**spoiler alert** I read this series once in order to keep up with pop culture and stay aware of what my students were reading. I recently reread it w...more**spoiler alert** I read this series once in order to keep up with pop culture and stay aware of what my students were reading. I recently reread it when my 11-year old stepdaughter expressed interest in the books.
My review is somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, I was reasonably engrossed with the series despite its obvious simplicity and Stephanie Meyer's apparent ignorance regarding the difference between who and whom. The books include vampires, werewolves, baseball, La Push (one of my favorite places on the planet), and enough erotic tension to get anyone in the mood. What's not to like?
On the other hand, the story itself could easily be read as a metaphor for conservative Mormon theology. Not only that, the idea of teenage girls accepting Bella and Edward as an acceptable relationship model is horrific. No, they do not practice unsafe sex. Instead, each person in this couple is so inflexibly "in love" with the other that they literally cannot exist without the other. Threats of self-immolation, self-hurt, and suicide abound in each other's absence. Edward is an overprotective, controlling, even physically harmful (because of his supernatural strength) partner at times (always remorseful, but never quite able to stop himself); Bella just keeps coming back for more (grimace). When they are apart, Bella LITERALLY falls down and can't get up. Meyers leaves blank pages for entire seasons in New Moon--periods of Edward's absence when Bella's depression is so rampant that her thoughts and actions are not worth recording. Bella is only able to be a person again with the help of another semi-paramour, Jacob. That's right, she needs the help of a good man to get her sad face off the ground.
Without blowing the ending for future readings, it's safe to say that all will be right in the world by the end of the series. Marriages will occur, babies will be born, and the happy domestic dream of a Mormon-inspired life will ensue--one in which the female is never able to achieve happiness or true self-realization on her own, but requires the assistance of a man in her life in order to fulfill it completely.
Sure, the series tantalizes the Daddy issues of millions of women, but here is the question with which I was faced: would you feel comfortable with your impressionable tween/teen daughter reading this particular paradigm of love and self-growth?
You can probably guess my answer. Two stars, Ms. Meyer. You get the second for holding my interest, but you should be mildly ashamed. (less)
Somewhat lacking in the gorgeous detail that can make good historical fiction come alive, Stevenson doesn't slack on historical grounding, and does a...moreSomewhat lacking in the gorgeous detail that can make good historical fiction come alive, Stevenson doesn't slack on historical grounding, and does a relatively decent job of rendering a completely fictional story believable when one of the primary characters is a real and significant person (Elizabeth of Bohemia). Although it would be ludicrous to think that such an affair would go completely unnoticed by her house, or that she would even consent to such a relationship that she has with Pelagius. (less)
It's an okay book. The narrative moves quickly but has a rather ominous feel. Una, the protagonist, is described as a sort of renegade--her anachronis...moreIt's an okay book. The narrative moves quickly but has a rather ominous feel. Una, the protagonist, is described as a sort of renegade--her anachronistic, self-professed independent streak is chalked up to an upbringing by Unitarians/Atheists in Nantucket. She's a serious character, makes few jokes, and expects the reader to take everything as seriously as she does. This also applies to the majority of her interactions with other characters, which means that the majority of the characters in the story also have the social sensibilities of a 21st century person despite living circa 1842. To that extent, the jarring dislocation between these two periods renders many of the characters unbelievable and somewhat trite even if they are more likable to a 21st century audience. I'm sure we'd prefer not to think of Una as a demure female unwilling to hide a runaway slave, stow herself away on a ship, and even cross-dress as a cabin boy. We like her spunky self a little better because it's more recognizable to us. But at the same time, her escapades become increasingly less plausible as the novel continues. At one point we discover that she and her two best friends stayed alive on a boat in the middle of the Pacific for three weeks by eating the other passengers. Are you telling me that a woman small enough to pass as a thirteen year old boy is going to stick out starvation and cannibalism better than a bunch of swarthy sailors? Again...unbelievable. (less)
I picked this book up on my way out of Boston a few years ago. I'm not a huge fan of Jonathan Safran Foer, mostly because I tend to find his prose as...moreI picked this book up on my way out of Boston a few years ago. I'm not a huge fan of Jonathan Safran Foer, mostly because I tend to find his prose as over-meditated as an Elijah Wood character (who actually plays the character of Foer in the film version of Everything Is Illuminated)--obvious and couched in ironic hipster humor. That said, despite the moments when Foer tries way too hard to stupify the brain of an extremely precocious child as a way of compensating for his narrator's age, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the few post-9/11 books I actually enjoyed. Forget The Good Life or Saturday. In a weird way, it seems like the only appropriate narrator for some of the effects of this particular historical event is a child in the first place--one which demonstrate the subtle and indistinguishable mixture of naivety and perception that most people experienced who were in New York at that time. (less)
This was a fun book to read. Co-written by Alisa Smith and her partner J.B. MacKinnon, Plenty is structured like a monthly journal based on the couple...moreThis was a fun book to read. Co-written by Alisa Smith and her partner J.B. MacKinnon, Plenty is structured like a monthly journal based on the couple's blogs about a year of eating food that was produced within a hundred-mile radius of Vancouver, B.C. I chose this particular permutation of the 100-mile diet craze because I was curious about the options available in the generally climate I also inhabit (the Pacific NW). Learning about all the stuff I could do with wheat products from Minnesota wasn't really going to help me much. As journalists, Smith and MacKinnon write with a free and familiar prose style that's easy to move through despite the reader's undoubtedly busy lifestyle. Although I would have appreciated more detail in terms of what they actually ate (each monthly chapter really only offers a meager sampling of the meals they probably consumed), MacKinnon in particular points to a number of external sources that would help anyone interested in eating a local yet diverse diet. (less)
I liked this book quite a bit, despite its bearing a cover photo taken by Edward S. Curtis and a jacket summary that uses silly words like "frontier",...moreI liked this book quite a bit, despite its bearing a cover photo taken by Edward S. Curtis and a jacket summary that uses silly words like "frontier", "American West" and "epic masterpiece". Vanderhaeghe writes a pleasant portrait that moves in and out of what Frederick Jackson Turner called the "death of the frontier" in 1896, both affirming the status of the frontier and undermining the reader's assumption about what constituted the frontier as a space in the first place. That ambiguity alone is worth the read.
The writing becomes steadily more engaging as the story progresses. Vanderhaeghe refuses to conform to standard historical fiction in several ways. First, not much actually happens in the story (two brothers set off with a few other folks in 1876 Montana, searching for the third bro who has gone missing), and he still manages to keep it engaging. The majority of the plot is spent wandering around the Montana prairie, and the various characters ruminate on things like stars, grass, and each othe...and yet you want to keep reading to find out what the others think. Which brings me to my second point--Vanderhaeghe's narrative structure. Curiously, Vanderhaeghe chooses a very Faulkner-esque mode of narration. Each chapter is split between several characters who tell the story for a few pages from their perspective--much like As I Lay Dying. Unlike Faulkner, however, Vanderhaeghe's character voices are often indistinguishable from one another, despite the fact that one is a woman, one is English, one is a half-blooded Blackfoot who is supposed to have bad English skills, another is Irish, and so one. You would think their dialects and individual cadences would vary substantially...sadly, this is not the case, which was a bit disappointing. We are also unclear who each person is addressing in each section. They are all written in the past tense, often with reflective tones that seem to be speaking from quite a few years later: "I knew it was going to have to be that way" sort of thing. Yet by the end of the novel, more than one character is dead. Are they excerpted journal entries? If so, why didn't Vanderhaeghe just take the plunge and write as an epistolary novel, opening himself up a whole new way of distinguishing characters via their obviously varying literacy levels?
Structural issues aside, the novel itself is quite engaging. Although the non-traditional protagonists (the Indian, the female) that Vanderhaeghe attempts to write are not always as complex as the white male characters, the entire narrative drives well--as a reader, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. As a novel that isn't quite historical fiction or literary fiction, The Last Crossing takes some chances that pay off enough to where its weaknesses can, for the most part, be forgiven.
Like many of the critics of nationalism, Powell once again takes up the nation as defined by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities, but, somewhat...moreLike many of the critics of nationalism, Powell once again takes up the nation as defined by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities, but, somewhat by default, returns to one of the more traditional definitions of nationalism in theorizing what he calls a “ruthless democracy.” A term borrowed from Herman Melville, “ruthless democracy” allows Powell to conduct a more thorough analysis of the violence underlying the apparent aporia between discourses of multiculturalism and monoculturalism that underlie the cultural logic of U.S. nationalism—an aporia that has, at it heart, the kind of violent histories that Ernest Renan suggests narratives of nationalism seek to forget. For Powell, theorizing this aporia what allows him to re-remember some of the historical violence that is still present but unseen, to recover the traces and contributions of those who are present but have “dropped out of sight” (175).
I enjoyed Powell’s text, if only because it attempts to suture together the textual imaginations of the nation with the violent realities these imaginations both uphold and forget at the same time—specifically in terms of race. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if, in his ambitious attempt to rethink the American Renaissance through the recovery of an explicit multiculturalism, Powell isn’t himself falling prey to the pitfalls of modern multiculturalism he seeks to critique—that is, the way it “masks social inequalities with a rhetoric that celebrates social differences” (8). In pointing out his explicit attempts to revise the literary hierarchies of the American canon in terms of race—a move that is undoubtedly important, particularly when questioning the role of the recognized imaginer of Anderson’s communities (18))—, Powell seems to be pointing to himself as a writer who has managed to supersede the racial politics that constitute the conditions of his critique. The question becomes, then, how one is to offer this sort of affirmative critique of nationalism while accept the way in which one’s critique is necessarily positioned within the discourse of nationalism.
Under the pretext of breaking through nationalist identity politics, Bhabha compiles a smattering of various texts dealing with literary manifestation...moreUnder the pretext of breaking through nationalist identity politics, Bhabha compiles a smattering of various texts dealing with literary manifestations of nationalism in the attempt to utilize post-structuralist reading strategies to “evoke [the] ambivalent margin of the nation space,” (4). Granted, it's a dated project. Granted, the term "ambivalent" feels worn out and cliche to anyone who is invested in postcolonial or nationalist studies today. Still, Nation and Narration is one of those anthologies that is so often cited, it's impossible to avoid.
Some of the essays are markedly more “ambivalent” than others. Some, like Geoffrey Bennington’s discussion of the logics of “post” in national literary culture (both as the prefix for ‘after’ as well as a logic sustained by the postal service), or Timothy Brennan’s exegesis of several “postcolonial” novels in the attempt to identify the ties between form and nation, are more interested in the politics of marginalization than others—Rachel Bowlby, for instance, insists on a rather surface-level reading of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in order to make a rather reified feminist reading of American national culture.
After reading quite a bit of Bhabha over the last few years, it’s become clear to me that he generally makes the same argument in different ways, always moving in and out of three key texts (or writers) to compile his own method: Derrida, Freud, and Marx. His contribution to the book is no difference, invoking Derrida’s notion of aporia, particularly as it reasserts itself as an entire lexicon (play, différance, etc.) in order to locate the margins of national culture. Bhabha borrows Derrida’s understanding of dissemination and iteration to development what, for me, is the most important critical contribution of the book—the revision of Anderson’s “calendrical time” to include what Bhabha calls “iterative time”—that is, the chronology of simultaneity in which utterances fight, conflict, and ultimately create spaces of uncertainty within larger cultural narratives like nationalism. The temporal logic of iteration is an incredibly useful tool, particularly when examining the proliferation of violence as an aesthetic in 19th century mass-marketed literature (both in Britain and the United States). However, my critique of “DissemiNation” echoes similar critiques I have made of Bhabhas other essays on colonial literary politics—that is, how is one to track the possibilities that “iterative time” opens up within a material sense of circulation? How do we confront the affect of iteration in a political climate that is primarily based on the accrual of material goods?
Asserted as a Marxist text, Anderson attempts to revise readings of the development of nationalism in attempt to sort out the possibilities its offers...moreAsserted as a Marxist text, Anderson attempts to revise readings of the development of nationalism in attempt to sort out the possibilities its offers for a Marxist agenda. Most importantly, Anderson defines the nation as 1) sovereign, 2) limited, and 3) fraternal. He sees the nation as a structural form of collective imagination that works to cohere through the rise of print capitalism (specifically mass-marketed news media and novels, but one could easily add photography to this list) and the institutionalization of what he calls “calendrical time.” Through these structural rituals, the nation becomes the primary tool of modernity through which the subject is able to mediate his/her relationship to his/her own finitude. Obviously this is a seminal text for anyone interested in nationalism. Anderson's argument regarding the connection between print culture and modern national identity made way for so much current scholarship on the topic, and he is easily the most oft-cited critic regarding nationalism studies. However, the most interesting part of Anderson’s argument for me isn’t necessarily his discussion of the print capitalism, which is often read as a chronological catalyst for the development of nationalism (almost like a weird sort of telos). It’s too easy, I think, to read Anderson’s proposed history exactly within the temporal linearity he critiques (but ultimately advocates), which is why I think this aspect of his argument often gets overlooked, both in the classroom and in scholarly use of the book. It seems to me that the arbitrariness of calendrical time, as a kind of cultural logic that develops in tandem with the culture of print capitalism, is exactly what makes it so manipulatable for Anderson, and thus is where he is able to locate the promise of nationalism. (less)
Despite focusing her entire book on Nathaniel Hawthorne (who certainly deserves the attention), Berlant is one of few 19th Century American literary c...moreDespite focusing her entire book on Nathaniel Hawthorne (who certainly deserves the attention), Berlant is one of few 19th Century American literary critics who makes extensive use of the body to offer a subtle and unique analysis of national subject formation, moving a bit outside of catchphrases like "performativity" in order to think about identity in a different way. Hawthorne’s writing, according to Berlant, is symptomatic of what she calls the “national symbolic”, defined as “the order of discursive practices whose reign within a national space produces, and also refers to the ‘law’ in which the accident of birth within a geographic political boundary transforms individuals into subjects of a collectively-held history,” (20). Like many of her contemporaries, Berlant is concerned with how the varied and often conflictive discursive practices of national narratives find ways to cohere; for her, this cohesion occurs primarily at the nexus of the body, which becomes the signifier of national identity, the key through which the national subject is allowed to become literate in the codes of the nation. In short, I found Berlant’s exegesis of Hawthorne impressive, diverse, and incredibly useful as a model for the kind of scholarship I’d like to pursue. My one critique stems from the pseudo-Marxist lurking in the back of my mind that often pops out when reading studies regarding the body and affect—how is it possible to discuss the body as text and textually represented without discussing labor? Berlant goes so far to emphasize the relation between the bodily boundaries and territorial boundaries, particularly as both of these are established through a variety of mnemotechniques (a term she borrows from Nietzsche), but fails to recognize that the right to labor about the land marks a very specific relationship of the body to the land that is at the very heart of early American identity formation (this as a part of Locke’s understanding of the right to property ownership that many accused Jefferson of plagiarizing directly when writing the “Declaration of Independence”). What kinds of fantasies does that procure, particularly as different types of labor are so intricately tied to the subject’s relationship to various fantasies of national belonging? (less)
I think you can judge this book by its cover. The ten year old smoking the cigarette says as much about Chris Abani's over-stated portrait of poverty...moreI think you can judge this book by its cover. The ten year old smoking the cigarette says as much about Chris Abani's over-stated portrait of poverty in Lagos as any of the prose within. While I certainly think it's about time a mass-market paperback about the current conditions in industrialized West Africa, Abani presents his critique of American imperialism within a whole lot of artistry or subtlety. It's Things Fall Apart, Part Deux, without the poetry that Chinua Achebe brings to his characters. Jumping back and forth between rural and urban settings, Abani seems chronologically and spatially confused, not completely committing to any character as he traces the "progress" of his protagonist, an adolescent boy named Elvis living in the slums of Lagos. Though Abani seems to be celebrating the fragmentation that apparently characterizes the postcolonial world (per Partha Chatterjee), his overstatement of that very fragmentation renders him a rather cliched version of the postcoloniality his book promises to portray. (less)
A fun read for vacation and for English geeks looking to get a break. Reading Pullman's self-proclaimed critique of the Church feels bit like a scaven...moreA fun read for vacation and for English geeks looking to get a break. Reading Pullman's self-proclaimed critique of the Church feels bit like a scavenger hunt for literary allusions. Most chapters are prefaced by miscellaneous quotes from the likes of Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and William Blake, all of whom he credits in his Acknowledgments with providing direct plot inspiration for His Dark Materials. For those lit majors (not to mention grad students) who have inevitably had to make their way through all three authors' various works, His Dark Materials is a boost to the self esteem as your recognize various references to The Fairie Queen, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and, of course, Paradise Lost. Fun times. (less)
Anne Tyler, the queen of respectable airport fiction, offers us in The Amateur Marriage a rather amateur narrative. The 342 pages of the novel recall...moreAnne Tyler, the queen of respectable airport fiction, offers us in The Amateur Marriage a rather amateur narrative. The 342 pages of the novel recall the entirety of one couple's time together, from their wedding in 1942 to their divorce in the late 1980s. It's like reading a series of passive-aggressive quarrels over and over again, the kind your parents often had when they didn't want anyone to think they were fighting. Tyler's overarching theme seems to be "don't marry too young"--she could be my mother. I didn't completely enjoy reading the torment of Tyler's characters, but I didn't not enjoy it either. Tyler has simply written a statement of purpose, offering testament to the strains of impetuous decisions, and attempting a kind of catharsis for the reader (and possibly herself). If you read this book, don't expect to want to be around your significant other for a while after. You won't necessarily be disappointed, but you won't want to kiss anyone immediately after. (less)
In many ways, Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons reads like a homage to James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, as well as a gratuitous apprai...moreIn many ways, Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons reads like a homage to James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, as well as a gratuitous appraisal of the birth and death of U.S. cowboy culture. The protagonist and narrator, Will Cooper, might as well be a long-lost relative of Natty Bumpo (whom he often references), a white man "going native" in a small community of Cherokee. The most interesting thing about the book is Frazier's research into the lives and particularly the multi-ethnicity of the Cherokee tribes living on the border of the early United States in the 19th century. Little accurate historical accounts of these tribes have been published, and Frazier points to the discrepancies surrounding white idealizations of Native American culture. This critique, if anything else, made the book an interesting revisionist account of 19th century American history. Unfortunately, the narrator of Cooper, as a self-made celebration of the American "bootstrap" myth, gets rather wearisome after a while. The book is styled as a memoir, and Cooper often points to moments that supposed altered his character from what it was "then" to the moment of his recollection; yet, Cooper's overall personality--his arrogance, his chauvinism, and his overall hubris--doesn't seem to alter, even when he says it does. Though undoubtedly Frazier is trying to construct a kind of caricature of the idealized "American", built on the myth of "True Americanism" and other frontier mythology, he does so at risk of ultimately alienating the reader. By the end of Thirteen Moons, Cooper's quaintly archaic attitudes become grating and undeserving of our attention, and we start to wonder whether or not the book was worth the last two hundred pages or not. (less)
Even though Ken Follett's so-called "masterpiece" has received so much popular appraisal (like the sales-boosting membership to Oprah's Book Club), I...moreEven though Ken Follett's so-called "masterpiece" has received so much popular appraisal (like the sales-boosting membership to Oprah's Book Club), I have to say I don't really see the novel's appeal beyond some decent medieval research and adequate character development. Spanning the length of most of the 12th century, Pillars of the Earth is yet another epic novel that follows several generations of the same families, members of whom seem to be simple reincarnations of their ancestors. In 900+ pages, Follett often seems to be too lazy or not creative enough to develop new characters as they are needed, or even new plot lines. Reading the struggle between good and evil, the humble prior seeking to rebuild his cathedral vs. the power-hungry lord who seems be driven by nothing but pure revenge (church vs. state, anyone?) gets old after the first 250 pages, after which the same struggles are reincarnated over and over again, between all of the characters. Additionally, the dialogue is quite thin, and the characters themselves seem to recycle, right down to their looks (the same damn hair colors and facial features are constantly reappearing--hasn't Follett heard of recessive genes?). If you need a book to get you though a long flight or something mindless to wean you off your last round of exams, this is a good choice; otherwise, Follett's rather remedial prose leaves you feeling like you just wasted quite a bit of time digging through a massive, yet empty, tome. (less)