This book meant a lot to me when I was younger, and it was such a pleasure to revisit it. I remember previously being very affected by the struggles a...moreThis book meant a lot to me when I was younger, and it was such a pleasure to revisit it. I remember previously being very affected by the struggles and unfairnesses in Francie's life - particularly her father's drunkenness and the fact that she loses him, the parent who loves her best.
Now that I've lived another decade and a half or so of life, I have less of a demand for life to be 'fair' and was able to focus instead more on Francie's optimism and drive: "Dear God," she prayed, "let me be SOMETHING every minute of every hour of my life." She's absolutely an inspiration, even still.
I also had a strong response to Francie's first heartbreak, something I didn't even recall from before. Francie's mom tells her that she'll be happy again and fall in love again but it will never be the same as the first time, she'll never forget, and any future man she loves will share a commonality with that first man. Thinking back on my own experience, this strikes me as somewhat true but also far less negative than it sounds. The first person I loved is unforgettable in ways that subsequent loves are not, but it's pleasant memories, despite the heartbreak, that rule.
I look forward to revisiting this novel again in another decade or so. The story is embedded in 1910s impoverished Brooklyn but its messages about the cycle of poverty, the importance of education, and the power of family and love will never lose their shine.
Themes: 1910s, Brooklyn, Irish, family, bildungsroman, love, education, poverty, women
ALERT: I semi-spoil the ending below. No details, just the valence of the ending, but be forewarned.
I've read Ender's Game twice now. Having just fini...moreALERT: I semi-spoil the ending below. No details, just the valence of the ending, but be forewarned.
I've read Ender's Game twice now. Having just finished it the second time, I enjoyed it more than my original review (written many years after reading it the first time) indicated that I would.
The plot is engaging and it comes full circle in a real hero's journey sort of way. All the important themes (sacrifice, seemingly flawed but actually perfect hero, epic struggle that is both internal and external for the hero) and side characters (from guru Mazrim Taim to mortal enemy Peter) are there. The world of the novel is well thought out in its details and the technology still rings true and doesn't seem overly quaint, even after 25 years, which is impressive for a sci-fi novel. (That said, the 'desk' with messages marching around it does sound a little like a screensaver from 1995 - a little quaint in comparison with our I-pads.)
But I also see why the passage of time made me forget those things and left a stale taste in my mouth about this novel. For one, I didn't really feel for Ender (and I was a TAG kid... maybe not TAG enough...). I think the reason is that I never feared that he would fail. Throughout the novel there was a sense of perfection about Ender. He never lost anything and was always the best at everything, no matter what. This perfection took away any emotional experience I might have had as a reader. Without any possibility of failure or any other character who could remotely compete with Ender, his ultimate victory was sort of meaningless.
Themes: hero's journey, war, TAG kids, empathy, scifi, death, leadership, sacrifice, perfection, cosmic struggle, technology(less)
Shed is a 'half-breed' who lives in a whorehouse in Excellent, Idaho with an eclectic mix of people that make up his family - "better than any Mormon...moreShed is a 'half-breed' who lives in a whorehouse in Excellent, Idaho with an eclectic mix of people that make up his family - "better than any Mormon family." He is bisexual and (along with everyone he knows) extemely open with his sexuality. The novel tells the story of his search for his identity, for his "human-being story" and his "human-being sex story." There is a lot going on here; many characters - white, Indian, and black; several adventures on horseback and in blizzards, and an extreme amount of both sadness and hope in the end. This is a prime example of magical realism.
Themes: Indian vs. "tybo" (especially Mormon), the moon and what it tells you to be and do, sex and love and "berdiche", family, knowledge becoming understanding, telling your story, identity, "killdeer", what is real
I completely fell in love with this book and can't wait to pick up some more magical realism. This story was extremely well-woven and the truth was there throughout - everything was true - despite the sometimes unreliability of what was being said. I loved Shed's thoughts and actions and his ability to be so many things to so many people, through his silence and also his ability to give love, unconditionally. Shed is completely unselfish and was therefore the perfect character to tell this story. The dynamic between the white people and the Indians/whores was really intriguing, as was the sheer amount of sexual openness in this story. I loved the parts about knowledge becoming understanding, and having a chance to tell your story to death before you die.
"The only thing that keeps us from floating off with the wind is our stories. They give us a name and put us in a place, allow us to keep on touching."(less)
Absolutely hilarious! Cudgel sticks and saucy jackanapes' abound!
I LOVE this story - it's ridiculous, it's fun, it's zany, and it's well-thought-out...moreAbsolutely hilarious! Cudgel sticks and saucy jackanapes' abound!
I LOVE this story - it's ridiculous, it's fun, it's zany, and it's well-thought-out too! Parson Adams is a wonderful character and a very unique and full creation. Fielding does an excellent job of making us love him while also laughing at him. The story here is, at times, convenient, but the point (hypocrisy and vanity are ridiculous) comes across really well, as does the satire. I really enjoyed all the supplemental materials in this edition - especially the specifics about how this story relates to Pamela and being able to also read Shamela! The one thing lacking in this work is a real solid female (Slipslop is hideous and the butt of many jokes, Lady Booby is vain and selfish, Fanny is to good to be true and extremely weak, perhaps Betty comes closest?) but I can forgive Fielding for his 1700s attitude towards women.
Having read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several times and counting it among my favorites, I picked this up. I was relatively disappointed - it's pretty s...moreHaving read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several times and counting it among my favorites, I picked this up. I was relatively disappointed - it's pretty saccharine. Part of this is the era it's set in (late 1920s) which I forgive, but it was also generally oversimplified emotionally which made it just too goody-goody. In this way it reminded me quite a bit of Little Women, but at least that novel is meant for youth, not adults. It read the way a smart but naive young woman would write about life in her diary when she's certain that others will be reading it. Perhaps that's how it's meant to be.
I was interested to learn that the novel is semi-autobiographical, like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I also identified with the main character's, Annie's, lifelong love of reading and writing.
And also her half fear and half relief when it comes to the potential to fail. This is most clear when Annie discusses her friendship with Anthony, the town florist who she encourages to write a book but who has barely started writing by the end of the novel.
"Was it better to think you might than to test it; to take the big chance to find out you couldn't? She concluded it might be better for some people not to put the dream to the test."
"He has a dream, she thought. And what's a dream? A kind of promise that will never be fulfilled. Anthony, the florist, had it. She had it. Carl didn't have it." (less)
Saul Bellow wrote Dangling Man when he was about my age and as I read, I recognized some of the thoughts and realizations that Joseph is having. For e...moreSaul Bellow wrote Dangling Man when he was about my age and as I read, I recognized some of the thoughts and realizations that Joseph is having. For example, Joseph sees a clear difference between his current self and his younger (college-age) self. There is also the struggle with society's sense that professional progress is the end-all be-all for 20-somethings and that being stalled or focusing on other things means you're "dangling."
I liked this very much about the book because it felt very honest and authentic, both things that are absolutely necessary given that the novel's format is a personal journal. Apart from the very lengthy entires that got into actual story-telling and scene-setting (complete with characterization and dialogue) I really felt I was reading the sometimes inane, sometimes insightful musings, of a man in his late 20s, and I appreciate that perspective. 20 years from now, I might find this book simplistic or sophomoric, who knows?
In one early entry, Joseph writes:
"Trouble, like physical pain, makes us actively aware that we are living, and when there is little in the life we lead to hold and draw and stir us, we seek and cherish it, preferring embarrassment or pain to indifference."
While I haven't quite experienced this (I was never one to get in too much trouble) it resonates with me because it makes me muse a bit on adolescent rebellion - where it comes from and why it happens. Biologically speaking, we're all grown up at 14-16, but we still live a non-adult existence (in the US, anyway) until about 22 and often longer. The world is still closed to us at that age in a lot of ways and when we aren't part of life, we need some other way to feel alive.
There's a later moment when Joseph is conducting a mental conversation with "the spirit of alternatives" and the spirit notes that part of Joseph's problem is that he forgets that "everyone is dangling." This struck me too - I've often had the thought that life entails a lot of waiting -- "dangling".
I feel as though we're socialized as kids to see our childhood and adolescence as preparation for life in 'the real world.' We study hard and do activities and pick up good habits to prepare for 'life.' Then in adulthood, our first job sets us up for the next as we climb the career ladder, and our relationships flow from dating to marriage to having babies. It's unclear when the waiting stops and life begins, so we're all 'dangling' somehow.
Continuing down this rabbit hole (and away from Dangling Man), it strikes me that the problem is the all-encompassing linearity (linear-ness?) of our thinking. Life's blossoming is messy and free-flowing - why do we pretend it's a linear process and that the time we spend between rungs of the ladder is just preparing or waiting?
Themes: idleness, spiritual health, change of character, self-esteem, 1940s, Chicago, friendship, war, journal(less)
About large modes of transportation (semi trucks, barges, trains, etc…) and the people who operate them on a daily basis
Themes: transportation, econom...moreAbout large modes of transportation (semi trucks, barges, trains, etc…) and the people who operate them on a daily basis
Themes: transportation, economy, anecdotes
Some sections were more interesting than others. I loved the beginning about the trucker (hilarious fellow) and the train section and the section on barges on the river were informative and interesting. A section about training to operate ships and one about a canoe trip did not thrill me. The writing style was (mostly) quite dry and this wasn't my favorite topic.(less)
There are far too many characters and events to offer a sensical summary, but I'll give it a shot. We're in an imaginary South American country where...moreThere are far too many characters and events to offer a sensical summary, but I'll give it a shot. We're in an imaginary South American country where an endless battle is going on between the government, the military, and guerilleros (many are communist) with civilians more or less suffering the consequences. This book is hilarious and fun to read and doesn't feel even remotely tragic, despite the fact that it's extremely violent and gory - there is rape, murder, torture, kidnapping, gun and machete battles, coups, etc. But there is also discussion of dingleberries, goofy turns of events that are based on lack of communication or several evil characters all trying to kill each other. There are magical bits like the plague of cats, the ancient soldiers coming to life, the magical healing of Francoise's cancer, and the President's focus on alchemy. There are little nuggets of tongue-in-cheek philosophy.
A few pages in, I let go of ensuring I kept perfect track of the characters and just let the story carry me along for the ride. For the most part I kept everyone straight, and honestly this book is an enjoyable romp no matter what. It's hilarious, it's absurd in a telling way, it's disgusting, it's violent and horrific but somehow avoids being tragic, and it's absolutely brilliant.
I loved a discussion of patriotism towards the beginning of the book and how there are two types of patriots. The first type believes that all other countries are inferior to their own and that their country is never ever wrong so the best thing to do is dominate. The second type sees faults but loves his country anyway and therefore labors to correct these faults. The first kind of patriot really glories in his own irrationality, while the second kind glories in his homeland.
My favorite bits were the sprinklings of semi-universal wisdom that are sprinkled throughout. This is where the author's playful voice really shines. Some examples:
"They are a people who have learned by their own blood the wondrous disadvantages of an eventful history."
"Life is nothing if not a random motion of coincidences and quirks of chance; it never goes as planned or as foretold; frequently one gains happiness from being obliged to follow an unchosen path or misery from following a chosen one."
"A general rule that applies to all humankind... people always think that if they are very expert at something, that thing must therefore be extremely important."
"Old friends shook hands and people who had never talked in the past exchanged confidences. Such things are caused not by fear but by the revelation that there is nothing stable in the whole universe and that everything is finally a matter of chance, which can so suddenly throw the lives of people into chaos."
"The truth is that the mountains are a place where you can find whatever you want just by looking, as long as you remember that they do not suffer fools gladly and particularly dislike those with preconceived ideas."
"There is nothing at all wrong with our laws and institutions and our constitution, which are all democratic and enlightened. What is wrong is that they are enforced by people who do not consider themselves bound by them."
Themes: South America, politics, humor, magical realism, many characters, war, race(less)
More stories to tell. I'm going to read the third sometime this year (2009) and I hope it doesn't end up being like Augusten Burroughs most recent mem...moreMore stories to tell. I'm going to read the third sometime this year (2009) and I hope it doesn't end up being like Augusten Burroughs most recent memoir "Possible Side Effects" - he ran out of material for sure...(less)
I loved getting into the dialect/vocabulary here. It was amazing how as more words fell into place for me, the true horror of what happened in Chapter...moreI loved getting into the dialect/vocabulary here. It was amazing how as more words fell into place for me, the true horror of what happened in Chapter 1 became more and more clear.(less)