Hilarious, devious and disturbing short stories. If you tend towards the sincere and can't easily be detached or aloof, Sedaris' work will depress youHilarious, devious and disturbing short stories. If you tend towards the sincere and can't easily be detached or aloof, Sedaris' work will depress you mightily. If you are feeling a lack of reverence for the honor and nobility of humanity, this will further your mood and entertain your pants off....more
A hilarious coffee table book with some fun crafting and cooking ideas, which are to be followed word-for-word at your own peril. Amy Sedaris is batshA hilarious coffee table book with some fun crafting and cooking ideas, which are to be followed word-for-word at your own peril. Amy Sedaris is batshit crazy, and you know you love it....more
An engaging story with decent style. I really got into the intergenerational stories and the time-switching was only a little tricky to follow (it wasAn engaging story with decent style. I really got into the intergenerational stories and the time-switching was only a little tricky to follow (it wasn't on the scale of Marquez, for example). The "pointy" aspects of the novel ("meaningful, thematic") were intriguing, and often moving, as death of close family members was a constant thread. However, I found myself mainly reading for the plot, which leads me to...
...the last segment, describing the World to Come where the not-yets (the unborn) are trained and formed by the already-was folks. It's a little cutesy and seems a like a slightly self-indulgent afterthought, seeing as the actual plot ends (unresolved, I might add) with the scene right before it. I raced through this final section thinking the I would find out if a key character lives or dies after it was over, only to find myself at the end of the book, a little peeved.
That said, The World to Come is still worth reading for a unique perspective on death and one group of people's search for meaning in its presence....more
This amazing story gives us two female characters who forsake gender roles in an effort to keep their family together. They travel on foot through par
This amazing story gives us two female characters who forsake gender roles in an effort to keep their family together. They travel on foot through parts of the world they've never seen and acquaint themselves with strangers both famous and common, wealthy and humble, populist and conservative. They face a terrible fate at the end of their journey, and much regret, though eventually some healing occurs. The best part is, though the story is mostly unknown, it's all true.
Check out this book for a slice of what life was like for women immigrants in the 1890s, even in the relatively progressive West, and an idea of what happened when gender roles were abandoned. The style is a little clunky, but the story is completely worth it.
The historical perspective is great. The development of immigrant communities in the Pacific Northwest, the election of William McKinley, and the growth of the suffrage movement intersect in the narrative and affect the public's opinion on the two women's actions. I learned plenty of new things, such as the fact that Wyoming had women's suffrage before the 19th amendment passed. Most of all, I gained a strong sense of what was really at stake when women went outside of the traditional family model in Victorian times, even when it seemed like the only thing that might save their family in particular.
This was my first Updike novel, and I enjoyed the poetic minutiae from the very first sentence (as soon as I figured out what an osier was). Humorous
This was my first Updike novel, and I enjoyed the poetic minutiae from the very first sentence (as soon as I figured out what an osier was). Humorous and sad misunderstandings pepper this story, which arcs through a single day in a home for the elderly. That this home and its inhabitants are imagined by the author twenty years from the novel's writing adds an interesting twist; the device enhances Updike's contemplation of where American society was heading in the 1950s. If you didn't know the novel was written in this context, you might read the entire text thinking it was commentary on the author's own time, a fact that speaks to Updike's apparent prescience. Only one sentence really tips his hand in this regard, in which he names the president of the novel's era as the fictitious Lowenstein.
In this future (aka the 1970s), science is rising and religion is fading. Religious and moralistic ways of thinking, embodied by the ancient poorhouse resident Hook, are contrasted with secular humanism and Progress, represented by the young poorhouse prefect Conners and his assistant Buddy. Updike doesn't seem to favor one viewpoint (he was religious but had his share of doubts), but rather he presents heartrending scenes that underscore the beautiful idealism of humanism even while its evangelists treat the elderly with barely restrained condescension, paternalism and at times cruelty.
Extremely well-wrought and captivating characters provide varying threads of perspective throughout the novel. What's more, the changing perspectives highlight in each character a pervasive inability to communicate their true thoughts and feelings to each other. Readers are privy to knowledge of a character's true intentions while the other characters wildly misinterpret him or her, and in turn fail to communicate themselves well.
All these interpersonal misfires inform larger problems with communication. Hook's last grasping attempt to think of advice for Conners exemplefies the entire older generation's inability to pass on their wisdom. Updike outlines a shift in societal thought far too severe for the disparate generations to overcome, though he gives one nihilistic hope: one character ruminates that people are aging backwards in time, into the opinions of their parents and grandparents. While Conners' philosophy prevents him from seeing this as a good thing, there's hope yet that he might see where his elders were coming from.
RIP John Updike, March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009
A novella told from many perspectives about a boy with a tragic history who is separated from his parrot. As someone who freakishly follows the factsA novella told from many perspectives about a boy with a tragic history who is separated from his parrot. As someone who freakishly follows the facts to find some kind of conclusion, I can relate to all of the potential mystery solvers characterized in this book. What's more, I love to follow Chabon's sentence arc to the end of the rainbow....more
This book is going to linger with me. It was amazing to read a YA story about such heavy topics as racism, family death and alcoholism and feel like iThis book is going to linger with me. It was amazing to read a YA story about such heavy topics as racism, family death and alcoholism and feel like it was a breeze. I could not stop reading, even though the story was so sad at times. On the other hand, author Alexie manages an adolescent's perspective on healing and moving forward through a dire situation without getting cutesy or pat. The narrator's insight, exaggerated style and sense of humor make you want to follow him all the way. And you won't realize it until you finish, but by the end you'll have absorbed an poignant and important story....more
(Despite the occasional clunky style, I give this book five stars for its ability to make me forget the meaning of time and sleep.) Gregory Maguire's t(Despite the occasional clunky style, I give this book five stars for its ability to make me forget the meaning of time and sleep.) Gregory Maguire's tactic is simple, as always. First, take a well-known tale whose characters and symbols live deep in our collective conciousness. Then, build a fascinating world around said tale, and relocate the narrator's perspective to a traditional antagonist, or even just a bystander. This always pushes my literary buttons, promising new meaning in the old stories I grew up on unquestioningly. I can't help but be drawn in. The case of Son of a Witch is different because the tale has already been retold. The original book, Wicked, offers The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch of the West's perspective. It seems that the product of a dark, corrupt and complex Oz -- one in which the Witch could be misunderstood and propogandized against -- was a world so fascinating that the story could continue on without her. But take a closer look at this Oz. With its magical creatures on one hand and an imperialistic government on the the other, it is foreign yet familiar. Strong references to industrialization, colonialism, militarism, theocracy... you get the point... run deep. The result is that Maguire gets to run rampant with completely invented and half-defined events, places and cultural objects while still descibing a world we already know. Ours. Our crappy beautiful fascinating world full of violence, oppression, and interpersonal misunderstanding. Our protagonist, the adolescent Liir, seeks to define himself in Maguire's Oz, and because that Oz feels a lot like the world I live in, I could relate. Liir has it pretty effing bad, though. He is an unknown quantity not just to himself, but to everyone around him. He has no family and he a survived a childhood that developed pretty much nothing in him. He only carries the questionable legacy from an enemy of the state -- his potential mother. With so few stars to follow, Liir's character emerges as a series of reactions to circumstance. With this device, Maguire boils down fairly accurately that so-human experience of having no idea what the hell to do with oneself. However, some readers might wince at Liir's refusal to take responsibility for anything throughout ninety percent of the book. This is a protagonist with precious, precious little initiative. Yet, while Liir refuses to see potential in himself, there's something quite bold in his knowing how little he knows. And when he finally takes action, he delivers it with a salty pragmatism that fits this monstrous, unfeeling Oz. Instead of your archetypal Young Person of Ideals who at last learns how little s/he can truly change about the world (essentially what the character of Elphaba represented), Maguire moves Liir in the opposite direction. That he probably ends up with a more hopeful and functional protagonist is moving in a funny way....more
For anyone even slightly interested in the human relationship with domesticated plants, this book is a key read. Pollan's approach (full disclosure: I
For anyone even slightly interested in the human relationship with domesticated plants, this book is a key read. Pollan's approach (full disclosure: I've applied to the journalism school where he's a prof) combines research and observation to create a fascinating introspection on this relationship. He tells of the domestication of apples, tulips, potatoes and marijuana, but more than that, he ponders the four human desires that have driven us to cultivate these plants. The final, somewhat understated conclusion is that our influence on the natural world reflects our own nature as humans. This is more eloquently and subtly revealed in Pollan's writing than I anticipated, since the book was largely billed as an expose of the plant-world's manipulation of humanity for their own propogation. While that is a thought-provoking concept, and Pollan does explore it in less absolute terms, it's much more simplistic than what the author proposes.
Historical offerings in this book are gems. ~ SPOILER ~ Johnny Appleseed? Once engaged to a child bride, this nature-worshipping evangelical mainly sold apple trees for the production of hard cider. The Drug War? Led to domestic cultivation of previously unknown marijuana strains that pack much more of a whallop. ~ END SPOILER ~ Current facts about genetic modification in potatoes are also sobering and informative. In fact, the historical plant relationships Pollan describes inform the current potato relationship deeply. Reckless Dutch prospecting on tulips echoes in the current state of Big Ol Corporate AgriBusiness, not in the sense that the potato market will soon fail, but in that a desire for control and uniformity in plant production has been in bed with the desire for cash for quite some time. What's more, this combination can lead to problematic decision making, whether it be the creation of a futures market with no future (tulips), or in the commodification of plant genes by patent-mongering seed distributors.
Pollan is surely one of the most important food and environmental writers of our time, and I plan to read his other books soon.
I read this as research for National Novel Writing Month. I ate it up, but I'm fascinated by this person and her place in Spain's history, so I wouldnI read this as research for National Novel Writing Month. I ate it up, but I'm fascinated by this person and her place in Spain's history, so I wouldn't expect any old person to love it. It's a bit of an academic read (Aram writes as a historian and even half-apologizes for the eminently readable chronologic order of her book). There are terms thrown about whose definitions I couldn't catch, but which seemed important. Also, Aram seems fairly in awe of Juana's sacrifice of personal autonomy for the sake of her family's dynasty. I thought that was an interesting perspective, but Aram never fully owns it, probably because she's trying to maintain an academic distance from her subject. This shows up in smaller ways when Aram points out really interesting details but fails to tie them to the larger picture and draw the conclusions she seems to be headed toward. I would have liked to see her actually make the explicit argument from the beginning that Juana was a bit of a tragic hero, not, as imagined by previous historians, because of some disastrous love for her philandering husband, but because she settled on a strategy for her family that pushed all glory away from her own person, and it more or less worked....more
I've never thought of myself as someone who enjoys ghost stories, or who wonders about hauntings. However, I was enthralled by the device in this nove
I've never thought of myself as someone who enjoys ghost stories, or who wonders about hauntings. However, I was enthralled by the device in this novel. Haunting, as it turns out, is an awesome metaphor vehicle (duh, Laura), and of course I loved it in Maguire's hands.
The character of Winnie is immediately engaging, even though she's batshit from the beginning. A protagonist who's eccentric and unpredictible just for the sake of it is a work of fiction's greatest self-indulgence, in my opinion, so I found myself wondering why I couldn't stop reading about this train wreck of a woman. Of course, her actions feed into larger and larger tributaries of motivation. Her whole story doesn't come out until the end, which is as it should be, since this is when Winnie herself owns up to her past -- heck, even owns up to needing to own up. But by revealing a little at a time, Maguire keeps one (this one, at least) eagerly reading.
The beauty of this narrative is that the reader's awareness follows the protagonist's; we don't know what she won't acknowledge. We are just as distracted as she is by her strange immediate situation, with its mysterious disappearances, noises in the chimney stack, and dodgy neighbors. When her cousin orders her to face up to the reality of her life, we readers are just as confused as Winnie, wondering, what the hell? What could be more important than a violent, possessed cat burrowing through her apartment building?
But even Winnie criticizes her own fixation on fantasy. She constantly orders herself to look at the real world and its unfantastical messiness. She can't do it, though, and with her we slip into strange reverie after strange reverie.
It turns out, the haunting Winnie comes to fully embody lets her face and deal with her past. The ghost in question tells an ancient story of loss that parallels her own buried one. Giving herself over to the ghost and exhuming its story brings Winnie back into herself. All of which I might say sounds a little trite, but I had way too much fun getting through it with Winnie to complain. To boot, Maguire's style and sense of narrative seem more coherent and expressive with this fully-fractured protagonist than in all the other books I've read by him (which... are many).
Loved this one, will be thinking about it for a while.
My least-loved of the Maguire set. He refuses to deliver to the end, though even three years later, some of the text still floats through my head withMy least-loved of the Maguire set. He refuses to deliver to the end, though even three years later, some of the text still floats through my head without warning. Beautifully written, but not the best executed of his novels....more
Fascinating scientific writing about gender in nature that is accessible to laypeople. Turns out, there's several well-documented species out there wiFascinating scientific writing about gender in nature that is accessible to laypeople. Turns out, there's several well-documented species out there with genders beyond male and female. What's more, it seems that sexual practices amongst several species include more than just a coupling of male and female for the purpose of procreation.
The first chapters of this book permanently changed the way I think about gender. Reading that nature provides so much variety in gender expression, anatomy, and sexual practices was astounding. I've always believed that conventional concepts of what was "natural" in the realm of gender and sex were extremely limited. This book put the final nail in the proverbial coffin containing these conventions, as far as my own thinking goes.
The last sections on genetics were a lot harder for me to follow as a layperson. There were intriguing tidbits here and there, but the first section was definitely where I exprerienced the force of the book's message. Similarly, I skimmed the last portion on recommendations about rights for transgendered individuals. I have read it written better in other sources, but if you're new to concepts about transpeople in society, you might be interested, especially if the first part of the book lights a fire under your butt the way it did mine....more
Barack Obama tackles both sides of hot political issues. His prose is engaging, though not as operatically inspirational as his public speaking. If heBarack Obama tackles both sides of hot political issues. His prose is engaging, though not as operatically inspirational as his public speaking. If he's elected, let's hope his critical understanding of multi-faceted issues translates into smart policy....more