A few decades ago I read an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story called The Ice Palace. Its theme – the culture clash between the American North and SouthA few decades ago I read an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story called The Ice Palace. Its theme – the culture clash between the American North and South -- was intimately understood by the Minnesota native who'd married an Alabama belle.
I’ve been fascinated with this clash ever since. So while I picked up Go Set a Watchman because there was no way I was going to miss the second Harper Lee novel, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it covers this topic, largely because the now-adult, NYC-based Scout visits Maycomb yearly.
While Mockingbird’s perspective was obviously ensconced in the south, Watchman looks at that same culture with slightly northern eyes. If Scout once viewed Maycomb from Boo Radley's porch, she now sees it from much further away, especially as it regards racism and her father’s involvement in it.
For yes, it turns out that the great Atticus Finch was a racist. I was surprised but ultimately not shocked. Why not? Because nothing about this good man's behavior in Mockingbird hinted that he was more than just that: a good man. Not a radical one.
Remember that conversation in Mockingbird between Miss Maudie, Scout, and Jem, the one in which Maudie reminds the children that Atticus has been chosen to do Maycomb’s dirty work for them? He was asked to defend Tom Robinson. He didn’t volunteer. There were good people in Maycomb, good enough, anyway, to try and do the right thing even when the outcome was a forgone conclusion. They asked Atticus because they wanted a representation of their best intentions to prove they were better than the mob who tried to lynch Tom Robinson before the trial, and certainly better than Bob Ewell, the white trash who accused him in the first place.
For readers to now discover that Maycomb's best white citizen didn’t actually consider blacks as equals is of course a huge disappointment. But why should we be surprised that a pre-civil rights white man held such abhorrent views?
Although he was the best in his own sphere, he was ensconced in that sphere. He might put his reputation and safety on the line to defend a falsely-accused black man but that didn’t mean he’d approve of his daughter marrying a black man (or, even, as he says in Watchman, go to school with her).
Regarding Scout’s possible marriage (and a new topic): she has a beau in Watchman. Henry, her father’s junior law partner, is her on-again-whenever-she-comes-home beau, a romance built on a post-Mockingbird childhood friendship. And if it’s patently obvious that Atticus wouldn’t have approved a black man as son-in-law, Aunt Alexandra – now living with her brother – does not approve of where the Scout-Hank relationship might go:
We Finches do not marry the children of rednecked white trash which is exactly what Henry’s parents were when the were born and were all their lives. You can’t call them anything better. The only reason Henry’s like he is now is because your father took him in hand when he was a boy, and because the war came along and paid for his education. Fine boy as he is, it won’t wash the trash out of him.
Later on in the novel, Henry reiterates the point to Scout:
You can parade around town in your dungarees with your shirttail out and barefooted if you want to. Maycomb says, ‘That’s the Finch in her, that’s just Her Way.’ Maycomb grins and goes about its business: old Scout Finchnever changes…
But let Henry Clinton show any signs of deviatin’ from the norm and Maycomb says, not ‘That’s the Clinton in him,’ but ‘That’s the trash in him.’”
I find this absolutely fascinating: within certain social realms there are enormous differences visible only to the citizens of that realm. This seems especially so in the South, at least in novels like this one and GWTW.
Regarding the rest of the novel: although I found one section absolutely gut-splitting – the flashback wherein Jem, Dill, and Scout put on their own “revival” – the rest of the novel was underwhelming. For me, it lacked the earlier novel’s potent combination of nostalgia and transcendence. Unfair assessment? Perhaps. And perhaps I’ve now joined the ranks of absurd reviewers who rate a book for what they think it should have been rather than for what it is: i.e., giving a brownie cookbook one star for not mentioning cookies or a YA book two stars for not being adult. Call me absurd then but Watchman is no Mockingbird and while I couldn't put the former down and am glad to have read it, it's unlikely I’ll be rereading it anytime soon.
I read this book over an especially hectic three-day period because it's that kind of book -- impossible to put down for long.
Even though Ashley R-CI read this book over an especially hectic three-day period because it's that kind of book -- impossible to put down for long.
Even though Ashley R-C was a particularly tough child, she was badly damaged by the myopic foster system in which she spent nearly a decade. As I read the book, it especially sickened me to consider the fate of other mismanaged, abused foster children who lacked Ashley's intelligence and survival instincts, such as her own younger brother, "who could never play by the rules."
At the center of the book is an ogre foster couple who lie and manipulate their way out of complaint after complaint. One of the main reasons I found the book compelling, aside from the excellent writing, is that I developed an intense hope that the monster couple would get some serious jail time. Really serious jail time.
The humor in Suzanne Davis very Seinfeld-esque in that it involves an admittedly flawed single person looking for love in NYC and does a hilarious spiThe humor in Suzanne Davis very Seinfeld-esque in that it involves an admittedly flawed single person looking for love in NYC and does a hilarious spin on some of that individual's more depressing situations.
Insightful, well-written and laugh-out-loud hilarious. ...more
As a fan of the Harry Potter series I probably should have attempted to read JK Rowling's foray into adult literature long before last fall when a felAs a fan of the Harry Potter series I probably should have attempted to read JK Rowling's foray into adult literature long before last fall when a fellow bibliophile gave me a copy for my birthday. I jumped in eagerly, not only because of my friendship with said bibliophile, but because the reviews were so varied -- running the gamut between disgust and delight -- and I wondered what my opinion would be. Here it is.
After the main character -- a good little man who casts an enormous shadow -- dies on the second page, the reader is introduced to a diverse cast of characters, all of whom are affected in some way by this death. How many characters? Quite a few. It got so that I felt compelled to print out a character sheet just to keep everyone straight. Turns out I didn't need it for long: all the characters eventually became quite distinct as their stories intertwined brilliantly all the way to a denouement that must be the most bittersweet I've ever read.
An author who creates a long list of detailed characters that intertwine along a plotline centering on bitter class warfare and who has no problem killing off the good, the good-hearted, and the innocent: hmmm, let's see...what other novelist did this book bring to mind? I was about halfway through when I realized I was reading a 21st-century Dickens novel. The 21st-century bit must be what many found so offensive. Rowling writes, um, very descriptively in sections that I must admit to having skimmed over: unless we're talking about what Quentin Tarantino does to fictitious Nazis, I'm what is known as a sensitive viewer.
So I won't be rereading The Casual Vacancy anytime soon, even though it would be a great opportunity for a closer look at the novel's brilliant construction. For one thing, excepting the dead man, there are no characters in this book who I'd care to meet again. To see the effect that one good person can have on a community is almost inspiring here, in an "It's a Wonderful Life" sort of way, but as there's no one to fill the dead man's shoes, this inspiration factor is bittersweet at most. And, as many have said before me, there is a lot of grim realism to wade through, realism that was never thrust so graphically upon the readers of Dickens.
All this being said, the plot structure, characterizations, and writing found in The Casual Vacancy should cement J.K. Rowling's reputation as a genius, even if so much about her novel gives little Dickens-like pleasure to the reader. Didn't Dickens give us at least a few likeable, living characters? ...more
Most Americans know little about the Pacific Theater of WWII aside from three bombings: the one that began the US involvement and the two that ended tMost Americans know little about the Pacific Theater of WWII aside from three bombings: the one that began the US involvement and the two that ended the war. Little is also generally known about the role of U.S. women, outside of their working on the home front in munitions factories. Reading Pure Grit, which contains a plethora of archival photographs, has the potential of remedying this lack of information perfectly for both young people and adults.
The title is well-chosen; these women never seemed to flinch or loose their professionalism through the grueling difficulties created by the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines. As the excellent narrative unfolded to me and the situation of these nurses went from bad to worse, I was on the edge of my seat, wondering when these women were going to crack. A few were able to escape before things got really bad but most of them soldiered on through tremendous difficulties, not crumbling until their twilight years when some of them understandably fell victim to post traumatic stress.
Longbourn contains some beautiful writing and a compelling plot. No, it wouldn't work without the P&P story overarching it, but still,The pluses:
Longbourn contains some beautiful writing and a compelling plot. No, it wouldn't work without the P&P story overarching it, but still, the "below stairs" story manages to be as independently interesting as possible, which is quite an achievement.
I also thought Baker's take on some of Austen's characters was well done and felt that her portrayals of Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Elizabeth Bennet were particularly spot-on.
And James, the footman, one of Baker's original creations, is as noble and likeable as any of Austen's own heroes; more so, in my opinion, since his lack of money could easily have made him desperate and unscrupulous. He's like an impoverished Mr. Knightly with a dark secret.
The dirty details. How many scenes involving the lugging of chamber pots, scraping mud off of boots, or cleaning dirty diapers (soiled by the Gardiner kids) do the readers need before we get the point that, yes, the maids were given tasks that no one else wanted to do? There are several scenes having nothing to do with excrement or mud where the ick level goes absolutely off the charts, making Baker's quest to bring realism to the original story seem extremely heavy-handed.
Most of this, it seems, is to illustrate how difficult life was for the servants of this time period. Point taken -- again and again and again -- but in my opinion Baker's chief error is having protagonist Sarah constantly complaining internally about her grueling tasks while endlessly comparing her life with those she serves. I don't think many 18th/19th century people in service would have done much of either. Twenty-first century people transported back in time? Definitely. But there's no time travel going on here except for the reader who, though appreciative of the time Baker took to research what life was like for servants in Jane Austen's day, might have liked a more accurate depiction of their thought processes as well.
Although this book is aimed at young adults I couldn't put it down. Maybe it was because most of the women featured -- war reporters from WWI to the pAlthough this book is aimed at young adults I couldn't put it down. Maybe it was because most of the women featured -- war reporters from WWI to the present -- had to risk serious personal danger in order to get their scoops. Or perhaps it was a fascination with these intense personalities and a curiosity about where their ambition would next land them.
Hollihan's biographies of these compelling women are concise but thorough and the reader cannot help getting a close-up view of the events the women were determined to cover; there's a plethora of well-researched history here and you see it through the reporters' eyes as it unfolded. Exciting stuff.
This is obviously a great read for teens or for those who study women's history or journalism but it deserves a much broader audience....more
I paid nearly full price for this book (something I rarely do) and it was worth every penny. I'm a musician/poetry lover and I thoroughly enjoyed seeiI paid nearly full price for this book (something I rarely do) and it was worth every penny. I'm a musician/poetry lover and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how various authors from different time periods tried to put music into words. Not easily accomplished but the various attempts are well worth taking the time to read....more
I bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast betI bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast between this young -- and apparently happy -- royal couple and the current one, knowing that the former's union was doomed from the start whereas Will & Kate are obviously here to stay.
The following is probably a bit of hindsighted psychoanalysis but it seems to me that Charles possibly considered, in these photographs that were snapped during very public functions, that all the attention being lavished on the two of them was for him. Or at least most of it. I'm sure it didn't take him long to catch on.
Diana, on the other hand, is absolutely glowing and her happiness seems to stem from the fact that she has taken on an exciting new role -- and the reader/viewer can see her growing into it as the photos progress -- because she's in love with her Prince Charming.
So I found the book heartbreaking but insightful. The narrative is full of details regarding the historical implications of the marriage but though it is well-written it is jarringly out of sequence with the photos. Not necessarily a big issue but it does seem odd at times....more