Shrugging It Off I have the overwhelming desire to turn a cartwheel, to celebrate the completion of the chore of reading Atlas Shrugged. And there’s no...moreShrugging It Off I have the overwhelming desire to turn a cartwheel, to celebrate the completion of the chore of reading Atlas Shrugged. And there’s no mistaking it. Reading this 1168 page tome was a CHORE.
Why did I take it on? Number one: It was the October selection for my book club, a group of women I cherish. Number two: It’s been on my bookshelf gathering dust since 1992. (Do the math. That’s 17 years).
So, it took me 17 years to think about reading this monumental piece of literature, and six weeks to plow through it. Until yesterday, it took over my life.
Perhaps slightly changed by reading this rich story of American industrialists in a capitalism vs. communism struggle, regardless, I want my life back—my productive, happy life. Because I had both the hardbound version and the audio version, the story and the characters rarely left me. The good news is that I didn’t just sit on my arse and read. While listening, I was a productive member of society and created an entire jewelry line using precious metals and copper. I’m not sure, however, if it would have earned me an invitation to “Galt’s Gulch” (Rand’s version of Atlantis). In fact, I had a hard time sorting through all the larger-than-life characters to find someone to whom I could relate.
The heroes are all, perhaps, too perfect and the “looters” are all too pathetic. Dagny Taggert is a brilliant and beautiful engineer who runs a railroad. One of her many lovers is Hank Rearden, who creates a new, industry-changing metal. Another is Francisco d’Anconia, of the d’Anconia Copper family. And then, of course, there’s the most significant character of all, about whom we are asked from beginning and throughout the story, “Who is John Galt?” The king of the pathetic looters is James Taggert, Dagny’s moronic brother, who is one among a host of government-directed 'officials' who systematically take steps to destroy the country by imposing and acting upon a series of directives/acts.
The story is fascinating and the characters are incredibly well drawn, albeit highly unlikeable. First published in 1959, some aspects are dated, and yet, current political and governmental activities, particularly relating to corporate bailouts and economic stimulus plans, make Atlas Shrugged eerily prophetic and certainly worth discussing in intellectual circles.
Its biggest detriment is the length. Characters don’t dialog. Instead, they engage in proselytizing speeches that go on and on and on and on and on to the point of mind-numbing repetition. I think Rand could have easily gotten the same message/information/story across in half the number of pages.
Now that I’m finished I don’t regret the reading experience. As a writer, I can’t help but admire Rand’s accomplishment and her amazing focus. I could take a page from her book—so-to-speak—and get back to writing my own novel. So, I will therefore close Atlas Shrugged once and for all (I don’t anticipate reading it again) and before I get back to work, I will contemplate my role in society and what I have to offer. First things first: Should I name the new jewelry line “Rearden Metals?” How about “Michele Shrugged?”
This was a very quick read. Before I knew it, I was almost finished, and that's because of Anne Tyler's kee...morePortrait of Two Families as They Become One
This was a very quick read. Before I knew it, I was almost finished, and that's because of Anne Tyler's keen ability to paint vivid characters and vivid scenes. I believed this story would focus on the adoption of Asian babies, but this aspect is only in the background. Digging To America springs forth from the adoption of two Korean girls--one to the Donaldsons, an American family, the other to the Yazdun Family, who are of Iranian heritage, and moves forward in time as the two families come together and share a new tradition: "Arrival Day." Each year the families alternate hosting the party marking the August day when they first met their babies as well as each other. The story spans about five or six years. There isn't much of a plot; however, the characters are so well drawn, that I felt I knew them, and grew very interested to see how their lives would play out in relation to one another.
The perspective shifts from chapter to chapter, a way to introduce most of the main characters. We primarily get to know the American mother, Bitsy, who is an opinionated, educated woman. She doesn't believe in disposable diapers or preschool, and she keeps her Korean-born daughter's given name, "Jin-ho," scoffing at the Yazdan family for changing their baby's name from "Sooki" to "Susan." There is also a tremendous amount of focus on Susan's Iranian grandmother, Maryam, a widow, who came to America by way of an arranged marriage. Maryam's experience as an immigrant and her constant struggle to assimilate to the American culture is mostly what this story is about, and when she becomes involved with Bitsy's widowed father, Dave, their awkward romance has tremendous impact, as these two families grow and change together.
I found chapter 9, when the perspective switches to young "Jin-ho," now the older sister to a little girl, "Xiu-mei," who was adopted from China, to be at first jarring to the pace of the story. The language and observations are too lofty for an adolescent. But as the story of the "Binky party" unfolds--another one of Bitsy's ideas to rid her daughter of the constant need for her pacifier--I grew more comfortable with the perspective, and found the story quite funny. The chapter itself was like a short story within the novel.
I recommend this book for Anne Tyler fans, and for those who appreciate character-driven stories and writing that flows. (less)
I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central...moreAn Excellent Choice for Book Clubs
I had a hard time putting down this book and felt utterly transported to a village in the Hunan province in central south China during the early to mid-nineteenth century. The narrator, 80-year-old Lily, who refers to herself as one who has "yet to die," tells the story of her life. She has outlived her family members and relates the story of her formative years--and her relationship with another woman, Snow Flower. This well written tale is related with clarity, sentiment, and most poignantly, remorse. It's through remorse that the reader comes to know the true character of Lily, as she reflects upon a misunderstanding she had with her one true love.
Beyond the reflection of Lily's relationship with Snow Flower, a girl she meets at the age of six when they are introduced by the local matchmaker and tied by contract to forever be known as "laotongs," or "old sames," this story provides a lesson in Chinese history and culture. Many have heard of the tradition of feet binding, but through Lisa See's writing, one experiences the excruciating pain and the meaning behind a mother's duty to bind her "worthless" daughters' feet. It's all about marriage and, of course, sex. At once I went to the Internet to look for images of bound feet because I had a terribly hard time visualizing a foot only seven centimeters in length.
I enjoyed every minute of reading this story and I highly recommend it. I think it would make an excellent selection for book clubs, given the vast number of elements to spark topics of conversation: Chinese culture--past and present; Mother-daughter relationships; Foot-binding; Arranged marriage; Female relationships; Lesbian relationships (?); Chinese history; Chinese foods; Chinese geography, etc. (less)
My Highest Recommendation This tale is woven together so masterfully it’s nearly impossible to put down. The characters are rich, unique, and memorable...moreMy Highest Recommendation This tale is woven together so masterfully it’s nearly impossible to put down. The characters are rich, unique, and memorable in a way that has worked into my own personal history of the love of reading.
We begin by getting to know “the oldest man in the world,” Leopold Gursky. There’s an ironic aspect to “Leo” as he attempts to make himself known to the world everyday. He’s afraid he’ll die and no one will know he’s missing. This is, perhaps, the result of having to make himself invisible during the years of Nazi occupation . . . and for becoming non-existent in the life of his one true love, Alma, (who moves to America before him and marries someone else), and his son, who is a famous writer. Leo does this by making little scenes like knocking over displays in stores and interacting with his best friend “Bruno.” Meanwhile, he believes his first manuscript, "The History of Love,” has perished in a flood. It hasn’t. It’s been published in another language and under another name. His second manuscript has a similar fate and it’s amazing that author Nicole Krauss enables this plot twist to both break your heart and make it burst with love at the same time.
The History of Love inspires the naming of the other main character, Alma Singer, who at the age of 14, takes us on her journey to find not only the author, but the person requesting her mother’s translation, and the real life Alma. She’s primarily concerned with making her widowed mother happy, but also becomes wrapped up in the mystery that is The History of Love, and she ties everything together.
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time for the exquisite writing, the unique characters, and the creative plot. My highest recommendation.