I read this as a teenager, and it was quite possibly the first explicitly feminist work of nonfiction I read. It was an easy read, not especially acad...moreI read this as a teenager, and it was quite possibly the first explicitly feminist work of nonfiction I read. It was an easy read, not especially academic, and very valuable for me in noticing and evaluating the messages I was getting about female bodies, desires, and choices.
It's been a while since I read it, but I remember especially valuing the emphasis on storytelling: the lack of positive stories about female sexual awakening in our mainstream culture, the shift in stories about women's desire over the centuries. I also remember having trouble relating to some of the firsthand tales of girls growing up in the wilder 60's/70's -- I was a very staid (yes, even prudish) 90's teen. But perhaps the shock did me good, and as the book says, storytelling is important.(less)
I wanted to like this book better than I did: it was beautifully written, and most of the characters were interesting, multi-faceted, flawed:...more3.5 stars
I wanted to like this book better than I did: it was beautifully written, and most of the characters were interesting, multi-faceted, flawed: convincingly human. I loved the way different kinds of beauty affected the plots and the characters: without fanfare, the theme was woven everywhere. I couldn't even count the ways the theme returned. It was, dare I say, quite beautiful.
However, I just can't get around Howard. Now, I'm going to admit to my shame (since I'm an English major) I haven't read Howard's End, and I understand that On Beauty refers to it. Perhaps I'm missing something crucial and elegant and intelligent about Howard. But I found him not only repulsive but a failed character. The only trait that inspired my sympathy - his inability to just enjoy things - seemed so overdrawn I had trouble believing such a person could exist. (And I do know academics.) That trait seemed to make him an allegory instead of a man. Other attempts to lend depth and humanity to his character, give him a history, rang false to me. I couldn't believe in him, and he was a poisonous cancer on all the other characters* who I did believe in, and liked, even when they were unlikeable. And he was the mainest main character, with the most screen time. His actions just made him more banal (big points to the character who told him that) and I kept waiting for a train or a meteor to hit Howard and erase him from these poor people's lives. I waited for a plot device to detonate in his face.
I'll admit that I am sick to death of white male middle-aged protagonists with midlife crisis, as well as white male liberal arts professors, let alone New England ones. So Howard hit several sore points, but I am willing to be convinced: I read this book in spite of Howard (who was obviously ticking a lot of boxes from his first chapter, but seemed otherwise inoffensive) and loved so much of it, in spite of Howard. But Howard was Howard, a vast pustule of Howardness, and the end did not redeem him, or really pay off for me. If the book was trying to make a deeper point about this kind of character, or his pervasiveness, it didn't make that point with me.
The book was sprawling, emotionally involving, ambitious, intensely crafted. Characters like Kiki and Zora were exquisitely well-observed, and made my heart ache with their truth. There were even details about Howard that were unusual and winning at first. The huge number of viewpoints were enlightening and fairly well juggled. They even performed an important function: contrasting, over and over, outsides and insides. The book had many telling moments of really interesting discomfort about race, class, and nationality, even if the explicitly political parts of its plot seemed less insightful and occasionally flabby. Ultimately, while I don't regret any of the time I spent on the book, it didn't gel for me, and I think Howard is in large part why.
*There was only one other character I remember really disliking without understanding (V), and I kept waiting for a section from her viewpoint that would explain her better than the sort of shallow sociological gestures I could make myself and Howard made for me. I felt the book was a little unfair to her.(less)
This book started out as a quiet little story, and ended up thundering so loud I had to fall to my knees. It has similar extremes of gentleness and br...moreThis book started out as a quiet little story, and ended up thundering so loud I had to fall to my knees. It has similar extremes of gentleness and brutality, sometimes intermixed in a way that is so, so human.
It's the story of a girl who leaves the known world of Haiti to follow her unknown mother to America, yes, but it's more than that. It is (very explicitly) about mothers and daughters; it's about ways of knowing, the unseen world, cycles of violence and strength and love. It isn't glossy and perfect in the way some novellas and short novels are -- those that leave no thread hanging. This isn't a book that practices perfect conservation of plot, but perfect conservation of image. There isn't a single image or idea, way of seeing or knowing, that wasn't needed. Some recur only a few times, but they appear and reappear just when they're needed, when they'll be most resonant.
One might argue that the male characters are sidelined, but they're not two-dimensional: they have an underside or three, just like anyone. And the inability to completely connect with men is part of what the book is about.
I'll admit that when I was reading along, I thought I'd give this a four star rating: compelling, human characters, beautiful images, thought-provoking stuff. But the ending blew me away completely and transformed the whole experience.(less)
Cute little picture book/comic book. Binky's fantasies about his space-cat duties and the 'reality' of certain fantastic elements in the narrative wil...moreCute little picture book/comic book. Binky's fantasies about his space-cat duties and the 'reality' of certain fantastic elements in the narrative will amuse children as they get older and more inquisitive. The great drawings -- I particularly love Binky's ears and the "Right Stuff" shot of him with his mousey on the cover -- will appeal to every age.(less)
Those who have read a lot of Beverly Cleary books, as I have, will recognize some of the incidents and themes of her characters' lives here, albeit se...moreThose who have read a lot of Beverly Cleary books, as I have, will recognize some of the incidents and themes of her characters' lives here, albeit several decades beforehand. What is so striking, and shouldn't be surprising, is how keenly Cleary remembers and understands the inner lives of children -- both herself and the occasional friends and foes in the narrative. It's also delightful to find out how early Cleary resolved to be a writer, and some of her memories -- including one of her earliest! -- are remarkable and interesting.
This book, gentle and personal, is written at a level that child fans of Cleary's should be well able to access, but its attempts to understand and feel compassion for all the characters in the author's life allow it to succeed for an adult reader, as well.(less)
The chief pleasure of these books is, I think, derived from the chance to visit with their characters and observe their progress. The plots tend to be...moreThe chief pleasure of these books is, I think, derived from the chance to visit with their characters and observe their progress. The plots tend to be undramatic and unstructured, the pace moderate and the tone quiet; but it's pleasant to see Mma Ramotswe, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and Mma Makutsi. This particular volume is very good for this purpose: much of the action consists of predicaments and problems of character, so it is a fine little novel of manners.(less)
Another quiet little installment in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. This one contains a welcome focus on Mma Makutsi, the accompli...more3.5 stars
Another quiet little installment in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. This one contains a welcome focus on Mma Makutsi, the accomplished assistant at the Agency. I enjoyed the closer look into her life, and the progress she makes here. As usual, these books should be read for the characters and feel, rather than in expectation of enticing (or even surprising) plot. (less)
I have a hard time determining how precisely I feel about No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. I find Mma Ramotswe fairly charming. I kind of enjoy t...moreI have a hard time determining how precisely I feel about No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. I find Mma Ramotswe fairly charming. I kind of enjoy the way they betray "mystery" expectations, but on the other hand I find the way conflict evaporates or fails to materialize a little boring (especially as it's repeated, at least in this one.) Some of the folksy wisdom and gender essentialism wear a little thin. Basically, I am not sure why I like the books, but on the level of the page (the minute, I should say, since I'm listening to them) they're gentle, pleasing reading.
Obviously, this book is an exemplar of a certain time and cultural hegemony. If you can't swallow a little casual racism, chivalric chauvinism, and a...moreObviously, this book is an exemplar of a certain time and cultural hegemony. If you can't swallow a little casual racism, chivalric chauvinism, and a lot of implicit colonialist/supremacist attitudes (White Savior ho), it's not for you, and I can really respect that.
However, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. The first-person narrative was droll and self-deprecating enough to blunt the impact of the almost videogamey levels of protagonist exceptionalism, and there was enough interesting, actually vaguely scientific worldbuilding involved in, for instance, the culture of the Green Martians that they didn't come across as the one-for-one standins for stereotyped Earth cultures I'd feared to find. I found the Sola/Tars Tarkis subplot really interesting and compelling. The adventure, although occasionally a little jerkily episodic and inconsistent (uh, isn't that a lie? and why can't you read that guy's brain?) was pleasingly swashbuckling, and I liked the details of Martian life, the classic airships and faithful Martian hound...not to mention some real sensawunda moments.
As for the titular Princess, well, she does spend a lot of time as a damsel in distress. (And some of that distress is Burroughs hilariously contriving to break his own Green Martian worldbuilding in order to follow formula, sigh.) She does at least talk a good game occasionally, and nominally is involved in Science, but she is a little disappointing. (And that's not getting into the Men are from Earth, Women are from Mars comedic miscommunications.) She's not as weak a character as I might have feared, but when I reflect that Mina Harker; intelligent, stalwart and competent even swathed in chivalrous effusions from the menfolk; was written twenty years before, I could have done with a little more active agency from Dejah Thoris. The secret is to strangle the big creepy green guy with the chain, Princess.
Bottom line: fun adventure, cool ideas, antiquated notions, not as cheesy as I'd expected. I may actually be tempted to listen to another Burroughs novel in future!(less)
Charming. Miss Marple's very relatable struggle with change adds something poignant and very real to this otherwise simply clever mystery. Which is no...moreCharming. Miss Marple's very relatable struggle with change adds something poignant and very real to this otherwise simply clever mystery. Which is not to downplay the mystery. Christie is the grande dame for a reason. Here she twists a good little plot. One trait of a good mystery: even if you figure it out long before the sleuth, you don't wish it would hurry or denigrate the sleuth's abilities. I enjoyed this one to the last drop.(less)