This is a dangerous book, and I say that not as criticism but with deep reverence for it and how it challenges, well, any sensibility. I'm paraphrasinThis is a dangerous book, and I say that not as criticism but with deep reverence for it and how it challenges, well, any sensibility. I'm paraphrasing, but Wright said his effort with Native Son was to provoke the reader without the "consolation of tears." Certainly, no tears were shed from this reader. I found myself too challenged for that. This is an important book, especially for our times. I don't mean to sound like a liberal apologist or anything, but in light of Ferguson, Baltimore, and other racially charged recent events, people need to read this book and think about it. Bigger Thomas's crime is reprehensible. Well, rather, it's his crime after the crime, as the crime itself was just a stupid snap decision made out of paralyzed fear, but he deliberately chooses how he handles it afterward. He plots his cover-up and the ransom scheme, and he also deliberately chooses his ultimate treatment of Bessie. We hang in there through his actions for 350 or so pages and his run from the law more out of a sense of horror. It's a thriller with much pointed social commentary thrown in, expertly sprinkled with dialogue that gives us a sense of the confusion of race relations in America as it was then (shoot, perhaps now). The Dalton family aims to treat Bigger on a more equal level than he's ever received, but he has no framework for understanding this kind of humanity. He feels he's perhaps being hustled, and from our perspective we can see it's only so much pandering. It's certainly not indicative of real change in race relations that needs to come. But like I said, we have mostly a thriller with grisly tropes used effectively. When Bigger's trial begins, we get the real preaching, and it certainly incites a response. I was just as riveted by the arguments from Buckley and Max as I was by the earlier elements of the narrative. We experience these arguments through Bigger's perspective, and he has never articulated or heard articulated these complex, deeply-layered issues. In a sense, we experience them anew ourselves. We've certainly had these conversations innumerable times since the publication of this book--whether Bigger alone bears responsibility for his crime and his scheming afterward or whether any (or all) of what he has done or has chosen to do is the result of an upbringing thrust upon him that disallowed him from ever having the moral framework or conscience to know right from wrong or to recognize a common humanity--but these conversations, in light of what we know about Bigger, having walked in his shoes, achieve a new, complex depth. Bigger is not a hero. He has consciously and deliberately chosen to do bad things and seems to feel no remorse, and yet the social commentary at work here, and as well as it's articulated, gives us pause as to whether his guilt is his alone. I'm still not sure how I feel in the final analysis, but I DO feel confronted in my own thoughts about issues of race and class in our society and how they play a role in crime. I'm glad to be made to think. I'm glad to be confronted in my own judgments. I think reading literature like this, however uncomfortable it makes us, is good for us. And it's especially impressive (or perhaps sad, as a reflection on our times) that this book is still so relevant 75 years after it was first published....more
A lot of this book rings true with my own experience with the patriarchy, more as an observer than a true victim of it. I've always been turned off byA lot of this book rings true with my own experience with the patriarchy, more as an observer than a true victim of it. I've always been turned off by gun-totin' Jesus, but fortunately the men I've known that subscribe to 'Murican Jesus are on the fringes of any church I've gone to. Still, it's there, and nobody's coming along to correct them and point out to them what the Jesus of Scripture was actually like. We tend to layer onto Him our predispositions about gender roles and complementarianism, but those things just aren't present in the Savior as we see Him in the Gospels. James presents a real interesting study, not just of Jesus but other men in Scripture and what their lives and their relationship with God tells us about what the kingdom definition of manhood may actually be, as opposed to what we think it should be. Unfortunately, James's eschatology renders the discussion rather dreary at times: "We're stuck with this until Jesus comes back." I don't advertise this too much because I don't like to argue about it, but I'm a preterist, and I have my own reasons. I don't try to argue anybody else into agreeing with me. But it gives me a much more hopeful view of things, including gender relations and the death of the oppressive patriarchy. In fact, I believe from a radical grace perspective there is no room for patriarchy in Christian culture, but people are slow to come around from that as they break the chains of eschatological views that have only been with the church for about 200 years or so. But I'll shutup before I get myself in trouble. :)...more
I had to quit on this one just 30 pages shy of the end. I'm surprised I lasted that long. It was interesting and sort of a curiosity, but it was breedI had to quit on this one just 30 pages shy of the end. I'm surprised I lasted that long. It was interesting and sort of a curiosity, but it was breeding a bit of toxicity in my spirit. It's an older book from an earlier era, to be sure (the blatant racism in the stereotypical black housemaid was quite dated), but even taking that into account, I couldn't help but think of the denominationalism and self-righteousness still pandemic to the church today. I just don't want to fill my head with that. I happen to own this book because it belonged to my great-grandmother. Aside from her name written just inside the front cover, it has no markings and no sentimental value. Not sure if I'll keep it just to keep it in the family or try to give it away. Funny thing--I feel less threatened by Nietzsche, who I'm also reading at the moment, than this book. Perhaps that's because Nietzsche was given to moments of extremely brilliant prose, making his claims digestible even if you patently don't agree with them. There's value in that. ...more
I might return to this someday and write more about it, but I have so many conflicting thoughts about this book and why it's great and brilliant thatI might return to this someday and write more about it, but I have so many conflicting thoughts about this book and why it's great and brilliant that I can't get them down with any intelligibility. The book was devastating and hauntingly beautiful because of Updike's prose, as well as his ability to communicate so much truth in an abstract turn of phrase. And much of that truth frighteningly echoes our own thoughts and experiences at times, whether we like to admit it or not. Somehow, not sure how yet, I'm a better person for having read this. I'm certainly a better reader....more
Quite the downer of a tragedy. It takes place shortly after the end of the Civil War, but this play (or trilogy of plays, rather) is distinctly 20th cQuite the downer of a tragedy. It takes place shortly after the end of the Civil War, but this play (or trilogy of plays, rather) is distinctly 20th century. O'Neill was actually born in 1888, two decades after the end of the war, so he doesn't seem to be trying to capture something distinct about that era, nor does he pretend as if he is. In fact, we see in the tragedy of the Mannon family, which takes place very much at their own hands--more specifically the hands of Vinnie and Christine--something of a sense of moral disillusionment more common to the American experience during and after the Vietnam War and wars that have taken place since then.
This was a very good read and held me enthralled, much like the works of Henrik Ibsen I read recently. Either I'm really starting to enjoy reading plays more, or Clifton Fadiman's inclusion of these playwrights in his lifetime reading list was tailor-made for me, as if the cat knew I'd dig them (although he missed the mark with Sima Qian, but that one's on me).
O'Neill's description of the sets and his stage directions are much more thorough than I've seen from any other playwright. They're also quite poetic and beautiful, although I wonder at his tendency to create adverbs out of thin air when an adjective would work all right(frightenedly, terrifiedly, etc.)....more
Every bit as impactful as the movie, which I wasn't expecting. I had figured that director Steve McQueen had heightened the emotional undertones of SoEvery bit as impactful as the movie, which I wasn't expecting. I had figured that director Steve McQueen had heightened the emotional undertones of Solomon's story to be more directly affecting to a 21st century audience, but he merely faithfully adapted what Solomon had written. McQueen did a masterful job, but the material was all there. He just had to get out of the way and let Solomon tell his story. I was transfixed by this narrative. It was by turns tragic, infuriating, compelling, and suspenseful. Solomon writes in a high style we would have expected from an educated man of the time, but he also knows how to infuse his narrative with dramatic tension and emotion. At the same time, these don't feel like embellishments but rather an honest and vulnerable telling of his experience. It works very effectively as abolitionist literature, especially as Solomon vehemently condemns the institution at points throughout, and he does not mince words in his judgment of Epps. And yet he's still an honest and fair judge of human character. As he looks back on his experience, there's a bit of curiosity in his tone as he wonders how a specimen of such monstrous hatred and evil like Epps could come about. He paints a three-dimensional portrait of all the important figures in his narrative. They are real, breathing, and relatable. I don't often have that experience with literature from this time. I've become such a voracious reader over the past couple of years that I still can't determine if this is a credit to Solomon's writing or my own maturity, but I'm going with the former.
Reading this, much as I felt while watching the movie, I felt haunted by those who remained in slavery after Solomon left, especially Patsey, whose severe flaying at the hands of Epps is even more violent in the book than in the movie, if that can be imagined. I can't help but hope that she experienced some sense of justice in this life. She likely lived to see the end of slavery, but did she ever recover her spirit and joy of life that Solomon says she once had? The book stirs one's passions so much even today, it's a wonder that anybody from the time could read it and come away feeling apathetic or unchanged about slavery....more
My grandfather on my mother's side was a huge fan of westerns. In fact, looking at his collection, one would think he read little else, and one wouldMy grandfather on my mother's side was a huge fan of westerns. In fact, looking at his collection, one would think he read little else, and one would also think that Louis L'Amour was the only author he read. He probably owned every L'Amour in mass market paperback. I read most of his collection, amounting to about 100 books, which meant I read the same dadgum novel 100 times. Looking back, I wished I hadn't forced that on myself, but I read everything I got my hands on when I was younger. I didn't discriminate. I thought perhaps the problem was me. I thought that L'Amour probably represented the typical western, and if I didn't slog through every book and try to celebrate it, I was somehow disrespecting my granddaddy. I can now confidently say L'Amour was a hack, and I still have the utmost respect for Granddaddy. Granddaddy didn't limit himself to L'Amour; you just really had to dig through the stacks. He also had some of Allan Eckert's books, three of which I've read and reviewed. And he had Guthrie's Fair Land, Fair Land. I decided to start from the beginning with The Big Sky, and I'm glad for it. Admittedly, Guthrie writes about an older west, a more unsettled frontier, but one can still see him putting tropes to good use that L'Amour only used to tell the same story over and over again with different, very flat and predictable characters. Boone Caudill is a complicated character, an anti-hero. We can't celebrate everything about the man. He's very flawed and makes choices that appall our sensibilities, but we also get the sense that he embodies what may have been more typical of the mountain man of the time. He's violent and misanthropic, to the point that he makes a very tragic choice on impulse late in the book. Guthrie fearlessly runs the risk of losing the reader's emotional involvement at that point, as Boone crosses a line with his actions. But we're too invested by that point. We read on because Guthrie allows his characters to feel the weight of their actions, to contemplate them and be haunted by them. This is honest story-telling about complicated and real people. Guthrie also gives us poetic long passages about the landscape and its effects on the people. His characters discuss the future, when more people will move out and settle the west, and what will be lost. Of course, this is a timeless theme that we can extend in our day to consider our impact on the environment. I don't know if that was on Guthrie's mind when he wrote this in the late 40s, but such things qualify this as way better than pulp. It's not about the action but about the quiet in between, the impact of the action. I also greatly enjoyed the dialect. You really feel like your encountering a lingo that's been completely lost, like Guthrie's somehow given us the transcript of an audio recording of how people talked back then. It's almost exotic. This is not our modern English, and it is rich and full of a certain kind of swagger and brogue. Guthrie uses the dialectic flourishes to say a great deal at times in few lines of dialogue. I look forward to reading the next installments. He's almost as enjoyable to read as McMurtry (although he has far less humor)....more
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like Ibsen's plays (at least, those in this volume), although they are rather bleak. I didn't find them depreI was pleasantly surprised by how much I like Ibsen's plays (at least, those in this volume), although they are rather bleak. I didn't find them depressing or cautionary but rather just sort of nihilistic. I'm sure there are certain cautions we can read into these plays, lessons to be learned, but I don't think that's what Ibsen intended. I like what Forster had to say about him (from the criticism in the back of this volume)--that if his characters were ever happy or content, those things disappeared well before the curtain rose, and we see them in mid decay. Many tragedies begin in happiness and show the unraveling, the agnarosis. Ibsen starts already unraveled. There are elements of characters still clinging to ideals and happiness, but Ibsen the writer and we as his audience have already gone ahead, as if, without knowing the outcome, we do know what awaits them.
Ibsen's dialogue is very readable. It has only minor references to things outside of or before our modern understanding, with the possible exception of Peer Gynt, which is still very accessible. ...more
This book is impossible for me to review objectively, but then I wonder why I think that my perspective is subjective. I didn't personally know Anne FThis book is impossible for me to review objectively, but then I wonder why I think that my perspective is subjective. I didn't personally know Anne Frank, of course. I'm not in any way related to her. I have no Jewish heritage. I am a 21st-century reader reading what's been considered a very important piece of literature. But it affected me greatly to the point that I can't critique any weaknesses, perceived or actual, in Anne's writing. So far as I'm concerned, there are none, and it would be unfair and unwise for us to go searching for them. In fact, any flaws in her writing should only make it that much more endearing as the personal, day-to-day musings of a girl caught up in a very pivotal, very tragic moment in human history. I was glad to read the definitive edition. This is the only version I've read, so I can't compare it with the edited, truncated version that came before. But the foreword and the commentary on this edition state that it's more raw and intimate than what came before, and I can believe it. Anne would probably blush deeply to know that we read at times of her menstruation and her musings on sexuality, as well as her very candid opinions of her housemates in the secret annex. But I'm very glad we have this edition. It makes her a real, living, breathing person as we read. She conveys a turmoil of emotions that every girl has probably felt--indeed, every adolescent, boy or girl. Her observations are astute and mature, much deeper than you would hear from any modern teenager, especially American teenagers, which makes her young death all the more tragic; the world lost an important young voice, and I can only imagine what kind of advocacy role she could have played on the world stage in the aftermath of World War II. I loved every word of this diary, even what some might consider the more "boring" parts. Anne writes with different purposes in mind. Sometimes she just wants to record details, conversations, and play-by-play. Sometimes she wants to complain, like any hormonal teenager would. And sometimes(actually, often) she writes something so profound that it's a wonder it could come from a mind so young. I believe an objective view of her diary would say it's an important work of literature because it captures human truths you don't often find in narratives like this. Many frontier captivity narratives, for instances, were pure sensation and pulp; reading them felt like a bit of voyeurism, something you wanted to know about but not necessarily experience yourself. Anne's account does satisfy some curiosity about a life spent in hiding, and there's definitely suspense to it, but overall we learn something about the human spirit and experience that touches on what we feel ourselves. I'm a better person for having read this....more
I was loaned this by a coworker, who is in a position of authority over me and so graciously understands my inability to say no (we're kindred spiritsI was loaned this by a coworker, who is in a position of authority over me and so graciously understands my inability to say no (we're kindred spirits like that), she thought I would greatly benefit from this book. And I did. This comes on the heels of my reading of Boundaries and is a great supplement to that, especially as it presents much more liberal and sometimes earthy examples and conversations. This was fun, though. It gave a bit of realism to the instruction. I didn't benefit so much from the examples of marital conversations, and I think that's just because there's such a cavalier and casual approach to the idea of divorce as a too-easy answer for problems and conflict. That's just not an option to me, and it makes me uncomfortable to see it presented as an easy out. Aside from that, though, the book as a whole gave me a new way of looking at how to be assertive. I think my approach to assertiveness has usually tended toward a different form of manipulating the situation to affirm me and keep my feelings from being hurt. Smith's approach that he teaches his students, however, is meant to put some distance between you and your feelings and your need for affirmation. You're able to protect your self-worth while letting the other side air their grievances, then as you respond, you can adamantly stick to a position without feeling like you've lost the world if they don't agree with you wholeheartedly. The ultimate goal of this communication is to stick to your guns throughout instead of caving in and kowtowing to an outcome that makes you feel like you prostituted yourself to make someone else happy. I felt very empowered by this and, I kind of dread to say it, look forward to using it on a couple of hotheads in my own life. I felt empowered, like I have the right to stand my ground even if that means I COULD be in the wrong. ...more
This book made me mad, but in a good way. It galvanized me. My wife said I had read this before, but I don't think I had. I think I read SOME book byThis book made me mad, but in a good way. It galvanized me. My wife said I had read this before, but I don't think I had. I think I read SOME book by Henry Cloud, but it didn't affect me quite like this one did, especially at this moment in my life. After leaving a job four years ago at which enforcing proper boundaries would get you eviscerated daily for several agonizing months before they finally let you go on a whim, I was ready to start living in the real world where people have limits. I work now in an environment where if you get pegged as a "yes" man, you'll find yourself on all sorts of committees and task forces, going to meeting after meeting, preparing report after report, while also being given various new projects because you have been deemed a wonderful, capable, trustworthy individual. For the most part, I've been up to the task, but I've gotten weary. I'm mostly exhausted of my own compliance that has characterized me all my life. All that started long before I ever came to work here, and it truly is a great place to work where your talents and gifts are recognized and affirmed. They just don't have enough people to head up all the ambitious tasks they have to accomplish. But I'm realizing the power of no, that I have a right and even a duty to say it. I was already headed this way before reading this book, but the book got me mad about not having any boundaries and about letting people run over me as I have so often over the years. I had friendships that stretched for YEARS because I had no boundaries. I had relationships that lasted many months after they should have ended because I didn't want to hurt the girl's feelings or do what was best for me (and, truly, for her). I've had coworkers whose boundarylessness bordered on sexual harassment, and I said and did nothing about it. I also tend to cower in the face of people who falsely assume that I'm stupid and incompetent at my job just because my sunny disposition contrasted against their frumpy and sour one somehow offends them, and my kowtowing probably only reinforces their assumptions. This book confronted me on ALL of these beliefs and behaviors. It empowered and emboldened me, in some cases just through the power of examples with which I could identify. Not everybody will react so positively to this book. For one thing, Cloud and Townsend's faith-based perspective doesn't resonate with everyone, and some people were raised with good boundaries and don't see the big deal. Either that or they're in denial about their lack of boundaries. But on the whole, I found the book extremely useful. The only part of it that didn't resonate with me was the chapter specifically devoted to God and boundaries. I just don't respond well when people try to make my relationship with God fit their definition. Yes, I believe He has boundaries, but I think He does very well at communicating them with me himself through Scripture, prayer, and meditation. I think I learn more about His boundaries as I learn about human boundaries, as well--mainly that He's much more willing to do for me what others won't. But again, that's really just personal and relative to my relationship with Him. I can't pigeonhole that and apply it to somebody else's situation. We all need to mature with Him at our own pace, but in the meantime, we need to have some healthy limits for each other, and that's what I got most out of this book. There is some BS in my life up with which I will no longer put....more