After the recent attacks in France, I think Vowell's book is a timely reminder that nations have worked together for centuries -- and sometimes to theAfter the recent attacks in France, I think Vowell's book is a timely reminder that nations have worked together for centuries -- and sometimes to the detriment of the assisting country. She breaks down the alliances extremely well in this book.
I do rather wish it was a little longer, so we could see more of Lafayette's older years in an Austrian prison, his time during the Terror, and how he gets back for his final visit to the US. We see him from 19 to his mid-twenties and, let's face it, there's a whole lotta life after that. But I guess it is called Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Not Lafayette in the Somewhat United States and for Years Afterward in France.
Vowell is as funny and as biting as she is in her previous non-fiction works. And no matter how I try, after hearing her read her own work earlier, I hear her voice in my head with every new book. ...more
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.