I’ve been afraid of Steinbeck’s classic novel for so long; the title alone always put me off because I never could see the connection between the two.I’ve been afraid of Steinbeck’s classic novel for so long; the title alone always put me off because I never could see the connection between the two. Yet, when I went to retrieve Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath from the library, I was completely surprised to see how short Of Mice and Men really is. Right then and there I decided my fear was completely irrational — after all, I’ve read novels that 1,000 pages — and added it to my stack of books.
The novella follows Lennie Small, a large, brawny man who is also mentally slow, and George Milton, the opposite of Lennie in every way, as they travel from farm to farm during the 1930s looking for work, looking to make enough money to get their own slice of land where they can be their own boss and Lennie can take care of the rabbits. Lennie, though, manages to get into trouble everywhere they go, which forces them to flee under the cover of darkness. At their newest place of employment, George tells Lennie not to speak to anyone, especially not to Curley’s wife. But, just as before, Lennie gets in trouble.
The title stems from Lennie’s obsession with petting mice; he’s too strong and often his affection for the animal causes them to die. And the novel as a whole reminded me of a cross between My Louisiana Sky and Flowers for Algernon. The mother in My Louisiana Sky was so enthralled with hugging her kitten that she squeezed it too tightly and killed it; in Flowers for Algernon, Charlie is mentally slow and yet loves the mouse, Algernon. Of course, Of Mice and Men (1936) was written before any of these other novels, but the feelings I get from it are similar to the ones I get from the others.
Anyways, the novella examines what friendship really means and the role dependency plays in our lives. Lennie’s dependency on George causes neither of them to learn what it means to be independent, and their interwoven dream of owning their own farm places a strain in their relationship throughout their time together. These characters, though, are perfectly written, perfectly formed. The characters are what propel the plot forward, and that is the most beautiful part of this heart-wrenching novel.
Of Mice and Men is clearly a classic for a reason....more
Part memoir, part examination of history, The Long March: The True History of Communist China’s Founding Myth follows Sun Shuyun as she retraces the sPart memoir, part examination of history, The Long March: The True History of Communist China’s Founding Myth follows Sun Shuyun as she retraces the steps of the Long March and explores the real truth behind the founding of Communist China with the Long March. Shuyun interviews survivors from all walks of life — men and women, those who entered as children and as adults, conscripted and enlisted — and is shocked to learn that the heroic tale that every Chinese child learns in school ignores important facts, disregards the reality of violent purges within and at the hand of the Red Army, exaggerates the volatility of river crossings and death tolls, and turns a military retreat into courageous stand against the rich and the Nationalists.
“Mao’s foresight was quite extraordinary. To think of turning the Long March, which was essentially a retreat, into a glorious victory, was itself a stroke of genius. To be able to make it the founding legend of Communist China showed a political acumen, a gift for propaganda, and an optimism and self-assurance that few possess” (pg. 192).
The realities of the Long March did not really surprise me; I expected things such as conscription to be the realities of this war as they are the realities of almost all wars. The difficult conditions Shuyun recounts — resistance from KMT and warlord troops to the environmental conditions as they crossed mountains and plains — was interesting because I really got an understanding of the vastness and differences in climate in China. What I found to be most interesting, though, was Shuyun’s reactions to the truth. Growing up in Communist China where textbooks are propaganda tools, Shuyun was surprised to find something so heroic to be a re-writing of history and, as you read, the more and more it becomes obvious how jaded Shuyun becomes with the Communist Party in China.
The book does become a little confusing towards the end as Shuyun alternates between first-person and third-person, and there are moments when I was not sure who “I” referred to. (Maybe became quotation marks were missing from the beginning of chapters.) Overall, this is an interesting account of an achievement in both the history of China and Shuyun’s personal history....more
Portable London is broke up into sections based on the neighborhoods of London. Helpful because it gives restaurant recommendations and insider tips tPortable London is broke up into sections based on the neighborhoods of London. Helpful because it gives restaurant recommendations and insider tips to beating the lines — excuse me, queues — based on where you in London rather than a giant list in the back. It gives more in-depth recommendations than any of the other three guidebooks, but the print is tiny, really tiny. In addition, because it was published in 1999, the hours and prices of some of London’s attractions and restaurants are no longer correct....more
Memorable Walks provided a great starting point because each walk it details is localized around specific highlights of London, which gave me my beariMemorable Walks provided a great starting point because each walk it details is localized around specific highlights of London, which gave me my bearings when I was trying to plan out each day. Otherwise, I would have had my father and I visiting Buckingham Palace to King’s Cross Station to the Tower of London to the Imperial War Museum, which are all on different sides of the city, on the same day. But other than that, I found that Memorable Walks wasn’t all that helpful. It wants you to visit obscure statues of American figures that technically stand on American soil when I could do that right here in my hometown and the town of my college. I want to experience London and its history, not the history of the country I’m from....more
In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the entirely of this textbook as my Intro to Comparative Politics class focused solely on Britain,In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the entirely of this textbook as my Intro to Comparative Politics class focused solely on Britain, Germany, China, and Mexico. Therefore, I only read the chapters on these countries and a handful of others dealing with political economy, conditions for democracy, conditions for development, and the like.
Comparative Politics offers a fairly compact look at the political system of each country it delves into, and it’s fairly easy to get the “gist” of a country. However, I found that the book was pretty dry; it wasn’t boring, per say, but lacked a little pizazz to keep the reader interested. If you’re not interested in the country you’re reading about, Sodaro isn’t going to give you a reason to. And, personally, I found the journal articles my professor assigned to be much more interesting than the chapters of this textbook....more
At 9:10 a.m. Gerda Weissmann’s life ended; the Nazis invaded Poland and red, black, and white flags with swastikas hung from her neighbor’s windows. UAt 9:10 a.m. Gerda Weissmann’s life ended; the Nazis invaded Poland and red, black, and white flags with swastikas hung from her neighbor’s windows. Uncertainty turns into upheaval first with the deportation of her brother and then with the loss of her family’s home. Her ill father becomes listless; her mother withdrawals into herself. And almost as quickly as it begins Gerda finds herself in the Bielitz ghetto where she separated from her father, then to a transit camp where she is separated from her mother, and then onto the labour camp, Bolkenhain. This is only the beginning of Klein’s story, a story that ends with the Nazis robbing her of all but her life.
This is the book that’s been missing from my course on the Holocaust. We’ve learned about Merin, a member of the Judenrat who lined his pockets; we’ve learned about the difference between labour camps and concentration camps. And according to our syllabus, in the coming weeks we’re going to learn about death marches. But as well as my professor is at telling stories for lectures instead of saying “these are the facts you need to know,” there is something you can only get by reading the memoir of a survivor. The “I” makes it personal; the “I” makes facts visible realities.
Even on the written side, All But My Life is one of the most, if not the most, well-written written memoirs I’ve ever read. It’s heart-wrenching, emotional, and personal when other Holocaust memoirs are distant. You relive Klein’s past, and I can understand why in the preface Klein says she is now, finally, emancipated from her burden.
It’s so personal, so powerful, and worth every tear I shed. And I would love to read The Hours After, a collection of letters between Klein and her husband, U.S. Army lieutenant Kurt Klein, who liberated her on May 7th, 1945, after the war....more
A reader of this blog recommended I read one of Kingsbury’s novels; she said it didn’t matter which one as long as I tried one. Oceans Apart was the oA reader of this blog recommended I read one of Kingsbury’s novels; she said it didn’t matter which one as long as I tried one. Oceans Apart was the only one I could get through PaperBackSwap, so I decided to through caution to the wind (it’s Christian fiction) and try it. This book had me bawling by the end.(My roommate now thinks I’m loony.)
The emotions in this novel are about as realistic as they get — the anguish over Conner and his wife, Michele, feel while deciding to to keep his eight-year-old son, Max, neither of them knew about or not, Michele’s turmoil over excusing her husband for adultery, and Max’s heartbreak over losing not only his mother, but his dog and the only home he’s known — and I’m so glad I decided to over look the label of Christian fiction and try it. While I’m not sure if I’ll ever pick up another one of Kingsbury’s books (too little time, too many textbooks to read) in the near future, I am glad this is the one I read. It’s just a wonderful book....more
Oryx and Crake was an extra assignment given to me by my Political Science Fiction professor after I went to her and told I was “understimulated” (herOryx and Crake was an extra assignment given to me by my Political Science Fiction professor after I went to her and told I was “understimulated” (her words, not mine) by my classes. At the time we were about to start The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read this past May and enjoyed, and upon mentioning this fact, she instructed me to read Atwood’s finalist for the 2003 Booker Prize and the 2003 Governor General’s Award. Since she listened the audio book, her plan was that I would read it and upon finishing it, we’d compare notes. I’m interested in what she’ll have to say about her experience listening because my experience reading certainly does not match up to her previous statements. Needless to say, I struggled to enjoy Atwood’s science fiction novel.
Snowman, the main character and perceivably the only human left living, is the caretaker of the Crakers, or the Children of Crake, the mad scientist of this tale. Complicating this story, though, are the friendship between Snowman (also known as Jimmy) and Crake – formulated in their youth, this friendship struggles to last through college after Crake heads to the prestigious Watson-Crick Institute and Snowman to the arts-based Martha Graham Academy – and each boy’s relationship with Oryx, the character we’re given the least insight into. Originally, Oryx’s mother sells her to a man who blackmails others for trying to have s*x with her; later, she’s passed along to a child p*rnographer and the video she “stars” in is the first time Snowman and Crake see her. The video haunts Snowman; it’s barely a blimp on Crake’s screen. After landing a job at a biotech corporation, Crake creates both the Crakers – innocent and peaceful, these genetically engineered humans are herbivores whose, um, parts turn blue during their limited breeding seasons – and a genetic pandemic that, apparently, kills all humans except for Snowman. His final product, though, provides the climax of this tale.
I liked the concepts behind the novel – corporate parasitism, ethics, humanity, science over arts, genetic engineering – and I thought quite a bit of it was a reflection of life today. Of course, this is the whole point of science fiction novels, and I would have been disappointed if this had not been the case with Oryx and Crake. One thing I did noticed, though, was the similarities between Atwood’s novel and several I have read for my political science fiction class. For example, in “The Product of the Extremes” by Brenda W. Clough, a genetically-based pill eliminates racism and, ultimately, race; in Oryx and Crake, Crake believes the BlyssPluss pill will eliminate racism. It will certainly make a good talking point when I meet with my professor on Friday.
So what didn’t I like about this tale? I really struggled to get into the novel because I didn’t like any of the characters. Crake was too much of a mad scientist, Snowman rubbed me the wrong way, and Oryx played both men. Ultimately, though, it was the lack of information and lack of characterization of all three main characters that bother me. Structurally speaking, Oryx and Crake suffers from being both physically too long and from taking too long for the story to move forward. The whole thing is told in flashbacks as Snowman reminisces as the Crakers pester him for stories of their creator. The vulgarity and the fact that sex was everywhere in this novel really turned me off to it. As boys, Snowman and Crake play “Kwiktime Osama,” which mimics the actions of its reference, and “Blood and Roses,” a graphic video game where players play historical rivals and battle to the bloody, gory death. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Commentary on today? Of course. Unnecessarily nauseating? Resoundingly yes. And I still don’t understand Crake’s motivations for his actions; there’s no clear reasoning for anything that happens, and that’s ultimately this novel’s downfall despite the open ending.
Apparently The Year of the Flood, which was released towards the end of last month, is the follow-up to Oryx and Crake, but I don’t plan on reading it....more
The first edition of Unholy Trinity was co-written and titled by students who took the same class I’m currently taking. This edition, though, is definThe first edition of Unholy Trinity was co-written and titled by students who took the same class I’m currently taking. This edition, though, is definitely all Professor Peet.While it’s not nearly as confusing as Geography of Power, this book goes off on tangent after tangent.
Unholy Trinity delves into what Peet considers to be undemocratic, American-dominated organizations that operates more as corporations than organizations committed to every member country’s interest. Peet does a good job of introducing the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization both in historical context and their current form, but the third member of this unholy triad, the World Bank, is virtually ignored by Peet as it’s given the least amount of attention.
The problem is, though, that Peet takes the long road to his point, and while he chases his tangents, I either lose focus on what he’s saying or I zero in on his tangent instead of his point. I hate how he refers to himself in the Royal ‘We’, and I wish he would write his books the way he talks — simple, straightforward. Instead, Peet writes confusing things like:
“These diverse articulations, between the global and the local, can be described using a set of geopolitical terms that combine the political-discursive-rational dimension with the geographical-organizational-power dimension.” (pg. 23)
No wonder so many people come to discussion group scratching their heads.
Regardless, if you can get past the confusing language, Unholy Trinity is a pretty good introduction to reasons to the anit-IMF, World Bank, and WTO camp. However, the greatest downfall of this book is the fact that there is very little discussion of the other side, of why there are some who are pro-IMF, World Bank, and WTO. He’s offers some pieces of pro-opinion in order to critique it, but ultimately replies upon critiques of his tangent topics to carry his argument....more
A collection of short stories by the author of House of Sand and Fog, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories delve into the actions, thoughts, and motivesA collection of short stories by the author of House of Sand and Fog, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories delve into the actions, thoughts, and motives of criminals, ex-cons, and those who work in the criminal justice system, and into the lives of those who fall between in the cracks of society. In the title story, a halfway house worker is kidnapped by one of the inmates, Elroy, and forced to drive Elroy to Canada, to freedom. Along the way, Allen discovers why Elroy killed and as a result struggles to come to terms with his role in keeping Elroy locked up.
In "Duckling Girl," a teenager seeks relief from her sexually abusive father with two similarly abusive teenage boys. "Wolves in the Marsh" is about a young boy’s coming of age as he goes hunting alone. In "Forky," for which Dubus won a National Magazine Award for Fiction, an ex-con is haunted by abuse he suffers immediately upon being released from prison. "Mountains" is told from the viewpoint of Sally, a waitress, who loves a Vietnam vet with post traumatic stress syndrome. In "White Trees, Hammer Moon," a man finds himself unprepared for a family camping trip in New Hampshire while knowing he'll be headed to prison soon, and in the final short story, "Last Dance," tells the story of a young man excepting the end of an affair.
Of the seven stories, there were only two I could really slip into -- "The Cage Keeper" and "Mountains" -- with the other five either not capturing my attention or failing to have characters I could understand. With those short stories I did enjoy, Dubus was great at delving into the thoughts and reasoning behind who his characters are and where they are coming from. And how can I not love that cover? It's so fitting as it echos the dark and foreboding nature of the tales and the movement of the characters. Anyways, as this is my first time reading a collection of short stories rather than an individual story, I hope this will not continue to be the case with every collection I read....more
The title arises from a child’s simple question: if American children are digging to China, are Chinese children digging to America?
ThThe title arises from a child’s simple question: if American children are digging to China, are Chinese children digging to America?
The questions continue: what does it mean to be American? What does it mean to be a foreigner? And what does it mean to be a family? These are the questions I thought Digging to America was going to ask, and in the beginning, Tyler’s seventeenth novel set out looking for answers. It’s when the Donaldsons and Yazdans celebrate the fourth arrival party that the novel began to flounder as it shifts its focus from these questions and these daughters to a relationship between Susan Yazdan’s grandmother and Jin-Ho Donaldon’s grandfather.
The Donaldsons, an “American-American” family, and the Yazdans, second-generation Iranian-Americans, meet at the Baltimore airport while waiting for the arrival of their respective Korean daughters. Both families have decided to adopt after years of trying; both are anxious to bring their child home. What’s interesting, though, is the difference between each family’s parenting styles and the subsequent relationships they form with their daughters. The Donaldsons decide to keep Jin-Ho’s Korean first name; the Yazdans teach their daughter to speak Farsi and cook Iranian cuisine.
The first three-fourths of this novel are thought-provoking and interesting, but, as I said above, the last quarter was tedious. It was as though Tyler ran out of problems for the families to face and the only remaining thing to do was to complicate their friendship by having Maryam and Dave date. The ending, therefore, is quite sappy and predictable, but the first three-fourths are still enough to win high praise from me....more
I liked Richmond’s The Year of Fog so much that I was excited to see this book on the shelf of my new public library. But I had a major problem with NI liked Richmond’s The Year of Fog so much that I was excited to see this book on the shelf of my new public library. But I had a major problem with No One You Know as soon as the main plot became clearer. If an author wrote a novel about a murder without changing the names and location and named a real-life person as the murder — a person who was not arrested, charged, and found guilty in a court of law — he and the publisher would be sued for libel. And they would lose. You cannot accuse a person of a crime in print; that’s Journalism 101 and I’m sure the same for Book Writing 101.
Not only that, but I’m sure that Ellie’s parents would have sued the author as well. For what, I have no idea, but Americans are very lawsuit happy and this one has lawsuit written all over it. So I had a real problem with all of Ellie’s whining over how unfair this book was; I wanted her to do something about it. And then Ellie uses Professor Thorpe, the author of the book about her sister, Lila, as a resource in her own quest to solve the murder. How could she possibly trust him again? He exploited their relationship to cash in big time, and then she uses his information for help in her mission.
I did like how much a role San Francisco played in the novel. Typically, the setting of a book is just a backdrop, and Richmond does a good job of really making it feel like the characters know their surroundings. But this is something that was also prominent in The Year of Fog and not something original to No One You Know.
All in all, I’m afraid that Richmond may have been a one-hit wonder for me....more
In my humblest opinion, “The Tempest” is the most confusing play written by Shakespeare. I actually saw a production of the play long before I was temIn my humblest opinion, “The Tempest” is the most confusing play written by Shakespeare. I actually saw a production of the play long before I was tempted to pluck “The Tempest” off my shelves that left me befuddled and wondering what in the world was going on. I was afraid it was the acting and how far away I was from the stage that contributed to my confusion, so I decided to revisit Shakespeare’s play.
The rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded on an island for twelve years because of Prospero’s jealous plot with the king to rid the dukedom of Propsero. They aren’t alone, though, as the two have a deformed slave named Caliban and the spirit, Ariel, that Prospero commands to do his bidding. Upon discovering that that his brother, the king, and a couple of foot-solders will be sailing past the island, Prospero creates a massive storm and causes the cast of characters to be shipwrecked on the island.
This is no “Gilligan’s Island,” though, and reading “The Tempest” compared to listening and watching wasn’t any better. I had an extremely hard time following along and although some scholars say this is Shakespeare’s masterpiece, I have to say “absolutely not.” I couldn’t get into it, and therefore just couldn’t see what others have....more
I saw a production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” when we arrived in Montana that was set during the nineteenth century and unfortunately was lost iI saw a production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” when we arrived in Montana that was set during the nineteenth century and unfortunately was lost in translation. I picked up my copy of the play because I wanted to flesh out something of the things that were confusing — scene changes that didn’t happen, voices that where muddled due to a lack of microphones — and give this comedy of errors a second chance.
Two friends, Valentine and Proteus, begin this tale with a farewell in Verona; Valentine is off to improve himself, while Proteus stays home with his love, Julia. However, Proteus’ father decides to also send his son off to Milan, and an unhappy Julia and Proteus confess their undying love for one another. Upon arrival in Milan, Proteus immediately falls in love with Silvia, whom Valentine plans to elope with, and plots to do anything he can to steal her from Valentine. He tells the Duke, Silvia’s father, of Valentine’s plan, which earns Valentine a banishment from court. And so with Valentine gone, Proteus immediately sets into a motion a plan to win Silvia’s affection, not realizing that his former love, Julia, has disguised herself as a man and indentured herself into his service.
I liked the play — especially because of the character of Launce and his poorly trained dog, Crab — until Valentine, Proteus, Silvia, and Julia are all lost in forest. Up until then the play felt very real, but once the characters wind up in the forest the whole things turns into junk. The storyline is wrapped up very quickly with the characters all forgiving one another with no hard feelings, despite the fact that there was betrayal, broken hearts, and even an attempted rape. Valentine, the wronged man, especially takes a turn for the worse when he saves his love, Silvia, from being forced by Proteus but then turns around and gives Silvia to Proteus in the name of friendship.
I was first introduced to Life of Pi through summer reading for my sophomore year English class; I thought it was stupid, boring, and tedious at timesI was first introduced to Life of Pi through summer reading for my sophomore year English class; I thought it was stupid, boring, and tedious at times. And then I reached the end, which quickly catapulted this book from one of my most despised novels for school to one of my favorite. I loved it, and still do love it, so much that I thanked the head of the English department for making us read it (which wasn’t that big of a challenge because she was my freshman English teacher, but is still something I’ve never done) and was aggrieved over the fact that several of my friends and classmates chose to read SparkNotes instead.
I couldn’t, and still can’t, pinpoint why I think this novel is so wonderful; there’s just something awe inspiring about Martel’s writing, Pi’s journey — both the adventure out in the ocean and the inner one of self-discovery — and the direction this novel takes at the end of Pi’s incredible story. It’s a book that every time I return to it makes me fall in love with reading all over again. It’s a story I can’t forget.
Life of Pi won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2001, and it’s quite possible that Martel’s novel is only Book Prize winner I’ve ever enjoyed....more
As I said before, I’ve picked up WITSEC because of a novel I’ve recently read and a television I watch every Sunday night. There are very few nonfictiAs I said before, I’ve picked up WITSEC because of a novel I’ve recently read and a television I watch every Sunday night. There are very few nonfiction books written about this origination due to the nature of their work, so I was excited to find one co-written by the founder of the Federal Witness Protection Program. I’m also not the only one who’s discovered it as I noticed several story lines transferred from print to television by “In Plain Sight.”
The Federal Witness Protection Program, also know as WITSEC for Witness Security, began as a way to break the mob’s code of silence. Without protection witnesses, snitchs, and “rats” would turn up dead in very gruesome ways before federal authorities could bring the case to trial, and the mob ran wild throughout the United States.
Within the book, there’s a lot of technical and personal information that bogs the story down and distracts from the overall focus, WITSEC. However, I did find it very interesting how badly WITSEC was perceived in the 1960s and 70s and the cases that went wrong to be the most interesting part of this nonfiction book. Too often books written by those closest to the program — let alone the “father” of a program — have a tendency to be very arogent and unwilling to confront the controversies. But Shur and Earley have no problem laying it all out there; they hid nothing and explain everything.
I thought the testimony by “Witness X” would give more insight into the human side of the program, but that was problem one of the most disappointing parts. “Witness X” may be real, but she comes across as very fake, very made-up. I wish their had been either more first-person accounts or one by someone else.
The other problem was just how much this book relies on the reader being a mafia buff. I know almost nothing about the mafia — other than “The Sopranos” and The Godfather — and the authors offer no background information as to who “Fat Vinny” and “Sammy the Bull” were.
Bottom line, WITSEC presented an interesting topic, but the narrative was pretty chunky....more