"Grendel" is a retelling of the epic poem "Beowulf" from the point of view of the monster, Grendel. The poem was written in Old English sometime betwe...more"Grendel" is a retelling of the epic poem "Beowulf" from the point of view of the monster, Grendel. The poem was written in Old English sometime between the 8th and 11th Century. The monster had been attacking the Scyldings in the mead hall of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes. The hero Beowulf, a Geat, destroyed Grendel. Although the poem "Beowulf" also tells of further adventures of the hero, the retelling ends with the death of Grendel.
In "Grandel" the narrator-monster has been living in a cave with his mother. He ventures out to observe the savage humans populate the area, and finally form a complex civilization. He hears the Shaper, a blind harpist-poet, tell beautiful mythical tales about ancient warriors, which inspire Hrothgar, although the stories have little factual basis.
When he reaches adulthood, Grendel asks philosophical questions of the Dragon, who has a fatalistic view of life. This confuses Grendel who has been hearing the Shapers' imaginative heroic view. The Dragon gives Grendel a magical gift--weapons could no longer penetrate Grendel's skin.
The Shaper tells the tale of the two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Cain is the ancestor of Grendel, while humans are the descendants of Abel. Although they look different, Grendel and the humans had a common language, common ways of thinking, and a shared heritage. Grendel felt isolated and lonely, and found life tedious because he had no companions to talk with.
Grendel would spy on the Scyldings in the night, and attacked them for twelve years. Boewulf and a group of Geats eventually arrive by boat to help the Scyldings destroy the monster.
The story was written in beautiful poetic prose. Even though Grendel committed terrible deeds, he also had a sympathetic lonely side to him and an appreciation of beauty. One could see life through the monster's eyes. The book was also nicely illustrated by Emil Antonucci with wonderful woodcut prints of Grendel's head.(less)
Richard Powers has written an engaging story about an aging avant-garde musician on the run from the authorities. Modern science and technology combin...moreRichard Powers has written an engaging story about an aging avant-garde musician on the run from the authorities. Modern science and technology combine with the soaring beauty of music and art in this remarkable book.
Peter Els calls 911 when his dog dies, and the police officers notice he has a room full of lab equipment that he bought online. Els is attempting to insert a sequence of musical patterns into the DNA of a common bacteria that thrives around water sources, Serratia marcescens. A few days later when Els returns to his house after jogging, he sees a biohazard team from the Joint Security Task Force confiscating his lab. Fearing arrest, Els drives on by and finds he's already being called a dangerous bioterrorist by the media.
The book moves forward as Els travels west visiting meaningful places, and making peace with the people he loved the most in his life (like the journey of the musical Orpheus from Greek mythology.) At the same time, flashbacks give us the story of Peter's life as a child through his adult years as a composer and a professor. The book is not divided into chapters, but the parts are separated by Tweet-length epigraphs.
Powers has written some beautiful poetic prose as he describes Els listening to pieces of music that had deep meaning in his life. Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," which was written and performed for the first time in a Nazi POW camp, was especially unforgettable. His descriptions of the voices of Steve Reich's "Proverb" was absolutely gorgeous, and sent me to you.tube to listen to the music. Even the picture of Els listening to a bird chirping in a tree made me smile.
This was a moving story about the life of a man with the gift of special musical abilities. For years Els put his musical compositions ahead of his personal relationships, so his trip was a journey of redemption. "Orfeo" is especially recommended for those that love music and literary fiction.(less)
"You're no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it's been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company i...more"You're no angel, you know how this stuff comes to happen: Friday is payday and it's been a gray day sogged by a slow ugly rain and you seek company in your gloom, and since you're fresh to West Table, Mo., and a new hand at the dog-food factory, your choices for company are narrow but you find some finally in a trailer court on East Main...." Sammy Barlach, a loser ex-con who had a hard start in life, is hoping to find a place where he belongs when he moves to the rural Missouri town. He gets talked into breaking into a vacant mansion by the trailer court crowd that soon abandons him. In the mansion he meets a brother and sister who have also broken in. Jamalee Merridew, a 19-year-old with tomato red hair, has ambitions to rise out of poverty and live like the high class people who own the home. She's hoping her gorgeous 17-year-old brother Jason will be her ticket out of the poor Venus Holler section of West Table. Jason's got all the rich women lusting after him, but he does not return their feelings. Jamalee and Jason have been marked as white trash since their mother is a prostitute.
Sammy, the narrator of the story, gets taken in by the Merridews, and gets entangled in their lives. There are class conflicts between the rich and the poor, and we know who has the power and the resources. Sammy seems to have low expectations, looking at life with a bit of humor, but with a hint of violence and danger under the surface. Jamalee is very angry about how people treat her, and reads etiquette books, hoping for a better life.
Both the descriptions and the dialogue are offbeat, sometimes dark and sometimes humorous, with a Ozark country flavor. Although this is a short book, Daniel Woodrell's characters will be hard to forget.(less)
The Empathy Exams: Essays is a collection of intelligent, thoughtful essays about understanding pain in ourselves and others. Leslie Jamison writes ab...moreThe Empathy Exams: Essays is a collection of intelligent, thoughtful essays about understanding pain in ourselves and others. Leslie Jamison writes about a wide range of physical and emotional suffering with great insight. Essays include subjects such as her experiences as a medical actor training medical students, observations in impoverished communities, abortion, incarceration in the West Memphis Three case, the ultramarathoners at the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee, a Morgellon's convention, Frieda Kahlo, heartbreak, anorexics and cutters. The essays combine her own and others' experiences, and delve into social and philosophical issues. She refers to other literature such as James Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," and works of Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. Jamison writes, "Empathy isn't just something that happens to us--a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain--it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves."(less)