I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Most of the time I think that's a good thing; I feel, as long as you are giving the book your full attention and aren...moreI listen to a lot of audiobooks. Most of the time I think that's a good thing; I feel, as long as you are giving the book your full attention and aren't merging on the interstate, you can really appreciate an author's work, especially when it comes to crafting sentences. You can also (whether fortunately or not) hear the flaws more acutely, especially when it comes to pacing, dialogue, and the author's over-reliance on pet vocabulary. "State of Wonder" turned out to be slightly disappointing to me, and I can't help wondering if I would have been better off reading the book. Or maybe it was better to hear the clank-clank-clank of elements that just weren't working. (Having a narrator who was mediocre but wasn't bad enough to shut off didn't help matters, I admit.)
I try not to scan any reviews or interviews of books that I have already decided to read, and as I had been looking forward to "State of Wonder" for months, I didn't know anything much about it. I didn't know, for example, that Patchett had auctioned off character names for charity. You could certainly hear the artificial quality, though, of the Bovenders being mentioned by their first and last names every single time they were on the stage. ".....and then the BOvenders said..." or "Barbara BOvender stood at the door..." BOvender, BOvender, BOvender. Everytime the narrator mentioned their names, it was like she was hitting a nail on the head. (The Saturns, too.) Ugh. Other name choices bothered me, as well. It was always "Mr. Fox." Yeah, it was an unequal relationship, but she WAS sleeping with him, for God's sake. Had I unwittingly strayed into a Henry James novel? AND the Lakashi themselves. I didn't know, either, that Patchett had, indeed, named the tribe after her favorite cereal (a bit of cutsie-pieness that I find objectionable) but I think I did pick up on it subconsciously, and I just couldn't take them seriously as a faithfully constructed Amazonian tribe. At least I didn't confuse them with "Snap, Crackle, and Pop", so that's something I guess.
The entire pacing of the first part of the book dragged for me; I seemed to have listened to entire CDs where nothing much happened except Marina trudging slowly through Manaus while she waited for Dr. Swenson, the researcher gone-off-the grid, to show up. Being blocked by the BOvenders at every turn, of course. Things got better when maniacal Dr Swenson finally strolled out of the jungle (I do have to say I thought the set piece at the opera was brilliant) and Marina got to the Amazon. At last.
I had other problems with the book that had nothing to do with the audio book format. Marina did more than a few things that made her seem like a bit of an idiot. The phone going astray, for example.I sympathize with Ann Patchett's dilemma. In the modern world, where family members can pick up the phone or e-mail and moan about car problems to deployed spouses in Afghanistan, it's hard to really isolate your characters sufficiently when the plot requires it. The satellite phone loss should have been handle better--it should have been broken or stolen, not packed away in checked baggage. I never really regained my respect for her, it was such a tyro's mistake. Marina also had another huge lapse of judgement at the end of the book, one that I didn't find completely believable. Some people might. It's a toss-up, for me.
Of course, the entire premise of the book--naive behind-the-desker is sent off by her company to find her lost colleague in the Amazon--is also improbable, as is the biological/ecological basis of the lost world that she encounters. I was willing to overlook these sticking points in the spirit of adventure; other readers may not be so forgiving.
There were sections of the book I really enjoyed. Marina's introduction to the jungle--her stumbling disorientation-was great. The bug-slapping, skin swelling stickiness of it all made me feel as if I were there, in the Amazon, where I never want to go. And I enjoyed the supremely self-confident and arrogant-to-the-point of obliviousness Dr Swenson, even if she was a bit of a cliche. In the end, though, the book turned on a literal bend-in-the river coincidence that I just didn't buy. The entire book came crashing down, which was a pity.
I was sorry I couldn't like this book more. I wanted to. I YEARN for big sweeping novels, with active heroines doing amazing things, and stories that grapple with big ideas. But at the end, Patchett seemed to drop all those grand themes, the ones that she always seemed a bit tentative about all along, in favor of a cheap Hollywood ending. It made me rather sad. Really.
Growing up, I wasn't a huge fan of "Little House", even though I was exactly in the aimed-for demographic. I thought Michael Landon was a bit smarmy (...moreGrowing up, I wasn't a huge fan of "Little House", even though I was exactly in the aimed-for demographic. I thought Michael Landon was a bit smarmy (and beardless, worse yet!) and the show took waaay too many liberties with the books. (I was a picky purist, even then.) I stopped watching even sporadically when Mary got married. Let's face it, Mary's life was over when she lost her sight--even Laura said towards the end of her life that their parents never got over the tragedy--and she spent the rest of her days tatting lace and beading vases in the front parlor. I think Landon could have given his audience a bit of hard-nosed frontier reality--but he chose not to do so. Ahem. Well, since this is not supposed to be a critique of Michael Landon's choices as a producer and director but rather of Alison Arngrim's autobiography--let's just say I was in the "loved Nellie" camp. She was the only thing that made the show bearable and kept it from being so sticky-sweet that you could have distilled it and poured it into a humming-bird feeder. Long live Nellie! I used to turn the TV off when I saw that it was going to be a Nellie-less episode.
Even though I had fond memories of Alison Arngrim's sneering performances, I hesitated picking up her autobiography. Oh, boy. Yet another washed-up child actor's reminiscences of a long-off-the-air TV show. Could anything be more pathetic? Added to this were the allegations of sexual abuse by her brother. Was it just a sensationalistic ploy to get people to read her book? I decided to give it a try anyway, since it had been recommended to me, and it seemed the type of frivolous read of which I don't do enough. Besides, everyone needs a bag of Doritos once in a while.
Well, it did turn out to be more than that. Arngrim's book is both snappily and thoughtfully written. Yes, it did have those fun "fast-food" sort of anecdotes that makes people keep turning the pages. Here's her first encounter in the make-up trailor with Melissa Gilbert:
"....she looked as if she might fit into my purse-and could chew her way out if she had to...then came her stern warning, delivered with the intensity of an Edward G. Robinson in the vocal range of Shirley Temple. 'And whatever you do, you watch out for that Melissa Sue Anderson. She's evil and I hate her.'...it was as if we were suddenly in the middle of a really bad prison movie with an all-midget cast. We had just been told to 'watch our backs' by someone who looked like a talking Hobby Holly Doll."
Well, did it actually happen that way? Who knows--one would like to think so, though perhaps there was a bit of dramatic embellishment. And of course, she has plenty to say about the underwear-forgoing Michael Landon and the rest of the cast.(Michael Landon's words on the increasingly divergent-from-the book plot lines: "Have you ever read those books? There's a whole chapter on frying an apple fritter! I can't film frying an apple fritter!") Plus there are some wonderful sketches of the crew and make-up artists, which was actually my favorite part of the book.All this is delivered in a tone that is a bit gossipy yet not mean-spirited; time has given her enough distance to give her some perspective without reducing it to mellow haze.
Arngrim extends the same sharp, yet clear-eyed regard to her benevolently neglectful parents and her older brother. She gives enough detail on her brother's six years of sexual assaults so that you feel you understand what she went through without feeling like a voyeur. And she's refreshingly candid on using her type-casting to work to her advantage on her work for AIDS and child protection charities.
"Survivor" is a tired word that is used too often, especially for this sort of Hollywood biography. Yet if anyone personifies being able to overcome the odds, it is Alison Arngrim. Here's hoping she can continue a productive and meaningful life. Recommended for anyone curious about reading a well-written account of an unusual childhood and beyond--and not just for "Little House" fans.(less)
In "Loot" Sharon Waxman attempts to explain the story of how many of the great museums of the West acquired their artifacts, and how they expand upon...more In "Loot" Sharon Waxman attempts to explain the story of how many of the great museums of the West acquired their artifacts, and how they expand upon their collections today. Unfortunately, the author eventually succumbs to a shallow flashiness that leaves the reader without a full understanding of how the antiquity trade operates on a global scale.
Waxman examines her story primarily through a series of high-profile interviews with prominent operators such as Zahi Hawas, then secretary-general of Egypt's Council of Antiquities (and all-purpose thorn-in-the-side to the curators and collectors of the great museums outside of his country), Neil MacGregor, director of the BM, Philippe de Montebello, director of the Met, and Henri Loyrette, director of the Louvre. Much of the pre-twentieth century collections of these institutions were acquired (though acquired seems far too mild a word for works such as the zodiac ceiling of the Temple of Denderah and half of the statues of the Parthenon, both literally ripped from their masonry) under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire, which was indifferent if not outright hostile to the treasures of other cultures within its boundaries, or during, in the case of Egypt, a corrupt system of partage that existed until the 1920's. She dutifully recounts the early history of archeology since its beginnings in the mid eighteenth century, relying heavily (and I am putting this mildly) on such well-known works such as "Gods, Graves, and Scholars" and especially "The Rape of the Nile" to recount the horrifying antiquities-grab that occured during previous centuries. Waxman goes on to describe how buying objects with questionable--or often entirely unknown provenance--was considered acceptable untl the late 1960's. It was only then than the cultural branch of the UN put into place a series of strictures designed to prevent the looting or smuggling of artifacts.
It is to the author's credit that she remains objective and tries to examine both sides to this difficult problem. Should an institution be responsible for returning items obtained centuries ago under conditions that would now be considered illegal? Does an object belong to the world or to a particular people-especially when the cultural heirs of that culture have vanished? Is is better to keep a unique object in the holdings of an museum that can display it for more people to wonder over? In the case of an institution that doesn't have the financial ability to keep something safe (the tragic story of the golden hippocampus of the Lydian Horde, returned to the brief custodianship of a tiny provincial museum by a reluctant Met, and now gone, perhaps forever, is described in detail), should an item be returned at all? Does insistence of strict provenance for trading antiquities really help, or does it merely drive the trade underground?
At this point, I might have given the book four stars. I kept waiting, however, for something more. Waxman makes many digs at the patronizing or even culturally imperialistic stances of Europe and the United States, yet she herself is guilty of this myopic attitude. Of the huge problems of looting and smuggling that exist in Latin America and Asia she breathes not a word.( Only the sack of the statues of Benin are mentioned.) Of the industry of manufactured fakes? Nothing. Does she go out into the field except in Egypt--even to Ceveteri, the great Etruscan site just north of Rome, and the scene of so much looting? No, she does not. Does she make a foray to Geneva, a prominent conduit for so many antiquities due to its status as a free port and talk to a few Swiss paper-pushers and ask them to explain themselves? Nope. This latter omission is simply inexcusable as Switzerland is cited again and again as a problem in the antiquities trade. Indeed, Waxman pretty much confines her investigations to talks with the famous, their overworked curators, and a few rumpled and driven journalists for old time's sake. She scarcely talks to field archeologists, giving only a cursory nod to Jack Davis, head of the consortium of the US universities operating archeology programs in Greece--a person who should have had much more time devoted to his position, which is that most everything should remain in situ to begin with. Indeed, except for Usak, the little museum in Turkey, Waxman confines herself to exploring the cushy and the well-known.
This could be excused, of course, as perhaps acceptable gaps in an overview that can't do everything. Yet Waxman spends a huge amount of time and space dealing with the case of Marion True, the former antiquities curator for the Getty, who was tried by the Italian government for illegal antiquities trading. This last part of the book, frankly, is an embarrassment. She spends far too much time on the bed-hopping activities of the staff, making the feeble excuse for her own salacious interest that who is sleeping with whom somehow has something to do with greater problems at the Getty. She jets off to Paros, where Ms True bought a house with a questionable mortgage from donors, for a little look-see of the Greek Isles--entirely irrelevant to the greater story. She interviews Giacomo Medici, the source of many of the Getty's gains via Ms True, though she doesn't speak Italian and he doesn't speak English. Would it have killed her to use an interpreter for such an important part of the story? Indeed, her entire understanding of the Italian judicial system seems muddled and confused.
In the end, Marion True's career is over and the Getty was forced to return many of the highlights of their collection. The author makes a few weak recommendations that museums should do a better job of labeling their works and citing in greater detail where they come from. And there the book ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.Even the author's last set-piece of the book, as she lingers outside a dealer's showroom window in the fabulously wealthy town of St. Moritz and ponders the treasures within, is more of a reminder that she perhaps cares more for an ego-boosting glamour-trot amongst the great and the good than to really demonstrate the true global ramifications of the international illegal antiquities trade, and the sacking of the world's patrimony.(less)
**spoiler alert** This review contains spoilers. Or maybe it doesn't contain spoilers for other readers; I don't know.
To start off with, a novel addre...more**spoiler alert** This review contains spoilers. Or maybe it doesn't contain spoilers for other readers; I don't know.
To start off with, a novel addressing the plight of Hungarian Jews is a reasonably unusual subject for a young American writer (though I don't think Americans are particularly provincial in the topics they choose) that it is obvious the author must have a personal connection with the source material. Right from the beginning it's pretty clear that the author is writing about her grandparents. Thus, all tension is eliminated; you know that the main characters are going to survive, though peripheral characters may perish and all will suffer horribly. There's another problem. Could you write a novel about people you love and admire, people that you knew had lived through one of the greatest tragedies in world history, and write about them objectively? Could you show them as petty or cowardly? Could you write about their sex lives? I know I wouldn't be able to do it. Alas, Julie Orringer can't do it, either. I don't know if you can fault her for that; she tries gamely in an effort that I believe is doomed to fail--somewhat--from the beginning.
In 1937, young Andras Levi leaves Budapest to attend architecture school in Paris. Through mutal friends in the theater, he meets an older woman, a ballet teacher with an-out-of-wedlock daughter, Klara Morgenstern, and they fall in love. This first part of the novel, full of school exams, ballet and theatrical performances, and Sunday dinners--as well as the anti-Semiticism and the growing German menace--might be a bit slow for some readers. It is beautifully written with many arresting images--the little girls in their white tulle clusered blizzard-like around the coffee cake served backstage--a woman's shoe peeking out slyly under the fabric wall during the segregated dancing of an Orthodox wedding--as Ms Orringer paints a portrait of a world that is about to come crashing down. During this part of the book, Andras and Klara have some individuality; they sometimes argue; they even separate for s short time.
Unfortunately, during the second half of the book, after Andras feels compelled to return to Hungary after his student visa expires, the characters start losing their individuality. They suffer; they become icons. Klara in particular slowly recedes into a pasteboard image of the suffering and noble wife, until the vital woman of Paris is nothing more than a Jewish Madonna with a baby's starfish hand at her breast. They become, in short, more symbols that characters that the reader cares about--or at least I cared about--and the novel suffers.
Look, I'm not blaming Ms Orringer. I don't know if it would have been possible for her to portray her beloved grandparents otherwise. And I yearn for a grand and sweeping novel, filled with sensory details and thought-provoking action, which she certainly provides. I'd be glad to read another one of her novels--especially one in which she doesn't stack the deck against herself from the start.(less)
I'm enjoying this, but I am finding myself reluctant to listen to it. Perhaps it is just Malcolm Graeme's voice--he's OK, but he makes a grim book sou...moreI'm enjoying this, but I am finding myself reluctant to listen to it. Perhaps it is just Malcolm Graeme's voice--he's OK, but he makes a grim book sound even drearier. Or perhaps it's because I spent a long weekend in the area the book takes place, stuck in a medieval barn with a three-week old and a two-year old, after I unwisely opted for the Coronation chicken sandwich at a lorry lay-by.I might have to switch to the written word--or get a new narrator--just to keep from slashing my wrists in sympathy with the main characters.(less)