Although I'm sorry that Rowling's cover has been blown, I'm still a bit glad that it was, because I'm not sure that I would have encountered this bookAlthough I'm sorry that Rowling's cover has been blown, I'm still a bit glad that it was, because I'm not sure that I would have encountered this book otherwise. I wasn't as taken with the concept of her other post-Potter novel and haven't read it, but I was interested in her take on a crime novel. It seemed like a genre that she would excel in, given her knack for twisty, well-planned plots and strongly-drawn, mildly eccentric characters.
Happily, I wasn't wrong on any of the above counts. The Cuckoo's Calling gets a little bit Christiesque in the end, with a sort of drawing room (detective office) reveal of the crime's solution all in one go after several chapters' secretiveness, but that has a sort of classic appeal for me-- particularly when there is that last, ah-ha reveal of you-thought-you-guessed-who-but-you-didn't.
I hope that Rowling keeps at the Strike books--she's an empathetic observer and has drawn some really enjoyable, unique characters here that I would be very happy to read again in the future. ...more
I joined Media Bistro's 2012 Literary Remix Competition to rewrite a page of this book which would then, if I'm selected, be recombined with pages wriI joined Media Bistro's 2012 Literary Remix Competition to rewrite a page of this book which would then, if I'm selected, be recombined with pages written by other people in other styles. Since there is a free download of the book available via Project Gutenberg, I might as well check out the book in its entirety, just in time for Halloween. ...more
(Update, 11.3.12) Although I did seek out some critical articles on Mansfield Park they didn't end up clarifying my thoughts on the book as much as ra(Update, 11.3.12) Although I did seek out some critical articles on Mansfield Park they didn't end up clarifying my thoughts on the book as much as raise additional questions. However, since I just recently found myself in a bar going on at length about this book to someone who hadn't even read it, I think I can at least summarize some of my main impressions about it:
Mansfield Park is an incredibly complex text and could easily, I think, be interpreted in a variety of ways. It has raised the hackles of many a dedicated Austen reader, and mainly, it seems, because in all honesty, Fanny Price is not the Jane Austen heroine that most of us have come to love. She's smart and she's an independent thinker, to be sure, but she's not terribly witty or clever, she's extremely sensitive (see this web page, "Fanny's Tears," for a list of all the times that Fanny cries in the novel: http://www.austen.com/mans/notes/tear...), she's shy, she doesn't stick up for herself, and she frequently believes the terrible things that people say to/about her, particularly her awful, and awfully hypocritical aunt. You (I) spend a great deal of the book hoping that Fanny will just grow a bit of a backbone already and stop cow-towing to everyone around her.
Fanny is also the moral compass of the story, one which in just mentioning off-handedly the family's plantation and slaves, is coming from a much more historically grounded, political place than most other Austen novels where you may know that there is a militia in town, but never hear from the characters what war or battle they may be resting up from, or heading off to. Fanny, of course, doesn't comment on these external circumstances, but being not a little stodgy herself, does seem to position herself in opposition to a changing world, one that is more public, more political, and less bound by tradition. One in which outspoken, clever, sexual, and opinionated women, such as Mary Crawford, are more and more the norm.
I found myself liking Mary Crawford far more than Fanny for much of the novel, even as I felt bad that she outshined the heroine so very often, and even as I recognized that she was a deeply cynical and deeply selfish character. But Austen has written many selfish characters--Emma, certainly; Marianne Dashwood, to a certain extent--and we're still meant to like these people. It seemed like a bit of a cheat--and narratively, a stretch--to me that Mary and Henry Crawford have such sudden transformations into truly indefensible characters at the end of the novel. For most of it, Mary and Henry might have opinions and behaviors (particularly Henry, who yes, is a total cad) which the reader, Fanny, and definitely Jane Austen disapprove of. But they are still understood within the context of their society to be interesting, likeable, and defensible people. It seems to me that Jane Austen didn't want to maintain any sort of moral ambiguity, though. She wanted Right and Wrong with capital letters, and so she decided to introduce a sweeping plot turn which would show the Crawfords for their lousy selves, prove Fanny right, bring Edward to his senses, and neatly bring Fanny and Edward together at last. I thought that it was more interesting when it was messier.
There's a lot to be said otherwise about this novel--for one, Fanny's position as an observer is worth exploring, namely the way in which always being a spectator and outside the main action around her might actually give her some agency. But I'll leave that to someone else. Suffice to say that Mansfield Park is fascinating for its frustrations, for the rather conservative tendencies it reveals in its author, and in the various ways that it can read (consider the film adaptation in this respect). I'm not sure I totally liked it, but I'm very glad to have read it.
(9.15.12) I enjoyed Mansfield Park, although I will admit to finding it immensely strange in some ways, and also think it lends itself to some fascinating comparisons and contrasts with other of Austen's novels. This is the first of her books that I feel compelled to read some scholarly work on, and I want to percolate a bit on my thoughts before I try and review the book, but I will say this for now: I am going to come down on the side of Fanny Price, although I agree with the generally antipathy about her constant shrinking and weeping and general not-Elizabeth-Bennet-ness. What surprised me, rather, was how much I ended up disliking her romantic interest, the supposedly morally infallible Edward Bertram. Perhaps there is some Austenian irony throughout in his presentation, but I'm not sure that it carries through far enough. Because he's rather a schmo for almost all of the book.
Anyway, more anon, when I can formulate with more useful descriptions than 'schmo.'...more
I was looking for a fast, fun read for a vacation that I took recently took and when The Expats (which, incidentally, was just listed as one of Bill OI was looking for a fast, fun read for a vacation that I took recently took and when The Expats (which, incidentally, was just listed as one of Bill Ott's 'Best Crime Novels: 2012' in Booklist) caught my eye, I thought it would easily fit the bill. But this book was pretty much a disappointment from start to finish. The set-up is promising, but the whole novel is sloppily structured and written and the conclusion is not only silly, it's also pretty lazy on the resolving details. (For instance, "I framed someone," is generally a fact that requires some explanation. Who did you frame? How did you frame him? You can't just leave it at "I set up a guy," and move on, particularly when the framing involves war criminals and international thievery.)
All in all, it felt like I was reading a treatment for a bad thriller film, and not one that made me care about any of the individuals involved--particularly the main character, who we're told is this super badass former spy, but constantly behaves like an amateur girl detective. ...more
**spoiler alert** I was certainly entertained by Outlander, at least for the first three quarters. But overall, even when it's enjoyable, it's a truly**spoiler alert** I was certainly entertained by Outlander, at least for the first three quarters. But overall, even when it's enjoyable, it's a truly weird book. That's not necessarily a bad thing--it is, after all, a time-travel adventure set between post-WWII England and 13th century Scotland, and there are romantic intrigues, burly Highlanders, Loch Ness monsters, witches, and more straight-up adventure than you can shake a stick at.
At the beginning, it's really all fun and action. The main character flies back in time by touching a mystical Scottish rock and pretty much adjusts to her new circumstances immediately. That's actually fine with me--I'd rather not waste time with a lot of 'oh my, what happened?' chapters. She's reasonably plucky and sassy--that's good. And yes, there are also about a thousand highland sex scenes once things get going (some rather good, some kind of embarrassingly written, some...weird.) But definitely a lot of them, in a lot of places and a lot of moods. Something for everyone, I guess.
Of course, Outlander has an odd prevalence of homo-erotic torture scenes (more than one character with an 'interest' in rape is portrayed as gay, which...um?), and there's also what one could easily describe as a pro-corporal punishment agenda. I mean, I don't need my 13th century highlanders to have the same ideas about child rearing as contemporary parents. It's fine that they describe the 'thrashings' they all received as children, and also even laugh about the experiences from time to time. But there are an awful lot of conversations in which a character explains how being routinely beaten by his parents led to his becoming a righteous man. Which is a bit much after commercial three or so. Also: I get the whole husband-beats-wife-because-she-almost-got-all-his-kin-killed thing. I get the logic--that a man would have received the same punishment and men were accustomed to 'correcting' their wives in this manner at that time. But Claire's reaction is strange and a little problematic. She fights it and then hates him after (understandable), but then exclaims her love for him (for the first time) when he describes why he did it. Ooph. Even if she does make him vow never to lay a hand on her again in anger, this is troubling to me.
Looping back to the issue of the surprise man-torture scenes: firstly, there are a lot of these. Jaime gets beaten, flayed, shot, has bones dislocated and crushed, is raped--it's a lot. I get that this guy is tough and sensitive and has honor and can take it, but geez. He still has a regular human body and after massive injury 100, one has to think that the protagonist's ability to "heal" (she was a WWII nurse and had a convenient botany hobby) is a bit overstated. Now, I think that it is interesting that the male character does a lot of honor/body-saving of his lady love, but also gets the brunt of the physical punishment and mental torture. That is unusual. As is the last 200 pages in which Gabaldon sorts out his emotional issues and the effects of sadistically-inflicted trauma. I'm not sure that so much of it was necessary for this story, and honestly, Gabaldon isn't really up to the task of parsing trauma and adequately showing a recovery process. But again, it's interesting. Weird-interesting.
(Oh, and her 1945 husband looks exactly like the evil English general/torturer/rapist? Is that because it makes it easier for her to fall in love with her Highlander? Why was that a thing?)
Anyway, I'll say it again: it's a weird book, but it's interesting. I'm not sorry I read it, and I even really enjoyed it at times, but it left sort of an odd aftertaste for me. It's certainly memorable....more
Although it is more a personal memoir than a professionally-oriented one, Avi Steinberg's Running the Books was illuminating for me in its explanationAlthough it is more a personal memoir than a professionally-oriented one, Avi Steinberg's Running the Books was illuminating for me in its explanation of the role and responsibilities of a prison librarian and of the space of the library itself in prison. (To be fair, Steinberg is very up front about the fact that he fell into his career as a prison librarian--"Accidental" is right there in the title and he explains in the first twenty pages or so that he didn't have a degree in library science.)
I found the personal side of the memoir--Steinberg's past in the Orthodox Jewish community of Boston, leaving that community, his relationships with several of the prisoners, and his startling encounters with many ex-inmates (and their families) outside of prison--interesting and often very moving as well, but since my e-rental period from the library has now expired and I don't have the book on hand, I'm going to stick to a few of the more specifically library-related bits that particularly stuck out to me:
*Although the prison library is an important place for prisoners to research legal precedent and build their defenses for retrial or early release, I was especially interested in Steinberg's description of the library as a place of relaxation, community building, and--in the form of the "kites," or handwritten notes that prisoners leave for one another tucked in books and shelves--communication. It reminded me a lot of the way that public libraries tend to be especially successful and useful to patrons now--more as community spaces than as the silent spaces for personal study that they were once.
*Steinberg describes the lengths that he and his fellow librarian went to in order to get materials for their library--not only through donations, but often by trolling yard sales and used bookstores and purchasing items with their own money. This (in conjunction with an NPR interview with the manager of the Maryland prison library system (here: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/29/1367655...) reinforced my resolve to get together a book batch of donations for incarcerated individuals (via Books Through Bars in New York: http://booksthroughbarsnyc.org/).
*The ever-shifting, incredibly nuanced dynamic between Steinberg and the inmates left me thinking a lot about the difficulty of balancing a sense of professional obligation to one's library "patrons" and abiding by protocols that are necessary for security and order in a prison. The passage where he explains the "orientation" session that he attended after a few months working in a library, where the prison employees are shown how everything from a pen to a hardback book to a roll of magazines taped together can become a lethal weapon was especially reflective of this. As Steinberg points out, the whole job of the library is to give inmates things--information, assistance, and yes, books and objects. If you can't engage in that simple transfer without some level of fear or apprehension, then it's very difficult to successfully engage with the people it's your job to help.
*Steinberg also has a great exchange with the other prison librarian about the differences between being a librarian and being an archivist. Since I knew within an hour of my one and only archival class that I was simply not meant to be an archivist at all, I enjoyed this quick aside a lot. I was able to find the passage on a blog, so I'm quoting it here, but apologies if it has any errors:
”I think you’re more an archivist than a librarian,” he said.
He told me that archivists and librarians were opposite personas. True librarians are unsentimental. They’re pragmatic, concerned with the newest, cleanest, most popular books. Archivists, on the other hand, are only peripherally interested in what other people like, and much prefer the rare to the useful.
”They like everything,” he said, “gum wrappers as much as books.” He said this with a hint of disdain.
”Librarians like throwing away garbage to make space, but archivists,” he said, “they’re too crazy to throw anything out.”
”You’re right,” I said. ”I’m more of an archivist.”
”And I’m more of a librarian,” he said.
”Can we still be friends?”
Steinberg worked in the prison library for (I think) about two years, and it's clear that during that time--even when under incredible amounts of stress--that he developed a sense of professional ethics and responsibility the dovetail quite closely with those that were instilled in me during library school. It's heartening, I think, that working in a library environment (any library environment) has the potential to bring out similar impulses--developing strong service protocols, finding ways of providing access to information, developing professional/educational programs--in both people who have professional training in librarianship, and people who don't. ...more
2013: Giving this another go for a vampire course I'm enrolled in at the University of Iceland.
Having just finished it, I can say that while it is an2013: Giving this another go for a vampire course I'm enrolled in at the University of Iceland.
Having just finished it, I can say that while it is an incredibly fertile text for analysis (literary, psychoanalytic, theoretically in a variety of fields), I just really did not enjoy reading it that much. I think I could write about a kazillion papers on this book--I was especially interested in the frequent references to language and fluency vs. secondary tongues--but for a book with so many incredible atmospheric scenes (Harker's arrival at Castle Dracula, his entire stay there, the ship coming into the port of London, Mina's vampiric encounter with Dracula) I found much of it to be rather plodding. I stick by one of my earlier comments in this regard: there really should be more Dracula in Dracula.
2007: I love vampire novels, but have never read Dracula. This strikes me as somewhat of a travesty. And yet, as good as this book started, I got completely stuck and frustrated in the second part when Mina starts journaling. I'll have to reconcile myself to this source-omission for awhile longer. ...more