Like most of Vonnegut, this was a pretty quick read for me. I tend to lean towards his spacier works (like everyone else, I read Slaughterhouse Five fLike most of Vonnegut, this was a pretty quick read for me. I tend to lean towards his spacier works (like everyone else, I read Slaughterhouse Five first because it's so famous) and this one relegates that sort of stuff to mentions of Kilgore Trout novels. Instead of speculations of Earth's hopeless future, Vonnegut sticks to questions of what we qualify as insanity in this one, a question which makes it worth reading if you've got some time, but otherwise I would recommend other Vonnegut novels before this one. ...more
Zadie Smith's novel White Teeth starts on New Year's Day 1975, as Archibald Jones attempts to kill himself with car exhaust on an unexceptional streetZadie Smith's novel White Teeth starts on New Year's Day 1975, as Archibald Jones attempts to kill himself with car exhaust on an unexceptional street corner near a halal butcher--getting a jump on his resolutions. It ends on the eve of 1993, with a genetically programmed FutureMouse on display, and Irie Jones (Archie's daughter) about to make an important decision. Smith's real achievement is this novel may not be the hysterical realism of her plotting, or the way she weaves her title into the storyline. It is the way that she brings such diversity to her cast of characters. Represented are whites, Bangladeshis, Jamaicans, Jehovah's Witnesses (both born and converted), Agnostics, Hyper-rational Atheists, Muslims (both militant and lapsing), young, middle-aged, old, and more. She writes in dialects which are spot on and gives each character a fleshes-out voice and perspective. These characters are drawn together by Archie and his friend from WWII Samad Iqbal, a Bangladeshi man with a withered hand who now works as a server at his brother's Indian restaurant. Their children, extended families and acquaintances fill out the novel. While the start of the book may seem more like a series of vignettes "Archie's suicide resolution," "Archie meets Clara," etc. the plot quickly gains speed, and gallops through to the climax (with an obligatory and very brief denouement to follow). I am a fan of this sort of novel, one with many characters whose plots interrupt the storyline for other characters. Smith's prose is extremely witty and just plain fun to read, and while the plot is a bit outlandish at times, nothing ever feels out of place because so much of what happens is more than a little off-kilter. Smith is a clever author, and I am planning on reading On Beauty by her in the near future....more
Moods is one of Louisa May Alcott's lesser known novels, and one intended for a more mature audience than her Little Women-fare. It was written beforeMoods is one of Louisa May Alcott's lesser known novels, and one intended for a more mature audience than her Little Women-fare. It was written before her great success with that novel, and later re-written over twenty years later with a changed ending that focused less on its heroine's romances, and more on her development as an individual.
Sylvia Yule is the protagonist, a moody, mercurial young woman. She falls in love with one man, a man who is strong and upright, a man of principle above all else, Adam Warwick. Then, Warwick disappears, and his kind, gentle, loving, poetic friend Geoffrey Moor asks Sylvia to marry him. Sylvia delays, but eventually agrees, believing that she was wrong in thinking Warwick loved her in return. Warwick does eventually return, and then Sylvia must face her husband and tell him that she loves another, and regrets her impetuous leap into matrimony.
Moods primarily read as a cautionary tale. Alcott's narrator continually refers to Sylvia as a girl, as too young for marriage (although marrying around 17 would not have been uncommon, and Sylvia's older sister Prue later speaks on the virtues and benefits of marrying a man ten years her senior). It is clear to the reader that Sylvia's marriage to Moor is a mistake not only because of her feelings for Warwick, but because she is rushing into such a commitment before being old enough to really know what she wants. If Sylvia is a particularly moody girl, says Alcott's narrator, she is not unlike other members of her cohort that marry too soon and later come to regret it.
While this story starts as romance, it ends as a coming of age Bildungsroman. Sylvia goes from a girl to a woman, learning who is she is, and who she is willing to be for the sake of others....more
Poor Folk was Dostoyevsky's first novel, written in the form of correspondence between Makar and Barbara, a poor government clerk, and a seamstress whPoor Folk was Dostoyevsky's first novel, written in the form of correspondence between Makar and Barbara, a poor government clerk, and a seamstress who are in love, but too poor and downtrodden to do anything about it.
Overall, it's a very depressing read (unsurprisingly). Makar is so desperate for money that he walks on the toes of his boots to save the heels, and a button comes off his jacket when he is in a meeting with his superior. Even the neighborhood moneylender sees Makar as a bad risk. Still, when he does have money he tries to use it to help Barbara and buy her things she needs and wants. This is a repeated back and forth throughout the book, where Barbara basically says, "Well yes, I like it. But you shouldn't have. Seriously, your clothes are falling apart." Makar and Barbara are basically doomed from the outset, fate and systemic equality keep them constantly behind financially. Makar's reward for helping out someone who is worse off than him is further impoverishment, and his very sympathy and humanity becomes a liability in this novel.
Given the format and the length, Poor Folk might be a better starting point for Dostoyevsky than, say, Crime and Punishment (although the latter is a better book). It is shorter, like Notes from the Underground, but has more heart to it. Also, I would strongly recommend pairing this with some of Nicolai Gogol's short stories, particularly "The Overcoat," which clearly has some influence on this story....more
I was first introduced to E.H. Gombrich in art history classes, because he is primarily an art historian. Luckily for everyone, before he became a texI was first introduced to E.H. Gombrich in art history classes, because he is primarily an art historian. Luckily for everyone, before he became a text book author, he was asked to translate a children's history book into German by a publisher. He started, responded that he could write a better children's history book, his publisher challenged him to do just that, and A Little History of the World came into being.
This is not only a book written for children, but a course in the history of the world since prehistory, and it's short, so it is pretty general. Additionally, given the intended audience, Gombrich avoids lingering in the most violent and horrific events in history.
Gombrich updated his book before his death, adding a chapter about the second world war, and revising his account (based on childhood memories) of the end of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles that harshly punished the German people. He admitted two mistakes. One, he had relied on his own memories (of adults calling US President Woodrow Wilson a betrayer who had promised reconciliation and then reneged--missing that the offer had been made over a year before Germany surrendered). Two, he wrote with great sadness that he had been wrong citing the "Enlightenment" as the time when reason, and not tradition/superstition, became humanity's guide. Gombrich points to the Holocaust as a sad reminder that humankind has not evolved past incredible violence and ignorance.
Until this additional chapter, I had been charmed by Gombrich's easy and expressive prose (he did much of the translating himself), but this final chapter added a gravitas and self-awareness that really raised this book to another level for me....more
It's true what they say--explaining the joke is definitely the easiest way to make it unfunny. In The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious SigmundIt's true what they say--explaining the joke is definitely the easiest way to make it unfunny. In The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious Sigmund Freud takes on jokes with his signature psychoanalysis, and ruins many a punchline. I've read Freud before, and I really enjoyed his essay "On Narcissism." This text is pretty par for the course as Freud goes, it's been translated from the original German, it's pretty dense, and you may have to read some parts repeatedly. In terms of content, this is not Freud's best known work, but it has some high points. For one, it's really interesting to see which jokes Freud chooses as his examples. Several are anti-Semitic (apparently Freud collected these as a hobby), several misogynistic, and others highlight socioeconomic differences. Also, Freud's attempts to explain "the comic" in nearly economic terms are kind of interesting, even if I found his arguments to be unconvincing for the most part (let's face it, Freud's been discredited but can still serve as an amusing diversion). Also, it's always fun to look at how personal Freud gets with his work and how often he brings himself and thinly-veiled personal experience into the explanation. I'll admit it, I liked this book, but it was tough going reading through it and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hasn't already read some of Freud's other works and enjoyed them. There's a reason Interpretation of Dreams is a lot easier to come by in a bookstore, it's more entertaining, and has been the more popular of Freud's writings since it was written....more
I read Undaunted Courage on the recommendation of a coworker, and after a few tries at getting into it, was finally able to finish. Clearly, I don't hI read Undaunted Courage on the recommendation of a coworker, and after a few tries at getting into it, was finally able to finish. Clearly, I don't have the tenacity of Meriweather Lewis, since it took me three times to get to the end off this book. I was glad when I finally did, however. Stephen Ambrose clearly submersed himself in the documents of Lewis, Clark, Jefferson, and many other primary sources to write this book. His thoughtful use of excerpts, especially from Lewis, help to build this story and make it personal, rather than the sort of monumental blurb that Lewis and Clark (and Sacajawea) get in most American History textbooks....more
I picked up a copy of A Good and Happy Child used at a library book sale, based on a positive Washington Post blurb on the cover (and also, it cost, lI picked up a copy of A Good and Happy Child used at a library book sale, based on a positive Washington Post blurb on the cover (and also, it cost, like 50 cents, so, what's to lose?) a while back. Just got around to reading it.
I suspect this would have made a better read in the weeks leading up to Halloween instead of mid-December, but, oh well.
This novel employs the frame of a grown man, George, seeking psychiatric treatment for his current problem, his inability to touch his infant child. During the course of treatment, George reveals and rethinks previous issues he faced as a child shortly after the death of his father. Basically, George's father was something of a mystic, views shared by a number of his father's friends. George's mother is a rational feminist who doesn't hide her disdain for superstition and organized the religion. George has a "friend" that appears to him one night, and makes him feel special. Whether this friend is a demon or an hallucination is never totally agreed upon (although the adults in George's life take sides), but he is dangerous.
I don't generally read horror novels, and I guess this qualifies as one, what with the demon. I liked the adult-looking-back-wth-hindsight narration (set up by the frame) which allowed the reader and narrator to delve more deeply into the possibilities of both mental illness and demonic possession (at the time, George is 100% convinced he is possessed, which returns later on in adulthood when he becomes afraid to hold his son). This was entertaining, the characters were nuanced and descriptions were well done, but not necessarily my cup of tea. ...more
I picked up On Beauty and Being Just for free from a friend who was clearing out some old [text]books. I *may* have only read the first two words in tI picked up On Beauty and Being Just for free from a friend who was clearing out some old [text]books. I *may* have only read the first two words in the title, and I'm not sure what I was expecting. Some kind of treaty on aesthetics, perhaps? In any case, I was pleasantly surprised by this argument for beauty. As a humanities major looking for work in my field of study, I feel myself having to justify my existence pretty often. The argument runs along the lines that being involved with beautiful objects distracts us from "more important" things, which is bad, or at least shallow. In this text, Elaine Scarry brings an eloquent argument in favor of beauty, arguing that the value we place in beautiful things motivates us to protect them (ie National Parks, environmentalism), and that the value we place in the beauty of symmetry is also the root of our motivation to be just. Anyway, I enjoyed this text, it's a well-written argument for beauty that draws upon a variety of sources, including Homer, Plato and Proust (who I swear I'm going to read someday). I wouldn't necessarily recommend it if you aren't already interested in aesthetics, though, it is a bit of a niche book....more
Can you believe I had gotten this far without reading A Streetcar Named Desire? I never read it for theatre class, or in high school (although I rememCan you believe I had gotten this far without reading A Streetcar Named Desire? I never read it for theatre class, or in high school (although I remember reading Orpheus Descending when I was fifteen that just never took off. Not that you really need to have read the play to understand why it's funny on Modern Family when Cam is look for a dog named Stella, calling after her in his undershirt, or any other number of parodies and pastiches of that moment.
So, on to the book. I read it because my little brother was assigned it for high school English class, and I am supposed to be helpful in that subject area. It is a fluid, quick read, even reading the introductory materials and stage directions/descriptions I finished it in about an hour and a half.
For anyone who is like me until last night, here's what happens. Blanche DuBois comes to visit her sister Stella, who lives with her husband, Stanley Kowalski, in a not super great part of New Orleans. Blanche has lost the family's grand plantation to cover debts and pay for a number of funeral expenses, and she has no one else to go to other than Stella. This is unfortunate, as Stanley immediately dislikes and distrusts Blanche and makes no attempt to hide his feelings, often being openly contemptuous of her and, early on, implying that she spent the family fortune on her clothes and accessories.
Tennessee Williams is one of the great American playwrights. His characters speak beautifully, but in a way that suits the world of the play. His stage directions and descriptions help to create a vivid picture for even just a reader, if not a director attempting a staging of his play. In a scene where the men play poker, he directly invokes a Van Gogh painting of a bar, the colors and the atmosphere. While the scenes are dynamic, it does feel like the characters are a bit limited. Stanley is an "ape", an animal as much he is a man. Blanche is flighty and deceptive, it is unclear how much she believes of the stories she tells, and how much she has to believe them. Stella is just trying to keep the peace between them, constantly make excuses for both parties. Who is culpable for the way that things play out? ...more
I picked up Slut! on the strong recommendation of a friend. Leora Tanenbaum's compilation and commentary from her interviews with women and girls whoI picked up Slut! on the strong recommendation of a friend. Leora Tanenbaum's compilation and commentary from her interviews with women and girls who have been labeled as "sluts." I felt like it was really important for these women to have their say. Given that many of them were labeled regardless of circumstances (one for refusing to have sex, one for being raped by a friend's boyfriend, all of them for sticking out in some way). The problem with slut-bashing is that once someone is labeled as such, they effectively have no voice. Anything they have to say is easily dismissed with a simple, "she's just a slut," it's a free pass to write her off.
With recent coverage of Monica Lewinsky and the re-hashing of that whole scandal, I feel like this was a good time to read this book. While Bill Clinton is as popular as ever, Monica Lewinsky is still just a promiscuous intern to many. Whatever she's been up to in the intervening years is immediately discounted because of this reputation she has, and she went from a promising young woman (I mean, White House intern) to someone who no one wants to hire because her notoriety.
Luckily, none of the women in this book have to deal with such high-profile slut-bashing, and all of the women seem to have moved on from this experience stronger. Meanwhile, Tanenbaum's commentary, while elucidating, felt a bit repetitive at times. I suppose you can't demonstrate double-standards and victim-blaming enough times because these are still very real problems, but I felt like it was repeated over and over.
Still, I felt like this was an important book, and a useful one. It shows how little it takes to be branded a slut, and how we can do more to bash this double-standard....more
In my continuing quest to read all of L. Frank Baum's Oz books, I inexplicably skipped Ozma of Oz and skipped straight on to Dorothy and the Wizard inIn my continuing quest to read all of L. Frank Baum's Oz books, I inexplicably skipped Ozma of Oz and skipped straight on to Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. In this installment, Dorothy falls through an earthquake-induced crack in the Earth along with farm boy Zeb, cab-horse Jim, and her kitten Eureka. They land in the town of the Mangaboos, beautiful and heartless plant people who live inside the Earth. The Mangaboos decide to blame Dorothy and her compatriots for the destruction caused by the earthquake, and decide on a punishment of death. With the appearance of the Wizard in his hot air balloon, this punishment is delayed, and they escape, meet invisible people, escape invisible bears (by far, "They Fight The Invisible Bears" is my favorite chapter title EVER), meet dragonettes (which are essentially baby dragons), and eventually make it to the land of Oz.
As with the other Oz books, this is a lot of fairy nonsense and deus ex machine escapes. My favorite new character is Eureka the kitten. She has yet to learn how to behave herself, which gets her into a lot of trouble. As all cats are untamable, I was pretty amused by this characterization. Most of your favorite characters make an appearance, and they grow ever more numerous. This book is much the same as the others, about the journey and the stops along the way more than the destination....more
The Patchwork Girl of Oz is another book in the series with a focus outside of Dorothy Gale. Unc Nunkie is accidentally transformed into solid marble,The Patchwork Girl of Oz is another book in the series with a focus outside of Dorothy Gale. Unc Nunkie is accidentally transformed into solid marble, his nephew Ojo the Unlucky has to go on a quest to find the ingredients necessary to change him back. Ojo is accompanied by Miss Scraps Patches (or Patchwork, depending on what page you're on, her loosely defined name is characteristic of her loosey-goosey attitude). The titular character has recently been brought to life with the "Powder of Life", the same recipe that created the living sawhorse Princess Ozma is so fond of. Ojo travels as far as the Emerald City with Patches, seeking the cure, and from there is joined by Princess Dorothy, and the Scarecrow to assist in his mission.
Patches definitely provides the comic relief, she would be a scene-stealer, with her ignorance-is-bliss-and-also-i-was-born-yesterday demeanor. Ojo, while the emotional crux of the story is also kind of one note. Because he is "the Unlucky," he blames himself every time something goes wrong, which can be a little grating for the reader. However, this is a fun read, filled with the usual puns and teamwork and magic and happy ending--everything one expects in an Oz novel....more
I started reading this "Ripped From The Headlines" novel when I was bored at work on a Wednesday night. It's a pretty quick read, so I had made enoughI started reading this "Ripped From The Headlines" novel when I was bored at work on a Wednesday night. It's a pretty quick read, so I had made enough progress in it by the end of the night to feel like I had to finish it.
Basically, Rx is the story of Thyme Gilcrest, a grade-grubbing honor roll student who, succumbing to academic pressure, begins taking Ritalin as a "study aid."
As with all stories that run the gamut of "after-school specials," this choice to Thyme running out, and she begins to *dundunduhhh* deal drugs. Prescription drugs, hence the title. She gets Paxil for Genivieve so she won't be so awkward around people, Valium for Kevin so he can relax to give class presentations, and thinks she is at least helping people by "diagnosing" and "treating" their mental disorders. Following the downward spiral plot model, nerdy little Thyme eventually even gets caught up in the party culture of her small Connecticut town (small, but it has a party culture anyhow for the purposes of the novel) showing up with a "party sampler" of drugs for everyone to share.
Basically, none of the characters in the book is likeable or sympathetic and almost everyone is using prescription drugs illegally. Thyme is the epitome of needy, sad high school girls. Best friends Lida and Suze are a joint-smoking hippie/hookah-smoking party girl, and a poster-child for unsafe teenage sex, respectively. Thyme's parents both use drugs, her mom at one point notes she needs to contribute to the "xanax pool" for one of her coworkers who is flying out on a business trip.
Even Will, the love interest, who is the only character who is against the use of drugs (he refuses to use Ritalin for what has been diagnosed as ADHD) isn't likable. He is known for destroying a student's bike, and later throws an iceball at a Hummer based on his holier-than-thou ethical code. I hate Hummers too, but I am mentally stable enough to see that a snowball fight might not be the best venue for my political soap-boxing.
In short, yes, illegal prescription drug abuse is bad. Yes, I get it, Tracy Lynn (or your real name, Elisabeth J. Braswell, what's with all the pseudonyms) but this story is lame, the moral is heavy-handed, and your characters make me want them to get caught and thrown in the slammer....more
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the first book in the 33 1/3 series that I've read, although I've seen a number I would be interested in reading. AsIn the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the first book in the 33 1/3 series that I've read, although I've seen a number I would be interested in reading. As with all the books in the series, it focuses on a particular band, a particular album. For purposes of covering the short and wondrous career of Neutral Milk Hotel, that's a lot of backstory, and not much epilogue. I think this series is particularly suited toward albums that stand out so strongly, and lack a follow-up record.
Clearly the audience for this series is fans of the album, but for more casual observers, it's still pretty interesting. Details of the recording process, and album art creation, as well as the tie-in with many of the other Elephant 6 bands ad some interest. Discussion of lyrics, and the narrative of "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" establish that Jeff Mangum is pretty much the Angela Carter of 1990s non-commercial rock. Of course, at times the author's love of this album gets a bit distracting, but it is a really good album, and I enjoyed reading more about it....more