A random set of notes on this book, in descending date order. And everyone must read this book. Resistance is NOT futile. I may be low RWA, but I'll b...moreA random set of notes on this book, in descending date order. And everyone must read this book. Resistance is NOT futile. I may be low RWA, but I'll be damned if I'll go down without a fight.
I have to stop reading now. Now, it's personal. Now, it's my country, my democracy that is under direct attack by Double High Religious Right-wingers who -- incidentally -- have been insidiously, directly, deliberately advised by GW Bush strategists.
Less than 40% of less than 60% elected the current government in Canada. But the mandate, as Altemeyer noted with Bush, doesn't matter to a Double High elected leader. It's power and domination at all costs.
I MUST MOVE TO NORWAY. NOWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!
OH. MY. GOD. Canadian politics, in 2006 when Altemeyer published (likely, the RWA scores and party affiliation stuff remains true, it's just who's in power that has changed and the INCREDIBLE polarization that has emerged - both on party and RWA lines, it is clear - out of the 2011 federal election. This is INCREDIBLE. (my emphases):
"If you look at just the New Democrats’ and the conservatives’ scores on the RWA scale, party affiliation correlated .82 on the average with authoritarianism, which is one of the strongest relationships ever found in the social sciences. The RWA scale divides these two groups almost as cleanly as a vote in the legislature would. Nothing else, so far as I know, correlates so highly with left-wing versus right-wing politics, anywhere. In Canada at least, when you are talking about the “left-to-right” political dimension among politicians, you are talking about the personality trait measured by the RWA scale."
And NOW what we have is that polarization all the clearer and more oppositional, now that there is no centrist party remaining in Canada. The Liberals are gone. It is left against right; low RWA versus high RWA in Canada. To me, the only question is - will the NDP be strong enough (esp. since they've *never* been in official Opposition power before) to exert a moderating influence? Or, will their lack of experience and, frankly, credibility enable the RWA/Right to stomp all over them - and the rest of us?
June 10/11: Aye, and now we come to it. The key differences between authoritarian despots and their followers:
"huge differences exist between these two parts of an authoritarian system in (1) their desire for power, (2) their religiousness, (3) the roots of their aggression, and (4) their thinking processes." (p. 162)
The Exploitive Manipulative Amoral Dishonesty Scale (p. 166) (hey! I had three, count 'em, three bosses like that!) -- still not sure what the difference is here with psychopathy.
"social dominators might incite authoritarian followers to commit a hate crime, but the dominators and followers probably launch the attack for different reasons: the dominator out of meanness, as an act of intimidation and control; the follower out of fear and self-righteousness in the name of authority." (p. 169)
Correlation is not causation. But it doesn't have to be the direct influence of a dominator that inspires hate crimes. I think it can happen almost by osmosis - by a general loosening up of the constraints on intolerance that leak out from, in this case, Parliament Hill. This is not a stat to be taken lightly.
He just missed an opportunity to explore the role of bullying in producing high social dominators. He's not a clinical or personality psychologist, so I forgive him. But I would have liked a quick detour into the research on how being bullied turns one into a bully within the context of his "social dominance" construct.
And there's my answer on the relationship between psychopathy (which he calls sociopathy - the two notions are commonly treated as synonyms, but there are differences in the clinical definitions) and high social dominator authoritarians:
"There even seems to be a whiff of the sociopath about the social dominator. Somebody do the studies and see if any of these hunches is right." (p. 180)
June 9/11: Religious fundamentalism correlates highly with authoritarianism - but its chicken-and-egg. On the diffs between US & Cdn religious fundamentalists:
"... how much [do] Christian fundamentalists in Canada differ from American fundamentalists.... Both modern nations were founded by Christian immigrants from Western Europe. But Protestants settled almost all of the thirteen original colonies, whereas in Canada two Christianities took root from the start, Catholicism and Protestantism. Some Christian fundamentalists came directly to Canada from Europe ... but a lot also came up from the United States, and the biggest difference between fundamentalists in the two countries today may not involve theology or brand names, but strength. A much greater percentage of Americans than Canadians could be called Christian fundamentalists." (p. 143)
This is only marginally comforting to me. Most of them live and/or are from the western provinces - AB, SK, MB, including our illustrious PM Harper, who is a card-carryin', gun-totin', bible-thumpin' member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
June 8/11: "No other group comes close to being as zealous [as religious fundamentalists]. Feminists usually come in second in my studies, but way behind the religious fundamentalists, and one finds far, far fewer of them." (p. 132)
I don't know whether I should be more upset that there are far, far fewer feminists than fundamentalists, or that they come in second in the zealotry sweepstakes. ______________________
June 7/11: Explaining why high RWAs are so easily led because they do not evaluate ulterior motives if they already agree with the person:
"So (to foreshadow later chapters a little) suppose you are a completely unethical, dishonest, power-hungry, dirt-bag, scum-bucket politician who will say whatever he has to say to get elected. (I apologize for putting you in this role, but it will only last for one more sentence.) Whom are you going to try to lead, high RWAs or low RWAs? Isn’t it obvious? The easy-sell high RWAs will open up their arms and wallets to you if you just sing their song, however poor your credibility."
Right - and this is what makes the high RWAs - even though they are a very small minority - such a powerful (and threatening) political force. Probably also explains to some extent the Liberal implosion in Canada's May 2011 federal election. (although obviously there was much more to it than that.) _______________________
June 6/11: I'm going to capture some bits and pieces here that particularly resonate with me. Doing it in the status updates seems cumbersome.
So, logical reasoning capacity of RWAs:
"In both studies high RWAs went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:
All fish live in the sea. Sharks live in the sea. Therefore, sharks are fish.
The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way, they don’t “get it” that the reasoning matters--especially on a reasoning test."
I just keep gasping out loud at this stuff, thinking of high RWAs I know and how this explains exactly how their minds work. You know it, when you talk to them. But it's nice to have it confirmed with empirical data.
I'm still not sure having an explanation for it is ultimately going to make me feel any better or make my brain less likely to explode while engaged in these conversations, though. (less)
Most of my review is in my comment, below. It was light and frothy for the most part - but his Seinfeldian digressions were more "purple prose pastora...moreMost of my review is in my comment, below. It was light and frothy for the most part - but his Seinfeldian digressions were more "purple prose pastoral" - an intentional affectation for character building I think, that we were not to take too seriously. Then again, what were we to make of these digressions overall? They often seemed to have an edge to them (again, a la Seinfeld) of meanness or - more generously - social satire. That's how I took, for example, the scene when they came upon the (view spoiler)[suicide (hide spoiler)]. Unlike the others, that digression seemed to bear a weight that was in some ways out of place in this overall light-hearted and insubstantial novel.
I'll say too, that the tropes of work avoidance and Montmorency's one-note characterization as a fighter not a lover were getting a bit tired toward the end. That said, the novel ended just when it should have - it was neither too short nor too long. Which is - overall - the reader's advisory I'd give for it: light, generally farcical, and nostalgic with a quick enough pace and occasional dips into seriousness that will keep you interested, if what you are interested in is a diversion or respite from heavier or more serious tomes. A palate cleanser, I think, in the style of The Uncommon Reader. Recommended for those who like that book and Seinfeld and the literary territory that they mutually occupy. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
A high school re-read. An absolutely amazing book - I had remembered it as shorter, less complex, funnier. I had forgotten all about the style - those...moreA high school re-read. An absolutely amazing book - I had remembered it as shorter, less complex, funnier. I had forgotten all about the style - those many, many, many adjectives! I remembered the absurdity - but had forgotten the surrealism and the grotesque. I had forgotten that it was written in 1961 - on the vanguard of a certain kind of 60s art and thought. I thought it was about Vietnam, but its setting was WW II. I had forgotten its sexism - but also forgotten its essential humanism.
In short, I had remembered how culturally important it was; but had forgotten how literarily excellent it is.
Definitely recommend you re-read this if you've maybe forgotten too. It is a truly timeless novel.(less)
Suffered by comparison to Erdrich's The Plague of Doves, but I needed a palate cleanser and this was nearby. The short stories were ... okay. The poem...moreSuffered by comparison to Erdrich's The Plague of Doves, but I needed a palate cleanser and this was nearby. The short stories were ... okay. The poems were less than okay and didn't add anything. Generally, I like poems that play with language and are more lyrical - this kind of spare, naive stuff only works when it's clearly integrated into the rest of the collection - these didn't seem to be so.
I found the whole thing a mish-mash, lacking any clear focus or overall point of view. The quality from story to story, and poem to poem was erratic, too. It didn't really hold together for me.
The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless and The Senator's Son were two bright spots - the former because of how it traced the shocking downward spiral into despair that loneliness brings; the latter because of a unique point of view and an unlayering of motivation that reveals a shocking cynicism and helplessness.
This feels like some of his minor work - I'll get to the novel(s) soon. (less)
A better understanding of the political events occurring in the background would have enriched my reading of this, but even without, Mistry was able t...moreA better understanding of the political events occurring in the background would have enriched my reading of this, but even without, Mistry was able to catch and hold my attention, weaving layers of story and symbolism together, creating a sometimes farcical, bittersweet domestic tale. I felt like I got to know this group of middle-class Indians and their microcosm of that larger world a little bit better. I certainly got to smell it - from frangipani and sandalwood to rotting garbage and sewage. Mistry is such a sensual writer - he really has the capacity to bring you right into the world of his novels with these amazing details, characterizations and juxtapositions: superstition with philosophy, cruelty with kindness, great beauty with great atrocity. And his characters are so alive, so large, containing multitudes, as Whitman would say.
Really lovely and awful and fantastic and real - all at once.(less)
Another stunner from Erdrich - love, hate, abuse, addiction, obsession, manipulation. A walloping ending that I DID NOT SEE COMING. I found the trick...moreAnother stunner from Erdrich - love, hate, abuse, addiction, obsession, manipulation. A walloping ending that I DID NOT SEE COMING. I found the trick of narration a little odd once revealed. She writes such great young female characters - so alive, so angst-ridden, who see through the eyes of artist-poets. Hard not to see them as projections (reflections) of Erdrich herself. Her characters - her books - really touch me deeply. (less)
Timothy Findley is one of those authors who has always simmered away on the backburner for me. He seems overshadowed by his other contemporaries, i.e....moreTimothy Findley is one of those authors who has always simmered away on the backburner for me. He seems overshadowed by his other contemporaries, i.e. the Canadian pantheon: Atwood, Munroe, Richler, Davies, Laurence. Because he was much else - an actor, a critic, I think also a broadcaster? - his writing competes with his other selves. He deserves wider readership, which seems to be something I say every time I review one of his books. Partly, that's a "note to self" - Jen, fer god's sake, why haven't you read EVERYTHING this guy has written by now? And partly, it's because - other than Karen (who lists it as one of her favourites) - none of my GR friends seem to have read this novel.
Ok, well, it's probably not for everyone - you need to like sprawling, multi-generational family sagas. You need to like compelling characters, high drama, the exploration of inner and outer conflict anchored by a specific time and place.
So if you do, put this on your to-read list. Go ahead. Right now. I'll wait.
If you've not yet read any Findley, this is a good one to start with, as it seems 'core' Findley to me. An epic, sprawling story with a central figure - Lily - who struggles with her many demons and is the bright and central spark (heh) of life around which the entire novel revolves. Her son Charlie, the narrator, whose main quest is to know the identity of his father. A Toronto-centric story, focused on the Rosedale set and their particular quirks and cruelties (don't let this discourage you - it is not so place-specific to be inaccessible). Wartime setting mirroring the inner conflicts. Families and traditional roles - and people pushing those boundaries. Mothers and sons. OH - how we have mothers and sons! Secrets. Illness, mental and otherwise. Fire - as an event; as a motif. Music - an occupation, an avocation, a calling, a uniting theme, a scene-setter, a metaphor.
Lots and lots and lots of STORY in this story.
I just love family epics that start with a particular set of people, whom you get to know and love; and then take you through successive generations, whom you meet and grow to love too. This one, like many family sags, is roughly linear, but also cumulative (so you don't have the jarring grief inevitable when the story moves on to the next generation of characters).
If you want a story where you are completely *invested* in the characters, this is it. There is much empathy here: with few exceptions, every character is 'lost' in some way. You have, like Lily, a desire to save each one; to connect with them and protect them from their essential loneliness.
Here, we have Eliza and James - Ede and Tom - Lily and Lizzie and ? (the ? is the novel's central question, although in some ways also its denouement) - Charlie - Ada and Neddy. More, brothers, uncles, half-sisters, friends - each grouping fully conceptualized with a particular drama at the centre; each worthy of their own novel probably. They weave in and out of each other's lives like melody and harmony - break apart and come together again - with Lily being the chorus to whom we always return.
There is a suggestion of something bigger, something almost magical at play - as intimated on the back cover pull quote: "You were always there, Charlie--just the way I was always there myself and all of us, long before the visible parts of our lives began."
That too is Findley-ish: something subtly supernatural. Some spiritual, mystical connection - some oneness that cuts across time, place, social class. Lily's beloved ants and their greetings (I won't give more away than this) - is a sweet and touching expression of this theme.
There are so many reasons to love this book, but I see I've only been circling around the central one: Lily herself. I won't spoil it, because after all, you've all now got this on your to-read list, but Lily is remarkable. Damaged but strong; unique, lovely, heartbreaking. The cruelty she is subjected to - seeing it through 'her' eyes (actually, her son's eyes on her behalf) will last with you. So sad. A true tragic figure, from the beginning. You can't take your eyes off of her - and Charlie won't let you.
If there is a flaw to be found here (and I may still go back and up this to a five, but I have been altogether too generous with my rankings lately): Charlie as narrator intrudes a little too often explaining why he knows what he knows - how it was documented; what conversations he had and how he is able to tell the story of his mother's life in such intimate detail. Perhaps I am a naive reader, but this caused me to think about the novel's structure in a way that distanced me from the otherwise completely compelling story.
Does anyone ever "finish" reading a poem? With some - like this one, The Wasteland, maybe Howl - others? - they are like bottomless cups of coffee. Ev...moreDoes anyone ever "finish" reading a poem? With some - like this one, The Wasteland, maybe Howl - others? - they are like bottomless cups of coffee. Every time you go back to them, take another sip, there's more to taste.
That is all.
(and I'm still taking this as a notch on my book challenge bedpost) ;-)(less)
ETA 09/03/13:Cloud Atlas to the reading path, below.
I was conceived somewhere late summer/early fall of 1963, roundabout the time the Nuclear Te...moreETA 09/03/13:Cloud Atlas to the reading path, below.
I was conceived somewhere late summer/early fall of 1963, roundabout the time the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed by the US, UK and Soviet Union; close to a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and about two months before JFK's assassination. There had been an earlier miscarriage, a child who would have been a year or so older than me.
I may have picked up, in the womb, an interest in the politics of that time. My father, in particular, was clearly fascinated by it: for years, he kept a stack of newspapers from the Kennedy assassination preserved haphazardly in plastic bags in a box in the basement.
Also in the basement, as I discovered when sorting through some of my mother’s books after her death in 2000, was a box of books dating back to around that same time. In it, Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care and a book of baby names. On the inside front cover was a list pencilled in my mom's handwriting: Constance, Judith, Stella, Rebecca, Jennifer. (good choice, Mom).
And in the box, a pamphlet, probably 8 or 12 pages long. The cover was a deep red with large blue and yellow type on the front: “How To Build A Backyard Bomb Shelter.” This was no joke: there were blueprints, charts and diagrams, tips on how to select a site, how to provision the shelter and so on.
There was such a story being told about my parents' lives in the juxtaposition of those three books in that dusty old box in the basement, uncovered during a time of grief and remembrance. It was startling to find them there, and instantly be taken back to 1963, my own existence slightly more than a gleam in Dad's eye, but not much more than a name written in a book. To my parents, I must have felt -- the whole world must have felt -- so precarious.
A crisis point during the Cold War - the air permeated by a dread and anxiety that my generation and later ones can barely comprehend. Now, the end of the world is a slow melting of ice caps and gradual warming of the planet through a series of cumulative acts of stupidity and addiction to fossil fuels. Still distant, deniable and de-personalized, like lung cancer from smoking. Then, however: annihilation would be instantaneous. The blinding flash, the mushroom cloud and its impact on real people had been seen and felt. Then, there were living human beings whose real fingers were on real buttons beside real telephones. Rockets buried in mountains were pointed at cold-warring continents. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not yet 20 years past and underground atom bomb testing was still shaking the earth, literally, on its axis.
For my parents, though, it was also a time of incredible -- almost delusional -- hope and optimism.
That urge to procreate - that psycho-biological drive to perpetuate the species by whatever means possible - which seems to spike during times of natural or man-made disaster in spite of, or perhaps because of, the threat of utter destruction, has always baffled and fascinated me. The desire to bring new life into a world that is doomed is statistically, logically ill-advised, to say the least. It seems equal parts insane and imperative; delusional and courageous, too.
That is A Canticle for Leibowitz, in a nutshell.
This book, first published in 1959, holds up remarkably well (although we envision the endtimes looking a little different now than they did then). A Canticle for Leibowitz is steeped in the very real, very ubiquitous, post-WWII/early Cold War socio-political context in North America.
One of the reasons for its longevity, no doubt, is its speculative fiction time-and-place setting. Taking place in three different times, centuries apart and far in the future (it wraps up circa "The Year of our Lord 3781"), its very structure illustrates our species' cyclical stupidity and irrepressible, almost biologically-driven, hope for a different outcome, against all odds.
After all human knowledge and culture is wiped out in the aftermath of a mid-20th century nuclear armageddon (and read that as a direct metaphor for the Holocaust as well as a cautionary tale for the nuclear age in which it was written -- this is a Canticle for Leibowitz, after all), an order of Franciscan monks emerge as safekeepers of what remains of all human knowledge: a shopping list, a memo to a work colleague, a blueprint for an electrical circuit (later hilariously illuminated by a bumbling monk who is central to the tri-part storyline); scraps of paper and books, painstakingly collected, protected and defended over the centuries.
The main themes at play: science versus religion; progress versus history; empiricism versus faith; the future versus the past; the existential inevitability of repeating our mistakes ad infinitum.
Dystopian, end-of-the-worlders: The Road - it provokes similar Rorschach-blot like questions-and-answers, with lots resting on your own interpretation and, especially, religious (or non-religious) perspective. Also, Oryx Crake and Year of the Flood - these with the technology/progress-gone-awry and alt-religion aspects, too. Adding multiple, cyclical timelines/themes/stories to its dystopian worldview, Cloud Atlas.
"If-there-is-a-god-why-does-s/he/it-allow-us-to-suffer" speculative fiction (starring priests): The Sparrow, but CfL has better, and much funnier, characters and dialogue.
I need to put some serious thought into this review - there's about 100 strands of plot, character and theme that I'd like to touch on. But right now,...moreI need to put some serious thought into this review - there's about 100 strands of plot, character and theme that I'd like to touch on. But right now, I can't do that - so suffice it to say, this book is fabulous. Don't be scared of it - even though it takes on some pretty weighty issues - freewill v. biological determinism; positive psychology and social cognition biases; and the absolutely fascinating, speculative fictional premise of what and how people would respond to a person who was genetically predisposed to having an off-the-charts level of extreme well-being. Happy all the time, in other words.
It's a slightly satirical, future-looking morality play - but it's also a tale just plain told well. It doesn't lecture or patronize (or worse, bore) its reader and although Powers grazes dangerously close to exposition, he doesn't make the same mistake Shriver does in so much for that -- putting all the heavy research findings and stats directly into his characters' mouths as dialogue.
Instead, he uses a meta-fictional technique of a very self-conscious, break-through-the-wall narrator to develop his plot, characters and themes. I couldn't decide what that was about at first, or whether it was annoying, but I realized quickly that it was an essential way to tell the story and AVOID the otherwise tragic need to put too much stuff into dialogue. (and that, in and of itself, highlights this theme of fiction-writing that he manages to explore - it's really complex, yeah? But fun! Like an Escher drawing).
So, while he also creates characters - Miss Generosity, Thassa Amzwar, herself; Russell Stone as depressive-realist Everyman; his love interest Candace, college counsellor who can interpret all the psych mumbo-jumbo in layperson's terms for Russell (and for us readers) who represents the "nurture" side of the argument; Thomas Kurton, mad scientist/geneticist who represents the "nature" side, they are also still characters in a compelling story (as the narrator reminds us), and interesting, likeable ones at that.
Last few things before I run ... Powers' reminds me quite a lot of Jennifer Egan in the way he makes contemporary technology and its influence on human behaviour a central theme while at the same time risking the anachronisms that are sure to emerge. Just two (three?) years post-publication, his references to MySpace, to facebook "pokes," to Kurton punching something into a Blackberry (oh, please -- the man's an iPad user if I've ever met one) and the lack of reference to twitter (word would NOT spread via blogs, it would be twitter all the way) -- are all outdated.
While all that's forgivable, I did truly stumble at some of his Canadian references. First, I laughed out loud when, in seeking some kind of explanation for Thassa's ever-present "niceness," Russell rules out "even the time spent in Canada." HAHAHHAHAHA. But then, Powers talks about "states" visible from the Sears tower: "75% of which are not ours." (Don't call Canada's provinces states. It pisses us off.) And he references, twice, "council flats" in Montreal - which is a U.K. term not used anywhere in Canada - it's public housing, low-income housing or subsidized housing. Finally, he talks about Thassa being sexually naive - and makes some reference to that being a fact of her time in Quebec. Uhhhh ... no. You could pin that on uptight Ontario, but never never on Quebec.
Anyway -- little quibbles -- kind of like the Doomsday Book's potatoes (right, Simon Evnine??) - that ultimately were only slightly distracting.
I swear by all that's (un)holy, I didn't deliberately choose to read this book (which I finished last night at precisely 10.36 pm Eastern) timed to th...moreI swear by all that's (un)holy, I didn't deliberately choose to read this book (which I finished last night at precisely 10.36 pm Eastern) timed to the coming Apocalypse. But how delightful a coincidence, huh?
This is broad-strokes, high-farce, slapstick-laden, Monty Python-esque humour, with at its core (of the apple of Knowledge, get it?), a tart sweetness. Some of the jokes and puns are broad enough to be groaners, but it works because it is anchored by Pratchett and Gaiman's dead(!)pan humour grounded in the inescapable, ineffable, both direct and parodied, angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin philosophical conundrum: freewill or destiny?
Freewheeling and careening in parts, with a pink-helmeted psychic, a 17th-Century book of prophecies, and the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse caricatured and modernized deliciously (Pestilence was here renamed Pollution; my fave was War, personified as a--natch--war correspondent for a sleazy, Virgin-Mary-appears-in-the-toast tabloid) and mirrored for a short while by four trivia-playing Hell's Angels (our categories: Pop Music, Current Events, Famine and War - hah!) and four 11-yr-olds, busy filling their days with the stuff that children fill their days with, headed up by our hero (or anti-hero, aye - there's the rub), Adam Young.
The humour can't truly be called black -- its absurdities were light and fanciful, not dark and discomforting. And in this, Pratchett and Gaiman achieve the somewhat delicate balance required to tip this from a 3 to a 4 star book for me: while it was silly in parts, it was also at times deeply poignant, especially the rare spot of prose where they slowed it down:
If you took the world away and just left the electricity, it would look like the most exquisite filigree ever made -- a ball of twinkling silver lines with the occasional coruscating spike of a satellite beam. Even the dark areas would glow with radar and commercial radio waves. It could be the nervous system of a great beast.
Here and there cities make knots in the web but most of the electricity is, as it were, mere musculature, concerned only with crude work. But for fifty years or so people had been giving electricity brains.
And now it was alive, in the same way that fire is alive.
And they are fundamentally and deeply in love with the world, from six feet under to the height of the ozone layer, and with humanity, flawed humanity.
If you like your apocalyptic fiction served up with high and clever comedy as well as points of poignancy, this one is highly recommended. I'd love to see it made into a movie, directed by Terry Gilliam.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and it turns out (view spoiler)[fine (hide spoiler)].["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'll hold off rating this one until I think about it a bit... there is a lot to like about it; but a lot I just didn't understand. My elevator sometim...moreI'll hold off rating this one until I think about it a bit... there is a lot to like about it; but a lot I just didn't understand. My elevator sometimes doesn't go all the way to the top.
Here's the thing: at another time and place, I would probably rate this a 4. However, in this current time and place, the complexity of the structure, an allegory that I never really "got" and the flat affect of the central character all kept me at arm's length when what I wanted, most, was to be immersed in a story. I admire this in the same way I do an elegant five-course meal, but what I was looking for was more mac-and-cheese. The fundamental premise has an absurdity to it that I normally respond to, and there are sections of prose that truly elevated (ha) the thing to 4-star levels.
I stand by my last status update comment which is that my sense is that this was trying to be too many things at once and for me, it just didn't come together -- or rather, I didn't have the brain power and focus to bring it together. In particular, the allegory seemed to be interpretable (is that a word?) in at least four different ways. And was it supposed to be a literal portrayal - or a purely conceptual one? If the former, it's muddled. If the latter, it's too remote to involve me emotionally. If both, I just don't have the ability to manage the relationship between figure/ground that is required for the thing to work.
It's about race, yes, sure, or so we're told. I mean, that seems obvious. But it's also about all kinds of other black/white societal structures - class, religion, gender, politics. And when something can be everything, then it ends up being nothing.
And then we have this big concept thing wrapped around a noir-like "mystery" that wasn't very mysterious (not to mention, not very dramatic. I can anthropomorphize a lot of things - I've been known to cry at the IKEA commercial when the desk lamp is set out by the curb in the rain. But I couldn't get there with these "elevators.")
So between all that, and the fact that Lila Mae Watson was such a cold fish, it left me feeling a bit m'eh. Definitely required more attention than I was able to give it, so I net out at a 2.5ish.(less)
This book sucked me down into an abyss, and I’ve barely just now escaped. It’s certainly set my Goodreads challenge back weeks. I kept going and going...moreThis book sucked me down into an abyss, and I’ve barely just now escaped. It’s certainly set my Goodreads challenge back weeks. I kept going and going; five pages before bed, sometimes three. A streak of 20 while dividing my attention between it and Grey's Anatomy. Talk about inertia in a plot!! Plot? Where?
After the brilliance of Skippy Dies, I was expecting so much more - or at least, given this was Murray's first novel, some parallels. Some of the complexity; the careful and clever layering of theme. A lot more poignancy and a lot more humour. All of it was lacking here.
Perhaps it’s that I just can’t relate to the rough metaphor Murray was going for: the clash of ‘old’ and ‘new’ Irelands embodied by the characters. I don’t have a dog in that race. Protagonist Charles’s vision of himself as an aristocratic Yeats, rambling about a drafty country manse pining for a time that never was (and his sister), was weird and jarring. The moments of parody were too few and far between to sustain the shtick. And also, maybe this novel’s time has come and gone – Ireland’s economic fortunes have waxed and now waned; the dynamic tension between old and new seems passé.
The stuff that did seem compelling - e.g., the conflicted, incestuous relationship between Charles and his sister Bel - went unexplored (perhaps because of the constraints of first-person narration - a narrator who is delightfully obtuse and clueless about the interpersonal goings on around him, and certainly his own inner motivations).
If I had to put my finger on it, the troublesome narration led to a lot of this novel’s problems – poor characterization, a lack of detail to get us invested in the characters (Bel and her mother? Bel and her father? The neighbour, the Bosnian housekeeper, Mirena, etc. etc.) Their life stories seemed interesting, important – but not to Charles, and therefore, the reader gets short-changed. ETA: That’s it exactly – Charles is the least interesting character in the book, yet he’s the one we’re stuck with.
Such a shame – I think there might have been a great story in here somewhere. Maybe someone else has found it.
By the end of Skippy, I forgave it all its flaws. I’m thankful I read Skippy first, because had I not, by the end of this one, I wouldn’t have bothered. (less)
A great convoluted plot, in the very best sense -- kind of The Picture of Dorian Grey meets Olivia Twist -- full of twists and turns, and lots of rich...moreA great convoluted plot, in the very best sense -- kind of The Picture of Dorian Grey meets Olivia Twist -- full of twists and turns, and lots of rich although subtle humour. I enjoyed how well Waters got into the con man's (or woman's) mind, exposing their ability to exploit others' own guilt or avarice to manipulate them. That rang very true. Also, the to-and-fro of the POV and identity shifts kept the book gallivanting along. But I found the love story a formulaic bodice-ripper style that detracted from the book's better bits and it rushed to a too-neat, happy-ever-after conclusion that was a bit disappointing. Still, a fun romp and a good diversion. 3.5 stars.(less)
Absolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to arm themselves with facts and evidence-based counter-arguments to overturn BSL. This book is availa...moreAbsolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to arm themselves with facts and evidence-based counter-arguments to overturn BSL. This book is available online as a PDF here, but I'm happy to have bought it and to know that my $24.95 will go to fund ongoing work by Karen Delise and the National Canine Research Council.
What follows is not a book review, but a political rant.
I'm embarrassed to have been an Ontario resident when then-Attorney General Michael Bryant forced through BSL in 2004/5, and not to have paid attention to this issue at the time. The arguments this "Harvard-trained lawyer" used, represented here by Delise in full-frontal stupidity, are absurd. They are blatant, regurgitated, media-spun lies with holes in their logic so vast that a grade school debating student could drive an SUV through them without shifting out of first gear.
Something really doesn't add up here. How, oh how did this legislation ever get passed? Is that the level of fear that Ontarians had then? Based on WHAT? (Delise shows what - she shows the media bias, and how average citizens across North America have been bamboozled by it).
I wonder if, given the circumstances of Bryant's eventual departure from public life and his high-priced job as CEO of Invest Toronto, he's ever reflected on his own ignorant, irresponsible, manipulative use of the media and the fucking awful, awful damage he's done to people in this province? Oh, wait -- why would he, the man walked away scott-free from charges of criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing death after killing a cyclist -- a bike courier with a history of psychiatric hospitalization who was blamed as the cause of his own death.
The injustice, corruption and collusion in the current Ontario government make me physically ill.
This man, literally, has blood on his hands - man and beast. And so does the entire McGuinty government. Their heads should be on fucking sticks, and we should be storming the Bastille, err, I mean, Queen's Park.
Well, I have no idea who I just wrote this for, but I sure do feel better. Thanks for reading.(less)
This is a lovely, unsentimental, fairly thorough, scientifically-grounded look at the dog-human bond: how it evolved, how the canine's sensory equipme...moreThis is a lovely, unsentimental, fairly thorough, scientifically-grounded look at the dog-human bond: how it evolved, how the canine's sensory equipment shapes his (or her) world and relationship with us, and how a deeper understanding of that world - "the inside of a dog" (yes, from the Groucho Marx quotation) - should shape ours with them. Didn't so much change or illuminate, but anchored what I think I know about my dog and dogs in general in explanations of canine behaviour drawn from the author's own experiences and her background as a comparative psychologist.
The dog-human bond is something very special to me -- having owned dogs all my life, and currently being on a full-on tear to work towards the overturning of BSL (breed specific legislation) in Ontario which is the product of and continues to cause such cruelty to dogs and their families.
It's about more than treating other creatures with the respect they deserve; it's about how human beings can and should respectfully share the planet with other living things. That perspective in microcosm is taught, I believe, through the relationships parents encourage (or deny) when or if they bring that first puppy into the home.
Teaching a child to treat a dog with gentleness, kindness and compassion is teaching a child to love. Teaching that lesson from the deeply-informed perspective that Horowitz provides here can only enrich the both the dog's life and the family's. One of the author's points is that dogs most often give us much more than we give them. Another is that the fundamental quality of the relationship between dogs and humans - that affection, that love - is beyond the reach of science. Maybe so, but anyone who has bonded with a dog knows it to be true.
Beautiful, scenic - my fave bits were the descriptions of the SW landscape and the hints that Cather gives us of how hard that life was for the two RC...moreBeautiful, scenic - my fave bits were the descriptions of the SW landscape and the hints that Cather gives us of how hard that life was for the two RC missionaries who head out to save the souls there. But what it didn't give me - which is what I like in my priestly books - is an intimate view of either their struggle with their faith or their devotion to it when challenged.
Cather teased me with the stuff that I wanted to know much more about -- the relocation and slaughter of the Navajos and the Church's complicity in that. The tenuous balance between the vanishing Mexican and Indian cultures as the whites moved in.
I think I was looking for more character development and more plot than this was ever intended to have, so in the end, I had to settle for the loveliness of the descriptions of landscape, and the gently evolving relationship between Fr. Vaillant and Fr. Latour.
Cather describes beautifully the Indians' spiritual relationship to the land:
"But their conception of decoration did not extend to the landscape. They seemed to have none of the European's desire to "master" nature, to arrange and re-create. They spent their ingenuity in the other direction; in accommodating themselves to the scene in which they found themselves. This was not so much from indolence, the Bishop thought, as from an inherited caution and respect. It was as if the great country were asleep, and they wished to carry on their lives without awakening it; or as if the spirits of earth and air and water were things not to antagonize and arouse. When they hunted, it was with the same discretion; an Indian hunt was never a slaughter. They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs. The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it."
Cather's level of environmental consciousness, there and elsewhere (the description of the setting of the Archbishop's cathedral was similarly evocative), and her understanding of the native American relationship to nature, seems so prescient (and so beautiful), writing from 1927.
What she didn't give me, what I wanted to see, was some level of consciousness and conflict among those whites - and the two priests in particular - that the colonization of the land and the souls there was wrong. Instead, she shows me the Archbishop on his deathbed, stating: "'I have lived to see two great wrongs righted; I have seen the end of black slavery, and I have seen the Navajos restored to their own country.'" I suppose this perspective, from a character whose vantage point is so close in time to the occurrences, is as much as can be hoped for in the way of a political statement.
For Elizabeth and Ceridwen and all the dragon-lovers out there. I have no idea where this is still available - or if - but if you can find it, pick yo...moreFor Elizabeth and Ceridwen and all the dragon-lovers out there. I have no idea where this is still available - or if - but if you can find it, pick yourself up a copy. It's a truly beautiful flight of fancy wrapped around a "scientific" explanation of dragon flight. And the illustrations are just stunning.
ETA: I just re-read this and it is as delightful as I remembered it -- although not 5-star delightful, and there is a truly upsetting effect/affect mis-use that I certainly hadn't noticed 25 years ago when I first read it.
And yes, I actually did RE-read the text, not just peruse the beautiful illustrations, so I'm taking this as another notch on my book-challenge bookcase.(less)
This is one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had with a priest.
I think O'Hagan has pulled off something truly extraordinary here, but even as I w...moreThis is one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had with a priest.
I think O'Hagan has pulled off something truly extraordinary here, but even as I write that, I'm not really sure. I'm not feeling on particularly solid ground when it comes to my interpretation of this character or this novel overall. That is to say, I could have it totally wrong.
Wrong or not, I found Father David to be one of the most opaque, annoying, morally vacant, insufferably snotty, self-delusional, lazy-thinking, accountability-denying central characters I've ever met.
And so is his damn mother.
Does O'Hagan intend that I should feel sorry for him? I don't know. I know I don't.
Father David is a very bad priest. (view spoiler)[Not only because of the assault he's accused of committing; that he did commit (we see it from his own POV; we know it to be a fact); (hide spoiler)]. He's a bad priest from several different angles - most particularly, because he lacks any strong moral centre or conviction (I suppose that means "true calling") that enables him to counsel and console, spiritually, effectively, with humility and authenticity and genuine connection, his flock.
He is arrogant; he is consumed with worldly things (fine wines, classical music, etc); he lacks the ability to engage beyond the most superficial interaction (the latter which Mrs. Poole repeatedly calls him out on. She is a fabulous character.)
And he's a bad priest who finally admits - in a moment of uncharacteristically accurate self-reflection - that he had used the priesthood as a place to hide out since he couldn't, didn't, never does get his personal act together.
He never chooses, he just goes along with. He has so few strongly-held convictions, not political, not spiritual, not even sexual, that he can easily be led down whatever path looks the most attractive based on the flimsiest incentives. He can't say no - not even, or rather especially not, to himself. He is a child, with no ability to delay gratification or exert self-control -- another fact that he acknowledges, eventually; such acknowledgement as empty and devoid of meaning as every other bit of self-knowledge or feeling he learns or experiences.
He mourns and romanticizes his past, yet even when reflecting that that mourning and romanticism is misplaced (or at least, self-destructive), and that he has been both ignorant and hurtful, he never learns from it.
And here is where my own Scots-based puritanism comes to a full boil. He never, never, never takes accountability for his actions. (view spoiler)[No, I really mean it ... this next is a spoiler (hide spoiler)](view spoiler)[HE WAS 15 YEARS OLD, YA DUMB FUCK!! He was 15 years old, and he was deeply troubled, and you knew that and exactly why, since you counselled his dad (badly, no doubt). You were in a position of power, and you abused that power. And I don't care if you now, finally, have the courage to speak the truth, no, rather: your truth, in a court of law. That is BULLSHIT - you want forgiveness, you want to confess - because that's easy, that's your comfort zone. You think that by putting YOURSELF through that public humiliation, that flagellation, you will earn that forgiveness. But you will not -- you will not, because even at the end of it, you cling to this: "'I don't mind saying I fell for him. I don't mind saying I would have slept with him. I admit to being the most stupid person on earth. But I am not a paedophile or anything of that sort and I won't agree to it being called assault.'" p 222 (hide spoiler)]
The central event that in most novels would either cause the formerly-obtuse to see the light, or justice to be served or denied in some plot-pivoting way, causes this insufferable fool of a priest (and his mother) to go to the opera to forget about it.
I mean, I wanted to strangle him. I was as one with the crowds of haggis- and profanity-spitting blue-collar Scots in his parish crying for his head on a stick.
SO: *some* authors would play up that dynamic - because the haggis- and profanity-spitting Scots of the small town (racist, violent, xenophobic) were also behaving pretty reprehensibly, weren't they? Many authors would be using the character and his personal crisis as a way to make the reader take a side and then see it through to its logical conclusion. But deftly, O'Hagan makes it not about Father David or the central event, but about how morally relative everything suddenly is.
What positions do you hold, and how do you know that you're not any more a hypocrite than he/she/them? O'Hagan is interested in that question very much, and that he gets at it through this character and this event is really clever and quite a feat (the danger of not sticking with this novel long enough to see where it was going is high, I think--there's a good 160 pages of character-building and back-plotting before the event and the true character of this priest becomes explicit).
The moral relativism of things - the war in Iraq, racism, feminism, environmentalism, "in-groupism" of all sorts, all of which seem(ed) like side issues - suddenly become as important, or more important, than Father David's crisis. Father David is the perfect embodiment of moral relativity: in his own opinions (waffling; muddy) and in his actions (passive; sinful more in thought than deed). He is an ideal character if what you want to illustrate is not the moral failings of a priest, but the vast political and spiritual grey area between the poles, and how we struggle and vacillate in our attempt to navigate them. How our own past shapes our responses. And so, who are we to judge? Where does compassion and empathy really lie? Where, exactly, is the truth?
One (this reader, anyway) also realizes that we lack spiritual and moral leaders, now more than ever, in times that truly call for them. So Father David also embodies the disintegration of the moral certainty and force of the Church in people's lives. There is a companion theme here about parenting, and its similar descent as a force of good - as giving shape and guidance to young lives and where, without it, people end up. Educators and politicians, in a minor way, take the same drubbing.
Still, there are some truths, there is a moral ground that is pretty stable, pretty neutral (in a religio-political sense), pretty rock solid - and there are some characters (Mrs. Poole and her husband, in particular) who do exhibit clarity and decisiveness in speaking these truths and occupying that ground. The court room scene - without being all "tell-y", thank you very much Mr. O'Hagan - strips the acts from their interpretation, and is unequivocal in stating the right and the wrong of it (the law makes out pretty well, here, as potentially a stabilizing force of moral clarity. Hmmmm. Scratch at that opinion a little and it may unravel, but I'll put it out there...).
Thus, O'Hagan earns that 4th star (not 5, not yet at least) - for writing such a brilliant character portrait and a novel that really had very little to do with that character and his personal crisis. Then again, I could have it all wrong. ["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)