- 1932 The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
- 1937 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
- 1961 To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
- 2006 March - Geraldine Brooks
Monday, February 25, 2013
Saturday, December 1, 2012
You may participate solely on your own blog (and I will link to it at right) or post to this one. Anyone interested in participating on this blog should submit an email address in a comment to this post. To prevent spamming of the email, please submit it in a format similar to the following: janedoe--gmail or janedoe atttt gmail dotttt commm.
You may post a review of each book you've read, even if it was several years ago. Or, you could also put the year read beside the title and not do a full review. It's up to you.
If you are a participant on this particular blog, please follow these guidelines for labeling:
1) Always use your name as a label.
2) "Progress" should be used for list updates.
3) For each book read, use the year won and the title of the book. See the August 2007 entries for an example.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
It's been awhile since I've posted on this blog, but I am back to book blogging and this entry was originally written on my blog Aquatique.
I learned about A visit from the goon squad from the UK book show "The TV Book Club". I have generally mixed feelings about this book. I completely forgot the premise and the structure from the segment on the show I watched back in July. In short, the book is written like a series of short stories and while the characters are all connected in some way to two of the “main” characters, you don’t really see it until the latter half of the book. Also, the narrative structure differs from chapter to chapter: first person, second, third, editorial style, etc. There is one wonderful chapter done in a graphical slide show format which was the highlight of the book.
The characters are hard to grasp since some of them only show up for one chapter. It also felt experimental at times which can be good actually. I think it worked out for the most part. I don’t know if I would recommend this book to everyone because the uneven structure can be confusing at times especially if you read books in small sittings (which I didn’t so it was ok for me to keep track of mostly).
I was a bit surprised to hear that this book won the Pulitzer Prize. I have read a lot of Pulitzer prize winners over the years, but this may not be the most memorable. To the book’s merit, I think Egan does showcase the theme of how transient life is in these stories. By jumping around time, the reader sees how people change, but you won’t necessarily see how those changes happen. I guess this makes the book more realistic, but I can see how some people who like more linear and regular narration wouldn’t enjoy that. I will say, I liked a couple chapters more than others.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Published: 1999, Mariner Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Accolades: 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2000 Hemingway Foundation /PEN Award
I know, I know I have absolutely no excuse on why I haven't read this amazing book before - especially since it's been sitting on my shelf for at least two years. I am so happy that I finally did decide to read it and now I have a girl crush on a new to me author.
Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories that focus on Indians and first generation Indian Americans as they face subtle and not so subtle cultural differences that leaves each character feeling isolated and wanting in a new country. Many of the stories also center on arranged marriages and have a lingering sadness as the characters try to maneuver and assimilate to life in their new worlds with people that they barely know.
Lahiri writes each story with a refined elegance that literally took my breath away. Her writing is reflective and touching as she helps the reader find the soul in each flawed character. My favorite story was The Third and Final Continent (it's also the only story with a positive ending). All the characters in The Third and Final Continent, whether it's the newly arrived Indian immigrant or the ninety-nine-year-old American woman, feel alienated. Lahiri gently shows the reader that we all suffer from the human condition and need to hold on to each other to navigate in our worlds.
If you haven't read this book - you should. Lahiri is a master of the short story. After reading Interpreter of Maladies I wanted to read more books by Lahiri - always a good sign.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
In our land of American opportunity, Empire Falls by Richard Russo reminded me that the fastest- and in some cases only- way into the top 1 percent is to marry in. The book’s looming character is the wealthiest woman in this small town, Francine Whiting. She married in. The town’s previous money stream was work at the Whiting shirt factory. Since it closed, the citizens wait for a limo with Massachusetts plates to buy and re-open the factory. And they depend on the generosity of Mrs. Whiting. Or, they consider marrying in. It won in 2002, it sounds like 2011.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize 2002
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Breathing Lessons Anne Taylor 1989
Dear Ann Landers: I lost my hand (from the wrist down) in an industrial accident. A wonderful artificial-limb expert made a hand for me that is almost indistinguishable from the one God gave me. I have a manicure every two weeks, and my manicurist charges me full price. Is this fair? — No City Please
Dear No City: Yes, it is fair — unless the manicurist is willing to book you for a polish change, which takes half the time of a manicure.
Dear Ann Landers: Can you please tell me whether my husband is cheating on me? The reason I am suspicious is that lately, "Clyde" has been going to the store and doing other errands but refusing to take any of our four children along. He is also gone longer than I believe is necessary. He also has started to complain about how much gray hair he is getting, and last week, he made some uncomplimentary comments about my housekeeping.
Clyde is almost 40, and I think he may be going through that well-known midlife crisis. I have been trying to take better care of the house and cook his favorite dishes. We have sex as often as he likes. I will say, he never forgets my birthday or our anniversary. Am I just insecure, or is it time to start worrying? — Concerned Wife in Nashville
Dear Nashville: I'd say it's time you stopped worrying. How much trouble can Clyde get into on his way to the grocery? He probably enjoys that short break away from the kids. Wouldn't you? Keep preparing his favorite dishes, and continue to keep him well-fed, literally and figuratively, and enough with the paranoia already.
Dear Ann Landers: My husband and I are very friendly with another couple. They are kind and generous people and would give you the shirts off their backs. We love to be with them. The problem is they are the dirtiest people I ever have known. We hate going to their home because it is so filthy. Our church group avoided their offer to host a dinner for this very reason.
Both of these people have college degrees and make very good money. We enjoy their company and want to remain friends, but how can we continue to turn down their dinner invitations? (She LOVES to cook.) So far, we have managed to meet at restaurants, but this ploy won't work much longer. Do you have any suggestions? We need help. — Baltimore Dilemma
Dear Dilemma: Your friends never will be decent housekeepers. They need help. Scout around to find a good cleaning person. Tell your friends that you understand how busy they are and that you know of a wonderful cleaning person. Then give them the name and number.
Dear Ann Landers: A woman in our office ("Miss Z") has a TV on her desk that she turns on the minute she comes in. It stays on until she goes home.
The other employees and I feel this reflects poorly on our entire office, especially when someone from the outside comes in. Miss Z is very intimidating, and no one in our office dares approach her about this, plus she has the most seniority. Our boss has made it clear that he doesn't want to be bothered with such petty issues. What is your opinion on this matter? — No Name, No State
Dear N.N.N.S.: Sounds as if the boss also is intimidated. Too bad. The old battle-ax wins again.
Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for All the King's Men, his fictionalized account of Louisiana's legendary governor Huey Long. In the novel, Long is Willie Stark, an idealistic country lawyer who takes on the political machine in his state and achieves meteoric success, only to be compromised by the same system he railed against.
This book has been on my list of Top 10 favorites since I read it in the mid-1990s, shortly after law school. Robert Penn Warren's combination of beautiful writing, compelling story, and political shenanigans wholly beguiled me.
Now, getting close to 20 years later, I wanted to re-read it to see if it still packed the same punch. It did, but in a quieter way. Either because I am older now or because I was familiar with the story, the political side didn't grab me, but the personal stories of Stark's family and the narrator, Stark's operative Jack Burden, struck me even harder with their heartbreak.
Warren was a poet first and a novelist second. His writing is full of metaphor, long descriptions, philosophical musings, and some long digressions away from the central plot. All these things, if not done right, can ruin a novel for me, fan of a good yarn that I am. But Warren does it right. It is definitely a book you have to settle in to and let it lead, but it is worth the dance if you do.
Also posted on Rose City Reader.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
26/85 for 31% so far
2010 - Tinkers
2009 - Olive Kitteridge
2007 - The Road
2006 - March
2005 - Gilead
2004 - The Known World
2003 - Middlesex
1987 - Summons to Memphis
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Jennifer Egan's spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.
We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist's couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to aver the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city's demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own whilst starting at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nationale. We meed Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life - divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house - and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco's punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang - who thrived and faltered - and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie's catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou's far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertone of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption, and the universal tendency to reach for both - and escape the merciless progress of time - in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers.
With inside cover copy like that, and the fact that this is the book that won the Pulitzer prize and others, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize as well, who needs a review!
When I look back on this book in a couple of years time I think the thing that will still be strong in my memory is the structure of the book - if you could call it structure as such. It isn't a novel as much as it is an interlocking collection of short stories. This isn't a book that goes from point A to point B. It probably starts at point G and eventually gets to point Z with side trips past point A and B.
In my own mind I was trying to think of a comparison to show how this book works and the closest I could come up with was one of those puzzles we used to have as kids where there was a mixed up picture in a square and there was one piece missing so you had to move all the pieces around until the picture was formed. At first you would get occasional glimpses of what the jumbled image was going to look like, but then you would have to break the picture up to make another piece of the puzzle fit. Eventually though, the last piece slides into place and you see the whole image.
Another analogy might be a really long conversation with a very good friend, where you jump topics with ease, reminiscing about the past, talking about the future, and sharing a joke. Never a linear conversation but rather one that starts at one point, and then ends up somewhere completely different and you find yourself wondering how you got there!
Another aspect of structure that was very different in this book is that Egan experiments with all different forms of storytelling. There are chapters written in the form of a magazine column, another in Powerpoint as well as different tenses and points of view. I think the Powerpoint chapter was amazing! The language was sparse, the story barely there on the page, but the concepts and the narrative were still strong enough to be clear for the reader, and I loved that we got to see Sasha's future life.
After looking at the structure, how about the characters. I can't say that I particularly related to the characters that we met in the pages of the book, but such is Egan's skill that you actually didn't need to. Our two main characters are Sasha and Bennie. Sasha is on a date with Alex when her habit of stealing things, anything, causes her to steal a wallet whilst in the bathroom. As she analyses why she steals with her shrink, Alex crosses one of her boundaries without even knowing it. We meet Sasha again as a young woman struggling to make ends meet living as a runaway in Naples, and then through the eyes of her best friend Rob who has plenty of demons of his own.
In the next chapter we meet Bennie, who is Alex's boss. He is a divorced man who is struggling to relate to his 9 year old son. One way that he can occasionally connect is through music, but even that is problematical. Through the book we see Benny with his ex wife in happier times, then we meet him as a youth revelling in the punk rock scene with his friends. We meet his mentor Lou and his very young girlfriend and her friend.
The links as we move from chapter to chapter are at times tenuous, but they are all there for a reason. Along the way, Egan makes comment about some important issues. Not only the power of music to transcend time, but also for example the power of media when a washed up PR person is employed to try and rehabilitate the image of an African dictator.
Another chapter that I really liked, not because it was enjoyable but because of the food for thought it provided, was the final chapter. It is set in New York in the not too distant future and Egan has taken our current obsession with social media and expanded it to the nth degree to come up with a quite scary world where even the youngest child has exposure to the media in a way that is similar to our own world but amplified many times over. A washed up musician is being bought back for a live concert and one of our characters is being asked to find some parrots - people who can spread the word, hype up the event to make it a success, to make it the kind of event that everyone who is anyone will claim to have been at even if they really aren't. In a way it kind of reminded me of a discussion of the difference between buzz and hype and how one, or the other, is generated, whether it is organic or whether there is someone in the background pulling the strings to manipulate the public.
This is the second Egan book I have read and liked. A few years ago now I read The Keep which was a kind of modern, gothicky ghost story. I am not sure why I haven't bothered to go and track down her other books. I will definitely be watching to see what the author comes up with next as she doesn't seem to be afraid to take risks in her writing and to take her readers on the journey with her!
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Published: 2004, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Genre: Literary Fiction
Accolades: 2005 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2004 - National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, 2006 - long list Orange Prize for Fiction
76-year-old Congregationalist Minister John Ames is dying of a heart condition. Still capable of preaching and mentally sharp he has decided to write a letter - a journal of his thoughts - to his young son to explain the family's history, who he is, and what he believes. Set in Gilead, Iowa in 1956 this quiet, profound book is the story of a life and a faith that can move mountains if only it can forgive.
There are certain books that as soon as you read the first two or three pages you know that it is special - that it will change you somehow - maybe not lightning bolt jolts, but small, subtle movements near your heart. Gilead was that book for me. Gilead begins with John Ames counting the blessings of his life and expressing the joy of having found love and having a child in the twilight of his years.
In the bible Gilead means hill of testimony and that is what the book Gilead is for John Ames his testimony of a well-lived life.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Published: 2010, Borzoi Book - Alfred A. Knopf
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Accolades: 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award, long list for 2011 Orange Prize
A Visit From the Goon Squad is a novel that is written as a collection of stories that center around Bennie Salazar a music executive, his kleptomaniac assistant Sasha and the people that weave in and out of their flawed lives. Each chapter is a story that moves through the timeline of Bennie and Sasha's lives and as readers we witness the moments that changed them.
A Visit From the Goon Squad has received critical acclaim, but somewhat mixed reviews from the "everyday" reader. I understand the division. This book is difficult to pinpoint and to categorize - just writing the first paragraph of this review was hard because it is a difficult book to explain. But I will tell you that I loved it. The writing is crisp, honest, and inventive. There are proses in this book that are so vivid and accurate that I had to stop and read them again and again.
Time is a key element to the story (The Goon Squad is a reference to time) - it is always there hovering over the characters and they each feel its impact as it changes their relationships, values, and themselves. The book weaves back and forth through a time span of about 50 years starting in the 1970's and ending in a somewhat dystopian 2020. My favorite chapter is the chapter that is written as a power point by a teenager of today. It is so in the moment - our current time - it is brilliant.
A Visit From the Goon Squad is a remarkable, strangely moving story about the one thing we can't escape - the impact of time.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Friday, July 15, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Author: Edith WHarton
Published: 1920, D. Appleton & Company
Accolades: 1921 Putlitzer (first Pultizer given to a woman), Modern Library List: 100 Best Books of the Century, Radcliff Publishing Course: 100 Best Novels of the Century and on and on...
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, but I was wonderfully surprised at the depth of Wharton's wit and her satirical analyze of the society in which she belonged. With the introduction of our protagonist Newland Archer we are given a "fly on the wall" perspective of what it was like to live and circumvent the twists and turns of high society in New York City during the Gilded Age. Archer is very much a product of his society and it's rules and is happy to live by them because he understands what happens to those who try to go against the norms of his world. When Archer meets his fiancee's cousin Ellen Olenska, a woman who is escaping a scandalous marriage, he knows that this women is capable of changing his world for better or worse, but like a moth drawn to the flame - he can't resist.
I found myself thinking about what it would have been like to live in that tightly guarded circle of society and how difficult it was to become a part of it or to escape it. You would almost have to be born into it to understand the nuances of what is expected - lessons that took a lifetime to learn. The society wasn't about money because they frowned upon the new money and crassness of the Carnegie's, Frick's, and Rockefeller's. Even those captains of industry could not buy themselves memberships into this elite group.
Wharton's development of her characters is artfully crafted as you realize that the characters that appeared to be weakest and shallow are the strongest and most manipulative. What one would do to preserve appearances due to the code is tragic and heart-felt. Love is not the number one priority - it is your placement in society.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Note: I read the 2008 Oxford World's Classic edition
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I could have guessed before starting Breathing Lessons that the book would involve an ordinary family in Baltimore facing problems in an awkward but genuine way and somehow bumbling through to a moderately happy and definitely realistic end. That description fits every Anne Tyler book I’ve read and it fits this one too.
Unfortunately, this book sticks close to the basic theme without the variations that made the others I’ve read more interesting. For instance, Digging to America applies the basic theme to immigrant families; The Amateur Marriage takes the story further, to a post-divorce phase; The Accidental Tourist takes the show on the road to Paris; and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant turns it around to the children’s perspective.
In contrast, Breathing Lessons is the basic story. It takes place in one day, when Ira and Maggie Moran drive to a funeral and, on the way back, stop to visit their granddaughter in Maggie’s attempt to reconcile their son and former daughter-in-law. In describing the events of the day, Tyler tells the story of the Morans’ courtship, marriage, and children’s lives. She does it with her typical and impressive authenticity.
My only problem was that Tyler’s authenticity seemed too typical. Stripped of the variations that livened up the other books, Breathing Lessons lacked a hook to grab my attention. If this had been the first Anne Tyler book I ever read, I would have loved it. But having read four others already, I felt like I was covering old territory with this one.
Tyler won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons. It was my Pulitzer choice for the 2011 Battle of the Prizes, American Version challenge.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It seems very daring (and that is probably why this collection seems to be overlooked) that Butler decided to tell these fifteen stories from the Vietnamese viewpoint, but he's delicate, sensitive and very knowledgeable about that culture, so it works beautifully.
A few of the stories are fragments, and there's one titled "The American Couple" that approaches novella length. My favorite story is "Love", about a jealous husband with a "butterfly" wife and the extremes -- both serious and comedic -- that he will pursue to eliminate his competition.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
And, yet, even in this, Scarlet Sister Mary fails. Peterkin's depiction of uneducated blacks living in the low country of South Carolina in the early part of the 20th century is hardly believable, given today's understanding. They are the progeny of slaves who stayed where they had lived because they had no choice to go anywhere else. What could they possibly do? They continued living largely as their ancestors had.
Whites are not a factor in the book except as occasional mention that they do exist. This is not a criticism, just an observation. Peterkin's description of the life of these people, particularly that of Sister Mary, really is fiction. She suggests picking cotton is easy, more like a party, and everyone enjoys doing it. The life of Mary, a mother of 10 children with no father in the home, seems almost easy. More like a teenager bouncing through life. Some deep heartache, but even that passes.
There is a reason that Scarlet Sister Mary does not appear on any "best works" lists. An easy read, though.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
As I read the portion of the book that I did read, maybe a little more than 1/2 of it, I enjoyed the pictures it paints of its main characters, their dreams and their daily lives as they struggle to fulfill those dreams. Set in the US at the time when Latin music was in its hey day, the Mambo Kings participate in that scene, even to the point of having an opportunity to meet the great Desi Arnaz. Did this book deserve the Pulitzer Prize? The writing is enchanting and does pull one into the story. But for those who, like me, prefer to avoid that which impelled me to put the book down without finishing it with no pan to try again, I offer this brief review.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Most of us have either read the book, seen the movie, or at least heard of this 1960 modern classic. I remember watching the movie years ago with my mom and listening to her tell me that I just had to read the book - "it's one of the best books out there, Jayme." Well mom, it only took 35 years, but I did finally read it and once again you were right.
The story about how one man stood up against the convictions of a small southern town in the 1930s to do what was right is insight fully told through the eyes of his daughter. Her voice is fresh and distinct and pulls you in from the first sentence. But it's the little nuggets of wisdom through out the book that holds you-
"but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." (page 120, To Kill A Mockingbird
The writing is clever and the topic captures a time in America's history that as painful as it is the story needs to be told. This book is literary art.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Note: I read the 2010 50th Anniversary edition from Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Saturday, September 18, 2010
For me, the last chapter made the book. (I'd like to quote some of this chapter, but don't want to be a "spoiler").
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Title: Edge of Sadness
Author: Edwin O'Connor
Published: 1961, Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Religion, Modern Classic
Accolades: 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Father Hugh Kennedy has returned to his clerical duties after taking a sabbatical to confront and deal with his alcoholism. But he is not returning to his flourishing, well established parish. He has been assigned to "Old St.Pauls" a decaying church in a derelict part of his hometown. In his search for understanding he is reunited with the Camrody family, a wealthy Irish family he thought he new well growing up, but they have secrets of their own.
Where do I begin writing a review about a book which I think is the best book I've read all year? From the synopsis it seems as if this is a heavy, depressing book. It isn't. The book is narrated by Father Kennedy and it is his reflective account of key past events in his life and how they have impact on the present. There is a lot of narration, so the book moves slowly which is OK because there is so much to stop and ponder in this book. It took me 2 weeks to finish because I would put it down and reflect. O'Connor's writing is powerful and honest, but at the same time it is gentle and spiritual. The writing is so believable that I had to keep reminding myself that this is fiction - not a memoir.
"And there were moments when... I would suddenly become aware of a stillness that was something quite apart from the stillness of the night. It was an interior stillness, a stillness inside me, a stillness in which there was the absence of distraction and unrest. A stillness in which quietly, and without effort, I seemed to come together, to be focused and attentive, to be really present, so to speak, a stillness from which it seemed natural, even inevitable, to reach out, to pray, to adore..." (page 223, The Edge of Sadness)
And then there is the Camrody family. The Camrody family is led by the patriarch Charlie Camrody - a larger than life, rags to riches man whose influence on his family is complete. As Father Kennedy is reunited with this family of his childhood he realizes that what one sees and what one knows can be two completely different things. As truths are revealed the impact on Father Kennedy's self and spirituality are profound. But again this is not a depressing book. The dialogue that O'Connor writes with the Camrody is pitch perfect capturing the essence of each person. Charlie Camrody:
"Did you read about that, Father? Did you read about Charlie Camrody the rent gouger? Oh my, ain't that a terrible thing to be called? By the son of little Georgie, that I knew all my life like a brother. And then the papers get on me and say, "Ain't it awful, Mr. Camrody, when a young feller like that calls a fine man like you names?" (page 322, The Edge of Sadness)
But what I liked most about this book was Father Kennedy. He is not a perfect person, let alone a perfect priest - he's not even a great priest, but he's honest. He's someone who is stuck and doesn't know he's stuck until...
How much do I love this book? Well, the copy that I read I had borrowed from the library, so I ordered my own copy online and this book goes on my "searching for first editions list." That should tell you something.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Note: I read the 2005 Loyola Press edition.
Friday, July 30, 2010
The thing I enjoyed most about this book was the detail provided about the lives of each of the individuals whose perspectives Shaara used to tell the story. He showed their human sides and truly made me care about people on both sides of the battle. I especially enjoyed the depiction of Lee, which I felt fit perfectly with the description I am reading in Freeman's biography from 1934. The Killer Angels is a useful read for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of the Civil War as many of these men had fought together in the United States military before the war and cared about each other.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Bromfield so wants to write like Wharton. He even mentions her! His humor is blunt where Wharton's is subtle and witty. His characterization is obvious where Wharton lets her characters unfold gracefully. Finally, his word choice is stale. Thanks to the author, I now hate the word "indolent." The adjective is appropriately applied to Bromfield’s writing. Bromfield wrote approximately thirty books. I'm surprised he didn't run out of words at two. His vocabulary was made for non-fiction.
So, I can't recommend this one. It's unremarkable. If I was prone to suspicion, I'd suggest that the 1927 Pulitzer award was reserved for a Columbia University alum. I'm sure that can't be. Interestingly, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was also published in 1926.
Wish I could ask Sinclair Lewis his opinion about the criteria for the award. A future topic!
I recommend reading this book with a tall glass and Maker's Mark. It's fitting that the bottle is dipped in wax.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Along the way he is supported unconditionally by his wife Leora. Leora is considered by those in literature circles ( I assume they gather in circles) as a model of character development. She is also the focus of feminist critiques, and rightly so. She is everything Arrowsmith could ask for, given his character, yet he is never satisfied. He's a child. Does Leora represent his mother, never mentioned in the story, as the taken for granted female figure? Perhaps, if you want to be kind to Lewis.
Arrowsmith is not a good doctor. Nor is he really a gifted scientist. He manages to stumble on discoveries but not due to talent; He spends time doubting himself than he does thinking and puzzling through scientific problems. When he chooses to be, he is sedulous. He perseveres. That is his sole redeeming quality but one he practices only intermittently. Or maybe he has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When confronted with his deficiencies as a scientist, he mopes, then quits, then drinks, then mopes again, then returns. He is a practitioner of what Thomas Kuhn would call "normal science." Most scientists are. He is portrayed as much more. He is not.
One could imagine a discussion of Arrowsmith as representing all of us. He is a flawed character, no hero, as Lewis writes. But he is more than flawed. We are all flawed but we learn from our mistakes, we grow up. Martin Arrowsmith doesn't learn. He marries a woman yet devotes none of himself to her once married. He marries again and does the same. Why does he continue to want a female companion? At least his colleagues who marry are honest about their need for a woman to assist them in their professional and social climbing activities. Abhorrent yes, but honest. Martin has no such integrity (I know it sounds strange to call the use of women by men in that fashion as integrous but the women are portrayed as opportunist as well. Hmmm, sounds like another topic of a feminist critique--does mutual lack of hypocrisy mitigate otherwise cadish behavior?). In this regard, the story is much more simplistic. Had Lewis wanted to write about science and medicine, he could have done so without the whiney Arrowsmith as the protagonist. Had he wanted to write about a whiney man, he could have done so without the gratuitous Latin terms to define bacteria. Martin Arrowsmith is, as the boys in the film Swingers say about Wayne Gretzky, a whiney bitch. (Great scene of guys playing and old NHL video game.) Most of us are not.
In the end, most people will enjoy the book because it is written masterfully. It is a complete book. A glass of Jim Beam Rye whiskey will aid in the digestion of this book. Along the way Martin Arrowsmith will join you.
There was a film (awful) of the same name made from the book starring Ronald Coleman and Helen Hayes. It was directed by John Ford--say it an't so!-- but it doesn't resemble the book. I consider it unremarkable but only because I respect Ford.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
By: Toni Morrison
Alfred A. Knopf, 1987
Toni Morrison is a name that is often thrown around in literary circles, and, as I had never read anything of hers prior to this, I looked forward to reading (or listening to, which I ended up doing) Beloved to see what the talk was about. The story of Beloved focuses mainly on a runaway slave, Sethe, and her daughter, Denver, as they try to make a life for themselves in Ohio in the years following the Civil War. Though Denver was not born until after her mother's escape, they both spend their lives dealing with the physical and psychological effects of slavery.
Many images brought forth in Morrison's novel are painful to read about, but it is important that we understand, to the extent possible, the horrors and human toll of slavery. Morrison's writing is poetic and full of imagery that is beautiful but hard to understand at times. Because I was listening, there were times that I found myself completely lost. I thought I had missed something and went to Spark Notes online to make sure I knew what was going on. Towards the end of the book, Morrison begins shifting more and more between different perspectives. I think that if I had been reading the book this would have been clearer. What I did love about listening to Beloved is that it was read by Toni Morrison herself. I believe that there are emotions that only an author can put into the reading of his or her own text, and this recording was no exception. I would definitely recommend this book for more mature readers. There are books that have been written throughout history that might not be the most enjoyable to read but are vitally important. Beloved is not my favorite book, but I do believe that, for the sake of understanding our past, it is important.
Monday, July 19, 2010
The story centers around a woman, Selina DeJong, and her son, "So Big" Dirk. If you read the book, you'll quickly know the reason for the nickname and, in the end, you 'll understand the metaphor. Selina is a strong woman faced with a difficult and unimagined life living on a "truck farm" populated by Dutch immigrants on the outskirts of Chicago at the turn of the 20 century (that's 1800's to 1900s right?). She starts out as a school teacher whose first impression of the fruits of the farmers' labor (cabbage) as a thing of beauty. So she is very different from the parents of the children she will be educating. She becomes a widow and rears her son in a way that she hopes will steer him to the beauty in life, whatever he determines that to be. That's as much plot as I'll disclose because I highly recommend this book and hope you'll give it a chance. For those of you from the Prairie State, you'll appreciate the references to Chicago.
I took many things away from this book. For those who are about to enter a career path (e.g., high schoolers, college students) this book offers a message that you will no doubt hear at your commencement ceremonies. (And if you don't you should!) When choosing your life path, choose the path that fulfills your spirit. Life is hard enough you will work hard enough to not pursue a life that will do more than put vegetables on your table, buy you the next new thing, keep you dapper and stylish, and ensure your place as the one with the largest toy box. It is perhaps easier to do that than to seek out and create beauty. (As Everett Sloan playing the part of Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kaneputs it, "It's easy to make a lot of money. If all you want is to make a lot of money.")
For those already well down our paths, it is never too late to be part of the creation of beauty. Hard work is it's own reward, true. But hard work towards a larger and deeper purpose is redemptive. Patience with life is portrayed as so much more than a virtue in this book. Here, patience is directed to oneself, rather than others. We might try being patient with ourselves and our toils since they are directed to a full life. Many of our life's loves are not found in the short term. In a society that rewards quick results and virtue in making one's first million before 30, Ferber reminds us that virtuosity is not a goal but a life's journey. Surely a reminder for all ages.
This is an excellent book.