I wanted to like this one so much more than I did. The premise is wonderful -- a tag-team narrative between Handful, a slave who is given to the histoI wanted to like this one so much more than I did. The premise is wonderful -- a tag-team narrative between Handful, a slave who is given to the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, one of the first women abolitionists. I love the idea of drawing parallels between the two women's stories. However, I found myself struggling with this one because it seemed like, forgive me, a whitewashing of history combined with some elements that felt very forced.
Slight spoilers ahead:
Slavery's evil, as a whole, seemed strangely watered down in this book. I know there are many readers who disagree with this assessment after reading about the Work House and punishments. And those were definitely horrible, and there were some truly horrific things that happen (a one-legged punishment, whipping, etc.). No argument here. But the day-to-day struggles and the inherent dangers of the actions taken by several of the slaves didn't feel threatening. When Charlotte, Handful's mother, sneaks out and sometimes steals things she's taking her life in her hands, and there never seemed to be a real mortal threat to her. She is punished but at no moment did I ever believe, as a reader, that she would be killed. Even when she escapes another owner and returns to life at the Grimkes there are no consequences.
One of my largest frustrations was with the presentation of Sarah. Historically, Sarah Grimke is an outspoken woman dedicated to women's rights and abolition. Even as a child, she tries to free Handful via the law and then via teaching Handful to read. Yet, and this is where a large portion of the book begins to feel false and forced to me, Sarah sells Handful back to her mother just as Sarah reaches legal age, guaranteeing Handful will remain in slavery. WTF? Why on earth would she do that after spending so many years trying to free her? The answer: it must happen because the plot insists that it does. If Sarah can just head north and free her own personal slave, the story is cut in half.
It turns out that what felt false, was false. When the historical Sarah and Handful (Hetty) were caught during a reading lesson, Handful was whipped. She died shortly thereafter from an unspecified illness. Therefore, the historical Sarah never had to make the decision to sell Handful back that reads so awkwardly, and so out of character, in the novel.
But, despite the awkward motivations, it is easy to get behind Sarah and Handful -- partly because they so clearly represent the fighting spirit we all wish we could have in these situations. In these circumstances, we all want to come down on the side of good and justice, and despite some small lapses, both of the main characters act bravely and try as hard as they can against situations they cannot control. ...more
The Henry plays -- and a great deal of Shakespeare's history plays -- were written prior to 1594. These are Shakespeare's early attempts and a lot ofThe Henry plays -- and a great deal of Shakespeare's history plays -- were written prior to 1594. These are Shakespeare's early attempts and a lot of critics have pointed out: it shows.
Henry VI, Pt 2, is definitely rough. There are a crap-ton of characters, some of whom only show up once for a couple lines and then disappear. In a production of these plays, a lot of these roles would be doubled-up. The result is a somewhat chaotic read, though I bet it's much easier to follow on stage.
All I really have to say about this play is: Early Shakespeare is Still Shakespeare!
And I think Shakespeare might've missed his true calling: dark-Kill-Bill-style comedy.
Yes, I think Shakespeare and Quentin Tarantino should get together. Wait, scratch that. They'd never shut up so they'd never get anything done. Both are kind of long winded.
However! Jack Cade, the badass-but-not-too-bright leader of the rebels, who appears near the end of the play, is the epitome of a Tarantino talky-crazed bad guy. He makes decapitated heads kiss each other. He kills people for calling him the wrong name. He proclaims random laws. His scenes are straight out of Pulp Fiction. It's a good thing Shakespeare didn't have access to needles. (Or, maybe, a bad thing.)
Some of that shit was so disturbing I laughed out loud.
Do the nobles plot for an unreasonable amount of time? Yes. Is it sometimes difficult to follow characters and their motivations? Sometimes. Yes.
But I liked it way more than I thought I would. ...more
Virginia Reed Murphy was twelve/thirteen years old when her family became one of the central groups of the Donner Party. This recollection was writtenVirginia Reed Murphy was twelve/thirteen years old when her family became one of the central groups of the Donner Party. This recollection was written decades later, with lots of hindsight to inform the story. So, while her opinion and stance has been colored, and the references to cannibalism are reduced to about one sentence(and, considering the time period and her own personal experiences, who can really fault that edit?), it's still a very good introduction to the Donner Party's experience.
The story is more of a broad outline than a blow-by-blow account. Interspersed with Virginia's memories are contemporary diaries and letters kept by Patrick Breen and Virginia's father, James Frazier Reed.
But there's real emotion in here as well. The voyeuristic outside world may want to hear more about cannibalism, but there is far more to the story than gruesome bits and pieces. It was an epic struggle to travel west under the best of circumstances...and there were plenty of NOT best of circumstances facing this crew.
Virginia watched her father murder a man. She and her family abandoned everything they owned. She watched her mother struggle to keep them all alive. She herself almost died -- saved only by the charity of others in the group. She had to leave behind her brother and sister. Basically, as a middle schooler, she'd already seen and felt more danger than most of us will confront in a whole lifetime.
So this is classic Jane Austen genius. While the novel doesn't have the wittiness of Pride and Prejudice or the quirkiness of Emma I super-enjoyed thiSo this is classic Jane Austen genius. While the novel doesn't have the wittiness of Pride and Prejudice or the quirkiness of Emma I super-enjoyed this.
Anne Elliott is probably a too-long ignored heroine in Jane Austen's body of work. Quite frankly, she's the only one, aside from Elizabeth Bennett, who ends up speaking her mind and defending her position in a direct way -- and one of the only heroines who doesn't receive a 'lesson' from her leading man.
One particular section involves Anne discussing the question of enduring love: Who is more likely to love longer/deeper -- men or women?
At one point the gentleman with whom Anne is discussing this pressing topic says, "Songs and proverbs all talk of women's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men."
To which Anne answers, "Perhaps I shall. -- Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been their in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."
It's waaaaay too easy to suppose that Austen herself is speaking through her main character, but I totally buy that POV. The whole of Persuasion presents the motivations of one woman -- and her actions are not selfish, fickle, or illogical when viewed within the context of a woman's life. (In Jane Austen's time.) I think this novel presents an important argument, and Austen presents that argument clearly, with very few frills or embellishments. ...more
"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't
I think the first book review of the year should set the tone for the rest of the year. And what better way to start the year 2013 than reading and reviewing the book that has everything? In fact, it has so much of everything that I used every single one of my shelves to label it. I'm pretty sure that I'm still short a couple subjects.
Sure, I could've been reading Anna Karenina and learning about Imperial Russia with the rest of my book group instead of learning about the present American stuff I already know. But since my reading goal this year is 100 books - which is like reading everything - I should start my odyssey with the book that has everything. Everything American, that is. Anna Karenina just has affairs and trains and Keira Knightly and other stuff.
Tolstoy's book doesn't have anything that Colbert's book doesn't have.
Anna Karenina has extramarital affairs: America Again has illicit relations between politicians and food.
Anna Karenina has people who hate their jobs: America Again has resume how-tos.
Anna Karenina has 2-D: America Again has 3-D.
Anna Karenina has Siberia: America Again has North Dakota.
Anna Karenina was translated into English: America Again was written in American.
It's probably this last one where Tolstoy has managed to one-up Colbert. America Again has no, count them: none, award winning translators. We're just expected to understand paragraphs like: "But the Real Question is: are America's best days behind us? Of course they are, and always have been. We have the greatest history in the history of History. But never forget, our best days are also ahead of us, and always will be. Because America also has the Greatest Future in the history of the Future. It's our Present that's the problem...and always is be."
I mean, Colbert began two sentences in that paragraph with But. And fragments. You just don't do that. A good translator would've saved him some face-saving. ...more
If you open up this book to the table of contents, you'll see chapter titles such as: "The Doctor and the Madman" "The Age of Vivisection" "The Blood ofIf you open up this book to the table of contents, you'll see chapter titles such as: "The Doctor and the Madman" "The Age of Vivisection" "The Blood of a Beast"
And, if you're anything like me, you think: Cool.
I knew only the most preliminary bits of 17th century history before picking this book up. For example, I knew who Louis XIV, the Sun King, was...but only via the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Man in the Iron Mask (and, no, I haven't read the book). And thanks to this delightful presentation of the first forays into blood transfusions, I now feel like I can keep up if Jeopardy! ever has a category. This makes me happy.
Author Holly Tucker does a great job of catching the layman up on the ins and outs of political, religious, and personal intrigue surrounding the controversial subject of blood transfusions. Nowadays, this medical procedure is soooooo common place that I bet more than one person reading this has donated blood at some point in their lives. Once you've read the interlocking stories of murder, mayhem, and dead-cows-in-the-living-room I'll also bet you'll never look at those needles and tubes the same way again. (In fact, you'll probably be so grateful for modern medicine that you'll hug the nurse drawing your blood.)
What I found the most intriguing was the shift in the purpose of transfusions. In the beginning, it wasn't about replacing blood lost from bloodletting, which was that most popular medical practice of the day. And today, that's pretty much how we use blood transfusions - to replace blood that's been lost through surgery, trauma, etc. Instead, blood transfusion circled around the idea that blood itself could cure certain diseases. Like madness. (In a very interesting section, Tucker takes us on a tour of Bethlam Hospital - a.k.a. Bedlam.)
Back in the day, it turns out, people were super worried about creating hybrids. Can you actually create a mermaid? The fears and arguments surrounding blood transfusions are the very fears and arguments surrounding DNA experimentation - like cloning and splicing - that come up today. So Tucker's book is very timely and an important cross section of the possible consequences of our actions, or non-actions.
So far, I think this is one of my favorites in Defoe's Pirates! series. Who would've thought that the Pirate Captain's true competition was the egotisSo far, I think this is one of my favorites in Defoe's Pirates! series. Who would've thought that the Pirate Captain's true competition was the egotistical, not-as-short-as-you-think European dictator?
I wish I had more to add, other than "Really enjoyed it!" But that's pretty much how it goes down. I liked it. The story perked up an otherwise dull afternoon, and made me want to see the movie. My only really wish is for Defoe to hurry up and write more adventures, because I finished this one* and immediately started hunting around for the next one.
This is one of the books that I always "meant to read" but never got around to, despite its tiny page count and ginormous reputation. Having read it,This is one of the books that I always "meant to read" but never got around to, despite its tiny page count and ginormous reputation. Having read it, I feel like I've checked off a big ol' checkmark - so that's pretty satisfying.
WARNING: Lots of spoilers ahead, but I'm not marking it off because I'm assuming a lot of people know the story, even if they haven't read the words....
A lot of you guys probably know that this book set off a couple trends - both rather disheartening:
1. (less serious, but distressingly calls to mind the fashion of today's Emo kids): men wearing yellow pants with blue overcoats - just FYI: this was not a good look then and it is not a good look now.
After the book was published, it was subsequently banned in many places in an effort to curtail young men from imitating the climatic suicide of Werther.
When I picked up the book and started reading I was vastly irritated with Werther as a character. Whiny, angsty, woe-is-me. My impression of Werther was that he was the needy kid in class who always gets up in your personal space and spouts pop-philosophy at you, trying to make you feel inferior so they fell better. Yet somehow you always feel sorry for him. Kind of. When he's not irritating the crap out of you.(You people know this kid.)
Enter Charlotte the Adored. Somehow I found myself rooting for Werther in his attempts to win her heart (mainly because it seemed like he was winning it - in spite of his stalkerish Edward-from-Twilight approach). But Werther's angst is further angstified by the fact that Charlotte's already engaged to another guy (Team Albert!).
Really, I'm kind of ashamed of myself because I thought that anyone who would imitate this guy and kill themselves was...um...stupid.
But what follows this opening sequence of seeming emotional ranting and woe is a troubling look at the psychology that precedes a suicide. It's almost textbook. And Werther made some convincing arguments for suicide - including knocking folks like me, who haven't been there - and therefore can't know:
"It is in vain that a man of sound mind and cool temper understands the condition of such a wretched being, in vain he counsels him. He can no more communicate his own wisdom to him than a healthy man can instil his strength into the invalid by whose bedside he is seated." (p 41)
In other words: you can't tell someone who is depressed to "get over it."
And Goethe's descriptions of Werther's actions match almost point for point the clinical symptoms of depression:
In the evening I say I will enjoy the next morning's sunrise, and yet I remain in bed; in the day I promise to ramble by moonlight, and I nevertheless remain at home. I know not why I rise, nor why I got to sleep.
But the piece that got me - and probably quite a few men in pre-Revolution France - was the argument between Werther and his rival Albert. They discuss suicide openly, and Albert claims it is the coward's way out: "It is much easier to die than to bear a life of misery with fortitude." Werhter's reaction is to compare suicide to a "nation which has long groaned under the intolerable yoke of a tyrant rises at last and throws of its chains - do you call that weakness?" His argument is basically that suicide is action, and therefore a braver thing than just taking what life throws at you.
(Which I disagree with, but his argument could be convincing to the right listener - as history has proved.)
As far as the writing itself goes, well, there's miles of flowers. (Sometimes literally.) The reverence of the 'sublime' (the sensation of being small when compared to nature) was on the rise when Goethe wrote, so there's lots of nature involved.
It's an epistolary novel, so it's all letters and journal entries. This can get tedious and there's an awkward transition after Werther pulls the trigger.
It's well worth reading, but make sure you're in a happy place before you jump in. And I hope your happy place doesn't involve yellow pants. ...more
One of my first reactions: This would be a kickass HBO series.
The reasons for this reaction are manifold and relate to positive andnegative bits in tOne of my first reactions: This would be a kickass HBO series.
The reasons for this reaction are manifold and relate to positive andnegative bits in the text:
1. Multiple lines of dramatic tension. You've got the future-day characters facing down a 'new' virus that threatens to take out the world, and then you've got the past-day characters facing down the Black Death. Plus you have Kivrin (the most awkwardly named character in the book...I don't know if her name being strange means anything but it distracted me, just so's ya know) who is from the future but interacting with the past. The multiple lines make for interesting reading - there's a mirroring effect that reminded me a lot of Lost and Once Upon a Time. So maybe it could be an ABC series....
2. The technology for the 'future' is a bit dated. Published in 1992, the wave of cell phone technology and the internet had not taken off. So there's some awkwardness with the telephones and their screens. Rather than insist that the timing be the future, a t.v. series has the added bonus of using visual clues to an alternate kind of reality, which would be easier to swallow. As it is, with the text offered here, the contemporary reader has to stretch (hard) to suspend disbelief. Movies and television series seem to be more forgiving of that kind of thing.
3. It is a set-maker's dream. The opportunity to develop an authentic, well-researched medieval village? Sign me up. Willis's descriptions were very believeable. All of the details were fascinating. She's imagined the pre-insulation world of small huts; the crooked, rotting pre-dental care mouths; the threat of pre-Neosporin death from a splinter; and even the telling detail of cracked fingernails. Kivrin learns the hard way that everything she knows is wrong. And Willis does a fantastic job of showing how much work a person would need to prepare for a trip to the past. You don't just get to walk in the door and say "Here I am!" You'd get shot. Or burned. Or shot and then burned.
4. Atmosphere. I got a Children of Men meets Game of Thrones feel. Basically: dark, threatening, suspenseful in both the future time period and the past. That's A+ material by my count. =D
5. There's humor - but I think it would work better in a television series format because it's kind of repetitive...and an 'in' joke is more effective with some space between punchlines. For example, there's an overprotective Oxford mother, Mrs. Gaddson. She's a pain in the booty...and we understand that two seconds after meeting her and four hundred pages later we still understand that she's a pain in the booty. Don't get me wrong, the humor does what it's supposed to do - lighten the mood - when it's supposed to do it. But I wanted more of a full-on palate cleanser.
6. As a series I think that Gilchrist would be better served portrayed by a skilled actor. He's the villain, if there really is one, and he's very one-sided. He's just a bad dude. Immoral, arrogant, and - more dangerously - stupid. Just unforgiveable. I think that comes from Dunsworthy's opinion of him, which makes perfect sense because Dunsworthy is the POV character for the future segments. A camera might have more mercy on Gilchrist, but this character is drawn with really stark strokes.
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. It took a bit to get into it - partly because of the outdated technological bits that were somehow dominating the world of the future. After the first chapter or so, however, I was into it. Kivrin's experiences were heartbreaking. And I thought Willis did a very lovely job of showing the past does matter. The gravemarkers archeologists dig up hold the bones of people who loved, hated, ate good food and bad food, and were scared of the dark - or of marrying men twice their age. They had puppies and chapped lips. ...more
What fun this was! I was really pleasantly surprised - I was looking for a 'quickie' read (which generally means a book to pass the time until I findWhat fun this was! I was really pleasantly surprised - I was looking for a 'quickie' read (which generally means a book to pass the time until I find a 'real' book I wanna read) and I couldn't put it down. Finished it super-fast. This book magically has everything: a funny, intelligent heroine; a scruffy hero; intrigue with weird contraptions and political conniving; and some sex and violence. What more could a reader possibly want?!
Miss Tarabotti is a charmingly Italian heroine. Her sense of propriety in the midst of werewolves eating the faces off of people (okay, it never gets quite that bad) is worth a smile or two from the most stalwart of readers. That same sense of propriety also allows the sexier scenes to not take themselves too seriously, so you're not bogged down by rigid/tumescent/turgid members...which I'm kinda grateful for.
I enjoyed the steampunk elements - 'glassicals' and weird blood-sucking machines that make vampires look like a dustbuster compared to a Hoover.
The side characters are also charming. Loved Lord Akeldama, the 'rove' vampire, Miss Hisselpenny (what a FANTASTIC name), and Professor Lyall - the Beta of the werewolf pack. And those three characters are also used to great effect in establishing the hierarchies of Carriger's supernatural London. Probably the make-it-or-break-it moment in fantasies is the world establishment. In this book, the rules are very nicely defined, easy to grasp quickly, and - perhaps most important - are interesting.
And let's not forget that the cover is kickass.
My only beef with this novel: The POV jumps from head to head really quickly. Luckily, Carriger does it so gracefully that it's almost seamless. But just fair warning that sometimes you've gotta read a sentence or so over in order to understand whose thoughts you're hearing. ...more