While on a bit of a poetry spree, I picked up some books by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, including: The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poe...moreWhile on a bit of a poetry spree, I picked up some books by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, including: The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, Horoscopes for the Dead, Ballistics, Sailing Alone Around the Room and Picnic, Lightning. I am a big fan of Collins’ work and had high expectations that were more than met by each collection. Each of them were filled with the quirky humor, wry observations and moments of lyrical musings that I have come to expect from Billy Collins. His accessible, almost conversational, style makes his work deceptively easy to take in and enjoy and yet, despite the simplicity of his diction and tone, his poems are full of thought-provoking wit and insight that I truly enjoy.
Sailing Alone Around the Room is an excellent introduction to Billy Collins' work because it combines new poems with selections from past collections. There is so much to love about this book but some of my favorites included: “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House,” “The Lesson,” “Introduction to Poetry,” “The Death of Allegory,” “Forgetfulness,” “First Reader,” “Madmen,” “Sonnet” (my favorite Billy Collins poem of all time) and “Flight of the Reader” (less)
Memoirs of a Geisha struck me as a Japanese version of Gone With the Wind... a world seeped in tradition and grace and loveliness comes to an abrupt e...moreMemoirs of a Geisha struck me as a Japanese version of Gone With the Wind... a world seeped in tradition and grace and loveliness comes to an abrupt end and the beautiful, charming girl who does everything she can to survive, inspired by the one man just out of reach. But where the American culture of Gone with the Wind focused on the spunk and boldness of Scarlett O'Hara (even when playing the role of a demure Southern belle), Sayuri (the title character of Memoirs of a Geisha) is much more passive and indirect. While it may be completely appropriate for the character, considering Japanese culture and the time period in question, it made me feel that neither I (nor Sayuri) was as invested in the story as we should have been.
While I enjoyed Memoirs, and definitely think it is worth reading, I wasn't as thrilled as all the hype suggested I should be. (less)
In my opinion, Night cannot be reviewed like it was an ordinary piece of literature. It is simply a necessity... reading this book is an experience ev...moreIn my opinion, Night cannot be reviewed like it was an ordinary piece of literature. It is simply a necessity... reading this book is an experience every person should have if only to ensure that stories like this one are never forgotten. (less)
Based on my high school experience of reading The Sun Also Rises, I have never considered myself a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s work. But now, more years...moreBased on my high school experience of reading The Sun Also Rises, I have never considered myself a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s work. But now, more years later than I care to admit, I decided to give it another try and picked up The Old Man and the Sea. It was a fast read, as most novellas are, but was rich with food for thought.
While there are plenty of religious motifs and images that I will enjoy thinking about and sifting through, the best part of the story is its overarching theme – the concept that while life is a struggle and destruction inevitable, that the way a man chooses to face it will make all the difference. Santiago could have been an emasculated figure – old and physically weakened, poor and alone. Throughout his time at sea, he feels unprepared, wishing he had more tools, supplies and help. His battle with marlin wounds him, particularly his hands which are ripped and bleeding from pulling on the rope that bound him to the fish and there are more than one occasion where the fish literally pulled him to his knees and at one point ground his face into a nauseating mess of fish guts. Yet, Santiago never becomes pathetic or belittled. His recurring dreams of lions (dreamed once before embarking on his ambitious journey, once during his struggle with the marlin and once again when home) shows a masculine spirit humbled but intact.
Based on The Old Man and the Sea, I now think that maybe I was too quick to write off Hemingway. It is possible that the reader I was in high school was not mature enough to enjoy Hemingway. It is also possible that The Old Man and the Sea is a much better book than The Sun Also Rises is. I don’t know. What I do know is that I enjoyed this book and intend to read another of Hemingway’s books and see how it goes. Santiago, the titular Old Man, has been facing a long stretch of bad luck. It has caused his fellow fishermen to look down on him and has cost him his devoted apprentice, whose parents force him to leave Santiago and work on a luckier boat. Determined to break the streak and catch a big fish, Santiago embarks the next day, going out farther than any other fisherman. He knows that he is not as strong physically as he once was and will have to make up for it with skill and knowledge. He eventually hooks a giant marlin. The struggle to kill the marlin goes on for three days with a great deal of suffering. Santiago feels a connection with the Marlin, the largest he has ever seen and feels that in this fish, he has found a worthy opponent. When he finally kills the great fish, it is too large to fit in his boat and he must lash it to the side and then head for home. But the blood in the water attracts sharks. Santiago attempts to fight them off. But with each encounter he loses another weapon and more and more of his catch is literally ripped away. He alternates between regret that he put himself (and the marlin) in this position and a pride that even though he has no hope of making it out with his prize intact that he and his brother, the marlin, have done battle together against the sharks and that they have killed or wounded many of them. By the time the old man reaches the shore, the marlin is destroyed. Only the head and the skeleton remains as evidence of his accomplishment. But even as the old man acknowledges the pride that led to his downfall, saying “I went out too far” it is clear that the pride and dignity that he faced each trial with has won him something. His apprentice declares that he will defy his parents and return to Santiago’s boat to help him and to learn from him and the other fishermen view the old man with respect. The skeleton of the great marlin lies on the beach where a tourist ironically mistakes it for the remains of a shark while the old man recovers in his home, dreaming of lions playing on an African shore that he once saw in his youth. (less)
Against the Odds is another collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery short stories and like many of the other anthologies, its stories all follow an overarc...moreAgainst the Odds is another collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery short stories and like many of the other anthologies, its stories all follow an overarching theme. While other collections have focused on stories of matrimony, orphans and lonely people, or on letters and journal writing, the common thread in Against the Odds is triumph over adversity through pluck and determination and often times a little cleverness. Because this was a common theme in Louisa May Alcott books and stories, I kinda felt like this book was a collaboration between two of my favorite authors. The writing and the characters was pure Montgomery but there were very Alcott-ian touches that I appreciated. Some of my favorite stories included:
The Fillmore Elderberries A young boy, haunted by the reputation of his ne’er do well father, is unable to secure work to support himself and his widowed mother. Finally he agrees to take on a field overrun by elderberries. Although he is being underpaid and the work is hard, he promises to see the job through to the end. In keeping his promise and doing the job well, he proves himself to be hardworking and trustworthy.
Bessie’s Doll Tommy is a poor boy has two joys in his life, one in his friendship with Bessie, a lame girl who lives nearby and the other in looking at the beautiful flowers in Miss Octavia’s garden. Miss Octavia is convinced that he is lingering near her garden to do mischief and so chases him off whenever she sees him. When he is not looking at the garden, he brings Bessie to look at beautiful doll in the window of a local store. While neither child could possibly afford the doll, Bessie falls in love with it and grieves for it when it is sold. When Tommy saves Miss Octavia’s garden from being ruined by frost, both he and Bessie are given their heart’s desires.
The Genesis of the Doughnut Club This is one of the stories that has a particularly Alcott-ish tone. An old maid who had been keeping house for her brother out west, is facing the prospect of having to move back east when he passes away. She is dreading it, partially because she will be viewed as a burden there and partially because she has taken a group of boys under her wing, to guide and care fore, and she hates the idea of leaving them. With no other options open to her, she decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner for all her boys before she leaves. An unexpected guest at the feast is impressed by her cooking and offers her an opportunity to stay in the place she loves and keep taking care of her boys.
At the Bay Shore Farm Two sisters are both very excited about an upcoming picnic until a summons from their Grandmother means that one of them will have to miss the event. Although she desperately wants to catch a glimpse of her hero, a famous author, one of the girls unselfishly volunteers to go so that her sister can see a dear friend who had moved away and would be visiting for only that one day and is rewarded for her deed in the most satisfactory way.
Why Mr. Cropper Changed His Mind A teacher is faced with a school out of control. A member of the school board is of the opinion that women shouldn’t be teachers and his sons, emboldened by this fact, has started a campaign of disobedience and mischief. When the teacher, armed with Kodak camera, takes a photo that would be of interest to several people in the community, the man and his sons have a change of heart. I thought this story was particularly fun because of how such a modern hobby (and with such a recognizable brand of camera) played such a prominent part in it.
A Substitute Journalist A young man is assigned two stories for a local newspaper. Although his heart is really in another field, the young man doesn’t have the opportunity to enter that field and is hoping that if he does a good job on these stories, he will have permanent place at the newspaper with which to support his mother and sister. However, he misses his train and is unable to make his second interview. Although she is unfamiliar with how to interview a politician, his sister takes his place and conducts the interview.
The Strike at Putney This was the best story in the collection, at least in my opinion. The ladies of Putney Church have arranged for a famous missionary to come and make an address. Because the church was not expected to be used that evening and because of the size of the expected audience, they request to use the church for their event. But the men of the church refuse them because the missionary in question is a woman and women had no place speaking in church. As a result, the women go on strike. All teas and socials (necessary fundraising events) cease. The women who took charge of cleaning the church and bringing flowers for the weekly service resign. The organist and the ladies of the choir refuse to sing. Their theory was that if a woman is unfit to speak in a church, then women should be considered unfit to work in one. The men, quickly get the point. As the granddaughter of a lady minister, I found this story to be especially funny and thought that it illustrated an important truth – that the well being of a church is dependent on the good will of the volunteers who keep it running. (less)
**spoiler alert** The story of a young boy coping with the loss of his father who died in the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, Extremely Loud and Incredi...more**spoiler alert** The story of a young boy coping with the loss of his father who died in the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was very sad in places, very funny in places, very odd in places but interesting throughout.
I do have one minor complaint, the fact that Oskar seemed too intellectually precocious and advanced to be realistically nine years old. I will say that whenever he was coming up with a plan, reacting emotionally or relating to people, his age was completely believable but the flights of intellectual fancy beyond his years sometimes irratated me.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the way the different elements of the story eventually came together and I thought the interplay between Oskar's story and that of his grandfather was fascinating. I thought it was interesting that both of their stories focused so strongly on Oskar's father but that the father's story is so conspicuously missing. It really underscored the void that his absence left in both Oskar and his grandfather. Lastly, I think that Jonathan Safran Foer wrote one of the most authentic depictions of grieving that I have ever read without once veering into the melodramatic or skimming over anything.
It wasn't a cheerful read, focusing as it did on loss and grieving but it was fascinating and very well written.(less)