Addresses racism, sexism, sex, and bronco riding. What more can you ask for? Kesey's humor is exquisitely displayed, descriptions are bigger than the...moreAddresses racism, sexism, sex, and bronco riding. What more can you ask for? Kesey's humor is exquisitely displayed, descriptions are bigger than the silver (or HD) screen, and the whole thing makes you want to be a cowboy/cowgirl. Or "Indian" (Kesey likes his big Native Americans). Or a black cowboy who's the best rodeo star in history. Fun.(less)
I would usually fight to the death to defend a work by Atwood, including her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writings. But this book, The Penelopiad,...moreI would usually fight to the death to defend a work by Atwood, including her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writings. But this book, The Penelopiad, is not worth fighting for. A lot of Atwood's tongue-in-cheek quirkiness is present, but the retelling of Homer's Odyssey fell flat in the many choruses (at first cute, then old, then just annoying) and structure. The only aspect worth celebrating was Penelope's time in Hades--the present time--and all of her dealings with the other dead.
I can't pinpoint why this book fails me. I suspect it's because The Odyssey is so prevalent in our (American) literary culure, the retelling of the story, even from Penelope's P.O.V., seems rather redundant. I'm sure when I read it again, I'll find some redeeming areas in the waiting-for-Odysseus-in-the-(long ago)-past sections. Now, after one read, it's difficult to find a reason to recommend it.(less)
Where have you been all my life? This is the short story collection I would have written were I British, white, blonde, and (sadly) dea...moreDarling Angela,
Where have you been all my life? This is the short story collection I would have written were I British, white, blonde, and (sadly) dead. Carter is a so-called postmodern writer, but with a very traditionally sick way of writing, who takes on fairytales and historical oddities with a candid delicacy. Absolutely lovely.
Her version of Lizzie Borden and her world is so tactical I was stuck in soot-filled New England for a night, hardly able to breath and looking over my shoulder. And I can smell the desire in Shakespeare's forest.
I forced time into my un-giving schedule to read this short collection. Put it on your reading list!
I don't know why I've waited so long to read Jane Eyre. I absolutely loved this book and did not want to finish reading it. The beginning was very Dic...moreI don't know why I've waited so long to read Jane Eyre. I absolutely loved this book and did not want to finish reading it. The beginning was very Dickens-esh, but I though Bronte's writing was considerably better than Chuck's. The characters were not decidedly all good or all bad as in Dickens, as I soon learned, and even the supposedly evil characters were well-sculpted.
I love that Jane was not beautiful (nor is, expectantly, Charlotte!) and that Rochester wasn't handsome and that one's looks did not control one's manners and/or demeanors. The witty repartee was, at times, a little too much, but most times enjoyable.
What an interesting commentary on slavery, race and insanity! Yes, insanity, although I'm not sure it is parallel with the other issues assumed in that sentence. I wasn't expecting to find it here, but I think, in spite of some obvious PC problems Bronte could not have anticipated from me (or my kind, for that matter, closer to Bertha than Eyre), was for the most part handled well. At many points in the novel, I thought, "How British of you to shun the French," or "What do you really think of darker women, Miss Jane?" and in turn, of course, Miss Bronte. And other times, I thought Jane's character altruistic when she spoke of the Eastern beauties trapped in harems, responding to Rochester's jesting of "bargaining for so many tons of flesh and an assortment of black eyes":
"I'll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved--your harem inmates amongst the rest. I'll get admitted there, and I'll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw [pasha, or a military officer in Turkey and N.Africa] as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred."
Read that as you like, but I'd like to think that Jane has an abolitionist heart here and elsewhere in the novel.
It is also a very Romantic novel, dwelling in the beauty of the woods, the storms, and the sublime of life in general. Nature is as much a character in Bronte's chef-d'oeuvre as well as any Briton, West Indian or French person.
With all that said, I think there were too many liberties taken at the end of the novel with coincidences. That aspect reminded me of Dickens, again. But, there is a bitterness to the happy conclusion!(less)
Finally, here’s my take on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession: It was fun.
Really, the book was a story of beauty an...moreFinally, here’s my take on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession: It was fun.
Really, the book was a story of beauty and obsession. New Yorker author Orlean follows a story out of Florida about an orchid aficionado –John Laroche– who, along with a few members of the Seminole tribe, went into the Fakahatchee swamps and stole a few ghost orchids. Laroche and his rockers got caught and were charged with smuggling. Laroche’s argument was that he and the Seminoles were protected because he himself did not touch the plants and the Seminoles were above the law due to Native American sovereignty. The book begins in the courtroom where the charges were heard, then spirals into a world one thought only possible with such goods like gold, diamonds, or cocaine.
Orlean covers orchid lovers, cultivators, innovators, and thieves throughout time and all over the globe. Orchid hunting stories as fierce as any great white hunter tale, beauties of flowers that, apparently, matched the beauty of ancient temples, greed that equaled or surpassed that for precious metals or rare artifacts spill over each subsequent page. Orlean tries to remain a reporter, but the orchid obsession almost overcomes her with the desire to see the coveted plant Laroche tried to steal and clone.
Laroche is a gentleman that is like that guy you know who is very intelligent — eerily knowledgeable about many things — but isn’t quite right. He’s dirty, missing teeth, ghetto in every aspect of the word, but pretentious, elitist, and he believes he is smarter than anyone anywhere in the world. Millions of dollars probably passed through his hands, but he has lost it all. He has answers to the world problems that always include a money making scheme from which he benefits. And, he’s an unabashed liar. Sure, you know someone just like him! I do.
The description is lush. Orlean really makes you feel the muck of the swamp waters, feel hot, sticky, and desiring a bath. I began to see the many different orchids she described in all their uniqueness and sensual colors. I knew how Laroche look, how the greenhouses smelled, how people sound from her words. She re-instilled in me the aversion I have to Florida.
My main complaint with The Orchid Thief is the lack of paragraph breaks. If Orlean was my student, I would have used this symbol a lot: ¶ . Ideas and topics transcending deliniation. Single paragraphs spanned pages and you weren’t sure what she was trying to get across as important. Sometimes, I’d go back to the first sentence of one of the multipage paragraphs and think, “Gee, how’d she get from here to there?”
I had little complaints, but they aren’t really worth mentioning. I thought at times she kind of beat the points she made even well after they were dead, but hey, what are you going to do?
Nice nonfiction read. I happened to watch Adaptation prior to reading the book, so unfortunately, I had an image of Laroche that was foisted upon me, but I’d go along with it; he was pretty close to Orlean’s description. But they are really two separate entities.(less)
This is now one of my new favorite short novels. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an exquisitely written novel set pre-World War II. It constantly cre...moreThis is now one of my new favorite short novels. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an exquisitely written novel set pre-World War II. It constantly creeps in a little more information as to who betrayed Miss Brodie. This book, with calculated suspense, intrigue, and just plain good writing, would be perfect for a freshman or sophomore English course, or a semi-intellectual day at the beach.
It was somewhat reminiscent of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, although done well before it (what is reminiscent of what?), but a much better work.
**spoiler alert** Let’s see. It, at first, seemed like a log of a child’s life, growing up in 1950s (60s? hard to tell; try to figure it out via the m...more**spoiler alert** Let’s see. It, at first, seemed like a log of a child’s life, growing up in 1950s (60s? hard to tell; try to figure it out via the music) South Carolina. All the trials and tribulations of growing up in a single family household, crazy extended family, young mother, et cetera. Her mother marries then is widowed (I think this is all before the mother is 21), marries again to a man that beats and molests Ruth Anne, nicknamed Bone -- narr and our hero -- repeatedly. The molestation is silent almost throughout, but the beatings are found out relatively early by the Bone's mother when Bone has to go to the hospital. Her mother knows, but won’t let on to her roughneck bros and sisters. They find out, though, and beat the hell out of Glen (the step daddy) for beating her.
A few things I liked: The candid look at childhood sexuality, masturbation, and rape fantasies. I liked how they were only described and not explored. In that way, it stayed in Bone’s voice of growing child and not a doddering adult therapy session. That is to say that the style of the book isn’t written childishly, it is only to say that Bone only allows herself to reminisce with limited knowledge. It is true w/masturbation and fantasies as well as with the abuse she receives from her stepfather: we know it wasn’t her fault that she was beaten and molested, the person who is narrating the book – supposedly an adult Bone (I may be stretching that) – knows that it wasn’t her fault, but the 8-12 yr old Bone doesn’t know that! Nicely done.
The vignette style was nice. The immediate family situation was the overarching story, but I loved the little stories that only sometimes clearly added to the rest of the novel. It did mimic growing up: the little episodic adventures only a child can find important and the epic size of events and people in one’s life. There were a lot of red herrings, but I sometimes liked that they were never realized.
Although there were five hundred characters, I liked the characters. I thought they seemed well-developed, enough so that for the most part, I recognized the names when they repeated after chapters-long hiatuses. Some, of course, were more developed than others, but even the brief characters, like the doctor that first discovered Bone’s bruises, stuck out.
I liked that I didn’t know all of the cultural references, but enough so that I knew about what time period the novel took place. I also did not think that there were too many that the novel depended on them, but I sometimes got tired of the lists of gospel and country singers.
Some of the language (some I could not stand) was pure beauty, in all of the rawness and dialect salted with an educated, well-read (and assumingly) Bone’s narrative voice. Some of the language was over the top, but there were a lot of niceties.
I really liked the freedom to be ugly, evil, and mean. That was done well and, often times, done unapologetically.
Some things I didn’t like: The constant use of the word nigger. I grow very suspect whenever someone uses it so freely behind the guise of art. It [the suspecting feeling] may be unfounded, only there because I’m black, but so what? And I took the whole constant reference to the undesirableness of the niggers dotting the novel here and there and the undesirableness of the Boatwright family, some of their dark hair, and especially Bone’s dark hair, dark ways, brownish skin (bark of a walnut tree it was described as at one point) and that her father has, in a manner of speaking, r-u-n-o-f-t, if not fully black but wholly unliked by Granny, may have had an undesirable amount of nigger in him. Also, Bone seemed to have an affinity to every black soul she came across, however briefly and silently. That was one of the red herrings.
Some of the dialect seemed over-the-top.
Everything seemed affected. Bone’s life from beginning of the novel – the ridiculousness of her mother trying to get that birth certificate righted – to the wholly unrealistic act that ended the book. I don't want to say what happened, but I do want to say, "what the hell was that about?" Made one wonder if, indeed, it was Bone’s fault that Glen would go after her like that. He was already on watch from all of Bone’s roughneck uncles. Didn’t make sense at all, except for that it had to happen to have that particular ending.
It all felt a little flat on purpose. So what? I kept asking. Since there were so many red herrings, so much left to assumption or speculation, it was hard to understand what exactly Dorothy Allison had in mind when writing it. “Look at how hard these poor, Southern, white folks life is,” is what it seemed to say. But who didn’t know that? It's 2008 and a lot of poor Southern white folks have a hard time. And poor Northern white folks, too, for that matter.
Okay, that’s enough of that. I enjoyed all of the music references, and how song, many times, moved the story along. I was really interested to know the lyrics or the music of the songs I don’t know to know what that particular song added to the story. But lately, my obsession has been food. That’s all I tend to write about lately.
I liked the way Allison used food as medium in the book: assuage grief and pain, show (relative) wealth and poverty, good times, bad times, et cetera.
A couple of interesting quotes:
“People don’t do right because of the fear of God or love of him. You do the right thing because the world doesn’t make sense if you don’t.” Annie (Mama) 145
Bone after getting baptized: “It was as if I were mourning the loss of something I had never really had. I sang along with the music and prayed for all I was worth. Jesus’ blood and country music, there had to be something else, something more to hope for. I bit my lip and went back to reading the Book of Revelation, taking comfort in the hope of the apocalypse, God’s retribution on the wicked.” 152
When Aunt Alma goes mad with rage at her husband Wade, Bone thinks: “Women all over Greenville County were going to smash stuff and then sit down to wait for Armageddon or sunrise or something. It sounded like a good idea to me.” 268
Not as good as The Grapes of Wrath, but lovely all the same. Steinbeck is such a visual author that I couldn't help visualizing the book. I've never s...moreNot as good as The Grapes of Wrath, but lovely all the same. Steinbeck is such a visual author that I couldn't help visualizing the book. I've never seen the movie, but I know a new one is coming out.
With Steinbeck, there are always conveniences and coincidences, but they worked well and just as American realistic as one could get. Does that make sense? Don't know. Tired. Going to bed.(less)
This collection of short stories is connected through George Willard, an aspiring writer. Many of the stories, each of which explores characters that...moreThis collection of short stories is connected through George Willard, an aspiring writer. Many of the stories, each of which explores characters that are in some way grotesque, can stand alone. Stand out stories include “The Book of the Grotesque,” “Hands,” “The Philosopher,” “Adventure,” “Tandy,” and “Queer.” All of the stories sketch out a clear picture of the character in question and offer a premise that is worth exploring, but the ones I listed above work very well with not only exhibiting the hopelessness of the characters' situations, but also how the book works in terms of society. For example, “Hands” examines homosexuality—suspected or real—and pedophilia and “Adventure” admits a pleasure in female sexuality when to do so was still, relatively, taboo.
Anderson seems influential to writers like Raymond Carver, in that he refrains from telling his audience about his characters and chooses to show, instead, their needs, wants, and lacks. (less)
Hurston is a wonderful writer, but I wonder if her talents were more geared towards anthropology than fiction writing. In Jonah’s Gourd Vine and in ot...moreHurston is a wonderful writer, but I wonder if her talents were more geared towards anthropology than fiction writing. In Jonah’s Gourd Vine and in other works I have read by her, events happen with a quick sentence, time passes without a mention, and the reader is forced to fill in the blanks.
Still, her gift of dialog is superb. I can hear these people talking to each other and through their voices, I can see them clearly. She makes clear the lesser of any evil—working for one white sharecropper or farmer over another, and she makes her reader want autonomy as much as her characters. Even if I was not poor and black, I could understand the need to be in a city where you can be part of the legislative process!
Again, still, I want her to make clearer segues in both time and events. (less)
An excellent anthology for a first or second year composition class. It's cheap (under 20 bucks), accessible, not a lot of extra crap, and it has a gr...moreAn excellent anthology for a first or second year composition class. It's cheap (under 20 bucks), accessible, not a lot of extra crap, and it has a great group of essays from Swift to Leonard Pitts. Nicely done!
If you teach a comp course, I highly recommend it.(less)
A great memoir about growing up during the early twentieth century. This guy hopped trains, robbed houses, cracked safes, burst out of prison, skipped...moreA great memoir about growing up during the early twentieth century. This guy hopped trains, robbed houses, cracked safes, burst out of prison, skipped bail, and everything else!(less)
Carver's final collection of short stories, culling from previous collections, offers an exhaustive example of the author's work and style. Carver, su...moreCarver's final collection of short stories, culling from previous collections, offers an exhaustive example of the author's work and style. Carver, supposedly, did not like to be referred to as a minimalist, which is understandable: he is more economic than minimal, reserving description and exposition when needed. This is not the same as minimalism, which is abstracting a story to only its elements.
All the popular favorites are here, including “Cathedral,” “Chef's House,” and “What We Talk About When We Talk about Love.” But there are some gems which are not anthologized very often, including, “Fat,” and “The Third Thing that Killed My Father Off.”
“They're Not Your Husband” is almost a quintessential example of Carver's style. It is very short at less than ten pages. It hints at the class of the characters, but it never leaves their class as a question; “Earl Ober was between jobs as a salesman” is the first sentence, and shares so much about their situation and how Earl considers it—between jobs is not the same as unemployed! And here, Carver is very economical with description. The story is almost void of it in narration and only when it is important to the story to know does Carver give some description. Like so many of Carver’s stories, this is an almost perfect short story. (less)