An exceptional book - one that defies genre. The novel, set during one summer on the coast of England in the 1930s, focuses primarily on 8 year-old MaAn exceptional book - one that defies genre. The novel, set during one summer on the coast of England in the 1930s, focuses primarily on 8 year-old Margaret Marsh, the daughter of a bank manager who preaches the gospel on "the sands" in his spare time and a mother who is a large, soft, submissive dreamer-type. The the point of view is omniscient, and although we are in Margaret's keenly intelligent world for a good long time, the story drifts (sometimes jarringly) into the minds and hearts of others, including Margaret's mother.
The impetus for much of the drama comes in the form of the h-dropping, h-adding bawdy Lydia, who has been hired to help Margaret's mother after she has a baby boy. Conversations between Lydia and Margaret are hilarious, charming, and revealing - in that much of the dysfunctional family dynamic becomes clear. I was often taken by surprise but I never experienced disbelief. Margaret, bored by the fuss over the baby, has a fascinating truth-seeking mind. She sees her parents with a tragicomic clarity. By comparison, the rest of the cast are "nutters."
Gardam's writing is lyrical and compressed. The book is very short, yet the whole of it seems an examination of religion, culture, social class, and sexuality. I think the book is a small treasure....more
I was given this book to read in Glendalough and finished it in Galway. It surprised me that people believe in leprechauns, but the writer makes the cI was given this book to read in Glendalough and finished it in Galway. It surprised me that people believe in leprechauns, but the writer makes the case that the magical entities of folklore are manifestations of elemental power. In fact, she calls the leprechauns, gnomes, and faeries "elementals."
While traveling through the Burren, I'd the opportunity to meet an organic farmer who gave a tour of the "holy well" and the faerie circles on his land. These places were sacred to him, and the land remained untouched in these locations. He was a believer.
I'm too skeptical to believe in faeries, but certain places do seem resonant with history and nature. That's the kind of magic that speaks to me. I could not quite get behind the author's assertion that she'd met a leprechaun who taught her how to live in both worlds, but the story gives good insight into Irish cottage life and folklore....more
Dear God. I swoon (back of hand to forehead). Reading this book is like sliding slowly into a blossoming Venetian rose, reaching out to the filaments,Dear God. I swoon (back of hand to forehead). Reading this book is like sliding slowly into a blossoming Venetian rose, reaching out to the filaments, then sinking into the pollinated cushion of its ovule to drown inside the decayed perfume.
I'm on holiday, so a proper review will have to wait. ...more
If you, like me, love dangerous, verbally adroit, well read, multi-lingual, penetratingly intelligent heroes, then Francis Crawford of Lymond is yourIf you, like me, love dangerous, verbally adroit, well read, multi-lingual, penetratingly intelligent heroes, then Francis Crawford of Lymond is your man. Holy nuns in a convent, this is no easy to read bodice-ripping romance, that's for sure. The plot is more complex than Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall and equally as engaging as a political thriller. Genuine historical figures are woven into the gripping fictionalized account of the Scottish nobleman and Master of Culter, Francis Crawford. Mary of Guise, her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, Sir William Grey, Lady Margaret Douglas, are but to name a few of the characters who appear in important roles.
It took me at least 100 pages to get things sorted out, and I only semi-regret resorting to Wikipedia to determine what the hell was happening in Scotland in 1547. If I'd just held my horses in check, Dorothy Dunnett's novel might have allowed me figure it out myself. Still, even after page 100, I had to concentrate in order to follow the double-dealings and veiled insults.
Despite the mental work involved, I was definitely caught up in the excitement and high melodrama involved in saving the Scottish monarchy and the more intense operatic war raging inside the Crawford family's castle walls. Brother against brother. Wife against husband. A mother's machinations to save her sons. Scottish clansmen and Romanies. The television series Outlander is elementary in comparison....more
I like this book - mostly because Pooh functions as kind of an anti-hero in it, although technically he's not "anti" anything really - in that he embrI like this book - mostly because Pooh functions as kind of an anti-hero in it, although technically he's not "anti" anything really - in that he embraces not-doing and not-thinking. But honestly, Pooh does a lot of stuff. He finds the North Pole, he rescues Roo, and all kinds of other things. But, as Benjamin Hoff points out, he is "the most effortless Bear we've ever seen.
"Just how do you do it, Pooh?" "Do what?" asked Pooh. "Become so Effortless." "I don't do much of anything," he said. "But all those things of yours get done." "But they just sort of happen," he said.
And this is the Tao, the way, in a nutshell. Or, should I say a honey jar? "Cleverness, after all, has it's limitations," and what better way to show you than a Brainless Bear? On the surface, the book (or the Tao) seems to advocate laziness but the Wu Wei or Pooh Way means taking action "without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort."
Pooh is an excellent exemplar of the Tao. In this book, the author teaches Pooh and the reader by weaving stories from the Bear's own adventures with Chinese philosophers like Chuang-tse and Liu An, poets like Han-shan, and the ideas of Taoism like the Uncarved Block and the Youthful Immortal. I think the best chapter is "That Sort of Bear," which re-tells the story of a stonecutter who is always dissatisfied with "himself and his position in life." Like Pooh, who criticizes himself for being without a brain, we should remember that we all have value....more
My five-star rating is not for the pleasure of reading Kafka's The Trial (because it's not all that pleasurable) but for the profound impact it had onMy five-star rating is not for the pleasure of reading Kafka's The Trial (because it's not all that pleasurable) but for the profound impact it had on me after I'd closed the back cover for a final time. I read this book something like 25 years ago, and there is no doubt that everything that has happened to me in those 25 years has contributed to my new appreciation for this book of genius.
Yes, it's not finished. Yes, it's rough around the edges. But I don't read German, so what the heck do I know? The translator, Breon Mitchell, has provided a fascinating introduction that helps to explain the rationale behind the odd punctuation and the "long and complex sentences."
And so it begins. "Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested." He is responsible for the process of his own arrest, his trial, and his own defense against a charge that remains unknown (both to K. and the reader). They allow him "to run around freely" and continue to work at his bank job. His search for help, for justice, is horrible, suffocating, and hilarious. My favorite chapter is "The Flogger." One day K. hears noises and opens the door to the junk room located in a corridor of his bank. Inside, the two men who'd arrested him AND eaten his breakfast are being flogged by a man in "dark leather garments" that leave his chest and arms bare. It's something out of a Hollywood S&M parlor. The next day, K. opens the door again - expecting it to be empty. "What he saw, in place of the expected darkness, bewildered him completely. Everything was unchanged, just as he had found it the previous evening." The flogger is till there, the two men, their cries for help, everything. K. slams the door, reduced to tears.
As most readers have already indicated, the great thing about Kafka is that all this weirdness happens in a normal, familiar setting. It's disorienting. It's also relentless. To steal from Sartre, there will be "no exit" for K. The bleak message of the book is found in the protagonist's attempts to fight against the enigmatic "closed system" that holds all the power. ...more
A slow, winding read about the central stories that make up the core of Ireland's mythology and history. The novel is framed by the story of Ronan O'MA slow, winding read about the central stories that make up the core of Ireland's mythology and history. The novel is framed by the story of Ronan O'Mara, who journeys through a great swath of the countryside in search of an itinerant storyteller, a Seanchai, who created an enigmatic obsession in him when he was young. Braided throughout his search are the facts and fictions of the country, as told by the mysterious storyteller. Newgrange, Strongbow, the Battle of the Boyne, St. Patrick, Hugh O'Neill, the creation of Handel's Messiah (and its first performance) in Dublin, the Easter Uprising, are but to name a few of the stories.
The reader also learns about the penal laws, the land laws, and the further depredations levied at the Irish people by the British. Yet, the book focuses on the beauty and "ancient profundity" of the island. Small little things interested me, like the linguistic history of "Uileann pipes" ("uile" is an Irish word for "elbow") or that Galway is called the City of the Tribes, a city that "aches with memories of those who made the long--and, in those days, forced and never to be retraced--journey to the New World." Did you know that Ireland is the only country whose national symbol is a musical instrument? Do you know the Irish origin of the word "boycott"?
The book is sentimental, to be sure. However, since I'll be traveling there next month, I think the stories in this book will help bring the history of the country to life for me in a way that a copy of Lonely Planet's guidebook could not. Despite the contrivance of the frame story, and the slow nature of the episodic pacing, the book is a deep and heartfelt ode to Ireland....more
I recently re-read this for my book club, and all I can say is that it has held up well. Frightening as all get out, and given the nature of the AmeriI recently re-read this for my book club, and all I can say is that it has held up well. Frightening as all get out, and given the nature of the American political scene right now I'd say the book is painfully topical.
How could you tell how much of it was lies? It might be true that the average human being was better off now than he had been before the Revolution. The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different.
I really cannot add anything new to what's already been written about Orwell's book. Just know what's behind my polite smile. Thoughtcrime. ...more
This collection of essays is a concentration of very strong lucid writing on the global pandemic of violence and intimidation of women by men. It's unThis collection of essays is a concentration of very strong lucid writing on the global pandemic of violence and intimidation of women by men. It's uncomfortable reading, although there's nothing surprising in the details, because Rebecca Solnit so smoothly compresses the staggering number of crimes into so few pages. Example: Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16, 2012, was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the sexual assault of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team in Ohio was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren't that unusual here either. You get the picture. Perhaps you might quibble with her sources or wonder where she obtained the numbers. I didn't, because I remember reading about every incident in the goddamn paper; I just didn't put it together to see mind-numbing pattern of it all.
Solnit makes clear that although "virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn't mean all men are violent," and I think we can all agree. Currently, I don't know a single man who would be capable of the kinds of crimes mentioned in these pages, yet I am under no misapprehension regarding the lives of women who live elsewhere, where masculinity or patriarchal "religious" rules efface them from the surface of the world.
All the essays in the book are interesting, although I didn't love the one on Virginia Woolf, but the title essay and "The Longest War" are the strongest. They all hum with subdued anger, but it's an anger that makes good sense. You don't have to call yourself a feminist to see the danger in a culture that embraces the subjugation of women.
My middling rating is for the collection as a whole, while individual poems I would rank more highly if I could. The series of poems were written duriMy middling rating is for the collection as a whole, while individual poems I would rank more highly if I could. The series of poems were written during and after the poet's husband divorced her for another woman after thirty or so years of marriage. Oh, her! They are deeply personal, confessional in style, and sometimes embarrassing to read (for me). There was something about reading them that felt too much like looking through another woman's bedside drawer. The repetition of the theme - the loss of this one man - was a bit unpleasant for an entire volume.
Still, there were moments of beautiful detail and description of ordinary things. In "On Reading a Newspaper for the First Time as an Adult," Olds's description of the handling of paper pages is exactly right: "I am / letting fall what I have read, / and creasing what's left lengthwise, the crackly / rustle [. . . ] / that sitting waltz with the paper, / undressing its layers, blowsing it, / opening and closing its delicate bellows, / folding till only a single column is un- / taken in." Even smaller details brought joy to the reading. In another poem, "September 2001, New York City," she recalls signing her divorce papers and coming "down to the / ground floor of the Chrysler Building, / the intact beauty of its lobby around us / like a king's tomb, on the ceiling the little / painted plane, in the mural, flying." The poem is a rich meditation on life and death, but once again I wished that her husband wasn't in it. I just got tired of the guy.
Despite the occasional jarring note and the soon-to-be-ex-husband / now-ex-husband motif, I enjoyed most of the work. It would be hard to live through the pain of losing a long-standing marriage so suddenly or losing the man you have loved for so many years to another woman who did not have his children, did not have the shared past with him that you did.