Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arrowsmith (1926)

This is the story of Martin Arrowsmith, who seems ordinary enough but is, in fact, that rare breed of man who thinks for himself and pursues his goals without regard for the people who want him to give up.

You could say the same about Sinclair Lewis, the author of Arrowsmith.  Nothing is holy: he tears apart countless traditions and habits that we take for granted.  With just a sentence or two he shows us the hypocrisy, inanity or even the evil in our many institutions and ways of life.

In Arrowsmith, Lewis is focused on the medical profession and science as a profession during the early 1900’s.  But much of the book feels applicable even now.  We see the flaws in a medical school that churns out doctors trained to treat illnesses without thinking about underlying causes and keyed to avoid prevention because it will take away business.  We see, as in his other books, the backwardness and suffocation of a small town for a free thinker.  We see how a scientist is compromised by working for a company that's only out to make money.  And we see that science can’t be run by committee and isn’t at the whim of “the good of society.”  Lewis shows us that science may be the most individualistic pursuit there is, and men who are willing to give it everything they have are the true heroes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kata’s Progress

Despite having a BA in English, I am more of a Science Fiction and Mystery reader. The Pulitzer Prize winners are a nice counterpoint to my usual reading. I am just starting out on this journey. Here is what I have read so far. My reactions are on my blog.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Breathing Lessons Anne Taylor 1989 -- Athena's review

Breathing Lessons Anne Taylor 1989

Anne Taylor's Breathing Lessons won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1989 and it can be summed up with this Ann Landers quote -- Wake up and smell the coffee!!

I only barely remember ever reading any Ann Landers (or her twin sister Dear Abby or Dear Abby's daughter, Dear Abby) so, inspired by the Ann Landers theme in Breathing Lessons I wanted to have been in the archive. Here's a few of the letters I liked. She's a charmer.

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.

Rose City Reader's Review: All the King's Men (1947 winner)

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.