Second read June-July 2016: There couldn't have been a more apt or disturbing time to revisit this book series about war culture, than in the past twoSecond read June-July 2016: There couldn't have been a more apt or disturbing time to revisit this book series about war culture, than in the past two months of world events. Written just before the Hunger Games and meant for younger readers, this series set in our present world, (but expanded), speaks directly to children about what choosing violence leads to, and how costly yet it important it is to strive for disarmament, of oneself, one's community, and those perceived to be enemies, even when violence appears to be one's destiny. The writing and narrative style are pitched for 8 year olds, but reading it at age 30 and then again at 36, it has captivated and humbled me each time.
I had high hopes for this new biography of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert. While I learned a fair bit and enjoyed wI had high hopes for this new biography of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert. While I learned a fair bit and enjoyed walking through their history, the biography suffers from some of my most frustrating history-writing pet peeves. Information taken from letters and diaries often gets written narratively, such as "Seated on a little blue sofa, Victoria nestled in Albert's bosom," instead of indicating the voice of the journal's author. The result is that personal details and moments end up reading like campy historical fiction instead of actual words from the profiled people.
Also, the book often takes on a patronizing tone towards its subjects, too often critiquing Victoria and Albert from a 21st century posture rather than fleshing out their actions and relationship in light of their context. Not that proper context isn't ever given, it just felt like Gill often took cheap shots, writing dismissively of Victoria's emotional expressions and flippantly of Albert's professorial demeanor.
If you're expecting to read the book version of "The Young Victoria," you won't get it here, nor did I expect to. But I did hope to see a fuller portrait of this rare royal marriage, beyond an attitude of "oh those dull and repressed Victorians." ...more
I thought this book would never end. Though I've been loving my journey through juvenile and young adult fantasy fiction- this series by Jeanne DuPrauI thought this book would never end. Though I've been loving my journey through juvenile and young adult fantasy fiction- this series by Jeanne DuPrau may be one that really is meant to just be read by ten year-olds. I was bored throughout and got a severe headache from the way the book's themes were hammered against my head. While I believe great writing- even for children- can always be nuanced as opposed to overt and literal- the hammering might not have been so obnoxious if I was 11 instead of 30.
But basically- this is Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" if it was told as a children's story. While "People of Sparks" was published first- the post-apocalyptic theme is hard not to intertext. But DuPrau draws lines both too blindly optimistic and too contrived, to actually make a compelling story or three dimensional characters. It's unclear if her message is Go Green or World Peace- and while the two should be able to coexist within her story- this second book in the series muddles what seemed to be a clear anti-consumerism/pro-environment message in the first (City of Ember).
Basically- it's hard to believe that this book is recommended to the same age group that the Golden Compass is marketed to. If Golden Compass is an example of what authors and book publishers feel ten year olds can read, follow and enjoy, then to give them People of Sparks seems like saying to a reader, "Hey- you like Anna Karenina? Then you'll love Bridget Jones' Diary!" ...more
I'm giving up on this one half way through. What I hoped would be an exploration of adult manifestations of surviving (or trying to survive) a narcissI'm giving up on this one half way through. What I hoped would be an exploration of adult manifestations of surviving (or trying to survive) a narcissistic family system (or parent), is actually an inarticulate series of caricatures of destructive individuals that, despite the reality of their situations, seem more like titillating psyhco-drama than explanatory case studies. Golomb manages to be both flippant and melodramatic, all the while making sweeping generalizations but failing to present applicable content for the reader. Further, the fact that Golomb is writing about friends and acquaintances rather than clients or verifiable case studies, only increases the haphazard chaos that is this book. It's a depressing, poorly written, disappointingly unhelpful book for anyone curious about the challenges of being an adult child of a narcissist. ...more
You can't get very far into Victorian literature without tripping over references to The Vicar of Wakefield. Either the novel's heroine is reading theYou can't get very far into Victorian literature without tripping over references to The Vicar of Wakefield. Either the novel's heroine is reading the book, making fun of the book or trying to teach her French pupils how to translate the book. Oliver Goldsmith's 1766 novel is sort of the Moby Dick of the 19th century, in that it was the book that everyone read, or was supposed to read, and thus, the default title to name drop. I'm not comparing the literary merit of Moby Dick and Vicar of Wakefield, just the fact that as for us 20/21st century folks who can't really read a magazine or watch a TV show without eventually getting a reference to the 100 year old Moby Dick, so the 19th centurty folk couldn't pass a garden gate without someone quoting the 100 year old Vicar of Wakefield.Which is why I decided to read it. After about the ninth reference, somewhere between Frankenstein and Middlemarch, I thought i might as well see what all the chatter is about.
I was amused to find that scholarship on Vicar of Wakefield is still in debate as to whether it's satire or sincere. The highly sentimental and ridiculous plot, matched with the idealistic and oblivious narrator, make it difficult to imagine anyone reading the novel seriously- but people did/do. I think that's the mark of genius satire; you've satirized something so well that those whom you are satirizing actually think it's great. Thus, most of my encounters with Vicar references are tongue in cheek, winking at the reader whenever introducing a character who loves it- you pretty much know they're either simple, shallow or stupid.
Which isn't to say the book is stupid- it brilliantly challenges a world-view based on romantic concepts of providence and prudence that turns a blind eye to personal responsibility and social accountability. The very fact that horrendous things keep happening to the characters, only to be turned into blissfully wonderful endings with no effort at all, points to the absurdity of expecting one's life to follow the pattern of the moralistic tales of the period. Vicar of Wakefield, painted in its its pastoral colors of goodwill and virtue, actually serves as a foil to the real hardships encountered in daily life- causing the reader, almost bitterly, to wonder why real life isn't like this. Don't let the sweet stupidity of the characters fool you- this book is actually warning you not to be as sweet and stupid as its characters. I think that's why it makes for such good inside jokes by the likes of Jane Austen, George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte- women who could not abide vapidity or surface morality....more
I was drawn to Jonah Lehrer's book when I saw a light blue paperback with a madeleine cookie on the cover along with the word "neuroscientist". TastyI was drawn to Jonah Lehrer's book when I saw a light blue paperback with a madeleine cookie on the cover along with the word "neuroscientist". Tasty looking indeed. When I opened it up, I saw that an entire chapter was devoted to George Eliot and "The Biology of Freedom". With little more info than that, I basically took the book to the cash register and had at it.
To quote the description on the back, Lehrer's book explores the idea that "when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first." Each chapter profiles a 19th-early 20th century artist and how their work revealed an understanding of how our brains function that neuroscience is only just beginning to discover. Most engaging was the chapter on chef Auguste Escoffier and the intuiting of umami- our only very recently canonized new taste- joining savory, sweet and the rest. The chapter on Stravinsky and how our brains learn to enjoy music was also refreshing.
Overall, however, I find I was most alert while Lehrer profiled the artists, particularly as he located them within the scientific atmosphere of their time. Once each chapter switched to descriptions of neurological functioning, the writing became dense and hard to connect with. Maybe there's just no easy way to write about neuroscience no matter how many literary references one uses. Lehrer's effort is much appreciated, but still feels only mildly successful. I loved learning about the relationships (or animosities) these artists had to the scientific communities of their era, but the connection to what their art revealed about what we now know of the brain, still felt like a bit of a reach. But still interesting. Ultimately, I love Lehrer's goal of fostering dialogue and mutual understanding between science and art.
"We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. That is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer...When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art." Beautiful.
We all read it in eleventh grade. The language was dense, but we ached for Hester, hated Chillingworth and rooted for Dimmesdale. It all felt so dramaWe all read it in eleventh grade. The language was dense, but we ached for Hester, hated Chillingworth and rooted for Dimmesdale. It all felt so dramatic and deep and dark, like moss on an old oak tree covering up secret messages carved long ago by two star-crossed lovers.
And then you read it as an adult.
Umm...sorry Ms. Vehar, but how did you fail to mention that this books is hilarious? I could practically hear Nathaniel Hawthorne's eyelashes swishing as he winked sarcastically from from behind every page. The faux Puritan prose is just that: faux. While Hawthorne makes grandiose statements about the severity and coldness of those old Puritan days, he is practically bruising the reader with elbow jabs to the ribs saying, "Nudge, nudge, get it? WE ARE JUST AS JUDGMENTAL AND SEVERE TODAY! HA!!"
Despite the mild bruising, I couldn't help but adorn the margins with smiley faces every time I felt my buddy Nathaniel winking at me. But for all the smiley faces, it was a surprise to realize how distant the narrator really stays from the characters. While adaptations of the story focus on the passion of the silenced lovers and imagine a rich thought life for Hester, the book rarely visits the interior worlds of the characters beyond what is symbolically represented by their, well, symbols- her daughter Pearl, the rose bushes, the gallows, meteors, and the eponymous scarlet letter, etc. The narrator spends far more time alluding to foreboding symbolic omens of psychological disruption, than inviting the reader to feel what the characters feel, or even know what they are feeling. This book is anything but romantic.
Further, Dimmesdale is in no way a hero to root for. From my reading, Hawthone thinks him the worst kind of cowardly narcissist there is. For all of Dimmesdale's self-imposed chastisement and loathing, he goes about his life feeling rather proud of his status as secret horrible sinner, whereas Hester bears the public shame and maintains her integrity. Dimmesdale's death (oops, spoiler) is his final pathetic act of grandiosity- he begs for Hester to give him her strength, but still chooses the easy way out as a martyr for his own sinfulness. He avoids the real risk, following Hester into a life beyond Salem's black & white punitive moral justice. He disintegrates into the non-person he is, rather than choosing to live honestly as an imperfect man.
I enjoyed my revisit to The Scarlet Letter, especially considering it had been twelve years since I'd read it. It's a short read, and if you can read it as satire, not morose allegory, it really shines with brilliant psychological insights. And no matter how unlikable I found her to be, Hester really is an amazing female character. Hawthorne supposedly based her largely on Margaret Fuller, a woman whom nearly all those transcendentalist fellows were head over heals for. She marched to her own drum, choosing lovers often over marriage, and career over domestic security. It must have been pretty shocking in 1850 to read about the choices Hester Prynne makes, and I bet a lot of Hawthorne's ironical winks and nudges would not have been as humorous if you were the party being implicated. But for 2009, it's an enlightening and entertaining read. ...more
This was my 3rd reading of Charlotte Bronte's final novel. Between my 1st and 2nd reading, I also read her early novella "The Pr
[from March 2009 read]
This was my 3rd reading of Charlotte Bronte's final novel. Between my 1st and 2nd reading, I also read her early novella "The Professor" which essentially works with the same material but wasn't published in her lifetime. The material is (I'll claim) from her own life- her early days as a teacher in a Belgian girl's school. Most biographies of Bronte stress how much she hated this period, with the one exception being that it appears she fell in love with a married professor at the school.
Thus, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to read "The Professor" and "Villette" as Bronte's fictionalizing of her own personal misfortune. In many ways, the two works remind me of Jane Austen's "Persuasion", with the author bringing her unhappy love story to happy conclusion.
But a few words on "Villette" in particular. I have to say, third time is not the charm. I thought it had only been 4 years since my last reading, but I could hardly recognize the book. I groaned and rolled my eyes at the increasingly slow wind up to denouement, with all the anti-French, anti-Catholic ravings along the way. I did care about Lucy Snowe, but I also knew what she was headed for, and frankly, it wasn't worth the 580 page journey to get there.
"Villette" is interesting however as an anti-Jane Eyre. Bronte (in the voice of Lucy Snowe) seems to continually subvert the readers' expectations of a Jane Eyre-type leading lady. Bronte almost delights in not letting Lucy be passionate, articulate or even very intelligent. Just as Jane Eyre challenged the assumption of heroines needing to be beautiful and wealthy, Lucy Snowe challenges the idea of heroine-ism at all. The story seems to be about fate, but a fate that appears kind to the privileged, and ruthless to the dejected.
Nonetheless, I still believe the last five pages of this book are one of the greatest achievements ever in English literature. So deeply personal, yet unrelentingly ambivalent. Sound like an oxymoron? It is, but its earned by the fact that Bronte is writing some 20 years after a lost love and needs to say something different than the simple happiness which closes "The Professor". "Villette" reminds you that sometimes a happy ending can be just as painful to write as a tragic one. And for that, I think I will always need to revisit "Villette."
I'm a huge Sarah Vowell fan. Whether on the radio or in her books, she melds memoir, pop culture and ruminations on under-told stories of American hisI'm a huge Sarah Vowell fan. Whether on the radio or in her books, she melds memoir, pop culture and ruminations on under-told stories of American history with wit, insight and flashes of profound grief and compassion. She's like a fencing master of intertextuality- which the first section of her newest book so brilliantly displays, where she compares John Winthrop's 1613 diary list of Calvinist spiritual goals to Jay Gatsby's self-improvement routine. In fact, it's the opening portion of Vowell's 'Wordy Shipmates' that exemplifies the best of what she has to offer in drawing together historical oddities and their comical (and disturbing) contemporary ramifications. While the book focuses on the highs and lows of the non-Separatists Puritan community of Massachusetts Bay (as opposed to the darling Puritans of Plymouth Colony who were Separatists) the first section tracks the history of Winthrop's 1630 sermon "On Christian Charity" and its perseverance through time in famous presidential speeches. To quote, "Talking about Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity" without discussing Ronald Reagan would be like mentioning Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" and pretending Whitney Houston's doesn't exist. Whitney and Reagan's covers were way more famous than the original versions." Throughout this opening section, Vowell points out that America's self identification as the 'CIty on a Hill" disregards the other elements of Winthrop's (and the book of Matthew's) point, that includes humble submission and service to one another. "...the "City on a Hill" is the image from Winthrop's speech that stuck and not "members of the same body." No one is going to hold up a cigarette lighter to the tune of "mourn together, suffer together." This is the kind of perspective I love Sarah Vowell for, but unfortunately, the majority of "Wordy Shipmates" lacks the most important element: Sarah Vowell. At a certain point, she seems to leave the conversation and just get bogged down in historical reporting, with little interpretation or commentary. That's where the book turned textbook and left me behind. I read Vowell to journey with her, to see what pops up in her head as she researches and writes about Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams or the Pequot War. But 'Shipmates' is heavy on the names on dates and light on reflection. It's a worthwhile read for the first 70 pages alone, but by the end, I missed Vowell's voice and winning way of educating, elucidating and entertaining....more