So, every once in a while, I go totally geeky, and read a book like this. Notes on the Underground is, in short, a cultural history of technology, focSo, every once in a while, I go totally geeky, and read a book like this. Notes on the Underground is, in short, a cultural history of technology, focusing particularly on underground spaces, particularly in the 19th century. Why? Because underground spaces are the perfect example of something (generally) manmade and devoid of 'nature' in the traditional sense, so it's a perfect place to see how people throughout the period grappled with technology. Taking a pretty loose definition of underground (20000 Leagues Under the Sea is included, for instance, and that makes more sense in the book than it sounds), the book covers a lot of ground, talking about everything from labor practices to architecture to Thomas Edison to androids.
I loved this book, simply because of the sheer breadth of what the author undertook to describe. A book that is this cross-topic does a great job of making you think of connections betweem vastly different disciplines. In a sense, it reminded me of Building Jerusalem, which I read a few months ago. Unfortunately, the breadth sometimes comes through as a sort of dissipation of the theme, and the book has stretches where it feels unfocused, even irrelevant to the topic at hand. Nonetheless, if you're interested in literature (particularly early scifi like Jules Verne, HG Wells), or architecture, or cultural history, or the industrial revolution, you'll find a lot to chew on in this volume. If nothing else, I added several books to my to-be-read list, just by reading this one... ...more
If you've heard of this book, there's probably little new information I can offer you in this review - the great strength of The JunOriginal Review...
If you've heard of this book, there's probably little new information I can offer you in this review - the great strength of The Jungle is that it is what it is without any pretensions of being something else. What it is is a muckracker novel - a novel meant to shock the public into rethinking a social issue. It's an expose in the shape of fiction.
Specifically, The Jungle begins as an expose on the meat-packing industry in Chicago, noth in terms of the way it treated it's employees, and the way it treated it's customers (an example - he describes a man falling into a cooking vat, and, since it was too difficult to fish him out, having him processed into pure leaf lard). The book was heavily researched, and carefully constructed to disgust, horrify, and shame the reader.
And as an expose, it's extremely effective. It's been 100 years since this book was written, and I hardly want to eat meat anymore.
What was interesting to me, however, was that he DID actually pay attention to the characters as well. Having read 10 Days in a Madhouse earlier this year, I was ready to see the characters as a great mass, but the greatest strength of this book, for me, was that you actually felt the feelings of teh characters. At the beginning Jurgis, the main character arrives in America, and discovers all the nasty, dishonest cruelty of the American capitalist system, and you really, deeply want him to succeed. And then, slowly, carefully, Sinclair destroys Jurgis, bit by unavoidable bit, until he becomes as ugly as the ugliest member of the machine, until he becomes the sort of cheat who was his nemesis at the beginning of the book. The brutality of the world he lives in is real because Sinclair allows him to be human, to be damaged in the way a real soul would be damaged.
The books wasn't perfect - it WAS a polemic. It had some moments in it that had the stink of preaching. But, nonetheless, at the end I was left wishing books like this were written today....more
This book was sort of like if I wrote a novel about the ways people abuse desktop support technicians. Only, without the jokes. AndOriginal Review...
This book was sort of like if I wrote a novel about the ways people abuse desktop support technicians. Only, without the jokes. And with a more talented and sincere writing style.
Honestly, from a review standpoint there is little else to say about. I did learn, quite surely, that it sucked being a governess, and it was wonderful to see poor Agnes find a lover at the end. But review-wise, I don't know what else to say.
That being said.
This is my first Anne Bronte novel, and I am a little embarrased to say that I had NO idea who Anne was. I always got the impression that Anne was sort of the quiet, polite sister. Actually, she reminds me of my sister Tenille. Tenille was stuck in a family, with my brother, who is very easy going, my little sister, who just finished her degree in mountain-climbing-and-kayaking-in-the-yukon (and I say that with pride, not a sneer), and me, who is... well, you know. Let's not get into that. And my sister, is this very earnest, hard-working person, who thinks things ought to make sense. I always felt sorry for her having to wade through us (me, most particularly, but only because I'm self-centered about these things, I guess). That's how poor Anne seems. Anne wants to write somethign that makes sense, that's 'relevant'. And so, she sounds sort fo continuoustly frustrated. It definitely doesn't surprise me that she was more in the Emily circle than the Charlotte/Branwell circle (I'm more the Branwell type... :/). It was a lovely book to read, if you like the Brontes, though if you don't, and if you don't like 19th century social history, I don't know that you would enjoy it as much, now. ...more
(Original Review) This is the sort of book that strikes me cleverness dumb. So I will simply begin by telling you what the book is.
If Not, Winter is a(Original Review) This is the sort of book that strikes me cleverness dumb. So I will simply begin by telling you what the book is.
If Not, Winter is a collection of all of the known works of Sappho - almost entirely fragments. Sappho was, in ancient Greece, considered one of the two greatest lyric poets, alongside Pindar. However, probably in part because she was a woman and in part because she appears to have been bisexual (her home was Lesbos, and the words lesbian and sapphic come from her), only one complete poem of hers survives, and then a series of fragments. The book, then, is a collection of those fragments, some salvaged bits of papyrus, some quotes (sometimes just a quoted word) from her contemporaries.
Of all the books I've ever read, as a physical book, this is probably the number one most beautiful, in terms of words, I've ever seen. The concept and layout is beautiful, sparse, and extremely powerful - it is a book that proves that books themselves are still pertinent and meaningful. The beautiful thing is, without the layout, honestly, most of these fragments would feel meaningless and orphaned. The way the fragments are presented conveys the feeling of loss, the frustration of something we can never have in ways that description cannot. Fragment 107 is a good example. Each fragment is composed of facing pages, the left in Ancient Greek, the right an English translation. Fragment 107 is an empty, white page, with 107 on the top, and simply the fragmented sentence:
"do I still yearn for my virginity?"
Similarly 126 just reads:
"may you sleep on the breast of your delicate friend"
Sometimes there is more, as in 104, where there is enough to get a fleeting echo of a voice in it:
Evening you gather back all that dazzling dawn has put asunder: you gather a lamb you gather a kid you gather a child to its mother
of all stars the most beautiful
Of course, in isolation like this, that seems silly. But it isn't! I saw a review that likened it to trying to hear a poorly tuned radio station. To me, it's more like sitting outside of a concert, slowly realizing that they're playing something beautiful, and then having the concert end before you can get in the door. Ther are lines, sometimes:
138: stand to face me beloved and open out the grace of your eyes
sometimes, there is even enough to catch the gist of a tune:
94: I simply want to be dead. Weeping she left me
with many tears and said this: Oh how badly things have turned out for us. Sappho, I swear, against my will I leave you.
And I answered her: Rejoice, go and remember me. For you know how we cherished you.
But if not, I want to remind you ] and beautiful times we had.
For many crowns of violets and roses ] at my side you put on
and many woven garlands made of flowers around your soft throat.
And the brackets! I ahve never had a relationship with a piece of punctuation like I've now developed with the square bracket, which signifies, in the text, a lost block of text, illegible or destroyed:
] heart ] absolutely ] I can ] ] would be for me ] to shine in answer ] face ] ] having been stained ]
And so it is, the entire book. Whenever you read a poem in translation, there is a certain feeling of loss - in this case, Carson takes that loss and uses it as a tool, instead of an impediment, uses it to show it what it actually means to be blind to beauty, or even worse, to destroy it or prevent it. Every frustrating break, every meaningless half sentence after a beautiful unfinished metaphor speaks in this powerful white space, whispering, "This beauty was and is no more. A man, like you, destroyed it. History is a damaged cloth, and we, we men, are moths..."
By the end of the book, the fragments have sheared themselves into single words, it's like listening to the broken soul of a mad person, these bursts of meaninglessness, meaningful only because we wish they were, empty, but pregnant with impossible loss:
of the Muses
gold anklebone cups
And that's the end. gold anklebone cups, and the book of history closes, a woman is put into a little book (it take about two hours to read), and tucked away into a mass of whitespace, and the shreds of what she was. If you love poetry, and you want to remember why you love it, and what life would be without it, read this book....more
I know, I'm very purply in my prose when I talk about books, and I have a tendency to say everything is beautiful. I know this probably takes awayWow.
I know, I'm very purply in my prose when I talk about books, and I have a tendency to say everything is beautiful. I know this probably takes away from the impact of when I really find something life-changingly perfect. Do not let my larkety-la-ti-da writing style in reviews, however, stop you from putting down whatever you're reading, and immediately adding this precious book to the store of books you've read.
I can honestly say that, if the other things William Blake wrote are as beautiful and honest as this book, that he will be the first male poet to sit in the circle of my heart with Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, E.B. Browning, et al. This book is an image of what poetry ought to be, this book is, when I wish that modern writing would remember what it means to be vulnerable, the book that I would beggingly throw before the writers of the world.
I read this book in one day, it doesn't take very long. The book is divided into two sections, Songs of Innocence in the first half and of Experience in the second. The first half is poems that are the purest palest, most childlike of poems, pastoral in the dearest sense of the word - I have to tell you, honestly, if the book had only been this half, it would have been lovely, but imperfect. The second half was these songs that were... well, it was strange. Let me give you an example:
THE GARDEN OF LOVE
I went to the Garden of Love, And saw what I never had seen; A Chapel was built in the midst, Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut, And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door; So I turned to the Garden of Love That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with graves, And tombstones where flowers should be; And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds, And binding with briars my joys and desires.
But, then, the fascinating thing is, that most of the poems hearken back directly to the poems in the Songs of Innocence - sometimes they even have the same titles. Like this:
THE DIVINE IMAGE (From Innocence)
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love, All pray in their distress, And to these virtues of delight Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love, Is God our Father dear; And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love, Is man, His child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart; Pity, a human face; And Love, the human form divine: And Peace the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime, That prays in his distress, Prays to the human form divine: Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form, In heathen, Turk, or Jew. Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell, There God is dwelling too.
A DIVINE IMAGE (Experience)
Cruelty has a human heart, And Jealousy a human face; Terror the human form divine, And Secrecy the human dress.
The human dress is forged iron, The human form a fiery forge, The human face a furnace sealed, The human heart its hungry gorge.
The poems all interrelate, and they all tell this story, in a way that is at once extermely simple to comprehend and deep so far beyond my real understanding that I could study it for the rest of my life. The poems in this book - no the book itself, because the poems are so much more empty outside their context - have the sort of power that scripture should have. Reading these poems, I felt this sudden, overpowering sense of ... I don't even know what! This is, without a doubt, I can unabashedly say, the best book I've read in at least 10 years. And I'm only 29. The. Best. Book. HAnds down. I cannot write things that will make you understand how beautiful it is, all I can do is beat you over the head with it, so you go read it. Seriously. Even if you hate poetry, even if you've never read a book of poems in your life, even if you think William Blake is a nutjob, even if you've read it in college and hated it, go close your door for two hours, and read it. Then, come back, and tell me if I'm just crazy, or if this book was great. OK, shutting up now. Sorry. Original Review...more
Original Review Reading the Aeneid, my first thought was kind of a silly one: I could completely tell why Dante wanted him to be his guide through HellOriginal Review Reading the Aeneid, my first thought was kind of a silly one: I could completely tell why Dante wanted him to be his guide through Hell, instead of Homer - because Virgil looks AROUND for goodness sake! Homer, in the Iliad, spends a great deal of time telling us how people feel and what happens, but it's just that - telling, not showing. If he describes a river, it's only because that river is a God, and they're about to leap abotu and interfere in the battle. Troy itself is there, with it's tall towers, I suppose, but really, it felt like a military report, not a story, at times. All business, no time for flowers. Virgil - the TOTAL opposite. Particularly after reading osme of his other poems recently before this one, I felt an intense sense of place everywhere that Virgil took me: the craggy cliffs of the Cyclops island, the rolling hills where the exiled Arcadians live, the shining city of Carthage - this is a story written by a man with eyes. And the underworld - the underworld of Homer felt like a temple with weird rituals. The underworld of Virgil felt like the precursor of the Inferno, foreboding, powerful, and vivid. Homer was a reciter. Virgil was a writer, and a writer in the sense that we think of writer, even today.
That being said, the second point I felt the need to make about this book: Odysseus was, as far as Virgil was apparently concerned, a jerk. He comes across as a sneaky, conniving guy every time he's mentioned which, after my feelings about the Odyssey, felt great. Thanks Virgil!
But, now for the meaty question: Aeneas. In each of the three ancient epics I've read, the central hero displays an ethic, that defines them as a hero. For Achilles, this ethic was honor, for me, for Odysseus it was what I would call cleverness. For Aeneas, it was piety (and I don't THINK I'm alone in saying this is his defining characteristic). More than any other hero I've read in ancient lit, Aeneas is a worshipper, a believer. He exhibits what a Christian woudl call faith and humility. He always listens to the gods, he does not try to subvert prophecy (think of, for instance, Laertes), and his quest is very much a struggle of faith, not a struggle for personal power. In many ways, Aeneas reminded me of, say, Moses and Joshua combined, leading the exiled peoples, by the will of the Gods, to their new promised land, casting out the Canaanites, etc.
And this brings up the great question of Aeneas: is this piety a virtue? On the one hand, while he fights a war at the end (a rather brutal one), he fights only when his hand is forced by the other side, and gives very generous terms of surrender when he's beaten his foes, which is far better than I can say for the Greeks. He loves and respects his father, he loves his son, etc. But, then, there's Dido, the queen of Carthage.
For those who are not familiar with the story, at the beginning of the poem, Aeneas has been cast up by a storm on the shores of Carthage. He and his crew crawl to land, and tell their story to the queen of Carthage, Dido, who cares for them, then falls in love with Aeneas (it's a little more complicated than that, but there you have it). She helps them recover, and Aeneas and her begin an intimate relationship. Then, one day, Venus comes and tells Aeneas to leave. Dido has offered him half her kingdom, offered to make the Trojans full citizens of the country. And, Dido is deeply in love with him, and Aeneas knows that what he is doing isn't fair to her. But 'it's fate'. Fate says, he needs to go found Rome, so he goes - sneaks off without telling her, I might add. Dido, in despair and fury, kills herself (and the scene where she dies in the arms of her sister, Anna, was the most powerful, heartwrenching moment in the entire book).
Now, part of this is, of course, just to explain the traditional hatred between the cities of Carthage and Rome. But, Virgil spends a long time showing us how Dido has been hurt, and in fact, return to show her again in the underworld, and shows us how troubled Aeneas is. Maybe I'm overreading it, but I felt like here we had the essential conflict of piety - what if following God and following your conscience don't match? What if God ISN'T out to make everyone as happy as possible, or what if it isn't God you're listening to, and you just dont' know it? The Greek Gods are a perfect example of this, being terribly manipulative, and caught up in their own petty struggles at the expense of mankind, but the same struggle is one of the conflicts I read in, say, Emily Dickinson's poetry, and it's a question that, growing up in religion, I always struggled with - if I am to believe there is a God, if we accept that for a moment, what is to say he's a nice person, or that he knows what he's doing?
Anyways, the question is brought up here, for me, and was oine of the more interesting parts of th ebook. AT the moment I'm reading Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bryce Shelley. Maybe that will offer some insight....more