Terry Gross has impeccable taste. Of all the interviews she's done over her 30+-year career, she has selected an incredible selection of individuals.Terry Gross has impeccable taste. Of all the interviews she's done over her 30+-year career, she has selected an incredible selection of individuals. Each interview offers a unique glimpse into the lives of her subjects, exposing the raw, fleshy layer beneath the surface of some of the greatest creative minds of our time: Updike, Karr, Cash, Grandmaster Flash, Hopper, Hoffman, Rossellini, Sendak and so many more. This was a surprise and delight - and an inspiration for any interviewer....more
For years, I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan and fascinated by Dylan’s biggest inspiration, Woody Guthrie. Dylan biographers, and Dylan himself, often referenFor years, I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan and fascinated by Dylan’s biggest inspiration, Woody Guthrie. Dylan biographers, and Dylan himself, often reference Guthrie’s autobiography Bound for Glory. With great pleasure I realized my local library had a copy.
I didn’t know what I was embarking on. The jacket of the book has a quote from the Springfield Republican that reads, “Reading Bound for Glory is an emotional experience far more stirring for some readers at least, than even the penetrating Grapes of Wrath.” Guthrie’s being compared to Steinbeck? Isn’t that sacrilegious? When I usually read obscure books like this, my expectations are low. Boy was I surprised – not only because this is a fantastic work, but also because this work is not more well known or celebrated among literary circles, music circles, or historical circles.
Guthrie’s vivid descriptions transplant the reader back to a time when poverty, grit, hard work and traveling were the norm in this country. He makes the gruff, rough underbelly of America during the early 20th century human and real. Along the way, the reader also becomes endeared to Guthrie, through his experiences and his mild manner.
This story transcends time: the struggle, the camaraderie, the human kindness, and the universal joy of music that makes this country great. It’s a part of our history worth remembering....more
**spoiler alert** I couldn’t do justice here dissecting Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. All I can do is make observations while the weight of this masterpiec**spoiler alert** I couldn’t do justice here dissecting Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. All I can do is make observations while the weight of this masterpiece is still heavy on my mind.
Reading Anna Karenina was like reading the saga of Jon and Marlena but in a sea of Russian names. Nestled between the social happenings and drama of the noble class Tolstoy depicts are glimpses of 19th century life. He touches on labor issues, materialism, religion and education – all issues of prime concern during this time in Russian history.
One of my favorite aspects of Tolstoy’s writing is his way of explaining his characters’ points of view. There were no characters in this book I particularly liked. But Tolstoy gave them complexities the reader can see by being inside their thoughts and feelings. After reading Anna Karenina, I can also understand why he was a favorite among Beat writers. His passages could have easily influenced the stream of consciousness techniques used by writers like Kerouac and Burroughs.
Ultimately, it was the development of his two main characters – Anna and Levin – that made me fall in love with this classic.
Both were very passionate, consumed by the love they felt for their partners. Both were plagued by jealousy in their relationships. Levin and Anna both contemplated suicide; only Anna was successful. Anna’s motives for ending her life were desperation and spite. Levin couldn’t understand what there was in life to live for. Anna was obsessed with her unfortunate position. Levin was obsessed with the question of existence. But their paths veered. Anna eventually killed herself while Levin lived, finding eventual peace in faith. Levin realized in the end that life’s meaning was what he put into it. It was completely up to him. The tragedy was that Anna never gave herself the chance to reach the same conclusion....more
Into the Wild is yet another compelling work by author Jon Krakauer. He follows the journey of a young man who – after graduating from college – givesInto the Wild is yet another compelling work by author Jon Krakauer. He follows the journey of a young man who – after graduating from college – gives up his family ties and life of privilege to travel the country. He eventually ends up in the Alaskan bush, pushing himself to the limit by venturing with only a ten-pound bag of rice and few other provisions.
The story is an incredible one, but it was hard for me personally to relate to Chris McCandless. Through much of the account I was constantly irritated by his disregard of his family and his self-absorbed attitude. He studied sociology in school and was particularly interested in apartheid and the atrocities occurring in South Africa. But instead of his studies of less fortunate societies making him thankful of what he had, they made him resentful. I couldn’t help but feel McCandless was naïve and immature in many respects, although I can relate to wanting to let go of society’s stronghold on our lives and expectations, and venturing off into nature to find out more about ones self.
It wasn’t until the end of Krakauer’s account that I truly became emotionally involved in McCandless’ story. Although he ventured into the Alaskan wilderness with little knowledge of how to survive, he did quite well for several months. It was a series of unfortunate decisions that led to his demise. And it was a lonely, heartbreaking death.
Despite my feelings about McCandless, Krakauer again uses his brilliant journalist instincts combined with his rare honesty and sincerity to reconstruct McCandless’ journey. His unique way of incorporating his own thoughts and experiences in his books gives his writing depth and makes them relatable. He touches the adventurous spirit in his readers, no matter if they’ve climbed mountains or have ventured no farther than their own backyards....more
Different Seasons is a compilation of four novellas, two of which you may have seen recounted before in the movies Shawshank Redemption and Stand By MDifferent Seasons is a compilation of four novellas, two of which you may have seen recounted before in the movies Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Each story contains simple, charismatic characters. Each story exposes a brutality of sorts, but also includes tenderness and friendship, sometimes in the oddest of places. King brilliantly places “Apt Pupil,” whose main character is a thirteen-year-old boy obsessed with the atrocities of the concentration camps and whose only friend is an ex-Nazi general, next to “The Body,” a story of four lovable thirteen-year-old boys on a summer adventure. These stories are book-ended by first a story about starting a new life, the last a story about a grotesque and early death.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the personal words from the author in the Afterword. He discusses what it was like falling into the role of horror writer. He brings to the reader’s attention how the novellas included in Different Seasons – “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” “Apt Pupil,” “The Body,” and “The Breathing Method” – were a break from his usual material. Yet each contains something horrific.
King explains how each of these stories came out of him after finishing one of his novels, and “it’s as if I’ve always finished the big job with just enough gas left in the tank to blow off one good-sized novella.” I’m always fond of glimpses into the minds of my favorite writers. And although these stories may have been created with “just enough gas left in the tank,” they are still incredible. ...more
Once again, I was moved and entranced by Jon Krakauer’s storytelling. In his 2003 bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer explores the brutalOnce again, I was moved and entranced by Jon Krakauer’s storytelling. In his 2003 bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer explores the brutal murder of a Mormon woman and her daughter as well as an historical account of Mormonism and the development of Mormon fundamentalism.
On July 24, 1984, Brenda and Erica Lafferty were stabbed to death by their family members, who say they were instructed by God to kill their brother’s wife and fifteen-month-old daughter. Through discussions with Dan Lafferty – one of the killers – police records, and other personal accounts, Krakauer displays the lives of the Lafferty family leading up to the horrific incident. Not only does he describe their family life, but also the religious environment that fueled the fundamentalism that eventually developed among the six Lafferty brothers.
Concurrently, Krakauer dissects the history of Mormonism. This is where some of the most fascinating explorations occur. Much of the book’s focus concentrates on polygamy. Although polygamy has been outlawed by the U.S. government and denounced by the LDS (Latter-Day Saints), thousands of fundamentalists in this country still practice polygamy. There are also “polyg” sects in Mexico and Canada practicing – and spreading – their fundamentalist beliefs.
Although common opinion towards polygamy is based on the basic idea that “marriage is defined by the union of a man and a woman,” Krakauer gives a cornucopia of other reasons why individuals might find this practice abhorrent. For instance, in many cases the women have no say in who they marry. The “prophet” often decides who marries whom. In other cases, girls as young as 13 are married off. Sometimes, fathers will choose to marry their own daughters. When those daughters miscarry or give birth to mentally and physically disabled babies, the community assumes it is because of the mothers’ sins – not incest.
According to Under the Banner of Heaven, founder Joseph Smith established the doctrine of polygamy after he became interested in another woman, who wasn’t his wife. The verbiage in The Doctrine & Covenants mentions Emma Smith specifically by name because she was so distraught over Smith’s new “revelation,” which would entitle him to take other wives. Smith’s inability to keep his penis in his pants led to many, many years of oppression and incest among young women.
Another covenant that has been one of the foundations of the Mormon Church – and the cause of much detriment to the church itself – has been that each person has a direct connection with God. Anyone can have a “revelation.” It is this belief that has created so many breaches from the Church of Latter-Day Saints and has fueled Mormon Fundamentalism. It is also one of the reasons Brenda and Erica Lafferty were murdered.
Mormon’s, like many other religions, believe that some day they will inherit the earth. They do not believe in bi-racial marriages. To them, like other Christians, homosexuality is a sin. For some reason, in an era that has worked for so long towards equality, the Mormon religion has frozen millions of people in time – almost moving backwards, in a sense. According to Krakauer, Mormonism is the fastest-growing religion in the world. There are more Mormons now than there are Jews. Soon, they will become a force in this country equal to their evangelical brethren within our government. A force to be reckoned with.
One final thought: I love that in this country we have the right to believe whatever our heart’s desire. I am fascinated by the ability of Mormons to cultivate and grow this religion that was formed less than 200 years ago. But I am astounded and disgusted by the treatment of women in the fundamentalist sects. I find their racial biases atrocious. And I am even more disgusted by Americans who can point and judge other cultures, specifically Muslims, when the oppression of women and racial hatred is still alive and well in our very own country. Who the hell are we to judge?...more
Paul Farmer has to be the hardest working man in medical anthropology. And even that title does him no justice. Tracy Kidder depicts Farmer’s works ovPaul Farmer has to be the hardest working man in medical anthropology. And even that title does him no justice. Tracy Kidder depicts Farmer’s works over a fifteen-year span, from when a young Farmer was finishing his medical degree to developing into a global force on behalf of the world’s poor. Along the way, Kidder describes the patients, doctors and adversaries that Farmer touched and was touched by along the way.
What sets Farmer apart from many other doctors is his belief that socioeconomic situations have a direct link to illness and health matters. Farmer was one of the first people to work based on the theory that just treating illness is not enough. “The physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them” was one of Farmer’s favorite aphorisms, Kidder writes. ...more
**spoiler alert** At 1,141 pages, The Stand is a force to be reckoned with. It’s epic in nature, and horrifying in its details. Not only will this sto**spoiler alert** At 1,141 pages, The Stand is a force to be reckoned with. It’s epic in nature, and horrifying in its details. Not only will this story scare the bejeezus out of its reader, it will also force them to ask what they would do in a similar situation.
The Stand is an old tale, one that has been told in many forms for centuries. It is the story of good versus evil, light versus darkness, God versus the devil. It is the story of an apocalypse of sorts.
The government has created a flu virus, one that has leaked and wiped out most of mankind. Only the immune have survived, but they have lived to watch all the people they loved die a gruesome death. Not only are the details of the flu’s symptoms horrifying, the psychological trauma of watching the world crumble for these characters sets the tone for the entire novel. King is brilliant at telling the survivors’ stories from beginning to end. He hits home the fact that their slates have been essentially wiped clean. They are no longer the people they were before. Circumstances have changed them.
Two characters in particular exemplify this. Stu Redman, a worker at a calculator factory in a small town in Texas, never finished school. He was always considered the quiet one, more of a follower than a leader. He had struggled in his life, as many did. But he kept much of that to himself. It wasn’t until he was forced into a leadership role after the flu had erased society as they knew it that he really shined. He became strong, forthcoming and proved to be a man of strong moral standing and common sense.
In another instance of metamorphosis, Lloyd Henreid was a criminal before the flu. He had robbed and murdered, was in jail when the epidemic quickly ate away at the human population. He was saved from a death of starvation by the evil Randall Flagg, and eventually became his right-hand man. In the community they set up in the West, Lloyd became a leader much like Stu Redman did. He had always been a follower before, was uneducated and weak of mind. But in this new community, its members sought guidance from Lloyd. He suddenly had answers to their questions, which ranged from infrastructure to their own moral dilemmas.
King’s development of all of his characters contributed to the epic nature of this story. His signature gore and shock was also incorporated, but this is much more than a horror story. This is a book about faith and strength of will. It makes you consider, Would I have the strength to go on in similar circumstances? And it is about the continuation of good and evil through eternity....more
I’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin as an actor. When seeing his movies, I expect to laugh. But when I first picked up Martin’s novella Shopgirl, II’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin as an actor. When seeing his movies, I expect to laugh. But when I first picked up Martin’s novella Shopgirl, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a tender, honest story about almost-love. Martin’s way of exploring the thoughts and feelings of a twenty-something woman and middle-aged man in the same story is impeccable. He toggles between the two with ease, making the story comfortable and engaging for the reader.
The most profound aspect of the novella is the omnipotent voice of the narrator. The honesty is cutting and often without passion. This does not mean there is no passion in this story. But the stoicism is soothing and lets the emotions of the characters speak for themselves.
This is a brilliant piece of work, and I cannot wait to read more by this incredible actor – and now I can say – amazing writer....more
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude not only carries the reader through the birth and death of the fictional town of MaGabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude not only carries the reader through the birth and death of the fictional town of Macondo, but also celebrates the birth and death of the Buendia lineage.
This story is about how history repeats itself, always circling and circling until the end becomes the beginning again. This is a story about the snake that ate its own tail. Fantasy and facts intertwine, painting the walls of the Buendia home in Macondo. The children never know what to believe and what not to believe because the storytellers tell all their stories in the same voice, with the same face, no matter how extravagant. Marquez modeled this mode of storytelling after his own grandparents, who shared with him their own superstitions and family histories.
For over one hundred years, the Buendia family is marked by passion, death and incest. The siblings, aunts and uncles have children, each carrying the names that have been passed down for generations. The names have been passed down for so long that by the time the last children are born and named, their ancestors are only mystical characters. Inhabitants of the town question their ever existing.
When reading this book, one gets the feeling that they’re reading the same story over and over again. The transfer from parent to child on and on of the same Buendia characteristics adds to this sense. But as the family lives on – mostly oblivious to the changes in the outside world – the town of Macondo is changing. From its humble beginnings when it was originally founded by Jose Arcadio Buendia, to its days of prosperity then of war, to its swift ending, the only constant in the town is the Buendia family.
“The history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.” From years of solitude was finally born (as predicted by Ursula – the family’s original mother) the product of incest and passion: The last born child bore a pig’s tail. The axle was worn. The solitary nature of the Buendia family eventually led to its demise. But not without providing many, many years of glorious stories and people, filled with life and color....more
The Motorcycle Diaries gives a fresh view of the famous revolutionary Che Guevara by relating the Latin American adventure of Guevara and his friend AThe Motorcycle Diaries gives a fresh view of the famous revolutionary Che Guevara by relating the Latin American adventure of Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado on the motorcycle aptly named "Comeback." As someone who knew little about Guevara and his revolution – and who still has much to learn – this was an excellent way to begin learning about Latin American history and Guevara’s role. It has sparked in me a desire to learn more about this revolutionary leader. But this travel diary is more than just an historical account. It is also a beautifully written story easy to relate to. The longing for adventure and the drive to gain more from life is something many of us feel.
The diaries are a composition of notes Guevara wrote along his trek through Latin America. After the conclusion of his trip, he went back and put all his notes together, adding and subtracting as he saw fit. There are so many passages that left me wondering if they were composed in the passion of the moment or after careful deliberation while pouring over the notes. One such passage was included during Guevara and Granado’s stop in Miramar to visit Guevara’s love. He describes his struggle to leave the place, feeling tied to his girl. Granado starts to think he’ll be traveling alone. But Guevara eventually pulls himself away and calls it a victory. But then he writes: “Yet afterwards I doubted whether driftwood has the right to say, ‘I win,’ when the tide throws it on to the beach it seeks.”
The pride Guevara and his companion feel for Argentina and its neighboring countries is prevalent throughout the diary entries. It truly feels like Guevara is becoming the man he will eventually be. His insight and understanding that he was still learning about the world is honest and sincere. The following was included in the chapter “San Martin de los Andes”:
I now know, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts, that my destiny is to travel, or perhaps it’s better to say that traveling is our destiny, because Alberto feels the same. Still, there are moments when I think with profound longing of those wonderful areas in our south. Perhaps one day, tired of circling the world, I’ll return to Argentina and settle in the Andean lakes, if not indefinitely then at least for a pause while I shift from one understanding of the world to another.
I admire Guevara’s ability to recognize this experience will have an impact on his life, and also his understanding that world views continue to change with experience.
Guevara carefully details the people the two young men encounter along their journey. He is affected by the oppression and the poverty he sees. Time and again he relates how difficult it is for people to understanding the point of their journey. The two men beg for food, shelter and transportation. But they created their own circumstances. Others they come across are also begging, but because of circumstances out of their control.
Guevara and Granado encounter a migrant couple who’ve been outcast because they are communists. The couple describes their hardships and their plan to attempt to find work at the sulfur mines. Guevara writes:
It’s a great pity that they repress people like this. Apart from whether collectivism, the “communist vermin,” is a danger to decent life, the communism gnawing at his entrails was no more than a natural longing for something better, a protest against persistent hunger transformed into a love for this strange doctrine, whose essence he could never grasp but whose translation, “bread for the poor,” was something which he understood and, more importantly, filled him with hope.
From this passage the reader gets a sense for Guevara’s skill at putting himself in others’ shoes. Communism is such a dirty word in our own country, but Guevara is able to look past the stereotypes and understand why these people believe what they believe. And he does this without prejudice, which is rare as much in Latin America as it is in our own country.
In 1960, eight years after Guevara wrote The Motorcycle Diaries, he addressed a group of Cuban medical students and workers. The speech is partially printed in the appendix of this edition. Guevara discusses his development from medical student to revolutionary doctor.
Then I realized one fundamental thing: to be a revolutionary doctor, or to be a revolutionary, there must first be a revolution. The isolated effort, the individual effort, the purity of ideals, the desire to sacrifice an entire lifetime to the noblest of ideals means naught if that effort is made alone, solitary, in some corner of Latin America, fighting against hostile governments and social conditions that do not permit progress.
Guevara goes on to talk about the importance of weapons in a revolution, which I’ve decided to exclude here. But what I find interesting in this piece is his emphasis on unity. He tells these students that their cause and effort is worthless if it is done alone. If there is no revolution, there is no power behind what you might be working towards. This theory can easily be applied to certain events in this U.S., especially now with the war in Iraq and the horrible response to the hurricane disaster.
For years I’ve seen Che’s dark silhouette adorn T-shirts, posters and even tattoos in this country. But I never had a full understanding of why. And I still have much to learn. But what I’ve gained from this book is that Guevara cared for his people, and all people. He believed that everyone had the right to work and be paid, to have food if they’re hungry, and believe whatever it is they want to believe. Although he became a famous, powerful revolutionary, he was a human being first, and that’s what this book reminds us....more
While reading this book, I often found myself catching my breath; it actually made me breathe differently. Jon Krakauer's account of his personal EverWhile reading this book, I often found myself catching my breath; it actually made me breathe differently. Jon Krakauer's account of his personal Everest expedition is riveting, to say the least. It is well written, but the story itself makes this a page-turner. Although you somewhat know the ending before you even open the book -- disaster -- the details of events leading up to the tragedies high on the world's tallest mountain are well displayed.
This is an amazing adventure, filled with twists and turns. But many people lost their lives, and this is a heart-wrenching and guilt-ridden account. Into Thin Air offers an incredible reminder of how small and insignificant we are in the face of Mother Nature and her elements....more
Trust. This book is about trust. The characters must trust each other. They must also trust themselves. But mostly, they must trust the writer in an uTrust. This book is about trust. The characters must trust each other. They must also trust themselves. But mostly, they must trust the writer in an unspoken character/author way. These characters are driven by something otherworldly and unexplainable. They are asked to believe the unbelievable. But Murakami writes in such a natural tone, the reader buys into it too, even at times when the characters are second-guessing themselves. As a review in Publishers Weekly explains, "...his [Murakami's] readers, like his characters, will go just about anywhere Murakami wants them to, whether they 'get' it or not."
Kafka on the Shore tells parallel tales. One of a fifteen-year-old runaway, the other of a sixty-five-year-old man who's not running away, but running towards something even he cannot describe. The young man is wise beyond his years; the old man is "not so bright." Both characters have mysterious pasts that have made them who they are, pushing them in the direction they're both going until finally their paths cross.
Murakami's entire cast is rich with detail and very likable. The philosophical overtones entertwine with the plot, at times giving explanations to the characters of the events around them that seem unexplainable. One of the most influential individuals in the novel is Oshima, a friend to the young boy Kafka. Through Oshima Kafka learns about philosophy and literature. These lessons help Kafka understand the world around him: love, loss, adolescent confusion. Many times, it appears the writer is talking through Oshima. In one instance, Oshima is explaining to Kafka his dislike of people with limited imaginations: "... intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form, and continue to thrive." As the reader later finds, this is a metaphor for other events that occur in the novel. And with the vivid imagination of the author, it is not surprising these sentiments are shared with the reader.
Kafka on the Shore requires a certain amount of trust from the reader as well, but it is not difficult to give oneself to the stories Murakami tells. The writing is superb, even when he's describing men talking to cats and leeches and makarel falling from the sky. This is a book you carry around with you all day long, even when you're not reading it. That is a sure sign of an excellent novel....more
On Writing is King's memoir about how he became a writer and describes his writing process and how it's evolved over his long, successful career. YetOn Writing is King's memoir about how he became a writer and describes his writing process and how it's evolved over his long, successful career. Yet this isn't just a book "on writing." His personal story is just as compelling as his encouragement to budding writers is inspiring. For beginning fiction writers this is a must, but even non-writers will appreciate this book....more