Set in a small town in Alabama in the mid-1930s, Mockingbird follows the lives of Jean-Louise Finch, or "Scout", her older brother Jem and their frien...moreSet in a small town in Alabama in the mid-1930s, Mockingbird follows the lives of Jean-Louise Finch, or "Scout", her older brother Jem and their friend Dill over the course of two or three years during which they taunt their never-seen neighbour, Arthur "Boo" Radley, read to the cruel-tongued Mrs. Dubose as she fights off her morphine addiction, and get into fights with schoolmates over their father, Atticus Finch, defending a black man, Tom Robinson, arrested for raping a white woman.
The trial is apparently based on a true story, and I hear there are also similarities between Lee and Scout, but I don't know anything about that. This is one of those books, like Catcher in the Rye, that every student in Canada and America has to read in high school, but which no one else has read. I can see why it's a classic, and high school is the best time to read it. As an adult, and especially one with limited knowledge of US history and a degree in literature, I found To Kill a Mockingbird incredibly heavy-handed and obvious. Very little is left to the reader to figure out on their own. In fact, it was so shoved down my throat that if it hadn't have been written so engagingly, and the trial so fascinating, I would have really struggled to finish it.
"If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man," said Atticus. "So far nothing in your life has interfered with your reasoning process. Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom's jury, but you saw something come between them and reason. You saw the same thing that night in front of the jail. When that crew went away, they didn't go as reasonable men, they went because we were there. There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads - they couldn't be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. They're ugly, but those are the facts of life."
"Doesn't make it right," said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. "You just can't convict a man on evidence like that - you can't."
"You couldn't, but they could and did. The older you grow the more of it you'll see. The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any colour of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you someting and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."
The unsubtle moralising and preaching, for me, got in the way of an otherwise good story. The characters are so cliched they must be true to their time and place, and the connection between the townsfolk hating Hitler because he judges and persecutes Jews, and then doing exactly the same thing not just to black people but also poor white people too - and each other, in fact - is pretty blatant. Not that it's not true - we can all be pretty hypocritical at times - but my point is that there's no subtlety in this book.
The use of Boo Radley's character in capturing the prejudice-born-of-ignorance of the three young children, stands in for the towns' attitude towards the black population. Every lady is a gossip, every man a rustic. Over it all, little 7, 8 year old Scout's voice documents it all with many shifts in diction. There are times when she slips and, while her vocabulary can be explained by having the father and upbringing that she had, her "gonnas" and "ain'ts" disappear at moments of adult reflection. Her adjectives, her reading of body language and what's going on between adults, speaks of a greater understanding than she shows when she speaks. Ah well, it's no That Eye, The Sky but "it ain't bad neither."
And it's probably done wonders for the American social conscience. Some messages are just too important to let slip between the silky lines of wankerite literature.(less)
Jane is a poor, plain orphan girl living with her aunt Reed and cousins Georgiana, John and Eliza. She has no friends or protectors now that her uncle...moreJane is a poor, plain orphan girl living with her aunt Reed and cousins Georgiana, John and Eliza. She has no friends or protectors now that her uncle is dead, and with her active imagination sees his ghost in the Red Room where she is locked up as punishment. Sent to a girl's school in the country where she is promptly forgotten, she makes her first friend in Helen Burns - who is taken from her when typhus sweeps through the school.
Conditions afterward improve somewhat and she becomes a teacher at the school. Desirous of making her own way, though, she puts out an ad for a governess position and secures one at Thornfield Hall, teaching a little French girl called Adele who is ward to the master of the house, Mr Rochester. Rochester is almost always absent but when he does return home they form an unlikely and, for Jane, a surprising friendship.
Her new happiness increases as she finds herself falling in love with the bad-tempered man, only to have it beaten at when he boldly hints at marrying Miss Blanche Ingram, a very pretty but cold young woman who lives nearby. The truth will out, though, in more ways than one, and at the peak of her happiness, Jane's world will shatter irrevocably. Or perhaps not...
This remains one of my favourite books. I first read it in primary school - and right proud I was too of reading such a grown-up book! - and have found that the Jane and Rochester pairing is as wonderful as Lizzy and Darcy, if not better, 'cause let's face it, Rochester is a lot more intense and Jane is such a familiar, shy girl who just needs the right person to notice and appreciate her.
I can read this in just a couple of days, though I like to savour it. The writing is a bit sickly in the scene where Jane threatens to leave - I have a hard time picturing Rochester like that, behaving like such a little boy! The third section where Jane lives with her new-found relatives is the least interesting (I've never liked St. John). I also don't like how she gives St. John the last word. But none of this takes anything away from the overall power this story continues to have over me.(less)
With Heat, George Monbiot has moved past the obfuscating arguments being slung like mud back and forth across the globe, and faces not just the alarmi...moreWith Heat, George Monbiot has moved past the obfuscating arguments being slung like mud back and forth across the globe, and faces not just the alarming truth of global warming but the seemingly impossible task of actually doing something about it.
This book is, as he points out in the introduction, a manifesto. It is a plan of action. The goal is to cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 90% by 2030. This is the "seemingly impossible" aspect, especially when you look at Canada's current situation (this Canadian edition includes a foreward designed to wipe the smug smiles off our faces, and effectively brings his manifesto into our own backyard).
Using the UK as his base, Monbiot focuses on high-energy users and high emission-producing industries, from "our leaky homes" to gas, coal and nuclear plants, cars, public transport, the cement industry, heat, lighting and aviation. Before getting onto the task of fixing our situation before it gets worse, he spends a chapter on the current data and where it will lead us, and on the "denial industry". This chapter alone is worth your time. It is engrossing, enlightening and actually quite entertaining.
For all his sources, Monbiot does a thorough background check. This process, of following individuals and organisations from their comments all the way to who is funding them, adds a detective element to the book - a bit like the TV show House. It also serves to add legitimacy to the people Monbiot does quote - although he makes a point of being sceptical of anyone who is selling something.
One of the other truly great chapters in this book is on public transport. Using models put forward by other thinkers, Monbiot restructures the English transit system, making it more user-friendly, affordable, quicker, and drastically reduces not only the amount of cars on the road, but also the amount of road. As with the aviation industry, more money is being spent on expanding roads, which will only fill up with twice as many cars, than on finding other transport solutions or "greener" cars.
His chapter on fuel, especially his breakdown on so-called "green fuels", is less heartening. Although he remains incredibly optimistic throughout the book, his conclusions regarding our fuel options are downright depressing. Still, we can only persevere. Likewise, the amount of energy a supermarket uses to keep the fridges on while at the same time heating the place, is shocking, but not surprising. What is really shocking, is that we are all so accustomed to it that no one even thinks about the waste of energy our expectations of convenience cause.
Heat moves nimbly past all the bickering politicians and scientists and everyone else with an opinion, and looks at ways we can save the planet without sacrificing as much as we will if we do absolutely nothing. But his final point is clear: as long as we refuse to change our lifestyle, make some cuts in our own way of living, we are going to be pretty adverse to politicians regulating - as Monbiot says they need to do - and also give them a good reason to not even try.
As a manifesto, Heat provides a great deal of clear-headed, well-researched and rational information. When one of our politicians decides to take the situation seriously, they would do well to start here.(less)
First published in 1980, this is how it is described on the Virago website:
"Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have
...moreFirst published in 1980, this is how it is described on the Virago website:
"Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have come to post-war England to seek their fortunes. Courted long and hopelessly by young scientist, Ted Tice, she is to find that love brings passion, sorrow, betrayal and finally hope. The milder Grace seeks fulfilment in an apparently happy marriage. But as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them."
That's a pretty fair summing-up, but it's more complex than it sounds. There are so many nuances here, and no one is likable, not Caro or Grace - everyone is either too cold, callous and self-absorbed, or needy, or pitiful. Each character was stripped right down to their most horrible flaws, and it was all so very British! It reminded my of characters in the series House of Elliot, and the sisters struggle to live their own lives, as separate from other people who always "know better". And that British "keeping up appearances" isn't relegated to early last century, either - read John le Carre's The Constant Gardener and listen to the horrible characters of Sandy and the "top knobs" at the British embassy - fictional, yes, but still reflective. Characters like Christian, Grace's husband, are, to use what I think of as a British expression, "insufferable" to me:
"Christian Thrale credited himself with special sensibilities towards pictures. In galleries where art had been safely institutionalized, he walked and paused like all the rest, yet believed his own stare more penetrating than most; and, when others strolled ahead, would linger, patently engrossed beyond the ordinary." (p.189)
These characters are great to read, and great to despise. The men are so patriarchal as to be, inherently, misogynistic. Christian's affair with a secretary at work is another instance where his motivations and methods are stripped bare, honest, repugnant. But the women do not escape either - the only character with any spunk at all is one of Caro's co-workers at the government offices where she works as typist/secretary/tea-maker, a woman called Valda, who says to Caro:
"You feel downright disloyal to your experience, when you do come across a man you could like. By then you scarcely see how you can decently make terms, it's like going over to the enemy. And then there's the waiting. Women have got to fight their way out of that dumb waiting at the end of the never-ringing telephone. The 'receiver', as our portion of it is called."
And then: "There is the dressing up, the hair, the fingernails. The toes. And, after all that, you are a meal they eat while reading the newspaper. I tell you that every one of those fingers we paint is another nail in their eventual coffins." To which Caroline thinks, "All this was indisputable, even brave. But was a map, from which rooms, hours, and human faces did not rise; on which there was no bloom of generosity or discovery. The omissions might constitute life itself; unless the map was intended as a substitute for the journey." (pp. 142-143)
Valda is obviously one of the first feminists, and also liberal-minded: she sews on her boss's button, her boss who is 'no good at these things', and later asks him to fix her typewriter ribbon, as she is 'no good at these things', to which he replies she should get another girl to do it, and must personally oversee this as Valda insists he do it.
This book offers a great insight into the early-mid decades of the 20th century in all its grittiness and human foibles. Dora, Grace and Caro's older half-sister, is also "insufferable", though in the classic way: she is pessimistic, unlovable almost, for being totally self-absorbed in the most negative, vocal way. She is almost a comic character, an exaggeration, yet the way she is written you can only feel sorry for her and her lost life.
Of Hazzard's writing, it has been described thus: "Hazzard is noted for the insight, sensitivity, and subtlety of her writing and for a lyrical style sometimes leavened by gentle irony." I would say, firstly, that it is dense, that there is so much to absorb in a single paragraph, which is why it took me so long to read. An example (and I open the book at random):
"In secret Caro dwelt on the release from emotional obligation, and could see how indifference might become seductive. What Josie took for exposure on Caro's part had been an offering of trust - a test the girl had failed, over and over. Trust would be offered repeatedly, but not indefinitely." (p.209)
There are passages of true poetry (to me):
"Beside the chill drama of Paul's marriage, played out in its interesting setting of worldly success, Caro's wound must blanch to a light stroke of experience that it would be tiresome to display. Caro would be instructed, not questioned; would be addressed, with knowing interpolations: 'That alas is the way it goes'; 'Something we must rectify.' Paul, not Caro, would interpret the degree of meaning in their respective lots. That had been decided, as he sat speaking intimately of his life to the person most excluded from it - in order to readmit her to the intimacy though not the life." (p.133)
There is an interesting passage towards the end, when Caro reflects on her life, having finally got rid of Paul's spectre after he tells her his big secret and what was forever persistent between them dies while at the same time she realises her love for dear old Ted, that is interesting and reminded me of Berkley's philosophy (I use the word lightly, as I think it's a crap idea based on a gross assumption). In the book:
"Caro had walked in the streets and thought about Ted Tice. She had sat to her work and feared to die without seeing him again. One day she had written on the page where she was working: 'If he came now, I would do whatever he asked.' If Ted were to die, the world would be a room where no one looked at her." (p.324)
It made me think back to first year philosophy (which I detested, but that is beside the point), and Berkley's hypothesis that things only exist insomuch or insofar as we are here to look at them, and that they continue to exist after we have turned our backs/left the room etc, because God is there to look, and is always looking. Hence do things "exist". That is my gross summing-up, of which I'm sure I've taken many liberties. I won't go into why it's such crap, as I would think that would be obvious to anyone, but with this idea at the back of my mind I interpreted the line about Caro not existing without Ted to look upon her as one that greatly summed up her character, and many other people in the world, who do not feel complete when alone, really, truly alone, or do not feel that they are a part of the world at all: alienated. What is that line from that silly song? "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow." Yes, everyone does, everyone needs to feel love, and feel loved. Or they take a gun to a school like Dawson College in Montreal and express themselves that way.
I thought how sad Caro was, that she was so dependent, just like her sisters - but really, it's an ugly truth: we are all dependent on our own images and ideas of ourselves, more so than the ones others have of us, and to break away from the first sphere of our existence is to float adrift, with no purpose, no identity. Like Christian, who thinks so highly of himself and so can live with himself because he meets his own ideas of upper class (and there is a lot of emphasis on class in this book). Like Dora, who is tiresome, exhausting, depressing. But she has always been that way, and there is safety in it, and she exists. She is determined people not forget her, even if they are forced to recall her.
This is a bleakly honest look at ordinary people living in an ordinary world, a love story in effect, but not a happy one, not really. There is so much here, to dissect, to discuss, I could not possibly encompass it all. And I will have to read it again, to really take it all in, but I'm not looking forward to it. Like a great foreign film or documentary, it's worth watching, but not fun.
I don't normally read short stories, they tend to feel very conscious of their limited space, and the characters are often empty names on pages to me....moreI don't normally read short stories, they tend to feel very conscious of their limited space, and the characters are often empty names on pages to me. Home Schooling is nothing like that. Each story offers up, in beautiful, lyrical prose, intense details about the characters, their pasts, their issues, their relationships, yet nothing is crammed, none of the stories are full of junk - there's not a single wasted or irrelevant sentence.
There are common elements running through these stories - death and, in the least melodramatic sense, rebirth; love and loss; the transient essence of the landscape and the people occupying its space.
My favourite story? Too difficult. I loved "Home Schooling", where the landscape, so vividly portrayed, reminded me a little of the wild moors in Wuthering Heights. Annabel sees the ghosts of previous occupants, the two sisters, Jane and Freddy, who used to live in their big old house-come-school, and a famous actress, and imagines them conversing with each other, having tea together, giving advice.
I enjoyed "Felt Skies" for the minor character of Dr. Bergius, a lonely man who looks like Freud, who finally escapes medicine for his dream of owning a radio station. He hovers by Rachel's desk, chats up her mum, and reminisces about his own Mother and now-deceased wife Eva. Each character in these stories, whether likeable or not, is fully realised, with insights coming from the central characters' knowledge as well as through the characters themselves, as they betray their human traits.
These stories captured an often chilly, misty unreality-within-reality -or perhaps it's a reality-within-unreality? They are not about large events but personal moments, moments of reflection, realisation and understanding. They work supremly well as short stories, and after reading each one take a moment to absorb it all. (less)
Noah is kicked out of York University in Toronto for protesting the chopping down of his favourite tree to make room for a new carpark - an ironic sta...moreNoah is kicked out of York University in Toronto for protesting the chopping down of his favourite tree to make room for a new carpark - an ironic stab at York's treeless campus? - and faces a stint in jail for his "unauthorised demonstration". He has a problematic relationship with his father, too, and looking "for a job that would take me to a place so far away that I wouldn't feel the urge to run anymore" he joins the seasonal treeplanters near Upsala, Ontario.
He arrives at the same time as Cass, a young woman covered in fly bites and blood and scratches, having left a different group. She's hiding something but Noah's friendliness only makes her clam up more.
The planters are an interesting mix, divided into the Hardcores, the Highballers and the Lowballers. Noah befriends El Salvadorian Aleron, who cowers when planes fly overhead because it reminds him of when his father and brother were killed by the army. Tough-guy Lyndon teaches him how to run from bears, though when one does raid the camp Noah finds his fear for his friends' safety outweighs his own.
This book beautifully captures the nature of the forest and the way of life for the hundreds of planters who do this back-breaking work each year. Noah is a wonderfully written character, entirely believable - as are they all - and the book is injected with humour, compassion and some wild moments! It really highlights the paradox of wanting to care for the environment while having to protect your very life from it's teeth. This book doesn't moralise or preach, which I like. I thought the ending lost some of the sparkle of the rest of the book, and yet that too seems reminiscent of that strange feeling of nostalgia you get towards the end of something momentous. I highly recommend this book to all ages and of any background.(less)
Anyone interested in education, the environment, government policy, corporations, innovation and invention, and fads, will get a lot out of this book....moreAnyone interested in education, the environment, government policy, corporations, innovation and invention, and fads, will get a lot out of this book.
Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America details the beginnings of our consumerist society, our over-consumption, our greed, our near-sightedness. Although written specifically about America - with good reason - the same effects can be seen in any other western country, and most others as well.
In his introduction, Slade says "Deliberate obsolescence in all its forms - technological, psychological, or planned - is a uniquely American invention." Obsolesence has been adopted not only by manufacturers but also consumers: who wants to keep last year's mobile phone model when this year's is also an MP3 player? Who wants to keep driving a 2005 Lexus when the 2006 model promises freedom from your crappy job? This is psychological obsolescence, this way of thinking that anything old is no longer usable, desirable or fashionable.
It did not begin by accident. Worried about over-production, anxious to keep people buying right through the depression, businessmen (and yes, they were all men) decided the only way out would be to sell more stuff, not make less of it. And the way to make people buy more is to render their current possessions obsolete, whether by design flaws, fashion, or agressive marketing. Disposability is traced back to paper: paper shirt fronts and cuffs for men, then sanitary napkins for women, beginning the "throwaway ethic" now so acceptable. "Thrift" became a bad word, and anti-fun.
Chapter 2 details the war between Ford and General Motors and "the practice of deliberately encouraging product obsolescence." Fleshed out with human stories of the men (yes, they were all men) involved, this chapter is truly fascinating and the only thing I wish had been included, as elsewhere in the book, were some pictures of the cars. Not being of a generation that can still remember the models in question, a little visualisation is helpful. But it's a small, personal quibble, and doesn't detract from the content. It is actually entertaining to read what Ford and Sloane of GM did: unable to push sales up (against the Tin Lizzy, noisy, uncomfortable but very reliable and made to last), GM began changing their design, nothing else - colour, style, upholstery, all things that made the Tin Lizzy look old and sad, and even older GM models now looked pitiful. While, in a later chapter on the 50s and 60s, a backlash against the absurd tailfins resulted in huge popularity of the foreign-made Volkswagen, whose ads emphasised its stability and lack of "superficial model changes."
The concept of "death dating" is studied - the idea of, say, a toaster of having a life span of only 3 years, after which it dies (deliberately), and the owner must buy a new model. Another chapter discusses the advent of radio and television, and the struggle for FM to exist at all, while chapter 8 gives some insight into the Cold War and the deliberate sabotage by American and Canadian companies of their products, knowing that the Soviets were going to steal them, since they couldn't afford to do all the research and invent anything themselves. This chapter is mostly a personal story about a Soviet double agent, and I admit I did get a bit lost amongst all the names, and couldn't help but wonder at the relevance of it all.
Chips play a big part in the story of planned obsolescence, and the final chapter on computers and mobile phones, while reiterating the main points of the introduction, includes some truly scary facts. Like: 1. "Cell phones built to last five years are now retired after only eighteen months of use." 2. There is not yet a ban in the United States that prohibits the export of e-waste to other, often less-developed countries like Bangladesh, where "unregulated facilities burn excess plastic waste around the clock, pumping PBDE and dioxin-laden fumes into the air. Despite respiratory disorders and skin diseases among the local residents, and despite transoceanic airborne contamination, these facilities are still considered valuable local businesses." 3. Nearly every mobile and laptop, pager and organiser, contains tantalum capacitors. Tantalum comes from refining colombo-tantalum ore, or coltan, found mostly in West Africa. Very few people are aware that the mining of coltan "produces economic devastation".
Slade makes some interesting points, notably about the lack of "technological literacy" existing today. "Only a public that tries to understand the consequences of coltan mining can begin to make an informed choice about the global trade-offs associated with 'trading up' to a new and better cell phone."
There is more to this than the evils of advertising, Slade argues. There is the "mystery" of the consumer themself. "Neophilias" are people who love new things, and can be divided into three groups - "pristinians", those who must sustain a pristine self-image by always having the newest thing; "trailblazing" or "technophiles", the ones who usually discover the latest "thing" and, though nerdy, spread the word and it catches on (remember when mobile phones were HUGE and really daggy? You wouldn't be caught dead with one); and "fashion fanatics", the majority or neophiles who can't stand wearing last seasons clothes or being out of the loop. With pressure amongst groups of friends, or at school, the need to own that latest gadget becomes the newer form of "keeping up with the Joneses."
While America is one of the worst offenders of disposability, waste and over-consumption, no one else is innocent either. But I respect my mum who would rather shell out a hundred dollars for a decent pair of leather shoes for her kids than twenty bucks for a pair of crappy vinyl sneakers that would have to be replaced three times a year. We had the same telly for about fifteen years, right up to the day it was no longer repairable - they don't tend to last that long anymore. If parents can resist their nagging kids, perhaps even keep them from watching commercial television, maybe a cycle can be broken? It is, after all, psychological, not a natural order of things.
It doesn't have to be this way: Slade reveals one example, "a hand-blown carbon-filament light bulb, made by Shelby Electric Company, that still illuminates the municipal fire hall in Livermore, California: it was originally switched on in 1901." So next time the bulb in the lounge room blows, again, and you get up on a chair to replace it, again, think of this, that the only reason it died is because it was designed that way, to keep you buying more. (less)