Ok, so Mark Twain. This is the only one I've read, once way back when and just now. MT/SLC - he's not really part of the curriculum or general literarOk, so Mark Twain. This is the only one I've read, once way back when and just now. MT/SLC - he's not really part of the curriculum or general literary zeitgeist in Canada. So I don't really know much about him or about that Huckleberry boy and the other one, Tom. I'm likely talking out of my hat when I say, if you liked them you've just got to like this one. Although maybe this is more directly scathing and satirical?
Connecticut Yankee is an eviscerating take-down of the entire British social structure, y'know, the one that the U.S. revolted (or as Twain would say "revoluted") against. On top of that, it's a castigation of the RC Church and its role in the oppressions of, at the time he was writing, the past 1800+ years. And most of all, it's an abolitionist tale. Call 'em serfs, call 'em slaves (as Twain does), same difference. This is a plea for egalitarianism and humanism.
At the same time, "The Boss" - as the prototypical late-19th century entrepreneur and manufacturing baron -- is flawed and gently mocked for his belief that capitalism and technology will win the day. I don't know how much mockery would have been recognized at the time of publication, but from 100+ years later, we can clearly see the hand of a clear-eyed and prescient satirist at work in the immense and disproportional carnage wreaked by the improved technology of warfare, the raping and pillaging of natural resources and resulting destruction of the environment of the Industrial Age, the rabid commercialism that leads to the trading of one type of slavery for another.
Twain does not give two hoots for historical accuracy here, nor for any of the conventions by which literary time travel is supposed to "work." He doesn't care if this makes any logical sense, and to make sure we understand that, he picks, first of all, the already fictional 6th-Century King Arthur and his Knights as the time to travel back to. He then thinks nothing of weaving in references to King Henry VIII and the Tower of London and a bunch of other anachronistic details that defy the historical record and the laws of physics. That is part of the delight of this book - it's a romp.
His brush is so broad he takes the piss of everyone and everything on that little island of Britain from about 500 to 1850 A.D.
This perhaps goes without saying, because no satire is fully effective without it, but his righteous anger is not just expressed through ridiculousness and absurdity -- there are scenes here that are heartbreaking and tragic, and Twain skilfully reins in his pen to paint these with the pathos (albeit romanticized and sentimentalized) they require to keep our eyes focused on the fact that there are real people who suffer at the hands of others and institutions who enslave them.
Powerful reading (and a bit of a brain-twist, coming right after Wolf Hall, which I'm off to review in just a moment. ...more
Re-read. A bit obtuse, almost experimental in places, but the central metaphor of the spire as a symbol of teetering faith (and disintegrating sanity)Re-read. A bit obtuse, almost experimental in places, but the central metaphor of the spire as a symbol of teetering faith (and disintegrating sanity) for an arrogant, delusional priest is still as powerful as I remember it. This time around, I also was able to more clearly see the central conflict between Fr. Jocelin and Master Builder Roger Mason as one of faith versus science, which has even greater resonance today. What Golding achieves here is a comment, nested in high symbolism, that vision and progress - either spiritually or technologically - is often the product of madness; or leads to it. Or both. And it's difficult to tell the difference between genius and insanity.
There is a remarkable scene in which Fr. Jocelin climbs to the top of his not-yet-completed tower and is able to survey the land, looking down upon his parishioners as they go about their lives. The symbolism is multi-layered (throughout, but especially in this scene): Fr. Jocelin sets himself far above his people, looming like a false god (they have by now moved beyond fearing him to dismissing him as crazy and irrelevant). Remote and removed from the real lives of the people who look to him to provide comfort and spiritual guidance, Fr. Jocelin's neglect of his spiritual duty comes to be his downfall.
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 yoFor 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....more
a) I liked it better than Mrs. Dalloway (purely subjectively/emotionally, which would seem to be the best way to take inAll I know right now is that:
a) I liked it better than Mrs. Dalloway (purely subjectively/emotionally, which would seem to be the best way to take in and then respond to this work), and b) my trick of using Atwood as a lever to catapult me into the depths of Woolf seems to have worked, at least partially, for some strange reason.
In trying to come up with points of comparison (see comments below) between Woolf and Atwood while reading this, I first of all could only find contrast, but secondly came to appreciate BOTH authors more. My esteem for Atwood was already high; mine for Woolf has now risen (like the tide? ouch, I promised not to do that).
I struggle with Woolf -- I still struggle with her. But I'm finding the struggle more enjoyable -- perhaps like the peace that is said to come upon one as one freezes to death (I would have said drowning, but I don't think drowning is a peaceful death, and I've vowed to avoid water metaphors here. How am I doing so far?).
I need to let her be what she is, let the halo of intimidation that still surrounds her work fade to a dull glow and allow myself to be ... immersed ... in her prose.
I will say, she doesn't *last* for me. I don't go to bed, after reading, mulling over what I've read. As deeply immersed (there is no other word) as I am when the book is open, as soon as I close it and look up, I am dry. Powerful as she is when I'm reading, with those startling insights and the pace of those revolving point-of-view scenes (the dinner party in this one is extraordinary!), and as much as I admire her craft, I find -- perhaps because she is only, or primarily, engaging me at an emotional level? -- that I can't hold on to those insights and process them once I close the book and look up, leaving her internal landscape and re-entering my own.
Some of this is because I truly can't identify with her characters -- not that she's much for rich characterization, or plot -- and perhaps that is my number one issue with stream-of-consciousness overall. Mrs. Ramsay seems like a version of Mrs. Dallaway to me, neither one of whom seems much like me. Their thoughts are not my thoughts. More importantly, they're not much like anyone I'd want to spend much time with.
For here it is: if I had to spend much time with someone that navel-gazing, that flighty, that emotionally labile, that ... needy, I would -- I swear to God -- have to slap them silly.
I'm sorry, so sorry. I realize that brands me as a certain kind of person, with a certain lack of sympathy/empathy for a certain kind of female character -- a female character (or characters) and an author who speaks deeply and eloquently and compellingly to many of you. But she doesn't to me. She doesn't 'get' me, and I don't 'get' her. We do not occupy the same emotional landscape, and as a result, there is a wall between us that -- no matter my attempt at empathy -- I can't seem to scale with her.
That is the nub of the Woolf/Atwood parallel for me. I don't get Woolf's characters, and her characters don't get me. The insights, the remarkable -- truly remarkable -- honing in on the deepest, most core, most raw and unvarnished thought or emotion of one character in response to another, that reads like foreign ground to me in Woolf -- whereas in Atwood, it matches *my* emotional terrain so precisely, that the resonance for me is multi-sensual (hence, my Atwood synesthesia, which I've written about here before).
So and but! Although there's still a wall between Woolf, her characters, and me, I'm still interested in exploring it. I'm heading to The Waves, next. ...more
I appreciated this book much more on re-read (it's hard to pick a fave of hers - but at least I now have all three that I've read so far clearly in myI appreciated this book much more on re-read (it's hard to pick a fave of hers - but at least I now have all three that I've read so far clearly in my mind). I am still slightly more impressed with the two that followed, The Flying Troutmans and Irma Voth, but it's only because ... because ... why? It's now the merest gradation of five star-dom that separate them.
There is no doubt that Nomi's 'voice' is a spectacular accomplishment. Distill it, and each drop is pure essence du Toews.
I think that what I struggle with here is the lack of story. The ennui (which is the point, of course) is wearing. I love teen angst and pain as much as anyone, and told this well, this wrenchingly, it's hard to critique. So even typing that, that the lack of story is what differentiates this one from the others, is, I feel, not true.
But it was almost too much, y'know? Paragraph after paragraph of the most stunning, sardonic, almost zeugmatic insights out of this gr 12 Mennonite girl, struggling with a fundamentalist faith that has been imposed on her and an abandonment of monumental proportions. Collapsing under the burden of responsibility and grief, acting out, no relief in sight.
Gahhhh. This writing hurts, physically - it is so beautiful, so painful, so funny. It hits you like a wall, with the most mundane and profound thoughts given equal treatment. This is the brilliance of the writing: that it so perfectly mirrors Nomi's psychological state. Everything is equally important, so nothing is. Complete overload of random, irrelevant and vital detail - so nothing makes sense, nothing has meaning. Standing in the midst of the largest questions about family bonds, love, faith - and all while 'coming of age' to boot.
But here's what I will say about Toews' characters (god, I hope they are not too too autobiographical, but I fear they are): there is a life force in them. A will toward not just survival, but a cathartic, definitive, life-affirming strength that forshadows the emergence from pain as a better, whole and happy person.
Yes. This is what I believe. For each and every one of them.
Another stunner from Erdrich - love, hate, abuse, addiction, obsession, manipulation. A walloping ending that I DID NOT SEE COMING. I found the trickAnother 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. ...more
Whimsical, humourous, clever structure, a connected set of well-wrought characters fleeing and returning to (being pulled back to) their "home on NatiWhimsical, humourous, clever structure, a connected set of well-wrought characters fleeing and returning to (being pulled back to) their "home on Native land." A First Nations creation myth colliding with other myths, stories, fictions (Native and non-), told and retold from the perspective of four archetypical [fictional] characters: the Lone Ranger, Robinson Crusoe, Ishmael and Hawkeye.
Nicely underscores the essential collective cultural conflict as lived by individuals, and the endless struggle to retain and express one's unique cultural identity amidst the forces - some benign, some antagonistic, some downright hostile - that seek to swamp it. A surprisingly fun and lighthearted read, with an undercurrent of gentle irony, anger and sadness that rarely breaks the surface, but is there nonetheless.
I just don't have the background or training to be able to dive into most science books and get out of them all they offer, although my interest in thI just don't have the background or training to be able to dive into most science books and get out of them all they offer, although my interest in the subject--whether physics or astronomy or natural history--is and has always been strong. I need books like this, where the science is sound but served up in bite-size, easily digestible chunks....more
**spoiler alert** I've started and stopped this review several times--as I did the book itself--and I wasn't sure why I was having such a hard time pu**spoiler alert** I've started and stopped this review several times--as I did the book itself--and I wasn't sure why I was having such a hard time putting my thoughts into words until I read reviews of The Road. That's the problem. I'm comparing this novel to The Road, perhaps naturally enough: both are journeys through dystopian landscapes, with evidence of the degradation of environment and humanity all around, central characters who represent 'goodness' and 'morality' and 'hope' in the midst of nothing but bleakness, deprivation and violence. So let's just get this out of the way: McCarthy's bleakness is the bleakest; his violence the most violent; his detail the most stark and horrific. This is not The Road, not even close.
But what McCarthy doesn't do, the thing that Butler does here (and maybe others do too; I'm not as well-read in the dystopian genre as I'd like to be) is show us the tipping point; the genesis of the horror. Butler creates a character who is knowingly sliding into the abyss and fights against it. Through Lauren Olamina, she creates a utopian worldview within a dystopian world, like a living kernel inside a dead husk. For me, though, even while clearly central to the novel, the Earthseed religion (cult?) was one of the least interesting things about this book.
Instead, I prefer how Butler shows the gradual descent into a world irrevocably and horrifically changed, a life that is unlivable by any standard and yet people live in it--and she shows us that we are already there. She gives us no distance, no perch from which to look down or forward, or wherever it is we look when we read dystopias.
Parable of the Sower's strength lies in how it explores the world between the "before" and the "after," and not just the "after" world. Butler focuses on the generation during which the slide down the slippery slope picks up speed, and guess what? It's the one right after ours! It's the future, but not too far ahead that we can complacently think we'll avoid it, or that it doesn't apply to us (because in most dystopias, no matter how much we ask ourselves how we would manage to live in them, don't we simultaneously console ourselves by reassuring ourselves that we don't?).
Butler drives the point home by creating a character - Bankole - who is us, the reader. Born in 1970 and therefore of our generation, Bankole's thoughts and memories of what it was like before the handbasket landed in hell are our own. He's a little morally ambiguous (and a lot creepy, but I'll come back to him in a minute).
Interesting to read this as oil continues to pour into the ocean which some say is unstoppable; as California is bankrupt; and as the world economy precariously recovers from near total collapse. Reading it in 2010, instead of when it was first published in 1993, one can't help but see Butler as even more prescient.
This, this, is how the world ends. Slowly, localized and then regional disintegration spreading like an oil slick. Environmental catastrophes mount; governments and economies fail. Food and water become scarce. And human beings--their individual behaviour, and the families, communities and social structures that support us--regress to our most barbaric in a heroic futile attempt to survive. Or at least, we regress to isolation, paranoia and self-serving cruelty, even if we retain (or perhaps especially if we retain) a shred of empathy. Empathy is a birth defect here, brought about by drug addiction. Not a mark of civilization, but rather a mark of its downfall and also a weakness that needs to be hidden.
The key in Parable of the Sower is how the devolution occurs bit by bit. It reminded me of The Pianist (I just put the book on my to-read list; I'm referring here to the movie or at least my memory of it). We accommodate and accommodate again, continually revising our expectations downward to the 'new normal' until we're living in a crawl space, awaiting a mouldy crust of bread every three days, and we think ourselves lucky for that.
Gang violence on the rise? Build gated communities and arm yourself. Water scarce or unfit to drink? Buy bottled. Lost your job? Take a menial one in a mega-corporation, despite the three degrees you went into hock to get as the ante for just getting into the game. Everyone's doing it, and at least you have a job, right? You've got it better than a lot of others, don't you?
Butler details the commonplace structures and systems that we know, and shows the interim step before they've completely collapsed. Home schooling is not an option for the fringe; it's the only education anyone gets and most don't get that. I love that she specifically links the collapse of civilization with the collapse of literacy and education (the collapse of humanity with the collapse of the humanities, you might say). Education, health care and the rest of society's basic institutions have not completely failed, but they are only available if you can pay and it is clear almost no one can. No police, ambulance or fire trucks will come; no insurance will be paid when they don't. We've still got our beloved shopping malls as places of sanctuary, but they are protected by power-drunk security guards and ringed by the impoverished peddling their wares and hooligans preying on them.
Wait a minute. Bottled water? Poor or no access to health care? Armed homeowners defending their property? Factory farms and multinational corporations running amok with no regard for environmental or labour laws? Debt slaves, largely Latino and African-American, held captive in 'company towns' in the US's most populous state? That sounds like ... NOW.
These details are equally as disturbing as the more obviously horrific ones, the cannibalism and the roving bands of drug-crazed maniacs who rape and torture. The former are the source of this book's power, and what I responded to most viscerally: their vividness, their logic, the inescapable proximity of the world Butler creates which looks remarkably similar to the one we live in now had me jittery and anxious.
HOWEVER (you knew that was coming, right?): Butler's ideas are better than her execution of them and some of the ideas at the crux of her story are the least well developed, even unnecessary. The central conceit--a teenaged girl, the next messiah leading her followers to salvation via her own unshakable belief in the Earthseed philosophy--is secondary and almost silly. Why did Butler need to have her protagonist invent - oh, pardon me, discover - a religion? Wouldn't it have been enough for Lauren to foresee the eventual destruction of her family, her community and all that she knows and loves (a broader reflection of the destruction of the entire culture around her) and send her on her journey, picking up a ragtag band of fellow travellers as she goes?
If it was Butler's intent to show how new religions and religious leaders (cults and cult leaders) emerge, then she didn't focus on it clearly enough. I do like the metaphor: Earthseed, humanity as a handful of grains scattered across the planet, taking root, growing and dying at the whim of our environment. But really--the Destiny? This is clearly an idea for the sequel. Here, it just seems unfinished and unnecessary; an element of which even Butler is unsure, self-conscious and, through the words of her characters, scornful.
Butler seems not to follow through on some of the most important ideas, the ones that are at the core of her novel. She does well at showing us how racism slides back into slavery. I think she does less well at showing us how gender roles regress to oppression of women. Women are inconsistently oppressed here, and sometimes barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, but often not. I'm missing the feminist POV that this novel is said to possess (surely Lauren doesn't carry that banner all on her shoulders, does she?). Someone, I'm sure, will elucidate (and possibly chastise) me for this.
Also, little things. The littlest is that typos were scattered like Earthseeds throughout the last third of the book. That is such a pet peeve of mine.
Also, dogs. She didn't get the dogs right; didn't do enough research here I think. It doesn't make sense, especially in one generation, that dogs end up banding together to terrorize human beings. Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores--they don't revert to feral as quickly as cats do, and it is far more likely that their domestication and obedience would turn them into tools used for defense or as weapons by aggressors. (She hints at the former later in the novel; so it's not like she didn't know she had an option here. I think she was trying to make everything fit the regression theme). Even in real-world places where feral dog packs are a problem, they are not particularly dangerous except for the threat of disease they may carry. They rarely attack humans; they forage in garbage--that's how they ended up being domesticated in the first place. If Butler wanted to play on the reader's sympathy, she could have used the dogs differently, and she would have been better to make the threat feline--cougars or some of the bigger cats; I don't mean Fluffy, your neighbour's Persian--especially in southern CA.
Also, Bankole and Lauren. Ewwwwww.
She has Bankole voice the concerns she imagines her reader will: the philosophy is adolescent, simplistic and the need for the "Destiny" portion of it superfluous and silly. On the coupling of Bankole and Lauren, he's suitably squeamish, but not enough to keep his pants zipped. Again I say, ewwwww.
Bankole's entire character is there for plot and structural reasons. He's otherwise flat, unconvincing and unnecessary. She tries to bring some mystery to him, some tension--is he good? is he evil?--but it's half-hearted and we know as soon as we meet him what his purpose in the story is.
One last flaw to mention: the voice of our protagonist. Early on, she's understandably breathless, earnest and exclamation-point-filled (this is, after all, a 14-year-old girl speaking to us). But that tone and style spills over into long, expositional sections that bolster the philosophy (even as she ages, and becomes more focused on her mission of conversion and salvation). Lauren's voice, especially when she preaches either directly or indirectly, undermined my ability to take the philosophy at the centre of this novel at all seriously. Was I supposed to? I think I was. But all I could ever hear was this track from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon playing in my head after every Earthseed verse.
This one hovers in a high 3 almost 4 for me, so I'll leave it at 4 for now. It's 4 for what it did well seemingly without trying, which overcomes the weaknesses of what it was trying to do well....more
Lessing herself came to view The Golden Notebook as a failure, and I think she was right.
What she meant was that the innovation and experimentation sLessing herself came to view The Golden Notebook as a failure, and I think she was right.
What she meant was that the innovation and experimentation she intended as the novel’s central point and raison d’être was misunderstood by readers with an infernally stubborn insistence on wanting to figure out its theme, meaning, intent, and relevance to their own lives.
Readers invested - and continue to invest - it with whatever agenda they bring to it in the first place, and interpret it conventionally. I’m sure Lessing would agree that, in so doing, many have missed her point entirely.
The problem for me is: what exactly IS the point?
She never intended it to be a feminist treatise, and yet, that’s what it has become (check out any of the 'feminist novels' listopias here on GR; it's always there). Why this book is claimed as a bastion of feminist thought completely eludes me.
A book that is this hateful to women simply cannot be a feminist treatise – and no amount of “Second Wave” excuse-making will make it so. If you see it this way, if you see yourself in it, well then...I am sorry for you. Read Charlotte Brontë. Read Virginia Woolf. Read Margaret Atwood. THESE authors will empower you. Lessing will not; she has no intention of doing so.
Self-pitying, self-hating codswallop is what it reads like to me. Its moral lessons – when they are not contradictory – are ambiguous to the point of insensible. Where the hell does she STAND, Lessing? This is always the trouble I have with her books and her characters; they are so morally confounding and inconsistent that you have to believe their author is setting them up as an example of something. Or writing satire.
Yet at the same time, she makes them “Everywoman” – as though they represent all of us; or there’s some twisted way of divining their essential goodness or rightness, and if you can’t understand it, well you’re no better than The Man, or The Society, or The System.
I can’t understand these characters’ psychologies. In her zeal for realism, Lessing saps them of any clear psychological truth (and ironically, has one of them engaged in interminable psychoanalysis. At least, I read that as irony). Without any otherwise useful or believable clues to motivation, I'm left to see the slow decline to madness as a direct and inevitable consequence of this woman’s - Everywoman's - attempt to claim her independence, personhood, right to exist as a healthy, happy, whole person.
This just makes me sad; sadder still when I think that women are internalizing this message in some way, even taking comfort from it.
Another thing that sticks in my craw with Lessing is that her characters are so passive. They seem to be victims of their circumstances and their fate, entirely without agency to change their situations - with Lessing sitting back and seeming to say: see, this is what happens when good people exist within a corrupt, inequitable, dehumanizing system. Isn't that just despicable. Aren't they or he (there's a lot of man-hating in this novel; another place we must agree to disagree, Lessing and I) just evil and we must band together, we women, and condemn them.
Condemn, but not take action. Taking action - actually trying to change anything - comes to no good end in Lessing. It turns to violence and hate; sometimes outwardly (as in The Good Terrorist), and here, inwardly. Whether internalized or externalized, activism - and specifically, individual activism - is a flawed response to a corrupt system; it's deeply dysfunctional and destructive.
It's almost as though Lessing is saying that taking action would feed right into the system you're trying to change, and therefore strengthen it. That one must be a martyr to the cause - because the cause is bigger than any individual, and individualism is, by definition, antithetical to the collective.
I think this book actually succeeds well at showing the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process of disaffiliating with a political system with which one comes to disagree, or a gender stereotype against which one rebels.
If this is the innovation she's trying to achieve - making a kind of fiction that better reflects messy, non-linear reality - then ok.
But Lessing's bleak nihilism ends up beyond frustrating to me. She doesn't provide any hope that there's a positive, constructive alternative to societal - or interpersonal - woes.
I guess I like my fiction more fictional. "What you mean is more conventional, easier," I imagine Lessing spitting condescendingly back at me.
Maybe so. But one more thing:
The nail in the coffin for The Golden Notebook, for me, is that it is structure above and in deliberate, intentional exclusion of considerations of plot or character.
In achieving her vision of a never-before-written fiction that expresses reality more realistically than the conventional novel had achieved, Lessing wedges her characters into a plot that is spread thin to the point of transparency over a framework that shows through at every turn.
Maybe it's not fair to evaluate against 50 years of post-modernism, but it reads about as sophisticated as a 14-year-old’s journal scribblings, and so contrived as to be laughable.
And perhaps it's forgiveable, at least understandable, that there is leakage across the red, blue, black and yellow diaries so the structure itself, as a way to achieve her literary goals, is muddy.
If that's the point - if what she's saying is that it's not so easy to compartmentalize different aspects of one's life and that doing so leads to complete fragmentation (as shown in the golden notebook, natch), then mon dieu! That was a pretty long way around to that point.
Their 180-degree political differences aside, what this reminded me of was Ayn Rand with a little more literary polish. At least with Rand, you know what drum she’s banging and can dismiss her (or, if you’re so inclined, accept her) on that basis, and for those of us who find her politics and worldview disgusting, then on the basis of just plain bad writing.
The renowned, redoubtable, Nobel-prizewinning Lessing, on the other hand, is not as easily dismissed. Case in point, my ability to get deeply immersed in a review of a book I didn't enjoy and that I read more than four months ago.
For that - and a couple of other bits that I won't go into right now - two stars....more
This is animal behavioural science, not dog whispering, and it should be required reading for everyone who has a dog, is thinking of getting a dog, orThis is animal behavioural science, not dog whispering, and it should be required reading for everyone who has a dog, is thinking of getting a dog, or is at all interested in dogs. It's a necessary antidote or at least counterpoint to the "wolf pack/dominance" school of dog training.
The book is structured to compare and contrast primate (including human) behaviours and their underlying meaning with canine (wolf and dog) behaviours. McConnell itemizes and then analyzes the natural behaviours that people, as primates, exhibit and how these are sometimes at odds with those of dogs, sometimes lead to exactly the opposite response one is trying to achieve, and sometimes are downright cruel.
Everything from hugging, to looking at, to talking to your dog -- behavours that are so ubiquitous and natural among humans, but which are often utterly confusing or even off-putting to your canine friend.
Read the book just for this, and you will have many a-ha insights.
But it is the discussion of dominance - status - aggression that I hope people pay most attention to. The theme runs throughout most of the book, and the topic is covered in detail in several chapters. McConnell does a good, diplomatic but thorough, job in dismantling the au courant pack leadership dog training ideology, and explains how its underlying premise is flawed, fundamentally mislabelling dogs as wolves. She then persuades us of the stronger, kinder, evidence-based and more effective value of positive training (reinforcement/reward).
And, she doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater - which is important. Like the behaviourist she is, she gently corrects and provides alternative, well-reasoned approaches that have a better chance at being effective.
The problem with training based on dogs-as-wolves stems from they deeply flawed theory that because dogs are descended directly from wolves (true), they therefore behave like wolves (not true; or at least, not true in some very specific and important ways). The dogs-as-wolves theory goes on make a lot of assumptions about what dominance is, how it is dislayed in wolf packs, how dominance (or rather, status) is achieved in wolf packs and most precisely, how adult wolves correct their pups. The gap between these already erroneous beliefs is then further widened when the assumptions are transposed to dogs, and becomes actually dangerous (McConnell uses the term "violent") when these assumptions are used to derive training practices for dogs.
McConnell does an outstanding job here at peeling back the layers of misconceptions - including the pervasive ones that relate to how wolves discipline their young (fact: by very sharp, quick nips at their muzzles as a last resort after ignoring them hasn't worked; fiction: by pinning them or by shaking them by the scruff of their neck) and how so-called pack leaders behave (even, who pack leaders are and what that really means).
She acknowledges the controversy within the dog training world about these issues, right down to terminology: dominance, aggression, status, discipline -- now an unholy mess of poor and misunderstood definitions and assumptions, no longer having much to do with the evolutionary biological facts and causing not just confusion, but out-and-out harm to animals.
Dominance-aggression? Incredibly rare, she says; a misapplication of two terms that are already poorly defined to a wide range of behaviours that may not be either (i.e., a dominance display or an aggressive one). Not only does she acknowledge the high-profile controversies, but she examines both sides of some of the practices that have emerged, including for example the "dogs shouldn't walk through the door first" principle that many hold as sacrosanct. (On this, she says there is some relevance to dogs of who goes through the door first, but it's not about who is the pack leader.)
The chapters looking at pack leadership versus benevolent leadership are insightful, well-articulated and - I would hope - eye-opening to those whose only frame of reference for the role that humans play in their dogs' lives is shaped by TV celebrities and trainers telling us we must assume the role of pack leader.
She details some truly tragic cases where owners have received training advice, applied it blindly not knowing any better, and ended up with incredibly damaged dogs, some of whom simply could not be rehabilitated. But she also tells heartwarming, beautiful and inspiring stories of where a simple readjustment based on a more complete understanding of the behaviour has resulted in a strengthened human-canine bond and - most importantly - happy, healthy dogs and people.
She talks a lot about her own dogs - Border Collies and Great Pyrenees. You will fall in love with them.
She outlines why behaviour is the primary and most important consideration in selecting a dog that's right for you - and not necessarily breed.
She recognizes individual differences, even - and especially - within breeds. At the same time, she understands the intricate, inextricable link between genetics and environment in creating behaviour. She uses a great simile to explain it that will stick with me: "Asking if the behaviour of either one of us is "genetic" or "environmental" is like asking if bread is formed by the ingredients or by the process by which you put them together."
McConnell is a scientist - rigorous, analytical - and an unabashed dog lover who admits to spending long nights, every night, spooning with her dogs. She loves them unreservedly. That is what leaps off this page, like a Border Collie in a field of sheep: her intellect and her emotion, well-balanced and devoted to supporting the healthy, happy human-canine bond....more
Another fantastic book by Toews, with all her characteristic quirk, humour and poignancy. I think this might be among my faves of hers ... but then, aAnother fantastic book by Toews, with all her characteristic quirk, humour and poignancy. I think this might be among my faves of hers ... but then, aren't they all? Some things:
1. She's one of those authors who does something magical turning plain-jane words into stories. Magical, as in deceptive: she creates something out of nothing, like making coins appear from behind ears or rabbits out of hats. She reminds me of Alice Munro in a way (and no, I don't think that comparison is at all outlandish). She takes very simple scenes and language, very easy to read and then, by the end of a paragraph or chapter or story, you think: holy hell, how did she make me feel all that, how did she convey all that, from just words and sentences about nothing really? A chunk of every-day dialogue; a description of someone making coffee in a kitchen.
With other writers--maybe most--Atwood, say, you can see the mechanics behind the trick. And that's ok, because you're still amazed: the mechanics, even when you can see them, don't dampen your enthusiasm for the writing at all. You still know there are only maybe a few hundred people in the world who could ever employ the mechanics at that level; there is still so much mastery of words, sentences, plot, structure, imagery ... all that makes a book. It still adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts.
But Toews, man, she is magical. Alchemistry on the page.
2. This book is about coming and going; staying and leaving. You will start to play the game with Mayor Hosea Funk: trying to get things to add up to 1,500 on the nose. And then, you'll realize (as Knute does, as even Hose does): every number is a whole life; bigger than a single individual, bigger than a name written in a Hilroy exercise book (and some of those names - man, they are big!). It's not just that Johnny needs to stay and become the town's chief firefighter (+1) (and then that he needs to go (-1)); it's why. It's not just that Veronica took the triplets and left (-4); it's her husband Gord on the front step not knowing why.
"Fighting and anger don't necessarily drive a person away. And love and friendship don't necessarily keep a person from going away." (p.211)
3. It's really hard not to feel hopeful when reading Toews, even tho' she writes with such sadness at the heart of it. Or not to feel that everything is going to work out alright, even when things couldn't be going further south. But it's the ordinary sadness, foibles and calamities of real human beings, who love each other, who help each other, who are doing the best they can. In this one, people have the most amazing conversations with each other; and even when they don't (Hosea being the epitome of being unable to say what he feels), they are understood. People treat people with gentleness and compassion. They are doing all they can, and that's not only ok, it's enough. More than enough really. In this town - Canada's Smallest Town of 1,500 - it adds up to so much more.
OK, not great; too much focus on his personal life. I really don't care that he has a fondness for black women and those with big boobs.
Beyond that,OK, not great; too much focus on his personal life. I really don't care that he has a fondness for black women and those with big boobs.
Beyond that, the most annoying thing about this book was its design. I found it unbelievably hard to read because of the graphics, with type spread over top of the pictures, and a 6-pt font size used throughout. So I ended up mostly looking at the pictures; not a particularly satisfying experience. ...more
A brutal little novella, mean, sad and despairing, evocatively told - but too short (i.e., character- and detail-scarce) to pack the kind of wallop thA brutal little novella, mean, sad and despairing, evocatively told - but too short (i.e., character- and detail-scarce) to pack the kind of wallop that House of Mirth did. Wharton's capacity to create a downward arc for her characters (view spoiler)[leading them -- and the readers -- directly to seeing suicide as their only option (hide spoiler)] is singular, and the furious engine that burns at the heart of her books. ...more
What I liked best was the amazing voice - it reminded me a little of Heart of Darkness, or what I remember of it, anyway: that sense of oppressive, huWhat I liked best was the amazing voice - it reminded me a little of Heart of Darkness, or what I remember of it, anyway: that sense of oppressive, humid doom; the vegetal, dangerous, organic descent into madness. A little voodoo on the side; themes of social injustice - slavery, colonial oppression - framing the personal injustice (the reframing of women's sexuality by the patriarchy as madness, to name one).
I love how the story built towards increasing levels of delusion brought on by spells and potions exotic and more mundane (100-year old rum), and by the heat and the gradual realization, from Rochester's and Antoinette's separate and then converging perspectives, of manipulation and entrapment (there is a comment here to be made on the institution of marriage, and I refer back to The Awakening: another sultry setting with a heroine raging, ultimately in futility, against the institution and role she is forced to play in it).
I love too how Rhys wields POV as a tool, blending Rochester's and Antoinette's voices together so we don't know who is telling the story, or who to believe, and so we are caught in the swirling, discombobulating events as they are told to us.
All of it stands on its own strengths, without a real need to have as backdrop the knowledge of what becomes of Antoinette. Although, that backdrop lends a depth and richness to the story, certainly.
I have no trouble believing Rochester a cad; bound by a surface, externally-imposed morality but bereft of any real moral core - he showed that in Jane Eyre. I never could understand what she (Jane) saw in him, and why she went back to him anyway. He got far better than he deserved, in Jane; and Antoinette/Bertha, she gets at least her say here, thanks to Rhys. ...more