Officially finished; see review below the 19 July bit.
As of 19 July, 2015, I am only 30% through the book. Like many others, I am attempting to read tOfficially finished; see review below the 19 July bit.
As of 19 July, 2015, I am only 30% through the book. Like many others, I am attempting to read this book as objectively as possible. I'm not sure how likely said objectivity is (and I don't like the word in general), but I would like to think I'm doing a fair job. Granted, I got really thrown off on the 13th page (I'll mention that under spoiler tags), but I don't think it's that hard to see this as a different book than the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. Many of the characters are in this book so far, but they're older, and different.
I'm not sure we should judge this book as separate from TKAM, but I think there is merit in trying. You have the same author (more or less), but the process is different. As far as we know, this book is unedited. Perhaps they used the new-fangled way to edit, but then there would need to be a second author, and maybe there should be one, if the first author would allow it. I digress a little. But my recommendation (so far) would be to try to read this as a separate novel, if you are so inclined.
If you consider this a completely different book, though, there are already a few problems. The first is that there isn't much introduction into this book. Not all books have an introduction, of course, but the function of introductory-shaped chapters is to establish the characters. Lee does a great job of establishing Maycomb, Alabama, in various chapters. But Jean Louise, Alexandra, and Atticus are all a bit different and otherwise unestablished.
Outside of the characters and plot (which I'll get to later), the writing and dialogue are a bit choppy. Part of the issue with having no introduction is that I don't get a lot of explanation into the nuances of their dialogues, their references. So far the characters feel a bit flat instead of having real thoughts and emotions. The book is in third person, but occasionally there are first-person statements that are meant to be reflections of Jean Louise, but again, a bit choppy.
This may seem a bit premature and mean, but I'm just recording my thoughts so far at 30%. I'm prepared for things to change, and I'm going to read the book all the way to the end regardless.
I stayed up last night and finished the book. I found the middle 40% of the book to be better than any other section, and by that point I just wanted to finish and, apparently, not be able to sleep. And while a big section of this review will go beneath the spoiler, I can say that the choppy dialogue and line of plot are still all over the place and certainly contribute to my overall evaluation of the book. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a first draft of what could be a really great novel, but that's what we get. And I think the argument can be made that this book would have seen the light of day eventually. It probably would have been found and published after Harper Lee's death, but the circumstances are understandably worse since Harper Lee is not dead and likely did not give permission to publish the book. I digress.
I will say that I think the book is remarkably insightful in terms of the relationship with TKAM. That it came first, well before TKAM, is interesting and fairly impressive.
(view spoiler)[I'm not going to move right to the heavy stuff. I'm going to start with the part of the book that I tried to focus on in terms of evaluating the book. It was not as difficult as I expected to separate this book from TKAM. I focused as much as possible on the writing (which I've already fussed about) and character development and interaction. For me, the best passages in the book are the ones where we are suddenly thrust into Jean Louise's past and watching her interactions with Jem, Dill, Cal, and Henry. They are unexpected, often funny, and in general unrelated to the plot of the book. They are somewhat tangential; Jean Louise is reflecting on her past, searching for clues as to where she might have been wrong in observations. But her interactions with everyone have absolutely no context, and for this reason, we as readers are absolutely lost.
Let me focus on some specific relationships. We are introduced very early to Dr. Jack Finch, Jean Louise's uncle. (TKAM people will remember him; I found him endearing in TKAM.) Jack is fairly removed from society, even though he moved back to Maycomb when he retired from practice. He attends church on Sunday but otherwise stays in his house, so his interactions with other people are trying at best. He's that super academic educated uncle you don't have. I found myself struggling through each conversation he had with Jean Louise (and more so after he'd twice slapped her, which really pissed me off). Most of the things he mentions get no explanation, so unless you are Jack-esque in your own personality and knowledge, you're a bit lost, and you just have to accept it and move forward. But Jack oddly, is supposed to be a translator for Jean Louise. After all, he's the only one in Jean Louise's circle who has spent a significant amount of time outside of Maycomb (you can argue that Atticus and Alexandra have similar experience, but they're certainly not known for it) and thus can have more of a bird's eye view of the town and connect it with history. i'll come back to this.
Henry is absolutely unnecessary in this book. Henry Clinton was very messily slipped into the Finch storyline. He serves two (maybe three) functions: 1.) he gets Atticus to talk about the importance of Atticus taking a case so that the NAACP doesn't sweep in; 2.) he represents the younger generation of Maycomb who is following in the footsteps of the older generation (in his case, Atticus's, to directly replace dear Jem) and does a crappy job explaining this to Jean Louise; and 3.) he gives her hypothetical "settling down in Maycomb" context. As far as Jem: I was absolutely heartbroken to read that he was dead. And I was mad. To have Henry essentially replace Jem is horrendous. But in a way, I'm glad Jem died. No one really emerges clean from this book (except perhaps Jean Louise), and if Jem had lived, I expect he would have been a lot like Henry. Henry speaks in weird circles with Jean Louise, and the entire relationship has weak context.
Let's get down to the central issue of this book. Jean Louise now lives in New York (what she's doing there, no one knows; there's no information about it, but clearly all you need to know is that she Left The South and went to college) and comes home for two weeks at a time. This tradition seems normal, but this particular holiday is very quickly made unique by a revelation on Jean Louise's part: the family that she knows and loves is racist. She discovers this in three parts: 1.) Atticus and Henry will take the case of Zeebo's son, Frank, only because they don't want the NAACP to sweep in and make his case a federal one; 2.) Atticus was a member of (or at the very least attended one meeting of) the Ku Klux Klan; and 3.) he's a board member of the Maycomb County Citizen's Council, which seems like a normal sort of community council, and the only issue is that they seem very pro-segregation. The book is essentially about how Jean Louise handles this shake-down in her world.
One aspect to keep in mind (that Harper Lee does not flesh out, so again, point against the book) is the federal vs. states' rights dichotomy. In the second half of the book, we suddenly hear about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and how it pushes the states around, the argument being that they should not be able to make laws and that there is nothing to check SCOTUS. There is reference to a specific case, but there's no elaboration. TKAM was published in 1960, and this book takes place in maybe the late 1950s. This leads me to believe that the specific case in reference is the 1954 ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, the court's unanimous decision that separate public institutions for white students and black students "are inherently unequal". (There is also a lot of mention of the 10th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which establishes federalism and says federal government can't exceed the Constitution.) Jean Louise herself trips up about these issues, particularly in the anticipated final showdown with Atticus, where she babbles about states' rights and how dare SCOTUS go about telling us to do anything, much less to desegregate our schools and, by implication, other areas of life. And it comes from left field, so as a reader (and I know I was reading late, but come on) I was a bit thrown that we were suddenly discussing federalism. I get that she's twenty-six and perhaps having this conversation for the first time, and she's upset, but as a reader I would hope to not be more confused than the character.
And now we have Jean Louise, the Watchman, and Atticus. Jean Louise's world is halted not because of her aunt, or Henry. It's because she learns something about Atticus. And through her, we all learn something about Atticus. How remarkable, that this book was written about the daughter learning about her father. Harper Lee couldn't have known that American society would latch onto Atticus Finch. That people would name their pets and children after him, that Gregory Peck would play him in an astounding film. How could America not love Atticus Finch and all that he seemed to stand for in TKAM. So Jean Louise's reaction is a mirror of our own; our disappointment, disbelief, shock, and horror. How could he have been so good? How could we have loved him so much? Now, there are two reasons for this: 1.) he was written to be, if not inspiring, a good person. After all, TKAM builds up the Atticus that Jean Louse loves and learns from, which makes the fall of Watchman so dramatic; and 2.) we saw what we were meant to see in TKAM, whereas we see much more in GSAW. (See The Guardian's review for more about this.)
Jean Louise grew up with Atticus as her role model for how to treat people and interact with the world. He was, in essence, her Watchman, and that's why she fell so hard. And I think we can understand that. We have all had instances where we set people up on high, and they exhibit a character flaw that brings them down a notch at the very least. Granted, that "character flaw" isn't always racism. And racism doesn't always look the same way, but make no mistake that Atticus is racist. He argues not only for segregation, but also that blacks should not receive the privileges of education and voting because, essentially, they'll screw up a good thing. They're like children and will muck up the government. And I think he believes he's not racist because he doesn't want to kill blacks. He rather thinks he's above it all because he doesn't mind standing behind some blacks at the grocer's, and because Justice Knows No Color. Atticus's is a less colorful version of states's rights and, inherently, the South. We can take care of ourselves and don't need nine Yankees to tell us how to live our lives, how to earn our money and support ourselves. Things are working just fine, thanks. It's a heavy theme throughout the book, and Jack Finch does bring this up often by comparing it to the Civil War that, arguably, we've never totally resolved. (See: the Confederate Flag controversy, which has never been so well-timed.)
I don't like Jack Finch, but he makes a point that I haven't heard anyone else discuss yet. Upon learning the racist (or complicit) leanings of her family and town (including Jack Finch himself, who accommodates everyone in his desire to not get involved in anything except how a hymn is sung in church). Jean Louise wants to flee back to New York. Jack makes the argument that she needs to stay in Maycomb. Not because she needs to marry Henry and settle down (because thank Jesus that's not happening). It's that Maycomb is at a point of transition. Because the lack of dialogue is why the North and South (and the notice that the North never calls itself the North; it's the US and the South) can't get along; they don't try. They don't listen to each other and are unwilling to change. Jean Louise is still able to change. It's not that she'll become a racist. But she'll see what we often don't want to accept: that people who are hateful are still dear to us sometimes, and they're still human. Staying in New York would be easy; remaining in Maycomb, making friends and working in Maycomb, but still believing in civil rights for all, would be more convincing for others. When a conflict happens, the worst thing that could happen is that all communication stops. You can't always leave the conflict behind, and if you actually care about the conflict, sometimes you have to improve from within.
Unrelated last remark for the spoiler: I was a little thrown by this, so it's worth mentioning. The case that Atticus takes in TKAM is the case of Tom Robbins. He is not explicitly mentioned in this book (again, telling), but the case is the same with some rather significant differences. The case is, again, a rape case. The woman is not named (because, you know, white trash and it's a woman, so who cares) and is 16 (I believe in TKAM Yula May is older). Atticus argues not that Tom didn't try to rape her, but that Yula May consented to his advance. Also, in GSAW, Tom's arm is completely gone instead of being crippled. The most significant difference is that Atticus wins acquittal in the case; in TKAM, Tom Robbins is found guilty (no surprise), and Atticus mentions appealing before Tom Robbins is killed in jail.
The change in the trial from TKAM makes me wonder what differences Harper Lee might have made to this book. Keep in mind that she wrote this one first, then TKAM, and that last one was probably edited like nuts. It makes me wonder if the Atticus in this book is the same Atticus as TKAM. It's a little difficult to tell at times, because this book is shorter and we actually don't see that much of him. Did the Atticus of TKAM feel the same way about race and segregation? It makes me want to reread TKAM in this new light. I know that Atticus is a more significant factor than the trial of Tom Robbins, and Atticus's feelings about race and segregation are so central to this book, but I can't help but wonder what Harper Lee might have changed about this book after TKAM was published. (hide spoiler)]
As a reader, you have to make a choice. From my perspective, there is no way that you can see TKAM in the same light again. And you can replace TKAM with Atticus, because that's the heart of the book. I think the book is worth reading. I want to read it again in a few years. It's the issues inside the book that make it worth reading, but the execution is, in my opinion, poor. The book hovers somewhere between two and three stars, but in the end I can't round up to three stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are a couple of reasons I wouldn't mind moving to Boston, and she's a new one. I'd be a happy camper if I had the option to vote for Elizabeth WThere are a couple of reasons I wouldn't mind moving to Boston, and she's a new one. I'd be a happy camper if I had the option to vote for Elizabeth Warren.
This individual has a lot of spitfire in her, and it shows so clearly in her writing. The book itself is mostly autobiographical, which was sort of surprising to me. I don't know why I thought it would be a book only about the middle class and other issues about which she is passionate. But a big economic book would look a lot different and would probably be written by a well-known economist and not a politician. But she's on the cover, and if you read the snippet at the back, you can see there will be some autobiographical material. Perhaps it's the weaving together of her personal story and the issues about which she is so passionate and well-known that makes me like the book so much more than if it was only about one of those two issues.
I teach students about how to be approachable to their audience members, especially if you know the audience might be less than favorable. Granted, I'm a favorable audience member for this book. It's right up my alley. But you can't really deny the approachability of the life situations she describes. A mostly middle class (but still struggling) family life. A failed marriage due to changing expectations. A working mother who (at times) worked because she did something about which she wanted to teach.
There's something else that funnels through this book, and it comes at time when people significantly feel removed from Washington and from their governments. There's a reason for that feeling of desolation: Warren points out and agrees that the system is rigged. But when people feel so distanced from their own government, the answer isn't just to shake our fists or, as my neighbor says (after I've reminded him that fireworks are illegal in California and that I really don't appreciate his setting off firecrackers right next to my drought-appearing front lawn), "it's only the government." The answer is to get involved so that the same stuff doesn't happen over and over again without any sort of resistance. That way, people will believe a little more in their vote. That's probably the main reason voter turnout is so horrendous in the US.
If you care at all about issues she addresses (the recession, bankruptcy, student loan forgiveness, the middle class), it's well worth reading this book to see how Elizabeth Warren got involved. The reading is engaging and very approachable. I really enjoyed it....more
I don't read a lot of short story collections normally, but I sort of feel like I should. My colleague had this book in our office, and it's technicalI don't read a lot of short story collections normally, but I sort of feel like I should. My colleague had this book in our office, and it's technically a library book that is seriously overdue. Anyway, it's good for me to read short stories so that I can recommend them to our speech & debate students as possible prose pieces. And outside of work, it's pleasant to be able to read a whole story in one sitting.
I'm unfamiliar with this publication in general, so I can't speak to how this particular volume compares to others, as some other reviewers have said. I can say that I found the first few stories... not exactly hard to get through, but certainly less inspiring for the entire volume. That's probably my own preference. There is a good variety of stories from various perspectives and topics (though family is certainly a consistent theme, and dysfunctional/harmful families at that). It wasn't until I got to the story that two of the three reviewers selected as the favorite (the longest story, Yiyun Li's "Kindness") that the collection as a whole took a turn and got me interested. I read the stories in order, and I'm glad I did so.
In terms of my favorite stories from this collection, I found a kindred spirit in the third reviewer, Ron Rash. He selected three stories as his favorites: Anthony Doerr's "The Deep", Miroslav Penkov's East of the West", and Alice Munro's "Corrie." He eventually settled on "Corrie" as the best of the three, and I see his reasoning. I don't think I can pick a particular favorite out of the the three (and I did like "Kindness"), but I found the writing and characters to be dynamic and engaging.
Actually, I take that back. Two unmentioned stories that really stuck with me: Mark Slouka's "Rothko Eggs", which I didn't particularly get at the end, but i liked fairly consistently throughout (and I liked his inspiration); the other story that had me from beginning to end was Steven Millhauser's "Phantoms" (because I'm a complete sucker for fantasy/ghost inclusion). Wait, but then I also really liked the concept of Jim Shepard's "Boys Town."
All right, clearly I am indecisive of this volume, and that bumps it from 3 stars to 3.5 stars, making it 4 stars. My immediate reaction was a bit eh, but upon reflecting on it, I suppose I see more value. Now I can return the book to our office, and hopefully one day my colleague will return it so others can enjoy it....more
I picked this book up because Overdrive offered the book for some monthly reading shindig. I hadn't gotten around to it until this month. I'd read a cI picked this book up because Overdrive offered the book for some monthly reading shindig. I hadn't gotten around to it until this month. I'd read a couple of books that involve incarceration and such, so this sounded interesting.
While the book is mostly about one specific prisoner, Larry Newton, there is some autobiographical elements from the author, Laura Bates. What I do like about this book is that it isn't exactly activism. Bates is actually very careful about the message she's sending, and she's not trying to place judgement about our correctional/justice system.
That said, there's nothing particularly outstanding about this book. Quite frankly, I might have enjoyed it a little more if there has been more of Newton's reflections, and I'd be curious to read his Shakespeare workbooks. It's hard for the book to not pull up questions about incarceration, but there is a lot of emphasis on psychological well-being and making meaning. That's an interesting idea: treating people (even people who have done inhumane things) humanely, and acknowledging that they can still change (especially if they were minors during their crimes) and can make meaningful contributions to society. The fact that the people in this book were clamoring for any sort of stimulation is pretty interesting. I mean, I doubt high school kids in general are that thrilled to read Shakespeare, so it's likely that the people in this book wouldn't have been in a position to like and appreciate Shakespeare earlier in their lives.
If nothing, the message that I think is that people are ever-changing. Of course, it's not to say that we don't have fairly permanent characteristics. It raises some interesting questions. And while I didn't always particularly enjoy reading it, I think I'm glad I read it....more
5 July, 2015: I'm only about 20% of the way through this book, but I wanted to start writing some notes since it's a longer book and I often forget li5 July, 2015: I'm only about 20% of the way through this book, but I wanted to start writing some notes since it's a longer book and I often forget little things about the book by the end. Plus I just feel like writing a little about it.
I came upon this author thanks to the TED Talk (and TED Radio Hour). Seriously, check out the TED Talk. The topic is fascinating. And my book group is reading the book this month, so it felt like a fantastic time to read this book.
The topic so far is refreshing. The first chapter follows one of the main characters, Ifemelu, as she make the decision to leave the US to return home to Lagos, Nigeria. To do so makes her "Americanah", which is a term that she and her friends used in the past with reference to people who left Nigeria to go to the US and returned to Nigeria as changed people. (Typically not a good thing, but they mention it in a laughing way.) You also catch reference to Obinze, Ifemelu's ex-boyfriend from university. He's the other main character in this book. You don't quite know yet how they broke up, but you figure you'll read about it eventually. At the moment, Obinze is married with a two-year-old daughter.
There is some back-and-forth with the timeline here, so at times it's hard for me to pinpoint where we are in the story. But the writing is absolutely excellent. Fantastic perspectives and well-rounded characters. The language is lovely, and the book is overall lighthearted, with some attention to small but powerful themes: assumptions about Africans (I think one of the lines is that Americans think Senegal is in South America, hilariously), and perhaps assumptions about Americans as well.
Finished on 22 July. Near the 60% mark I think I wanted to savor the book, and then eventually around 87% I wanted to finish. The novel mostly follows Ifem, which makes sense, because she's the one who goes to and returns from America. The dialogue in this novel is so full of life and color. Sentences flow from one to another so organically. I am in love with the writing style.
I didn't love the characters all the way through, but I don't think you're meant to. They're flawed and I couldn't help but want the best for them. I found myself anxious at the idea of Ifemelu and Obinze meeting up again in Nigeria. The ending was an odd sort of twist.
I find the author to be quite fascinating. If you are at all inclined to read the book, I don't think you'll be disappointed....more
I am a little on the fence about this book, particularly because we're talking about the brilliant and prolific Douglas Adams here, for goodness sake.I am a little on the fence about this book, particularly because we're talking about the brilliant and prolific Douglas Adams here, for goodness sake. Years ago I read The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and liked most of the books quite a lot. I don't quite remember how this book popped into my radar, but I recommended it for a pair read with my friend and haven't chatted about it with her yet. Anyway.
There is the obvious brilliant style of bits of wit and humor sprinkled everywhere, such that I highlighted some really bizarre and hilarious lines. Take, for example, the following:
"I agree," he said. "You have a horse in your bathroom, and I will, after all, have a little port."
Quietly witty. I quite like it. I also thought the characters were light, well-developed, and engaging. But quite frankly, I didn't get to the place where, when ending the chapter, I really wanted to get to the next one, until Dirk Gently really made a proper presence into the book. And this was well after the 50% mark. That's when things really started to pick up for me, and I was interested. I suppose the book felt a bit like a prologue before the next book in the series.
However, I did very much like the ending, and I was delighted by the inclusion of Bach. Overall, I think if you're a Douglas Adams fan, you'll like this book. It's colorful and... not quite short, but it doesn't feel long, which is the important thing for me. I'll probably pick up the second one. Well worth reading....more