the need to live by the death of others. Bronte masterfully illustrates that as a fundamentally human flaw. In the ways that Heathcliff is more monstrous than Linton, he is also more human.
I'm not going to lie to you. What I really love about this book is not its narrative structure, deep message about the human condition, or window into 19th century life on the moors. I become absolutely weak-kneed at the moment in this story when Heathcliff overhears Catherine insulting him to Nelly and then takes off into the night. It is irony at its finest. I pretty much swoon when Heathcliff returns for the passionate moment before the birth of young Catherine. I am in love, for better or worse, with the doomed and unrealistic passion of Heathcliff and Catherine. I have loved this book for long enough that I think it's safe to say I will always feel that way.
I would probably not invite Catherine and Heathcliff to a quiet afternoon of poetry and wine tasting, but they would definitely get an e-vite from me to a rockin' New Years Eve. Those two and unsuspecting civilians - throw in some cheese and crackers and that's a party. I might e-vite Sarah Michelle Gellar, just in case things got out of hand, but I would definitely stick around to see what would happen next. A little sadistic hosting of my own. Bwahaha.
Usually, when I hear this story criticized, it is for how evil both Heathcliff and Catherine are. While I would never dispute that, it is exactly what I love about Wuthering Heights. They are monsters, but still somewhat sympathetic, and in some ways I want them to find satisfaction. Unquestionably, they deserve and even seek out all the torment they get, and though I don't wish that torment on them I am positively mesmerized by it. They are not merely silly and petty, like the lovers in so many books, they are villains. They are something more extreme than anti-heroes.(less)
I had this professor in college who assigned Frankenstein, so I thought I'd read it for the third time because maybe that time Frankenstein's whining...moreI had this professor in college who assigned Frankenstein, so I thought I'd read it for the third time because maybe that time Frankenstein's whining wouldn't kill me. The professor was kind of an abomination in a lot of ways, but not the worst professor ever. Anyway, I'll never forget going to class for the lecture on the book. The professor was lecturing in this caught-you-with-your-hand-in-the-cookie-jar voice and said, "Frankenstein's monster was a vewy, vewy baaaaad monster!" So, that's what I knew from college about the structure and influence of the novel. Everything else I learned on goodreads.
Mary Shelley is the Elizabeth Gilbert of the 19th century. Yes, horrifying, but for the right reasons? And don't try to tell me those Shelley and Gilbert weren't writing horror. That's just silly.(less)
In a hearing I observed once, the husband testified that he had tried to have his wife served with his petition for divorce in the Costco parking lot....moreIn a hearing I observed once, the husband testified that he had tried to have his wife served with his petition for divorce in the Costco parking lot. The wife went running across the parking lot to avoid service, and her eight- and ten-year-old kids ran after her, dodging traffic and jumping into the wife’s car as it screeched out of the parking spot. The husband filmed them on his iPhone, shouting, “You’ve been served! You’ve been served!”
The judge commented that it was troubling to watch a video of the kids running through a dangerous parking lot and asked the woman why she ran. The woman replied, “I don’t believe in divorce, your honor.”
The judge said, “Well, ma’am, it’s not like the Easter Bunny: it exists.”
There is that point in a woman’s life when she wakes up suspecting that the fairy tales she grew up with were not telling the whole story, that there is life beyond the sunset at the end of the movie and that life is not easier than life before the sunset. And, there are any number of stories in which that anvil falls on a character’s head. Tolstoy writes the cautionary morality-tale version in Anna Karenina, Flaubert writes the pastoral tragedy version in Madame Bovary, and Elizabeth Gilbert writes the self-involved douche version in Eat Pray Love, to name a few. But, then, The Awakening. This one is my favorite. This is the beautiful one.
For example, there is this:
"Do you know Mademoiselle Reisz?" she asked irrelevantly.
"The pianist? I know her by sight. I've heard her play."
"She says queer things sometimes in a bantering way that you don't notice at the time and you find yourself thinking about afterward."
"Well, for instance, when I left her to-day, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. `The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.'”
All the women in this book are birds: clucking hens, sheltering their brood; decorative birds in cages; and Edna growing wings and trying to fly away. I love the image of women as birds because I think it is so vivid in showing a woman’s disconnect with society. Just the image of a bird in a cage is something out of place, confined where it should be free. It is unwelcome and unnatural out of the cage, but unable to leave. The movie Moulin Rouge uses the image, too. Where Ewan McGreggor’s character is the traditional Orpheus, whose gift is his song, Nicole Kidman’s is the woman as a bird. “Oh, we will,” she says to her own pet bird, “We will fly, fly away from here!” I don’t know where this metaphor originated (sirens?) or how it became what it is in these stories, but I think it is poignant.
(view spoiler)[And it is poignant that, clearly, the only end for a bird escaped from the cage is death. A woman defying tradition and prejudice, as Mademoiselle Riesz says, is unwelcome and must have particularly strong wings to fly away. But, all of these stories that imagine something beyond tradition have Thelma and Louise endings. Women who wake up and realize that they are unwelcome in society as they are, who realize they can’t pretend to be what society wants anymore, can only conceive of suicide as the alternative. And, in The Awakening, at least, Edna’s death is not cautionary or punishment. It is just the only conceivable alternative in a society that offers nothing for women but marriage. Interestingly, Eat Pray Love is the only story I can think of on this topic that doesn’t end in the woman’s death, so that is perversely hopeful. (hide spoiler)]
I care about people’s relationships a lot. Probably too much at times. Relationships seem like these delicate, mysterious aliens to me, and we should whisper around them so we don’t scare them away. That is one of the main reasons I hate weddings – because so often you have this new, fragile relationship, and what do people decide to do to it? Smash it with the sledgehammer of planning a giant event that symbolizes the most bitter and painful emotional vulnerabilities of everyone in the general vicinity. The relationship might be beautiful and strong going into a wedding, but after getting piled with the emotional baggage of the families and friends involved, it is something else entirely. It is just off the rack, but threadbare already from wear and strain.
And a marriage, a wedding, is not a relationship. A marriage is a contract. A wedding is an event. A divorce is a dissolution of a contract. A relationship is something else. A relationship exists or doesn’t exist outside of any events or licensing. Sometimes a wedding is too heavy for a relationship to bear, and sometimes a marriage is too heavy for it. It often looks to me, when people get engaged, like they are trying to subscribe to a certain type of relationship and the engagement is the subscription form. But, as far as I can tell, relationships are wild and can’t be subscribed. And, nobody knows how strong they are but the people in the relationship, and sometimes not even them.
But, also, if you are Edna, if you are living your life, going along, and then you suddenly realize that you are not living your life, but that you are in some kind of costume and acting in a play: devastation. None of your relationships exist, but the people around you have relationships with the character you played. And there is no going back. You've already betrayed them, and you didn't even know it, and they've already betrayed you by not realizing you weren't you. When you start realizing who you are, there is too much momentum to turn around. You are already out of the cage and flying away, whether your wings are strong or weak, whether the wind is for you or against you.
In Kate Chopin’s world, I think, divorce was like the Easter Bunny, like the sunset that a woman could swim towards but not see beyond. The end of this story, to me, is a rejection of that world, which held nothing for Edna. It is a demand for something else. It is sad, yes, because it is appalling that there was nothing for her, but it is not wrong or unfair, I think. While I do not think the story is cautionary to women, I do think it is cautionary to the world. It says, what you hold for us, with your rigid, gendered propriety and your cages, is not enough. We are more, so the world needs to be more.
And I think it has become more. I think, as a woman, that while I was funneled toward Edna’s sad, empty life, I have been able to reject it, strong wings or not, and decide to be a real girl with real relationships, not just the meaningless façade of engagement and marriage and divorce. There are other options now because of books like this. It is not easy or perfect, but it is something real, something that exists. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
At my college graduation, the speaker was a gruff professor. He was one of those older men whom people somewhat patronizingly describe as a teddy bear...moreAt my college graduation, the speaker was a gruff professor. He was one of those older men whom people somewhat patronizingly describe as a teddy bear to convey the idea that while he looks like Santa Claus, they wouldn’t be surprised to see him arraigned on assault charges at the local courthouse. I liked this professor in general, and his graduation speech was a grand: warm congratulations on a crisp early-summer day. He decided to inform us, however, that anyone who had not read The Iliad and The Odyssey should not be graduating from college. I was one of those lucky (lucky?) folks, like an illiterate kid graduating from high school.
I decided to rectify the situation as soon as possible, and I spent an indefinite number of hours in the next few, sunny weeks laying in a hammock on my porch, the boy I loved commiserating with me about this wonderful book. It is a warm, sharp memory. That was mumble mumble years ago, and this summer, I thought that since I just graduated again, I would read it again. It was a good choice. Warm, summer days in the hammock with limb-chopping, flashing helms, and mountain goats rushing down the hillside.
I can’t find this quote I’m thinking of, but I’m pretty sure it’s from Beowulf, and it goes something like, “Brave men should seek fame in foreign lands.” Google does not think that quote exists, so maybe I dreamed it, which is really neither here nor there, but kind of weird. Something about that quote, about this book, and about the way this book reminds me of that quote, makes my blood beat close to my skin. I get this feeling that my heart grows too big for my ribs, and my eyeballs get tight, as though I’m going to cry. But, my heart doesn’t pound, and no tears come.
That is how this book feels to me.
This story is about what Homer doesn’t describe as much as what he does, and reading it evokes some kind of mirroring response from my body. The Iliad is the almost-death of Achilles, the almost-destruction of Troy, and reading it is an almost-panic-attack, an almost-sob. It is the absent top step in a flight of stairs. But, oh man, that flight of stairs. How do you even make that?
It’s not possible to spoil this story because Homer is always one step ahead, tripping you up about what story he’s telling. So, just because I think it’s fun (and, also because it seems kind of absurd to write a “review” of The Iliad, so I’m wandering in the dark here), I’m going to give a brief summary:
This story is about a bunch of guys fighting over some women fleshlights and jewelry. Mostly the women fleshlights. Everyone’s been at this war for nine years (sidebar: weirdly, when I read that it was nine years, I thought, “NINE YEARS? WHO WOULD FIGHT A WAR FOR THAT LONG? Oh, wait . . . .”). As you probably know, the war initially started because Paris, a Trojan, stole Helen, who was the iPhone 5 of fleshlights, from Menelaus, an Argive. The Argives are at their ships; the Trojans are in Ilium, behind the city walls. There’s lots of blood and guts and pillaging throughout.
This story, Homer clearly tells us, is about Paris and Helen’s betrayal of Menelaus, and it is about the death of Achilles. The story opens with Agamemnon, the king of the Argives, having stolen a fancy new fleshlight from Achilles, who is a child of a water nymph. Achilles refuses to continue fighting if Agamemnon is going to take his fleshlight. Then, Achilles has this beautiful, beautiful moment where he questions the very nature of fighting over fleshlights. We are all pawns in the petty squabbles of the gods.
The gods are easily my favorite parts of this story, though it is not really about them in a certain way. It is not really about them in the way that any discussion of a god is not really about the god. On the one hand, it is about how our lives are just pawns in this squabbling, incestuous, eternal Thanksgiving dinner in the sky. On the other hand, it is still about the pawns. The gods are compelling on their own, but my heart tries to escape my chest not because of their story, but because, yes, humans do live and die by some kind of petty lottery run by a rapist married to his sister. Yes. And maybe there is someone bold and wonderful in the sky, like the grey-eyed Athena, but we still live and die by the thunder of a maniacal drunk uncle. Yes, that seems true.
So, in the midst of the chopping of limbs, the shatteringly beautiful similes, death after death, and the machinations of the dysfunctional immortal family, this story is about the betrayal of Menelaus and the death of Achilles. The thing that is absolutely, hands-down the most insane about this story to me is that those two events are deeply vivid in my mind in connection to this book, but neither of them actually happens here. How is that possible?! How do you plant enough seeds about an event in a reader’s mind that when she closes a book, those seeds grow into whole, robust images about the event? My blood does that thing where it tries to get out of my skin just from thinking about that. I can picture Achilles's death so vividly, picture lying in that hammock and reading it after I graduated from college, but that never happened. Homer just planted the seeds of his death in my brain, and they grew from my constant pondering over them. Helen and Paris sailing away grew in my mind through Helen’s beautiful regrets.
This is a story that I could think about for days: Helen’s mourning, like the women I’ve seen apologize for causing their husbands’ abuse (no, you didn’t cause this); war, and the futility of killing each other, as though we are controlled by the Kardashians of the sky. What causes violence? We say women cause violence because they push our buttons, so we’re driven to maim and kill because of the betrayals and button pushing. We say that something eternal, God or the gods, cause violence because they control our fate, they appear to us as birds and as wisdom and lead us on our night-blind path of life, but they lead us erratically: drunk, hysterical drivers and us with no seat belt, so we grasp for mere survival. Homer describes those motivations for violence so beautifully.
But, ultimately I think that is all bullshit, and I think the bullshitness of it is there in this story, too. It is there in Achilles challenging Agamemnon. It is there in Achilles mourning Patroclus. Oh, Patroclus, about whom I haven’t even freaked in this review. What a shame. Anyway, though, people are not violent because we were betrayed or because of supernatural trickery. Our violence is ours; it is our choice and our responsibility. Life is barbarous and cruel around us, but that is its nature, and we can only shape ourselves through and around it. When we expect life to be gentle and obedient, we are usually doing nothing more than justifying our own cruelty. I don’t think there is an answer to any of this in The Iliad, but it is beautifully told in both the positive and negative space. It is blood-poundingly, eye-achingly told. As my professor said, everyone should read this, and if you can read it in the sun, lying in a hammock after your graduation, all the better.(less)
Maybe what I love about Willa Cather is all the kinds of love and belonging she writes. Her unhappy marriages and her comfortable ones; her volatile l...moreMaybe what I love about Willa Cather is all the kinds of love and belonging she writes. Her unhappy marriages and her comfortable ones; her volatile love and her unconsummated longing; and her lone, happy people, are all so different, but so how I see the world. I think the way she writes them is wise. Unreliable narrators are delightful to read because, in the sense that the author has shown me their unreliability, she has also shown me their uniqueness and humanity. I think Jim Burden, the narrator of My Antonia is a beautiful example of this and that most of the passion and mystery in this story comes from Jim’s failings as a human, within the story, and even as a character, from a critical perspective. I will explain.
Cather presents the story My Antonia as a story within a story. The narrative introducing the book comes from a friend of Jim’s, who tells us that Jim has always had a romantic disposition, but that, as of the writing of the book, Jim is in a presumably loveless marriage with an awful woman who is “temperamentally incapable of enthusiasm.” Jim’s mind is consumed with memories of a Bohemian girl Jim and the author of the introduction both knew, and she represents to them both the country and the people of their childhoods. Throughout the book, Antonia Shimerda and her warmth belong to the land and the people who love her, and when someone calls her “my Antonia” it means something about that belonging.
It is impossible to truly identify with Antonia because Cather writes her in this unreliable way, and so, even though she is a painfully real character, she is told with lovely mistakes – the mistakes we make in talking about people we love who we don’t understand, who are not like us. Anyway, I don’t remember making this connection the last time I read this book, but for most of my life, people have referred to me as “my Meredith.” I think maybe it is the alliteration that brings it on, but it has always baffled me. For a long time, I found it horrifying. The phrase had some kind of unsettling expectation to it. Now, though, I feel differently. I feel like it is lovely to belong to the people I care about, and the last time someone said it, it was just comfortable and true. I’m not saying that this makes me similar to Antonia Shimerda, but it made me think about how warm and human it is to belong to people like Antonia did.
So, I’m telling you about how this book is written by a woman, but from the perspective of a boy and then a man. Writing across genders is suspicious to me, and so that unreliability piles on to the already suspect character of Jim. And, I don’t think Cather tells him fairly or realistically as a male character, or that this story is told as a man would tell it. It is told in the way a woman would tell about a man’s love, and I like that. It has the insight of a woman into the motivations of another woman, but it has the gentleness of how a woman sees the emotions of men.
Cather always writes domestic stories, but there is also something epic about the tragedies, betrayals, and glory her characters encounter. I don’t think there is one in O Pioneers, but in most of her books she includes some story within the story (in this case also within the larger story) of a far-off land, and those stories are my favorite part of the adventure of reading Willa Cather. The story of the Russian wolves in My Antonia is my favorite.
I am a very impressionable young thing, and so when someone explains to me why they love something, it often sticks and colors my interpretation of that thing in the future. I am staunchly against the prairies, and the pioneers are usually dullsville. In real life, when I am away from mountains for too long I freak out, and I have an aversion to reading about how to live in a dug out. But Cather’s wonderful descriptions of Nebraska change the whole idea for me. I know it’s just descriptions, but they are so vivid and beautiful. I love the mountains, and I maintain that they are more beautiful than the prairies, but I could never describe the essence of the places I love like Cather does her places. And her places are ick, so that makes her even more wonderful as a writer.
Anyway, I love this book. I listened to it on audio this time, and the audio is really lovely. It is difficult to say whether this is my favorite Cather or O Pioneers is or The Professor’s House is. They are all wonderful. This one has a quality I like of being driven by character, not plot, but that is not always a draw. The people here are wonderful, timeless, and real. The things they say are things people should say, and they belong to each other the way people should. It is often brutal, in the way art should be brutal, with real feeling; but, it is not cruel. It tells how we should see each other and how we should be, but also how we do see each other and how we are. It is a sort of magical world that is also real life, but I think that is how we talk about people we love – suspiciously comfortable; unreliable, but belonging. (less)
Alexandra looked at him mournfully. “I try to be more liberal about such things than I used to be. I try to realize that we are not all made alike.”
Ev...moreAlexandra looked at him mournfully. “I try to be more liberal about such things than I used to be. I try to realize that we are not all made alike.”
Everything in O Pioneers! is beauty to me. I am so in love with this book. Maybe it is because I have it in my brain that pioneers by definition suck that Willa Cather always catches me by surprise and turns me upside down. It’s like walking through an alien landscape and then running into my best friend. I thought what I would find was Michael Landon crying into a butter churn, and here you are, everything that is wonderful about humans. Still, I never know whether to recommend that other people read this book, or whether it is better to just keep it to myself. As Alexandra says, we are not all made alike, and maybe what is beauty and revelation to me is Michael Landon crying into a butter churn to you.
It’s so easy to say why I hate writing and difficult to say why I love it. I want to compare Cather to Hemingway because of how steady and careful their writing is, because of how speculation about their lives cheapens conversations about their stories, but no. I want to say Cather writes what is in my soul, but that’s not right either. What she writes is as much her own world as it is my reality, but that doesn’t make her wisdom easy or her power arrogant. She is not looking for my approval, but she is looking outside herself for some kind of truth.
At a particularly conflicted time in my life, I went to a club with some friends and I saw a girl dancing like I have never seen anyone dance in my life. She had cleared out as space for herself to the side of the stage, and it was like every part of her body was electric. It was not only beautiful, it was also full of life. Where I didn’t know which way to turn, this girl was in the Place, doing the Thing. Reading O Pioneers! is like watching that girl. Everything is alive in this book.
But, again, I’m struck by the feeling that it may not be alive to you as it is to me. I’ll give you a few descriptions as objectively as I can, and you can judge for yourself. It is about contrasts: country and city, speed and slowness, youth and age, passion and steadiness, inspiration and hard work, deprivation and entitlement. It is operatic. It is kooky at times and kind, but not funny. It is understated and even-handed. It is written by a woman. It is about women and men, who are all sometimes as passionate as people are, and other times as wise as people should be. It is specific, but not petty. There are awkward parts (specifically book 2, chapter 9, though I even think that scene is beautiful).
It’s difficult to talk about this book without spoiling it, and I think a spoiler would really spoil the story. So, I’ll just say one last thing that I hope won’t be a spoiler, but might, so be warned. People get angry with authors who won’t let their characters die and see it as a sign of accomplished writing to kill a character. I think, because of that, I see a lot of bad storytelling mistaken for good storytelling if the author tortures or kills the characters. I really hate when people think character abuse is maturity. At the same time, though, I think there is something right about trusting an author more if the author allows unhappiness into the story. Authors are writing to an audience, and I think they should be writing to entertain, so there is value to me in making stories better than life. At the same time, there is truth in sadness, and if a writer can’t look at sadness, she has sacrificed truth to entertainment. Cather balances truth and entertainment in a way that is completely devastating. She loves her characters, and lets every one of them grow as humans grow, with human joys and human tragedies. It is painful and beautiful to watch.
I almost want to read this book again right away, but too much wisdom in one month can’t be good for my health. I’ll take a little break first and watch some reality TV to balance out my wisdom intake. Just, you know, for my health.(less)
I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in high school and remember thinking it was very funny, but I actually think I enjoyed it more on audio. S...moreI read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in high school and remember thinking it was very funny, but I actually think I enjoyed it more on audio. Stephen Fry, who apparently is Jeeves in the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster, is hilarious reading this book - this has become one of the million reasons I must watch Jeeves and Wooster. I had always thought Hugh Laurie, who I also love, was Jeeves, but I guess he's Wooster. Anyway, I thought Fry's voice for Marvin, the depressed robot, was particularly funny. Fry is clearly a frood who really knows where his towel is.
Wikipedia is also telling me that Fry is the voice of the Guide in the movie adaptation. While Wikipedia may not be a reliable source for some information, I would think it was created as a tribute to the Hitchhiker's Guide. So unless I am mistaken, and they actually consider each other competitive sources for questionable information, I'm trusting Wikipedia as the definitive resource for information about this book, including all adaptations. It does, however, bring up the important point that Wikipedia could benefit from a good "DON'T PANIC" banner over its pages.
The audio version also made me realize how Monty Python Douglas Adams' humor is. I have never been able to make it through this entire series, as the humor gets stale to me after a while. It is similar to The Holy Grail in that it was funny at first, but after it had been retold and over-quoted to me enough times, it was hard to remember why I liked it in the first place. As my friend, McKenzie, would say, it's like when people do impressions of Jim Carrey. I needed the 10-year break I took from it to be able to re-visit it and laugh again.
The concept, aside from obviously being silly and weird, actually struck me as rather smart this time. If you take away the funny names and reverence for afternoon tea, the creation myth that the story develops seems to have just as much validity as any other explanation of how our planet got here (because when it comes down to it, I think Adams would say, you weren't there and you don't know), and how irrelevant that actually is to a genuine search for meaning (or "Life, the Universe, and Everything", if you would). Adams does an excellent job showing how ridiculous, petty, and small people really are, and I think he's only part joking - maybe not joking at all. (less)
After a couple of nightmare slogs, it's time for some comfort food.
My brother is moving to New York in a coup...moreAfter a couple of nightmare slogs, it's time for some comfort food.
My brother is moving to New York in a couple of weeks, and it breaks my heart more than a little. I totally love that guy, and New York will be lucky to have him. It’s really far away, though. I went to pick him up in Bend a few weeks back so that he could use my car for a weekend, and I got the audio version of this book at the library on my way there. I picked it up because I totally freaking love this book, even though none of the book makes that much sense if you think about it for, like, two seconds. I have even loved this audio experience, though it is just about the worst audio in the whole wide world, and the reader does maybe every single thing that bugs me. Anyway, there are some books I could read whenever: Wuthering Heights, Our Mutual Friend. I can’t defend myself about this, but I think The Host is in that group.
Meyer’s people all live in some kind of graphic novel, with their gaping, grimacing, hissing, eye bulging, and clenching of teeth. I know, no one hisses, do they? And then there is the problem about the first person narrator always being able, somehow, to see the nuances of people’s emotions through their eyes, no matter how far away the person is standing, or how little blocking sense that actually makes in a given room or tunnel or cave. And we won’t even talk about how awful the names are. I know about that, too. Whatever, haters, I don’t care. I totally freaking love this book.
The audio book is, and I’m not kidding, 23.5 hours long. I’m not even done with it. I’m actually still listening to it right now, but I know how it ends because I've read it before, so don't get up in my grill tautologically about the inherent worth in the work itself and my duties as an audience. Anyway, the reader of the audio book really savors every word. Very dramatic, you know. She totally kills me. I missed a lot of the first half because my brother listened to it over the weekend when he had the car. He came back gaping, grimacing, hissing, and generally making fun of it. His eyes really bulged and glinted with mirth, and all that. We listened to it together, driving back to Bend, and there was a lot more clenching of teeth from his side of the car.
I don’t know. We’ve all talked to death the problems with the Meyer writing and the Meyer love story and the Meyer world building. I realized, though, that in all honesty Meyer does write something that really touches me: families. I think her families are so comforting, even in their conscious mish-mashiness. True, her heroines want to kill themselves so you’ll be happy, and that’s weird. But in this book, for example, the heroine’s (heroines’?) love of her brother and her adopted family is something genuine and something that I totally dig.
I mean, obviously, this book is awesome because it has sweet, cuddly body snatchers, and that allows for a love triangle with only two bodies and then, later, a love quadrangle with only three bodies. No funny business, though. All PG here, gang. And, the love geometry stays pretty polite the whole time; no obnoxious LOST stuff going on. The other kind of cool thing about this book is that it passes the Bechtel test because there are, like, two girls stuck in one body and they chat about things. They’re not Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton hatching women’s suffrage, or anything, but I’m not too demanding.
Anyway, family. Don’t tell my brother, but I’m a little torn up about him moving away. Very excited for him, but a little torn up. It’s been nice to listen to all the descriptions of how much this girl loves her brother and her adopted family in these extreme situations, where she has to run through the desert and battle renegade cave-dwellers for them. Don't get me wrong, it's ultimately pretty tame, but it's extreme in a sentimental, hearth-and-home way. I don’t know; it’s comforting. I don’t really care that it’s ridiculous in so many ways or that it’s broken up with tedious descriptions of food and every other little thing. Sue me. I think this book is probably Meyer’s best so far, just in a technical sense. It stands alone, which is a relief, and none of the characters are supposed to be perfect. The main character is a little annoying, in a doormat kind of way, but I’m still okay with her.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to read it. You’d probably freaking hate it. I was just getting sentimental about family, and so was Stephenie Meyer, so I thought I’d come here and tell you about it. (less)
Who are your gods? Whom do you worship in actions, and whom in words? Charles Dickens waggles his finger in my face, the finger of a crone, of a maide...moreWho are your gods? Whom do you worship in actions, and whom in words? Charles Dickens waggles his finger in my face, the finger of a crone, of a maiden, of a businessman. The polished finger of a marquis, the calloused finger of a knitter. He makes his point with the appropriate number of adjectives and with enough humor to break through the polished shell of morality and reach something true. When you dress your Good up in robes and worship it, maybe what you truly worship is Death. And Dickens graciously bows his way out of the room.
It is confusing to talk about successes and failures in A Tale of Two Cities because what doesn’t really work for me actually does, and there’s something beyond what really does work that I can’t quite get at. Maybe on my fourth or fifth reading I will have nestled into what I can’t quite get, but until then, I will have to rely on something contrary to my instincts. The thing that puts me off, but then, ultimately, makes the story what it is, is this image of the shy, humble nuclear family – the blond girls named Lucy and the unassuming, faceless father. The easiest shorthand for goodness, the celestial, angels.
That is not my god, and even though I mistrust it, deeply – I mistrust it to whatever marrows up the marrow of my bones – it makes sense for what it is in this story. It is a symbol for something not grasping about humanity, a symbol for something that wishes happiness, not destruction, on people, and that does seem like a symbol of Good to me, even if its trappings are soaked in the suspicious. Where to me the Darnay-Manette family is code for abuse and for valuing security over integrity (the apologetic wife who so desperately craves her husband’s affection that she pretends helplessness; the husband who grovels to his father-in-law and otherwise has no remarkable personality traits), for Dickens it was not that. And I can see it and respect what he was doing here.
I don’t know, maybe I don’t think a hopeful family has been written, just like I haven’t seen a real-life family that would fit me right. But, where the girl action hero is a symbol of hope to me, I can see how Lucy Manette is a symbol of hope in reverse of that, but not in a bad way. She is a symbol of, “What if people were generous?” And she does not really have enough contrast to be an interesting character, but she, in herself, is a contrast. Because is this book about her or is about Madame Defarge? Really, it is about neither and the one is only a contrast to the other. Madame Defarge is more interesting to me, knitting revenge, but Lucy is still functional, and she still has meaning. She is the innocence that a person saves if we can.
But, back to our gods. The various choruses running through this book of sacrifice and resurrection, execution and revenge, wove together with the worship of the gods cleanly and in a way that resonated with me and made me think about how our actions reveal what gods we worship, if we, today, could call our gods by the helpful, honest names of the ancients – Wine, Beauty, Love, War, Freedom, Death, etc. The refrain of liberte, egalite, franternite, or death rings through the story like “my husband, my father, my brother, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, hush.” It is about the hopelessness of the death penalty, and it counts down from resurrection to death.
It questions all of our gods, with the goddess Liberty riding on a chair over a blood-soaked, rioting crowd; the sacrifice of Christ made by a dissipated drunkard; the British bank seeking execution, like the French aristocracy and serfs. None of us are safe; none of our hands are clean. In the words of the Biblical Christ, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” Even honest tradesmen.
We know our gods, not by the names we attribute to them to make sure we have VIP access to the coolest back-stage events with our friends who call their gods by the same name. We know our gods by our own actions – how we act to ourselves and how we act to others. The revolutionaries in this book chant, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, or Death,” and Dickens makes it clear that the people worship “or Death” even while they name it Liberte. In that same way, when we destroy our bodies and souls in the name of love by starvation, mutilation, or cultivating mental illness, we are not worshiping Love, even if we name it that. Today, for example, girl who starves herself, and a man who wins on steroids, do not worship Beauty or Strength through those actions; they worship Self-Destruction, Death. Because when beauty and strength are gone, that is the monster, the god, who thrives on your sacrifice. Be the best version of yourself, this book pleads, and if you cultivate self-destruction, at least let your sacrifice be voluntary and for something noble, not blind and hungry. Know the god you worship. But, do we ever? And how can it be anything but sympathetic when we do not? Because this life is all of our crazy mess, with all of our gods wearing halloween masks of another god.
As with any Dickens, the best parts of this book are in the common people. Mr. Cruncher and his honest trade of resurrection, and the good Ms. Pross and her noble work as executioner, are the best moments. The good, rough English folk are where Dickens truly shines. But, the political commentary of this book is very strong, as well. The parallels of London and Paris; the executions in both cities, by the rich and the poor; the self-descriptions of Mr. Cruncher and Mr. Lorry as honest businessmen, honest tradesmen, are all powerful statements about thinking of any class of society as subhuman – the poor, the rich, criminals. Everyone is someone’s husband, brother, someone’s father, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, hush. We may talk about our wrongs as though they were the “only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown,” but they are ours, sown by what we have worshiped. Or so judges Dickens . . . and he is a just executioner.(less)
Maybe it goes without saying that we write differently in letters than we do in email or text. Something about putting pen to paper makes a handwritte...moreMaybe it goes without saying that we write differently in letters than we do in email or text. Something about putting pen to paper makes a handwritten letter more intimate and less imposing than electronic media. We take off the tin-foil hat. Our mistakes are not made invisible by a backspace key, but crossed out with our own hand. We reveal ourselves. And letters to people we love are that much more intimate and revealing, even sentimental. We create something, a product, that you can hold in your hand, and then send it off, like a little piece of ourselves. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Jonathan Safran Foer’s love letter to New York City.
I’ve seen some readers complain that its sentimentality is manipulative, and even though I can imagine reading the book that way, I can’t understand it. I think this book is one of the most beautiful explorations of love, grief, and humanity that I’ve ever experienced. It’s been years since I last read it, and I wanted to read it again before reviewing, but I’m not really at an emotional place where I could take it right now. What is love without death? And sometimes both are too harsh to look in the face. I have to make a nothing place for them. But I’ve had this review percolating in my brain, and I felt like I needed to share it, even though it’s only impressions.
Traditional wedding vows summarize pretty economically that classic feeling of being in love. I will love you in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part. It’s that feeling of “I loved you before I knew you, and I will love you after we’re dust.” Foer does something similar here. He’s saying to the City, “I loved you as a child. I love you as an old man, as an old woman. I loved you when I only had a key to your secrets, but didn’t know what door it belonged to. I love you in the health of family and in the sickness of grief.” And somehow, for right or wrong, it is more meaningful to be reminded of love when we are at our most worthless and broken. This love letter takes place just after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, and it gives me the feeling of Foer sewing up the wounds of the city.
I lived in New York a couple of years before the September 11th attack, and I hated the city. When the attacks happened, I lived in one of the religiously fanatical far-away places where a lot of people felt, secretly or openly, that New York deserved to have a symbol of its decadence cut down. I lived in Oregon. People would say that “we” brought this upon ourselves, but, despite my aversion to New York City, that always offended me. New York is not “we” to anyone in Oregon. “We” is Rainie Falls and Mount Pisgah and Voodoo Doughnuts and Dutch Bros and Rice Hill. “We” is the Caveman statue and Powell’s and the stupid Enchanted Forest. The World Trade Center is just as foreign to “us” as Afghanistan or Nicaragua, Dresden or Hiroshima. Not only do I not believe that anyone, English speaking or not, brings that kind of devastation upon themselves, I also do not believe that it is “our” right to speak to the justice of that kind of event. I love where I live, and I feel that same kind of love and care in Foer talking about where he lives. I think it is beautiful. I think that it is not possible for a place that could be so beloved, no matter how much I dislike it myself, to have deserved bombing. I would say the same about Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Dresden, and Hiroshima.
On a lighter and more bitchy note, Nicole Krauss is married to Foer, and her book The History of Love is very, very similar to Extremely Loud. I think that if you’ve read one of those, you can’t really like the other, unfortunately. They are both, to some extent, about the injustices of growing up, but Krauss takes the tone of overcoming adversity, where I think Foer takes the tone of reconciliation and healing. Maybe they both have all of those elements. I’m one thumb up, one thumb down on History of Love, but words cannot tell you how much I love Extremely Loud. Some of the similarities are in the family phrasings, some are in the plots. You can see how they are very different writers who suffer from the disadvantage of living in the same house with another great writer. It’s stressful.
Extremely Loud is American folklore. It is regional, but can’t be held responsible for it. Not that regionalism is necessarily a turn-off, but we want to read about ourselves. Cultures that are familiar but foreign can be suspicious. At the same time, this story does bring me into the culture that was devastated by 9/11. I was not the target of the 9/11 attacks, just like Oskar, the protagonist of this book, was not. But also, we both were. We both are Americans, despite our foreignness. It is one of those muddles that political boundaries make out of culture. We are foreigners and family at the same time. It’s confusing and figurative and sentimental. In fact, all of this, everything in this book, is more figurative and sentimental than many readers care for, but what do you expect from a love letter? (less)
It is a tribute to Jeanette Walls that I could not get through this book without comparing it dozens of times to The Glass Castle, with The Glass Cast...moreIt is a tribute to Jeanette Walls that I could not get through this book without comparing it dozens of times to The Glass Castle, with The Glass Castle coming off as its genius granddaughter or fashionable little sister. I probably should have read this first, as a child or teenager, but it’s too late for that now. No regrets! I could not help wondering why Betty Smith wrote this story as fiction rather than memoir, and the fact of it being fiction made me notice a lack of complexity in Francie’s character. Smith did not love, admire, and criticize Francie in the same way she did the Rommely sisters or Johnny Nolan. I am sure that it is because, although Smith uses the omniscient third person, Francie is Smith, and the story is thoroughly from Francie’s point of view. It is difficult to treat yourself as a fictional character. At the same time, the comparison of the two books is also a tribute to Jeanette Walls because A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a very wonderful book with many, many beautiful moments. I enjoy photographs that take something ordinary or dreary in real life and turn it into something interesting and beautiful, and this book is the written equivalent of that.
There is a section of this story when Francie meets with her English teacher, in which Smith states one of her theories on writing, and it has stuck with me. Always an exceptional writer, Francie has recently stopped writing romantic, idealized descriptions of things she’s never seen, and begun writing stories about her father’s alcoholism. Her teacher dislikes these stories and tells Francie that successful writing is always about something beautiful and better than life. This is a major conflict for Francie because her father was a beautiful, better-than-life person to her despite his alcoholism, and she feels her teacher’s judgment of their poverty. She also finds that once she has begun writing about real things, it would be superficial to write about anything else.
This exchange was thought-provoking for me because I generally land on the side of Francie’s teacher in this argument. I read for pleasure, and so when an author seems absolutely bent on being vulgar and unpleasant, it makes me angry. I like for fiction to be beautiful and better than life. At the same time, Smith made me realize that my argument is a myopic generalization. Smith’s descriptions of the Nolan family’s poverty and Johnny Nolan’s alcoholism are beautiful and delicate, even though the facts of both are not beautiful or delicate. The descriptions are even important, because it is so easy to oversimplify classes of people into noble or lazy, rather than seeing the complexity of individual situations. I’m glad that Smith did not take her English teacher’s and my advice.
While I enjoyed most of this book, I did not love it. I think this was because I did not love Francie, or even have a very definite image of who she was. I loved all of her family members and the stories of their lives. I found the Rommely family wonderful and fascinating, even Katie’s evil father. I would never argue that this was not an important book, and I am glad I read it. As fiction and even as a coming of age story, there was not a specific plot point drawing me through the book, as most of the events were pretty well foretold from the first 100 pages. I do not think this was a failing on Smith’s part, because I believe her intention was more photographic – a series of snap shots of life in Brooklyn before World War I. I am looking forward to watching the movie, though, as I think I will benefit from having a face for Francie. (less)
I was visiting an old friend for the past few days, and she showed me this cover of Atlas Shrugged I made for her when we lived in Ukraine:
[image erro...moreI was visiting an old friend for the past few days, and she showed me this cover of Atlas Shrugged I made for her when we lived in Ukraine:
It was a necessary repair, but it pretty much proves I should be a cover designer. _____________________________________________
I think Francisco D’Aconia is absolutely a dream boat. This book’s like blah blah blah engineering, blah blah blah John Galt, blah blah blah no altruistic act, blah bla- HE-llo, Francisco D’Aconia, you growl and a half. Also, there’s a pirate. So, what’s everyone complaining about?
Okay, it’s not that I don’t get what everyone’s complaining about. I get that Rand is kind of loony tunes of the Glenn Beck variety, and some people (maybe?) use her to justify being assholes, but I just don’t like to throw the bathwater out with that baby. Warning: I think, to make my point, I have to refer to Dostoyevsky a lot, which I seem to always do because he really is some kind of touchstone to me. The point I’m trying to make with all this blabbering is that the debate over Atlas Shrugged brings out something that I might hate more than anything else (more than weddings and kitty litter even). It makes people say that ideas are dangerous. People on all sides of the spectrum do this about different stuff, and whatever the argument, I don’t like it. If an idea is wrong, say it’s wrong. But genocide doesn’t happen because people put forward too many ideas. It happens because people put forward too few ideas.
Anyway, back to the book:
First, story. The third part of this book is super weird. It’s definitely not the actual ending of the book, I’ve decided, but more of a choose-your-own-adventure suggestion. It’s kind of fun that way because any end that you, the reader, come up with will be better than the one Rand suggested. My favorite part of her ending is how John Galt gives the most boring speech possible, and it lasts for about a bazillion pages, and you have to skip it or die. Then, at the end, Rand’s like, “The entire world was listening, ears glued to the radios, because Galt’s speech was the most brilliant thing they had ever heard.” No. Nope. Nice try, liar. So, that’s super lame, I agree, and you should just skip the third part.
But people don’t get as mad about the epilogue in Crime and Punishment. Why? That’s the same situation, where it kills all fun, and you have to ignore that it happened. Is it just because it’s shorter, and it’s called “Epilogue”? Maybe that’s enough. But, on the other hand, maybe people didn’t read all the way to the end of Crime and Punishment. Maybe, because it was written by a crazy Russian man, not a crazy Russian woman, people think they’ll sound deep if they say they like it.
Second, writing. People complain about Rand’s writing, and I always think, “When was the last time you wrote a 1000 page book in a second language and pulled off a reasonably page-turning storyline?” The woman spoke Russian for crying out loud! It most certainly would have been a better choice for her to have written the books in Russian and had them translated, but, I mean, most native English speakers couldn’t be that entertaining. It’s at least A for effort. I’m not going to make excuses for the unpronounceable names she chooses for her characters, but I’ll just say Dostoyevsky again and leave it at that.
I know it made a huge difference in my reading of this book that I was living in a Soviet bloc apartment in Lozovaya, Ukraine at the time and had forgotten a little bit how to speak English. I’m sure a lot of weird phrasing didn’t sound weird to me because it makes sense in Russian. But, also, I feel like I’ve read a lot of translations of Dostoyevsky and other Russians that feel really weird in English. You know, everyone’s always having some kind of epileptic fit or whatever with Mr. D. But, we allow for the weirdness because we picture the stuff happening in Russia, where the weird stuff typically goes down anyway. I’ll tell you right now, Atlas Shrugged takes place in Russia. No joke. She might tell you they’re flying over the Rocky Mountains, or whatever, but this book is a Russian if there ever was one. Just so it’s clear, I LOVE that about it. That’s no insult, only compliment.
Third, philosophy. Maybe I told you this story already, so skip it if you already know it. When I lived in Ukraine, I had the same conversation with three or four people of the older generation who grew up in the Soviet Union. They would tell me, “Things were really wonderful in the Soviet Union, much better than they are now. We had free health care, free housing, and now we have nothing. I mean, every once in a while your neighbor would disappear, but it was completely worth it.” This was really disturbing to me, because it gave me this picture of the people around me – that they were the ones who ratted out the neighbors who wanted a different life. Sure, Rand’s vision is narrow and sometimes inhuman, but I think it is because she was really terrified of this equally narrow and, as far as I’m concerned, inhuman vision. I want a public health care option real bad, and my neighbor has some really annoying Chihuahuas, but if forced to choose between them, I’d probably still pick my neighbor.
Admittedly, the problem with this argument is that it sets up a dichotomy where our only choices are the prosperity gospel and Soilent Green. From what I know of Rand, though, she had seen her neighbors and family thrown out of Russia or killed for being rich. She was fighting something extreme by being extreme. Unfortunately, in America, this rhetoric turns into the idea that having public services = killing your neighbor. To me, this comes from people taking her arguments too seriously on both sides. Dostoyevsky has ghosts and devils coming out of every corner, and people take his stories for what they’re worth. We don’t think that liking his books makes us mystics and hating them makes us inquisitors. Why is it different with Rand?
Fourth, women. I’m not going to lie and tell you that there weren’t other badass female characters when Dagney Taggert came around. All I want to say about this is that the most valuable thing I got from this book was the idea that one person being unhappy doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make other people happy. I think, in this way, it was particularly important to me that the protagonist was a woman. I see a lot of women complain about their lives and families, but say it’s all worth it because they’ve been able to devote their lives to making their husbands or children happy. I’m paraphrasing, I guess. Anyway, that kind of hegemony really creeps me out.
When I read this book, I was just realizing that I had joined Peace Corps with a similarly misguided motivation. I wanted to go to the needy and unfortunate countries of the world and sacrifice myself to save them. It might sound more nasty than it really was when I say it like that, but I think it is a really arrogant attitude to have. We might have hot running water in America (for which I am forever grateful), but if somewhere doesn’t have that, it’s probably not because of a problem a silly, 23-year-old English major is going to solve. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Peace Corps, and it was maybe the best experience of my life so far. But I love it for the things that I got out of it, and if someone else benefited from my being in Ukraine, it was dumb luck.
I don’t know about other women, but I was raised to believe that the more selfless (read: unhappy) I was, the better off everyone else would be. I think it’s a pretty typical way that women talk themselves into staying in abusive situations – that their lives are worth less than the lives around them. This would be the Hank Rearden character in the novel. I love that Rand sets up characters who destroy this cycle of abuse. I love that her female protagonist lives completely outside of it.
So, not to undercut my noble feminist apologetics, but really Francisco’s just hawt, and I think that’s the reason I like this book. There are lots of other reasons to read Rand, but most of those get into the argument about her ideas being dangerous. I just don’t think they are, or should be. I think ignorance is dangerous, but I think it should be pretty easy to fill in the gaping holes in Rand’s logic. Yes, she conveniently ignores the very old, very young, and disabled to make a specific and extreme point. I don’t think her point is entirely without merit, though (in the sense that our lives are valuable, not in the sense of “kill the weak!”). I also think that if we give a “danger” label to every book that conveniently ignores significant portions of the population to make a point, we wouldn’t be left with much.
Anyway, read, discuss, agree, disagree. I’ll be making up some “Team John,” “Team Hank,” “Team Francisco” t-shirts later. I hear in the sequel there are werewolves. (less)
Leave it to Willa Cather to write the most peaceful book about war I have ever read. One of Ours is not my favorite story about World War I or my favo...moreLeave it to Willa Cather to write the most peaceful book about war I have ever read. One of Ours is not my favorite story about World War I or my favorite Cather, but it is truly beautiful. Cather's description of the destruction caused by war and America's participation in global economy is fascinating, and I was surprised to find a perspective that I think of as common in post-Vietnam writing in a book published before the Great Depression.
One of the characteristics I love most about Cather as a writer is her ability to give her characters positions or traits that she obviously disagrees with, and still be compassionate towards them. This story was no exception. Although Claude, the hero of the novel, makes the wrong decision every time he comes to a crossroads, it does not make me (or, I felt, Cather) like him less, and I don't feel like she's beating me over the head with the fact that he's wrong. It makes me so uncomfortable to read a story where the author is mean and petty to the characters. That is not to say life is always a cheery place in Cather's books, but I never feel like she has a vendetta against people she includes in her story, or like she manipulates events to pull the rug out from under them. Maybe because that is such a pet peeve of mine, I appreciate authors who seem unconditionally comfortable with their characters.(less)
The story I am about to tell is made approximately 70% less funny by the fact that it is associated with this book, so if you've read the book, the pa...moreThe story I am about to tell is made approximately 70% less funny by the fact that it is associated with this book, so if you've read the book, the part that I think is the punch line will probably be obvious before I tell you. Oh well, though.
When I lived in Ukraine, there was a volunteer who was a pilates instructor, so my friend, Margarita (real name), and I were talking about going to a pilates class. One of our gentleman friends overheard us, came up to us hesitantly, and asked, "Is that how you say that word? P-I-L-A-T-E-S? Pill-AH-tees?"
"Yes," said Margarita. "Wait, how do YOU say it?"
Margarita burst out laughing and laughed for a good fifteen minutes.
A few months later, when everyone was reading The Master and Margarita, I ran into our gentleman friend again. "Have you read Master and Margarita yet?" He asked me.
"Yes," I said, "I don't think I love it as much as a lot of other people."
"I like the parts with pon-TEE-us pill-AH-tees," he said.
"WITH WHO???" I asked.
"You mean Pontius Pilate?!" I asked, and laughed for another good fifteen minutes. Sometimes, you can't win.
I don't have much to say about this book. I thought the beginning was solid and then it wandered, but I get, in theory, how it is somehow associated with Soviet national spirit, and that seems cool. (less)
This book is a very dry, written version of the Dead Poet’s Society without Robin Williams. I was already grateful to Whoopi Goldberg this week for he...moreThis book is a very dry, written version of the Dead Poet’s Society without Robin Williams. I was already grateful to Whoopi Goldberg this week for her reasonable comments about the most recent Sarah Palin ridiculousness, so I feel kind of bitter at having to be grateful for the other half of that daring duo. I had sworn them as my nemeses – minor nemeses, yes, of nowhere near the caliber of Charlie Kaufman, David Lynch, or Harold Bloom, but nemeses nonetheless. Now, I find myself thinking, “It’s a good thing Whoopi is on the View. Otherwise it might turn into some kind of evil vortex,” and “It’s a good thing that Robin Williams was in Dead Poet’s Society, otherwise those kids all would have been running around having conversations like I’m reading right now.” What type of conversations am I referring to, you ask? Here is an example from when Stephen is, I believe, supposed to be around 12 years old:
“-- And who is the best poet, Heron? asked Boland.
“-- Lord Tennyson, of course, answered Heron.
“-- O, yes, Lord Tennyson, said Nash. We have all his poetry at home in a book.
“At this Stephen forgot the silent vows he had been making and burst out:
“-- Tennyson a poet! Why, he's only a rhymester!
“-- O, get out! said Heron. Everyone knows that Tennyson is the greatest poet.
“-- And who do you think is the greatest poet? asked Boland, nudging his neighbour.
“-- Byron, of course, answered Stephen.
“Heron gave the lead and all three joined in a scornful laugh.
“-- What are you laughing at? asked Stephen.
“-- You, said Heron. Byron the greatest poet! He's only a poet for uneducated people.
“-- He must be a fine poet! said Boland.
“-- You may keep your mouth shut, said Stephen, turning on him boldly. All you know about poetry is what you wrote up on the slates in the yard and were going to be sent to the loft for.
“Boland, in fact, was said to have written on the slates in the yard a couplet about a classmate of his who often rode home from the college on a pony:
“As Tyson was riding into Jerusalem He fell and hurt his Alec Kafoozelum.
“This thrust put the two lieutenants to silence but Heron went on:
“-- In any case Byron was a heretic and immoral too.
“-- I don't care what he was, cried Stephen hotly.
“-- You don't care whether he was a heretic or not? said Nash.
“-- What do you know about it? shouted Stephen. You never read a line of anything in your life except a trans, or Boland either.
“-- I know that Byron was a bad man, said Boland.
“-- Here, catch hold of this heretic, Heron called out. In a moment Stephen was a prisoner.
“-- Tate made you buck up the other day, Heron went on, about the heresy in your essay.
“-- I'll tell him tomorrow, said Boland.
“-- Will you? said Stephen. You'd be afraid to open your lips.
“-- Ay. Afraid of your life.
“-- Behave yourself! cried Heron, cutting at Stephen's legs with his cane.
“It was the signal for their onset. Nash pinioned his arms behind while Boland seized a long cabbage stump which was lying in the gutter. Struggling and kicking under the cuts of the cane and the blows of the knotty stump Stephen was borne back against a barbed wire fence.
“-- Admit that Byron was no good.
“-- No. No.
“At last after a fury of plunges he wrenched himself free. His tormentors set off towards Jones's Road, laughing and jeering at him, while he, half blinded with tears, stumbled on, clenching his fists madly and sobbing.”
Who are these kids? The Grand Inquisitor? I don’t know, maybe the boys in the Dead Poets Society were having conversations like that, even with their fun-lovin’ teacher. It’s been years since I saw it. I really wish Robin Williams had come and slapped Stephen Dedalus around for a little while somewhere in this book, though. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a perfect example of how I instinctively dislike people who aren’t funny. And if you tell me that he actually is funny, I say to you that if it takes you longer than 1 minute to explain the joke and at the end of explanation it leaves me with only a vague uneasy feeling, it doesn’t count. The following passage comes closest to being funny of any passage in the book (but still, yawn! Also, note to Joyce, “tundish” is not that interesting a word – Wikipedia, usually so long-winded, barely gives it a page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tundish ):
“-- One difficulty, said Stephen, in esthetic discussion is to know whether words are being used according to the literary tradition or according to the tradition of the marketplace. I remember a sentence of Newman's in which he says of the Blessed Virgin that she was detained in the full company of the saints. The use of the word in the marketplace is quite different. I hope I am not detaining you.
“-- Not in the least, said the dean politely.
“-- No, no, said Stephen, smiling, I mean --
“-- Yes, yes; I see, said the dean quickly, I quite catch the point: detain.
“He thrust forward his under jaw and uttered a dry short cough.
“-- To return to the lamp, he said, the feeding of it is also a nice problem. You must choose the pure oil and you must be careful when you pour it in not to overflow it, not to pour in more than the funnel can hold.
“-- What funnel? asked Stephen.
“-- The funnel through which you pour the oil into your lamp.
“-- That? said Stephen. Is that called a funnel? Is it not a tundish?
“-- What is a tundish?
“-- That. The funnel.
“-- Is that called a tundish in Ireland? asked the dean. I never heard the word in my life.
“-- It is called a tundish in Lower Drumcondra, said Stephen, laughing, where they speak the best English.
“-- A tundish, said the dean reflectively. That is a most interesting word. I must look that word up. Upon my word I must.”
I kind of want to see Holden Caulfield and Stephen Dedalus cage fight, or at least hear Holden talk for a little while about what a phony good ol’ Dedalus is.
I did not hate this book as much as I thought I would, to be quite honest. A lot of readers that I have great respect for have told me this book is completely unbearable, and Virginia Woolf is so persuasively critical of Joyce in her Writer’s Diary. I don’t know about unbearable. It has mostly unbearable parts, but a couple of bearable boogey-man Catholic Church parts. I can handle the dramatic conversion chapter, but mostly Stephen is such a pipsqueak!
This book fails to be transcendent in my opinion. By that I mean that I believe it does try to be timeless – and fails. I know the counterargument is that it is documenting a specific time and culture. I get that. So are The Iliad, Macbeth, and Pride and Prejudice, though, and they are still fun or tragic and reflective of some basic humanity. Things happen in them. A Portrait of the Artist…, if it is reflective of anything, is reflective of self-absorbed young men, and that is a culture I find it impossible to be patient with. Sorry guys! I want to “accidentally” spill things on your record collections and replace your hair gel with Nair. I think we should go our separate ways.
Goodreaders, I do not forbid you from reading this book, as it is unquestionably influential, but I do warn you that if you are bothered by the use of the word “moocow” in the first sentence, you may not like the rest. Also, don’t listen to the audio version. The reader is a slow-talking, simpery-voiced, Joycian. I’m sure he’s a veryniceperson, and I apologize if I have been scathing. So that you are not left with the impression that I “hate everything”, which I have been criticized for in the past, and to end on a positive note, I leave you with a summary of the things mentioned in this review that I love: Tennyson, Byron, lamp, Virginia Woolf, Holden Caulfield, The Iliad, Macbeth, and Pride and Prejudice. Things I love also include, but are not limited to, baby animals, ice cream, Dr. Seuss, and the Velvet Underground, if you want to know. (less)
I could not help but think to myself, “Get a room,” as I finished the section titled “Our Constitution” in Senator Barack Obama’s most recently publis...moreI could not help but think to myself, “Get a room,” as I finished the section titled “Our Constitution” in Senator Barack Obama’s most recently published book, The Audacity of Hope. I’ll admit that by the time I finished the first chapter, “Republicans and Democrats” I had a little crush on Senator Obama (sorry Michelle), so his love letter to the American Constitution felt a little like I had gone through his desk looking for a pen and come upon something I was never meant to see. I got the feeling that maybe he thinks the Constitution is more interesting than me, and that’s not good for my self-esteem, so it can’t be very good for health care now can it? Also, while I’m a person that carries around my own pocket Constitution because sometime it might come in handy, I still think Senator Obama’s passion for it is pretty nerdy. But I guess it’s something I should expect if I’m going to have a crush on a Constitutional Law professor.
Personal feelings aside, I found reading The Audacity of Hope one of the many good ways to answer the question asked by the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, “Just who is this Barack Obama?” - a question that has been inciting mobs and striking fear into the heart of the American countryside of late. I now feel confident in saying that this Barack Obama character is not Arab or Muslim; he does not want to kill our babies; and he does not have a terrorist plot against the United States government. He is, in fact, a member of the Senate and candidate for President in that very government. I was pretty sure of all these facts before I started the book, but when someone says something like, “Who is Barack Obama?” You have to think “I don’t know anything about that man. He’s probably a terrorist” (or you could think, “He’s that Senator guy nominated as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.” It’s your choice).
While I started The Audacity of Hope with the admittedly biased view that Senator Obama was not a super-villain, my ultimate journey through the book was one of trying to figure out who he likes best. At first I thought, “Pick me!” But I started to get the feeling that there are a lot of other people giving me stiff competition. In discussing partisan politics, he says that one blogger called him an “idiot” for suggesting a strategy of working with the Republican majority. He says, “maybe the critics are right . . . We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side . . . For winning is all that matters.
“But I don’t think so. They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way – in their own lives, at least – to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves. I imagine the white southerner who growing up heard his dad talk about niggers this and niggers that but who has struck up a friendship with the black guys at the office and is trying to teach his own son different, who thinks discrimination is wrong but doesn’t see why the son of a black doctor should get admitted into law school ahead of his own son. Or the former Black Panther who decided to go into real estate, bought a few buildings in the neighborhood, and is just as tired of the drug dealers in front of those buildings as he is of the bankers who won’t give him a loan to expand his business. There’s the middle-aged feminist who still mourns her abortion, and the Christian woman who paid for her teenager’s abortion, and the millions of waitresses and temp secretaries and nurse’s assistants and Wal-Mart associates who hold their breath every single month in the hope that they’ll have enough money to support the children that they did bring into the world.
“I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might have a point” (p 41-42). These were the words that wooed me. I know these people that he is talking about because they are me, and my family and my friends – people whose reality does not always match their ideals; people who work for a better life and take responsibility for their actions but have the capacity for forgiveness when responsibility isn’t enough. You can see how I would think I had a chance.
Then the Constitution came along, and after the Constitution the innovators of Google, and families losing income and homes because of exported jobs and health care costs, and then his wife and kids and mom. I was beginning to think there were a lot of people he likes more than me. Maybe it will never be a love connection.
If you are still questioning whether you know enough about the 2008 Democratic candidate for President in the areas of partisan politics, values, the Constitution, campaign financing, taxes, health care, faith, international politics, race, women’s issues, or family and you don’t feel like visiting his website at www.BarackObama.com, The Audacity of Hope very thoroughly discusses all of these issues and is one good way to determine where you agree and where you disagree with the Senator from Illinois. I reserved my copy at the Eugene Public Library, where all copies are currently checked out, but there is no wait list.
In his epilogue, Mr. Obama gives his motive for participating in politics – a motive that makes me suspicious that his goodwill toward the American people extends beyond just the people I know and to the very foundations of our country and government. He describes going for a run along the Mall in Washington, D.C. At the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he stops. “And in that place,” he writes, “I think about America and those who built it. This nation’s founders, who somehow rose above petty ambitions and narrow calculations to imagine a nation unfurling across a continent. And those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill the landscape of our collective dreams.
“It is that process I wish to be part of.
“My heart is filled with love for this country” (p. 361-362).
I have decided not to act on my crush, because I think when Senator Obama says he loves us, he means like a friend. And despite my initial feelings of betrayal over his love affair with the Constitution, I’ve decided not to think of myself as the woman scorned, but to be the bigger person and agree to just be friends. Maybe I’ll even vote for him just to prove that he’s not the only one who can be gracious and forgiving in a difficult situation. Maybe I’ll vote for him because, like he reminded Senator McCain in the third presidential debate, a vote for President of the United States should be about confidence in a candidate’s plans and policies, not about hurt feelings. Call me audacious, but Senator Obama has my vote. (less)
THIS HORROR STORY IS TO SCARY FOR ME IT HAS A CREEPY GINGER KID AND HE RAPES ANN COULTER BECAUSE SHE WANTS HIM TO!!1! THEN THEY HAVE A LOT OF TICKLE F...moreTHIS HORROR STORY IS TO SCARY FOR ME IT HAS A CREEPY GINGER KID AND HE RAPES ANN COULTER BECAUSE SHE WANTS HIM TO!!1! THEN THEY HAVE A LOT OF TICKLE FIGHTS AND BUILD SUM HOUSES THATS ALL i REMEMBER.(less)
I’m sad to tell you that this book was not for me. I’m unabashedly fickle and self-centered with my star ratings, so I have to give this book only thr...moreI’m sad to tell you that this book was not for me. I’m unabashedly fickle and self-centered with my star ratings, so I have to give this book only three stars, when objectively it’s probably a four-star book. Ian Tregillis is a GR author and friend of our beloved Ceridwen and Sock Puppet. Sock Puppet even designed Mr. Tregillis’s beautiful website. So what I’m telling you is that this book is objectively awesome, and you should read it, even though it’s not my personal bag of treats. Also, what beautiful cover art, right?
If I were in a movie, I would want to be the jargon-talking tech guy. You know that’s why Morgan Freeman wanted to be in the new Batmans – he gets to say things like, “Here it is: the nomex survival suit for advanced infantry. Kevlar bi-weave, reinforced joints . . .” and later, “Memory fabric- dual layer polymers with variable alignment molecules. Flexible ordinarily, but put a current through it . . .” So badass. And who even cares if it means anything? This book is full of stuff like that. It’s page after page of things you’d want to say if you were a sidekick in a movie. And not just the dialogue either - the descriptions are all pretty badass, too, even if I don’t really get what some of them mean at first glance. Here are a couple of examples:
Reinhardt strode across the munitions range while two technicians readied the bipod of an MG 34 machine rifle. He cloaked himself in flames and motioned for them to begin.
Reinhardt stood at attention, head high and chin thrust out, unfazed by the ammunition vaporizing against his chest. The bullets disappeared as violet coruscations within a man-shaped corona of blue fire.
And so the ravens stayed, and watched.
Twined contrails traced sigils in the bright blue sky over the island. The attackers swarmed around the lattice masts dotting the coast like honeybees drawn to sunflowers. One by one, the towers fell, rendering the defenders blind. It was as though their eyes had been plucked out in homage to some ancient myth.
Those are just examples that I randomly picked flipping through the book. It would all be fun to read out loud.
This story is an alternate history of WWII, describing the war through fantastical, scientific-magical events in England and Germany. Unfortunately, I think I missed a lot of the WWII references and manipulations because I don’t know much detail about the actual war and its battles. I think it would be completely valid to say that I can’t properly appreciate this book because of that.
I only have two actual criticisms of the book, and I hope they don’t get into your head if you decide to read it. Especially if sci-fi and WWII are some of your raisons d’etre, you should definitely purchase this book at a local retailer, regardless of what I have to say. In general, I’d call it a grown-up, disillusioned take on the themes of A Wrinkle in Time, and I mean that description as an unqualified compliment. But, now for the criticisms.
First, the tech-specific sidekick speak was fun, and creative, and even beautiful at times, but it added to this general sense I had that all of the characters were sidekicks, and there was no real protagonist or antagonist in the story. There might have been four anti-heroes who were the protagonists, but they all match up to some pretty stock sidekick characters, so it’s difficult for me to think of one as central or of them as a central group. Those four characters were the loveable misanthrope, Cassandra, the henchman, and the guy who says, “When I get out of this war, imma go home and kiss my wife,” right before a bomb hits him. They’re good stock characters, and the touches Tergillis put on them were all pretty sweet. Like, the misanthrope was also a wizard, and Cassandra was and evil plotter, but well respected. Smart. But the purpose those characters usually serve in a story is to foster a sense of foreboding or to be expendable. Ultimately, using these characters, for me, created a gloom over the entire story, like the ubiquitous ravens circling over anticipated carrion.
FYI, I googled “misanthrope” because I was suddenly not sure if that was what I meant, and this amazing blog came up. I thought you would want to know.
Second, it is very likely that the sense of impending doom was purposeful, but for me it made it so that when tragedy did occur in the story I felt so thoroughly warned that I had no emotional connection to the actual event. Every tragedy or shock came with very clear and straightforward foreshadowing, and rather than create suspense, this only served to tell me not to get emotionally involved. That might have been a very personal reaction to the story or it might have been a very conscious choice on the part of Tregillis, but it makes me uneasy. And that’s not spoiling the story to say that, I don’t think, because it was my reaction from first being introduced to the characters and doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually happens to them. I felt detached.
One last thing that makes me feel uncomfortable isn’t a criticism, but just something I have to ask about: am I supposed to know who the appearing/disappearing dude is? Why was he appearing and disappearing? Not knowing this makes me feel like either I missed something vital to this entire story or the book was actually an episode of LOST, and I’m supposed to wait for the sequel. I really hope the answer is behind door number one.
Some books I bump up a star because of personal taste; this is one I bumped down a star for that reason. I feel like it’s a problem that I referred to this book as sci-fi and am going to do so again, when really it’s more of a magical realism/steampunk/alternative history/war memoir, but it’s easier that way. I’m bad at reading good sci-fi and fantasy because I’m really good at suspending disbelief, but if you ever start to explain to me why I should suspend disbelief, I automatically disbelieve you. If you say to me, “God created the world,” or “An explosion created the world,” I’m there. But if you try to prove to me why it’s only logical that one or another happened because of molecules or gamma rays or other phlebotinum, I not only don’t believe you, I’ve started trying to lawyer you, and I’ve probably gotten distracted from what you’re actually telling me. That’s not how you should read good sci-fi or fantasy. You should be happy that the author created reasons and systems for the fantastical elements. It’s a curse.
So, read this book. It’s new and fresh and smart. Don’t get distracted by my problem with well-explained phlebotinum because you’d be missing out on some beautiful writing.(less)