dchaikin continues in 2012
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1. Cimarron Review : January 1997 (read Dec 11 - Jan 6)
2. Poetry : September 1996 (Volume CLXVIII, Number 6) (read Jan 8-14)
3. Genesis - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Jan 1-20)
4. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible by Karel van der Toorn (read Dec 25 - Jan 28)
5. Celebrate the Sun by James J. Kavanaugh (read Jan 28-29)
6. The Penderwicks : A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (read Jan 15-Feb 10, with my daughter)
7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Dec 8 - Feb 12...took my time)
8. To Be Read in 500 Years : Poems by Albert Goldbarth (Jan 15 - Feb 17)
9. Exodus - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Jan 25 - Feb 20)
10. Oil on Water by Helon Habila (read Feb 14-26)
11. Cain by Jose Saramago (Feb 25 - Mar 2)
12. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (Feb 11 - Mar 3)
13. The Dart League King by Keith Lee Morris (Mar 1-12)
14. Leviticus - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Feb 27 - Mar 16)
15. Black Warrior Review : Volume XXIII, Number 1 - Fall/Winter 1996 (Feb 17 - Mar 26)
16. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (re-read. Chapters 1-30 Feb 4-15, the rest Mar 20-29)
17. Imperfect : An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott with Tim Brown (April 6-15)
18. This Close to the Earth by Enid Shomer (Mar 27 - Apr 18)
19. Overcoming ADHD Without Medication : A Parent and Educator's Guidebook by Children and Natural Psychology Association for Youth (April 19-22)
20. Numbers - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read April 1-25)
21. ADHD by Trudi Strain Trueit (juvenile book, read April 27)
22. ADHD by Barbara Sheen (juvenile book, read April 27-28)
23. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (read May 4-9)
24. Cobb : A Biography by Al Stump (April 15 - May 14)
25. Deuteronomy - from The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (read Apr 30 - May 16)
--- this completes The Five Books of Moses : A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (Read Dec 3 - May 16)
26. Wolves by Larry D. Thomas, with woodcuts by Clarence Wolfshohl (read May 19)
27. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (read w/ my daughter Mar 5-12, April 4-20, finished by myself May 20-21)
28. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (read May 17 - June 1)
29. When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant (read June 4 - 10)
30. Joshua - from the King James Version (read June 4 - 14)
31. The Missouri Review : Volume 27, Number 1, 2004 (read April 19 - June 14)
32. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden (read June 14-16)
33. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan (read June 21)
34. The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (read June 11-24)
35. Radioactive : Marie & Pierre Curie : A Tale of Love & Fallout by Lauren Redniss (read May 19 & June 25)
36. Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words : Oral Histories of 23 Players by Peter Ephross with Martin Abramowitz, editors (read June 24-30)
37. Judges (and Ruth) - from The Harper Collins Study Bible (read June 23-July 3)
38. Just Kids by Patti Smith (read June 29 - July 7)
39. The Missouri Review : Volume XX, Number 2, 1997 - Rituals (read June 16 - July 14)
40. Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh (read July 10 - 18)
41. Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar & J. T. Waldman (read July 23-25)
42. Space : A Memoir by Jesse Lee Kercheval (read July 18-25)
43. The Georgia Review : Spring 2000 (read July 14-29)
44. People on the Street : A Writer's View of Israel by Linda Grant (read July 24 - August 3)
45. The Bible Unearthed : Archaeology's New Visions of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman (read July 29 - August 12)
46. The Love Story of Paul Collins by Donigan Merritt (read August 15)
47. Stalking the Florida Panther by Enid Shomer (read Aug 3-21)
48. Closing the Sea by Judith Katzir, Barbara Harshav (read Aug 14-27)
49. Poet Lore : Fall 1993 (Volume 88 Number 3) (read Aug 10 - 28)
50. The David Story : A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter (read July 5 - Sept 3)
51. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter (read Aug 14-Sept 11)
52. The Cartoon History of the Universe : Volumes 1-7 by Larry Gonick (read Sept 8-18)
53. The Cartoon History of the Universe II, Volumes 8 - 13: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome by Larry Gonick (read Sept 19-Oct 3)
54. The Druid's Son by G. R. Grove (read Oct 3-13)
55. Who Were the Celts? Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Celts 1000 B.C. to the Present by Kevin Duffy (read Oct 14-21)
56. A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine (read Oct 15-26)
57. God Knows by Joseph Heller (read Sept 12-Nov 7)
58. Poetry : October-November 1987 (75th Anniversary) (read Aug 28 - Nov 7)
59. The Druid's Son by G. R. Grove (re-read, Oct 16 - Nov 8)
60. Florida Postcards : Poems by Enid Shomer (read Nov 8-9)
61. Druids : A Very Short Introduction by Barry Cunliffe (read Nov 7-11)
62. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (read Aug 15-Nov 17)
63. The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance by Larry Gonick (read Oct 3-Nov 28)
64. Open Door: A Poet Lore Anthology 1980 — 1986 (read Nov 9-Dec 3)
65. Barefoot Gen, Volume 9 : Breaking Down Borders by Keji Nakazawa (read Dec ~1-15)
66. Barefoot Gen, Volume 10 : Never Give Up by Keiji Nakazawa (read Dec 15-17)
67. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (read Nov 17 - Dec 23)
68. Traversa: A Solo Walk Across Africa, from the Skeleton Coast to the Indian Ocean by Fran Sandham (read Nov 13 - Dec 29, mostly after Dec 24)
- Miami by Joan Didion (started Dec 29)
- The Gettysburg Review : Volume 10, Number 2 : Summer 1997 (started Dec 4)
- 1 & 2 Kings in The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version (Fully Revised and Updated), edited by Harold W. Attridge (started Sept 22)
- The Literary Guide to the Bible by Robert Alter & Frank Kermode (Editors) (started Jan 21, reading along with the Bible)
- How to Read the Bible : A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel (Read intro Nov 28-Dec 2. Started the rest while reading Alter on Jan 3.)
Books set aside for whatever reason
- What Life Was Like Among Druids and High Kings : Celtic Ireland, AD 400-1200 by Time-Life Books (started Oct 27, stopped around Nov 1)
- Surpassing wonder : the invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald H. Akenson (started roughly May 11, stopped in June?)
- Wyrd Sisters (Discworld Book 6) by Terry Pratchett (started ?? April 1 - stopped in July?)
- Mythologies by Roland Barthes (started Mar 21, but haven't touched since about Mar 28)
- The Tree of Man by Patrick White (started Mar 14, reading irregularly, set aside mid-April)
28. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1940, 420 pages, read May 17 – June 1)
(published posthumously in 1966-1967; translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, 1997)
I was intimidated before I read the introduction by Richard Pevear and saw what Bulgakov put into this work, and risks he took. I imagined difficult and complex reading, something beyond me that I would need to struggle just to get through the surface. I think I was literally shaking at one point, and never did feel really read to open this up. I thought about these feelings with amusement, in the past tense, as I was reading part II and our heroine was riding a broom, naked, over Moscow, and along with her house help, Natasha also naked. Natasha was flying an accountant turned into a pig. For all the seriously stuff here, this book is first fun, delightfully so.
You can look up the details in Wikipedia of what Bulgakov put into writing this, but it involved putting his life on the line in the midst of the USSR’s Great Purge of 1937/8, and in direct sight of Stalin, who he spoke to directly at least once. Bulgakov lived in fear, and burnt his first manuscripts of this book in the early 1930’s. He wrote M&M secretly and was still revising at his death in 1940. His wife kept it hidden until a political thaw allowed the work to finally be published in a censored serial form in 1966/7.
So it’s stunning that there is so much fun here. A plot is summary is beyond this review, but it involves the Devil visiting atheist/communist Moscow and having a conversation with some of the leading literary figures. It also explores the general literary community of the repressed time, the life of Pontius Pilate, an author writing Pilates’ biography and this author’s married mistress. At some point there is a ball of famous, deceased tortured evil characters through time. Oh, and the devils retinue includes a black, person-sized cat, a rather nasty an opinionated one.
When looking deeper into this there are many ways to go. There are parallels to Goethe’s Faust, which I haven’t read. There are religious and moral themes, and an emphasis on fear as the fundamental sin, one which hits home hard in 1930’s USSR. And there is a long series of indirect accusations against the USSR. There are many disappearances, a really disturbing show trial in dream, and much assured official explanations of things no one understands. The Devil and his retinue can be read as a parallel to the unrestrained, lethal and capriciously used power of Stalin and his main advisers, or maybe it shouldn’t be read that way. And Bulgakov takes his whacks at the literary community, and tormenting and killing in various brutal ways the parallels of his real-life critics.
There is also a curious complexity of the Master and Margarita, themselves. They are the books heroes, but the understated criticisms are sharp, unclear, and feel very personal. The Master may be partly Bulgakov himself, but he is plastered. Given his greatest hope, he shows no joy, and instead, overwhelmed by wariness, simply tries to make do. He ends up in a permanent, but restful purgatory. Margarita is wonderful, but we must wonder at her self-chosen sacrifice, and other questionable things, and we must wonder what she represents. At some points I thought she was mainly a muse, fickle and magnificent, able to flitter about across the skies, but ultimately tied down by her more-human attachments.
There are many levels to this work and it’s quite wonderful on all of them. The surface is a joy to read, the criticism is biting and sad. But, the later doesn’t taint the former; each can stand on its own. Finally, you can explore the meaning as far as you like, endlessly and in several directions. Highly recommended.
Seems I remember that you received a box of poetry/Larry D. Thomas books ... was Wolves among them? If no, where did you find it? Or is it one-of-a-kind handmade?
eta: >6 dchaikin: Great review, I love how your intimidation turned into such reading fun. Tempting.
Thumbs for Dan's review. I am tired of seeing Syrian Folktales at the top of the hot reviews.
Very entertained about the Syrian Folktales, guess I haven't been checking hot reviews. Thirty reviews and they practically all have 12 or 13 thumbs.
#17 Rebecca - that's curious. Maybe they are the author.
#18 Dewald, thanks. Hoping you review it, would love to read your thoughts.
Also congrats to rebecca and steven for other hot reviews.
It looks like the reviewers for Syrian Folktales who got the book through the ER program are real users, but a few of the other ones I checked have drive-by profiles. Could be a case of self-published author starting publisher to make their book look legitimate. I read another review of an ER book that sounded like it might be a similar case. Hope this won't become common for the ER program.
Lisa - I'll add a link. There are other M&M reviews around too.
Good luck. I'll be very curious to see how it goes for you...also whether it affects your reading eslewhere. For me, it has added to lot to other western literature I read.
The latest thread is here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/137927
Post one has links to all the earlier threads.
I should add that if anyone is looking for a religious and Christian group read, there was one in the Christianity group that planned to read the entire bible this year. They were way ahead of us last time I checked, that was 3 or 4 months ago.
Just curious - does the group cover every book in order? Why not just skip around to the more interesting ones? Call it blasphemy, but I think most folk would rather read Job than Joshua.
We are on Judges, decided to keep it on the same thread with Joshua. Actually, I haven't quite stared Judges yet.
The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter (translation & notes) (2004, 1064 pages, read Dec 3 - May 16)
After spending over five months with this book, I’ve become pretty attached to it. Alter makes a conscious effort to preserve the literary sense biblical Hebrew in this translation. This isn’t really possible, as puns and sounds don’t translation well, but Alter makes up for this with extensive notes, with an emphasis on literary aspects. There isn’t really anything else like this available.
Looking at this translation from a strictly literary perspective, it doesn’t come close to standing up to the King James Version, which is a work of art. It’s the notes that are the real value here and the scholarship makes this work something special….YAAAAAWWWNNN…
Well, I’ve also been thinking about the content of these five books and I’ve wondering “What?” and “Why?”. What is going on with these stories? This God is messed up. He has jealous rages, and kills capriciously and wantonly. He walks around, makes mistakes, maybe even gets tricked here or there. And his followers, they get no reward. They are enslaved, then they escape to suffer in various ways from hunger and thirst. When they complain, more death, and sometimes the slaughter is remarkably bitter. This is not the god we typically associate with our Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions. The Golden Rule? It can kind-a sort-a be found in a single line, an unremarkable law hidden somewhere in Leviticus. This is an ancient god from a time when people were petrified of gods and treated them the way they might treat a ruler who had absolute power, the power of life and death over them. The book blesses blind submission. Explanation is not found within.
And, anyway, these are books of failure. Moses and his generation never reach their promised land.
So why do these books manage to outlast the passage of time and the wild evolving of religious thought? It’s a question that can’t be answered, or that can be answered a thousand different, incomplete ways. Sticking with the literary point-of-view – of which I’m hardly qualified to do – and keeping it simple, there are a number of key literary themes here – about good and bad, justice and injustice, about black and white laws and black and white traditional assumptions and the inability to stick to them. But the overriding themes seem to be about death and preservation and about history and foundation.
Death is ever-present in an extensive variety of ways – through long dead patriarch and matriarchs, through warfare, slaughter or divine execution, through the many laws prescribing a more civil execution, through laws on corpses; and through sacrifice, whether animal, symbolic, or the hints at a lost era of human sacrifice. This lost tradition of human sacrifice surfaces most prominently in the story of Abraham and Isaac.
But Israel, the subject people, is about preserving a genetic line from mythical Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel), and the semi-mythical twelve ancient tribes. The commands are to be fruitful and multiply, and the promises are seed as numerous of the sands.
Of course, lost in all this is the individual.
But, when we look back at these books, I don’t think we see this death and I don’t think we value these genetic lineages, at least not with anything near the prominence they have in the text. For us westerners as a whole, the main value is the sense of foundation these books provide. Under Western religion, thought, arts and literature lies, prominently, the biblical writings of an origin too ancient to know, because they cross the boundary of written history. There can be no other foundation.
When I try to go back to the era before canonization of the text, and wonder there about why these dark, and unrewarding writings were valued, I find that I think mainly about all the senseless death. Were these ancient writers surrounded by death? Probably more than we are today, but probably not wholly, because if they were they wouldn’t have found the resources to write this stuff down. These kinds of records are likely only kept when times are relatively good. But, fear of death is really about uncertainty. Life is uncertain, and death is the ultimate end, and unknowable end, of an unpredictable nature. Senseless death can serve as a touchstone, and literary exaggeration of any uncertainty, and it's a theme with extensive reach. Senseless death everywhere, yet we are alive now, for the moment.
The first five books in the bible are about defeat. Victory comes later, in Joshua. But then Moses is dead. The only victory, and true victory of these books, is that someone is still alive to talk about it.
Here are links to my posts on each of the first five books. All these links go to my part 1 thread:
Genesis: http://www.librarything.com/topic/128182#3208318 (post #53)
Exodus: http://www.librarything.com/topic/128182#3306746 (post #120)
Leviticus: http://www.librarything.com/topic/128182#3350780 (post #169)
Numbers: http://www.librarything.com/topic/128182#3387682 (post #196)
Deuteronomy: http://www.librarything.com/topic/128182#3440428 (post #241)
It interests me in that context the difficulty these books have dealing with individuals (or perhaps, just presenting them in ways that we moderns would recognize as successful renditions). Individuals can serve an allegorical or etiological or moral-instruction purpose, but few of them do this the same way consistently--I think of someone like Aaron, who we spend hundreds of pages with and get little sense of except as a founder figure and intermittent apostate. Episodes like the one where Nadab and Abihu get smitten and he reacts like a human being were obviously of very little concern (in terms of the acting like a human aspect, I mean).
#37 Martin - yeah...I hadn't thought of Aaron that way, but yeah. And, so you know, the comment in your review of this "pretty hate machine" has stuck. It was in my mind while writing.
#38 Thanks Linda. You don't need to read the bible. My experience is that any reading of the Bible requires a strong drive of some sort behind it...well, but then all the best reading does.
#40 Thanks Katie
#42 Steven - These comments mean a lot coming from you. You pushed me over the edge toward posting as a review. So, thanks. Modern minds have a lot to sift through before then can try to approach those notions
#43 avidmom - Thanks for posting. From the books I've seen on your thread, and from what you have say about them, I think you would get a great deal out of The Master and Margarita. And, it is fun!
29. When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant (2000, 262 pages, read June 4-10)
Evelyn Sert was born and raised in England, but never felt English. Her mother was a Jewish immigrant from a Baltic Sea country, and she never met her father. Given a chance to go to British-controlled Palestine and help build the not-yet-independent Jewish state in 1946, she doesn’t hesitate, she has nothing to lose.
I read this as part of my prep for my soon-to-come travels to Israel. So, I was ready to learn, and mentally ready to be taken by this book; and I was, completely. But then what a world this was. The Jewish side is a world full of recent immigrants, a vast sea of Jewish refugees from around Europe all with different histories, many the darkest of dark. They include extreme and idealistic Russian communists, Holocaust survivors, old men shorn of their careers and their livelihoods, and the young anxious to push ahead, desperate to get the British out. In this Tel Aviv anyone looking backward is lost. The future has no past here. Instead, the nascent Israel is rearing to go forward, ready to show the world the mistake the Germans made, ready to make the perfect country, in so many distinct and contradictory ways of perfection.
On the British side are the imperial police of the fading empire manning an impossible place that Britain really doesn’t want anything to do with anyway. Many of Grant’s best characters are English. And, broken down to its bones, this is maybe more a novel about the English watching all this happen.
And out there somewhere, mostly outside of this book, are the Palestinians.
Linda Grant has a way of instantly creating atmosphere and I was simply lost in this book. The world would shut out, as I fell into Grant’s tour through all this, switching back and forth from English to various Jewish settings. I can now recommend Grant, but, as a caveat, I suspect few readers will get quite as into this book as I found myself, being Jewish and proactively curious specifically about Tel Aviv.
As a side note, the end is puzzling. I didn’t mind except that it took me away from Tel Aviv and left me wondering instead about Evelyn Sert. But she is quite a character here too.
but no more tonight.
Congratulations on your forthcoming trip to Israel. Are you visiting any other countries?
We will be in Israel for two weeks. And kind of one other country - we have a 12 hour layover in Amsterdam.
Martin - I'll start 1 Samuel soon. Ruth is quick (but a pleasant change)
I'd also encourage you to stop by the Reading Globally group and participate in the Middle Eastern Literature theme this quarter, which Lois and I are co-hosting. Even if you're only reading Israeli literature you'll be in good company; I'm planning to read My Michael by Amos Oz and To the End of the Land by David Grossman this month.
With regard to the Alter book, I don't think there was room for the individual in those times. It would have been almost impossible to survive alone and an individual free of tribal or clan allegiances could be perceived as a philosophical danger to an established group as there would be no way to predict that person's actions. Even being a free thinker within the group would be dangerous.
The quote in Exodus along the lines of "I thy God am a jealous God" always seemed to me to be a warning from a fairly scary person and you have summed it up beautifully in >35 dchaikin: your third paragraph.
I think so too, at some points. Although, there were power structures in place too - even if they evolved over time. Tribal elites were dependent on tribal obedience.
I think you would like Linda Grant...I hope you enjoy if you get there.
Also interested in When I Lived in Modern Times as I enjoyed the Linda Grant novel I read, The Clothes on Their Backs.
#58 Rebecca - Now you have left me something to think about...death in literature through time.
30. Joshua (from the King James Holy Bible) (75 pages, read June 4 - 14)
I dread reviewing Joshua because I found it the least rewarding and least memorable of the biblical books I’ve read so far. It’s just so simple. Moses has died, and—finally—it’s time to conquer the Promised Land. With Joshua leading the way, the Israelite hordes pour out of trans-Jordan and start killing. Alas, the walls of Jericho are brought down (by the blast of horns), the “ban” is committed to various towns—meaning everyone is killed and everything is destroyed. This horrifying bit removes the spoils from the war, making it holy, instead of for profit. And, it’s here the Joshua has the sun stand still…after a battle is already won, because it allows the Israelites to be more thorough in their post-battle slaughter of a united army of Amorites. Anyway, they win every battle, except one after one Achan failed to maintain a pure “ban”, and Joshua is able to pronounce that “ not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” Yet somehow they didn’t complete their conquest…because there are plenty of other non-Israelites around, and plenty more territory to conquer. But, anyway, all that done, the land is divided amongst the twelve tribes, and Joshua is able to give his final speech with the now familiar curses. Finally Joshua and head priest Eleazar pass. Phinehas inherits the priesthood, but no successor to Joshua is named.
I think I just covered everything.
Probably the oddest thing about the Israelite conquering of Israel is that it all seems to be fiction. The story apparently contradicts the archeological record. Jericho, while probably never fully abandoned, was barely populated at the time and had no walls. Other key places show no signs of late 13th-century destruction. Major Canaanite cities like Shechem are not mentioned in war terms. Bethel is one city that did burn in this era, but that isn’t mentioned in the Bible (although the burning of neighboring Ai is described).
It seems there was no 13th-century invasion, so why the fiction? Certainly propaganda was important. My impression is that after four books of what was essentially prolonged failure (excluding Genesis), the tone needed to change. Something good had to happen to justify the Exodus and the wandering and the curses. Here, in deepest myth, was a safe place to put it. My sense is that these books are meant to appeal to everyone in some way. So we have a variety of tools in place, including awful, fear inspiring stuff, black and white laws, other contradictory laws in case the first ones don’t work; and mixed in are touches of beauty, and hints of real history, explanations, folklore, and purely literary touches. Somewhere we need to have a chance to cheer, and say, "yeah, they did it." This is one of those places.
One last comment. Joshua seems to emphasize the black and white nature of religion. This is consistent with its simplicity. But further, Joshua’s speeches put the Israelites to the task. In 24:14-15 he says,
Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Yes, make your choice. The ban awaits.
31. The Missouri Review : Volume 27, Number 1, 2004 (184 pages, read April 19 – June 14)
Published by the University of Missouri
Another ancient literary review. This one I actually purchased myself, when it was current, but then waited eight years to read it. It was worth the wait, I guess, as I loved it. I’m now reading a 1997 issue, from the same editor, Speer Morgan. In both issues every short stories has been an absolute joy, wonderful storytelling with many touches of brilliance, and most seem to have led to future publications.
As with the previous ones, please don’t feel compelled to read the notes below, as they are more for me, then for public consumption.
Timothy Bascom - A Vocabulary for My Senses - About growing up a child of missionaries in a rural mission in Ethiopia. Later incorporated into his book Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia. I was so taken by this that I looked up the book, but was discouraged by the likely religious tilt.
Charles Martin Kearney - Maps and Dreaming - A mesmerizing story of traveling overland through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India with a stranger with of whom Kearney pretends to be the husband. The relationship develops in strange, touching, and possibly purely platonic ways. Kearney currently has a blog for the Huffington Post. This story is apparently incorporated in a 2009 book titled The Logic of Maps and Dreaming, but there are no entries on LibraryThing.
Danielle Ofri - Living Will - A doctor pondering a patients attempted suicide. Apparently to be incorporated in an upcoming book, titled Tools of the Trade
Valerie Laken - Family Planning - Deceptively complex story about lesbian couple going to Russia to adopt a baby, while hiding their relationship. Laken now has a novel and collection of short stories where this story is included and gets highlighted in the reviews
Linda Bamber - Dog Story - A two page story about a woman, in third-person, pondering her failed relationship with her ex-husband. This excerpt begins with an interview on a radio show she happens to be listening to:
But then the interviewer asked a little boy…why the tooth fairy didn’t just use bricks to build her house, like everyone else, and the boy said immediately, Because nobody doesn’t have bricks for teeth. And the question I want to ask you, she writes, is why does that make me think of you? Why does that make me think of trying to reason with you?
Nic Pizzolatto - 1987, The Races – A divorced father takes his son to the Oaklawn Racetrack in Hot Spring, Arkansas…
Mary Jean Babic - Why People Say Two Thousand - opens “My mother and husband died nineteen days apart, and the next time I put on shoes it was four months later.”
Armand ML Inezian - Bringing Ararat - A young Armenian is left behind with his younger sister in Israel, while the rest of the family moves to the United States. Sent money to join the family, he hesitates, feeling more at home in Israel than anywhere else he has lived.
Brock Clarke - Concerning Lizzie Borden, Her Axe, My Wife – opens “On Friday my wife, Catrine, kicked me out of the house. On the following Thursday she called me at my room in the Budget Inn and said, 'I want you to come with to the Lizzie Borden House and Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts.'” The story is about a methodical husband who can’t deal with his wife’s fatal illness. So she takes somewhere where there are no answers. This touching story was just so much fun, really just wonderful. I also liked this excerpt:
I knew where this was headed, or should have. Because this is what I did and do, at Kodak and elsewhere: research. For instance, Catrine is from Montreal, and when I met her ten years ago and fell in love, I did heavy research on the city: its history, customs, civic institutions and festivals, restaurants, average high temperature and snowfall, biggest employers and its general feeling about the Quebec question and whether or not to separate from the rest of Canada. I walked around citing obscure facts about Catrine’s hometown, facts she didn’t care about and was unimpressed by, and one day when I was telling her about the origin of Montreal bagels and how they were different from what Americans know bagels to be, she said, “Eric, why are you doing this?”
“Because I love you. Because I wanted to know everything about you.”
“That’s sweet,” she said. “But cut it out.”
Speer Morgan - Kali and the Bee Woman
Steve Gehrke - An Interview with Albert Goldbarth - I’ve been down on Goldbarth after reading a collection by him, but this interview was fascinating.
- Field Planted with Winter Grass
- The Return
- Trill and Mordent
- Horses - includes this line: “Before you die look/ into the eyes of a horse at least once/ and discover how each is an immense, empty room/ lit by a single candle “
- The Rest of Us
- To The Reader
- The Last Supper
Jeffrey Skinner – Loved Skinners stuff. I posted Lucky Day in the Club Read Poetry thread here
- My Father’s Brain
- Lucky Day
- The Three Temptations of My Father
- The Adirondacks
- Black Olives
- Blizzard Near Emporia, 1893
- Between Matins and the Late Alarm
- Plain Talk in a Beaver Hat
- Regression Analysis
- Black Olives
Lanis Knight reviewed Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott
Shaen Pogue reviewed Waterborne by Linda Gregerson
Evelyn Somers reviewed The God of Old by James Kugel – timely, since I’m reading a book by Kugel now
Nathan Oats reviewed The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – didn’t make me like the book any better
Steve Street reviewed Life of Pi by Yann Martel – interesting
Colin Flemming reviewed Picasso’s War: The Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece That Changed the World by Russell Martin
Speer Morgan reviewed The Bontë Myth by Lucasta Miller
Charlie Green reviewed Love by Toni Morrison -mixed
Sarah Fay McCarthy reviewed Vernon God Little by D. B. C. Pierre – and did not make me want to read it
Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough Reviewed House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk – this did make me want to read it
Michael Kardos reviewed Harry Belten and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto by Barry Targan – originally published in 1975. The review is titled Mr Lost Classic
#67 - sounds good to me Bas.
Love the quote from the Linda Bamber story. But regarding this fragment --
why the tooth fairy didn’t just use bricks to build her house-- seriously, that’s what the Tooth Fairy used the teeth for?! I never realized.
Life of Pi is out in an Ang Lee film this November, nano-preview here.
PS - thanks for your comments. "terrific little firestarters" is both what these stories & poems were for me and what I was trying to convey.
PPS - there are scenes in Life of Pi that I really don't want to see on film...hmmm...
The Life of Pi clip looks visually fabulous. I'm curious how Lee will present it so as to make both versions of Pi's story believable (I believed the second version).
#72 Steven - I have my own hand-waving theories, but it seems to be that OT-based religions are in denial. They can't remove the OT because it's their foundation, but they don't actually openly like what it says. So, they re-interpret. I doesn't reflect anything I've been taught or heard taught in any religious setting—even as these exact stories are referenced and quoted. (At the same time, having these kind of things in the OT opens it up to elements that do like what it says...)
One thing I've heard about Joshua is that it's so bloody. But, I keep thinking, the first five books are pretty bloody too, not to mention Judges. Is it really any worse, or is it the nature of the killing, the unambivalent holiness of it here?
I think it's easy for Christians to just say "Well, that was the OT God, bloody and violent, but Jesus made it better!" I think that's kind of a cop out, because it implies God just magically changed overnight. Plus it's kind of insulting to Jews, and I have issues with anti-Semitic readings of the Bible, something to be careful with given history.
My tentative take is that any given society projects to an extent on God. So a society constantly at war, a society unstable and fighting for land for a home, is going to picture God as not only on their side but also as a mighty warrior. As for what modern believers can do with this, well, allegorize. :P
32. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden (2010, 201 pages, read June 14-16)
When Sarah Glidden dragged a friend along on a birthright tour of Israel – a free trip available to any non-Israeli Jews—she brings her proud skepticism. She is an American Jew uncomfortable with Israel, something that I can share with her, and something that I know isn’t all that common. I keep quiet about it in RL. Although Sarah was probably a bit more extreme than me, not to mention a whole lot more knowledgeable. Nonetheless, the point here, a bit obvious now, is that I completely identified with her.
But Israel brought her down. Arriving essentially ready to start a fight, she is surprised to find the tour guides and Israeli helpers are actually pretty reasonable about hot issues, and pretty nice about her pointed questions. And then there’s the tour and moment after moment that is simply very moving for a Jew in Israel. Sarah holds out, and I did along with her, but no one else on tour did. Instead they simply melted in awe. And then, finally, she breaks down, and I did right along with her.
What a book to cry over? No one gets hurt, nothing bad happens. But yet there are these conflicted emotions, all the problems and all these things that are so important to the Jewish identity and it’s all mixed up. And there are no answers.
So I kind of liked the book. Did I mention it’s a beautifully illustrated graphic novel?
33. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan (2007, 176 pages, read June 21)
(translated from Hebrew by Noah Stollman)
I picked this up partially because it takes place in Israel, and partially because it was assigned to my wife in a graphic novel class that she took. The later left me with the impression that it must be pretty good.
It opens as a taxi driver in Tel Aviv is taken aside by a young, awkwardly tall female soldier, who informs him that the unidentified body in a café bombing is probably his estranged father. How does she know this? What should he do about it? How can he find out for real?
It is a bit tough to pin down just what Modan is doing here. Just as she walks around this ghastly bomb without hardly touching on any gore, Modan seems to try to walks around the edge of some other disturbing aspects elements of humanity, without ever really getting dirty. What evolves out of this is a touching story, marked by strikingly elegant illustration.
It just struck me that your quote from 24:14-15 could be read as a contemporary veiled instruction to readers about their relationship with the monarch, given all the upheavals of the time and the king's support for the translation. Probably way out in left field on this, but it was a thought.
#80 - SassyLassy : two comments: First, the KJV text was far more enjoyable to read, it is really a work of art. But the lack of notes was a bit of a shock for me. Ideally I want to read the KJV with Alter-quality notes about the accuracy and literary quality of the translation.
Second, about 24:14-15 - That's actually a pretty reasonable take, from what I've read. For starters, Joshua is generally considered post-exilic, and to me it feels like a later writing simply because it's so simple and doesn't have the obscure ancient poetic fragments. There are theories that, at that time, the writers were re-creating the religion with the main purpose to re-establish themselves and other elites as the religious leaders to follow. So, yeah, a follow-your-leader-or-else theme is consistent with that...
#81 - Jane, it's always nice to know you're stopping. Thanks for the comment.
34. The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller (2009, 291 pages, read June 11-24)
(translated from German by Philip Boehm, 2012)
Mixed feelings on this one. Having read a couple other works by Müller, particularly The Passport, I had some expectations about the style of writing and, especially the powerful and colorful imagery. But this is a different kind of book. Instead of conjuring up a meaningful story, or illustrating personal experience, Müller takes a step into the history of the generation before her. For the Banat Swabians, this is the generation that was largely rounded up right after World War II and sent to Soviet forced labor camps in a symbolic gesture of making Germans pay for the crimes of WWII.
The source of her story is true story of poet and one time prisoner Oskar Pastior. The book began as a project Müller and Pastior were working on together. But Pastior died unexpectedly, and Müller was forced to finish the book on her own.
Oskar becomes the fictional Leopold Auberg, who is sent to the camps at seventeen, short-cutting his clandestine experiments with his homosexuality. He arrives, along with assortment of other Germans from various places, via a long trip on in cattle cars. The food is a frozen carcass thrown on the train car, and which is not even eaten. It was used for heating. The color mostly leaves the story at this point, with the notable exception of a purple scarf. The labor camp is a rundown factory in middle of now where, with a small Russian village nearby. Daily food is a piece of bread in the morning and a watered down cabbage soup in the evening. Hunger colors everything, it's the primary, unstoppable, unyielding living aspect of the camp. Leo gives it it's own anthropomorphic manifestation as the hunger angel.
At this point in the book the story is dark, but reading is very easy. It flows, it's interesting, it's a pleasant read despite the story (or because of it, fulfilling our curiosity harmlessly and vicariously). But Müller does something I found strange here. She spends a great deal of time trying to express this constant feeling of hunger, and to make us the reader sense the experience. It doesn't work. Instead we accumulate descriptions in a variety forms and language, and it feels like eating plain crackers, one after another. It doesn't do much.
And yet there is a hidden complexity to the structure of this book. While Müller's expressions of hunger rolled off me, I became more intimate with what this experience meant for Leopold. When a mentally feeble prisoner asks Leo when the war will end, and he answer smartly, that the war ended two years ago, and we already know Leo will spend five year here...time begins to accumulate. The experiences begin to become permanent. The hardship imprints itself on Leo as he manages to survive, while somewhere around 1/3 (??) of his fellow prisoners will not. Alas, when Leo leaves the camp, still a young man at 22, he doesn't fully leave the camp...nor do we the reader. The experiences stay within him, a psychological scar that won't heal and about which he is constantly aware, and which forces a lifelong loneliness on him. It sad that he can not really come, cannot really re-insert himself in his family, who long thought him dead. But it's even sadder, I think, when he comes across other survivors and they can't even acknowledge each other. The scar it to be born privately.
I need to give some grudging respect this work. In many ways this is an easy, but colorless read. But there is something in there somewhere, something that is quite sophisticated, that leaves its mark.
Muller's mother spent five years in the camps too, and Merta says she grew up hearing whispered stories in their commuity. I think she had a lot invested personally in the writing of the book. You note that Oskar was a poet and how closely they were working together. I wonder if the book is different from her other books because of this intense collaboration.
#90 Lisa - I could have worded that better. Pastior wasn't the only source of the story, but he was the key source. I'm also very curious how that collaboration affected her work.
#91 Jane - Maybe you should, but don't pass up on Müller!
#94 Linda - Certainly that may be part of the case. But I was OK with the day-to-day repetitive stuff; that was interesting and valuable. It was the sense that she really tried to make me feel what Leo had experienced, and yet didn't reach me that I was trying to convey. Like getting fed food without taste - you know it's there, you know you're supposed to have some kind of savory experience, and yet it's just texture, no flavor. Which isn't to say it wouldn't strike everyone, or anyone, else the same. That was just my response.
Some small hopes (goals) can help.
ps - thanks for the well wishing.
35. Radioactive : Marie & Pierre Curie : A Tale of Love & Fallout by Lauren Redniss (2011, 191 pages, read May 19 & June 25)
It's hard to give anyone a sense of this book without them holding it in their hand (or you in yours). It's a work of art, a designers delight. The pictures glow, and drawings go everywhere, and the text becomes just another aspect of the art. The lives and work of Marie and Pierre Curie, especially Marie, are given a brief romantic summary through pages of selected and quirky detail. Their peculiar tragedy can be sensed in the text, but really comes out in the art that gives depth and texture to every scrap of information. A work for reflection.
I saved this for rare times when I was in the house alone and could take it in in a quiet peace.
Some images of the book, which I found on the Guggenheim Foundation website
I expect photos of Israel! It's on my to-go list!
I expect photos of Israel! It's on my to-go list!
102 Linda - yes, magnificent stuff. There is a key technique behind it (you can find a brief description in paragraph six here)
103 Rebecca - but it's not a good subway read...
104 stretch - Your welcome, I think you'll be rewarded.
105 (or 106 :) ) Jonathan - Hopefully there will be lots of photos to share. Pictures - that is one thing I feel particularly optimistic about...although I don't have the photographic touch.
#109 avidmom, Yes, I think it's both.
#112 - Bas, glad you liked them.
#113 - Jane, yes, it's time. Enjoy!
Hadn't heard of Radioactive before but those are wonderful illustrations. I will look for it.
I don't have any intelligent comments on your reviews from Alter et al. but they have been very informative.
36. Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words : Oral Histories of 23 Players by Peter Ephross with Martin Abramowitz (Editors) (2012, 213 pages, read June 24-30) – Early Reviewer
Before I review, it occurs to me the confined extent of the appeal…but then at least it is baseball.
Anyway, I have read a few “oral histories” books and found them fascinating in ways never expected. This fits that category…despite the editing.
So, first the editing. It seems that Ephross had a goldmine of information, but it came in all sorts of various lengths and formats, and, importantly, were unequally distributed through time. The sources include interviews conducted by various journalists, scholars and whatnot between 2005 and 2007 and a series of interviews conducted by Elli Wohlgelernter in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This later series was apparently a gem, and apparently unpublished.
Editing this down to one book was no easy challenge, and the result is a little awkward. In each section the questions have been edited out, and the answers reworked by Ephross to form something like a narrative. This means that each paragraph essentially answers a different question. Also, the book covers a very thorough collection of players from 1940’s and 1950’s, but very sparse coverage for the next 50 years. For the former you won’t find reticent Sandy Koufax, but there is Hank Greenberg and Harry Danning. But for the recently players, there are a lot of misses. You won’t find Brad Ausmus, Ian Kinsler, Mike Leibertahl, Kevin Youkilis, or Ryan Braun. Instead there is Jose Batista and Adam Greenberg, the later famous for getting hit in the head in his only major league plate appearance.
Despite these kinds of problems, there is fascinating stuff throughout. It was interesting to learn that most baseball players in the 1940-1950’s era were southerners and then to see what kind of variations of harassment and support the Jewish players received. Almost every player interviewed from the 1940’s-1950’s era has some kind of turning-point fight regarding anti-Semitism. But then some of these players were picked up by teams to attract Jewish fans in New York and elsewhere. Other gems of information include the relationship and experiences with the black players, especially when teams traveled south and black players were unable to eat at restaurants or stay at hotels. The mainly northern Jews experience this kind of racism for the first time in shock...but a helpless shock. One player talks about his experiences when his minor league when bankrupt, and his team got their income by playing through the astonishingly talented negro leagues. And then there are all the variations of success and failure, players struggling to make the big leagues, or, on the opposite end of things, turning down major league teams and going to the minor leagues by choice – another 1950’s oddity. These typically aren't success stories. Most of these players spent most of their careers in the minor leagues. So, the stories they share are quite different from those experienced by the baseball greats who typically get biographies. (One player walked out of the movie Bull Durham, because Kevin Costner's character was too close to his own life)
Overall, a mixed bag. Recommended only to baseball fanatics who either are Jewish or don’t have a better book to read.
The saying of hers that ruled over our lives more than any other was: Don't talk about people, talk about things.
She meant that you should keep some distance from life, particularly your own life, that the world was divided into public and private spheres, and even our own dinner table was public. And Irish Catholic friend who taught for a while in Utah once told me that when, in the course of lecturing on Hamlet or Moby Dick, she wandered into some territory her Mormon students found offensive, they would simply look at the ceiling until she gave up and moved on to something else. Only then would they bring their eyes down to meet hers and warm her with their smiles.
My mother did the same thing. If I started into some confession, some betrayal of emotion that struck her as altogether too personal, I knew it without her saying a word. Her smile would shut off as if she had suddenly left her body, the table, me. I imagined her floating near the ceiling, fingers in her spirit ears, humming The Stars and Stripes Forever to keep from hearing a word I said. Only when I stopped, my story dying away without a middle or an end, would she drift down and rejoin her still-seating body, smile, and ask me what I wanted for dessert.
eta: P.S. I also thought Radioactive was a pleasure to mind and eye.
I'll hold off from recommending it until I've read it. :)
Very nice quote.
It seems to be a common concept in some families though... I grew up in a family where personal things were simply not discussed - not even ignored - you would not even start talking about them - or if you do, the topic suddenly changes. And that was not considered uncommon.
And a great review on Radioactive - I should move it closer to the top on my TBR I suspect. ;)
I know you had been concentrating on Israel but had you read Joe Sacco's Palestine? It's a little outside of the exact topic but at the same time it does match... and I find it quite an engrossing read.
More and more people seem to disregard the boundary between public and private. The phone conversations I've heard on public transport! The personal details some people will share with others they barely know!
#125 Annie - It's hard for me to look closely at the dark sides of Israel and to hear the Palestinian voices, and it's awkward to realize this. But I just read Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh, and can recommend it. And I have requested Joe Sacco's Palestine from my library.
#126 Pam - I think my family is OK with drama stories at dinner at home, although kids are kind of young for real drama. Never thought about how it might be different in public, like in a restaurant, other than the addition of distractions everywhere which hinder those kinds of conversations.
#130 "lucky" coming from the one in the Himalayas? :)
Stories, the trip...goodness, I haven't collected my thoughts. My journal covered all of one entry after I first arrived and was all emotional. I loved Israel and all it's problems, I loved not feeling like a minority, I loved Tel Aviv where the Judaism isn't on everyone's hat or head or anywhere else. I loved that when the plane landed, everyone clapped and cheered and some people sang, it was such a disappointment when the next flight landed, on my way home, and such silliness was totally out of place.
As it was a tour, I saw a lot of historical sites and museums, and very little of what I would consider Israel...with the prominent exception of militarized tension. We were in the West Bank, and along the Syria and Lebanon border where my son proudly posed with an exhausted soldier holding an automatic weapon (with the loaded clip attached) about 100 feet from the Lebanon border, and cried when we refused to buy him IDF-related souvenirs...We saw Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, (without my kids) and all walked out teary-eyed and raw. I lost control at the most unexpected things. Then the next day we saw a movie about the first day of the Yom Kippur war in the Golan Heights, where the out-numbered and under-prepared Israeli tank division was methodically wiped out by night-vision equipped new Russian takes from Syria, but slowed the invasion enough that by day three Syria had to retreat...narrated by the survivors. My nerves were raw much of the trip.
Tel Aviv is insane, dirty, crowded, incredibly busy, hot and humid and very challenging for my kids, and I miss it dearly. It was our last stop.
I miss the food - the salads and humus and pita and kabobs and the Maccabi/Tuborg/Gold Star/Carlsberg beers, and the Mango's and Figs we were able eat off the trees. And especially the coffee.
I'm still depressed to be home.
It's strange to be so emotional and at the same time wonder at its immaturity and how temporary it is. I know when the emotion wears off, I'll feel very silly for thoughts like these in this post. Right now Houston feels very slow, lacking in sensation, and, of course, very much not-Jewish.
This must be more than anyone wanted to know. :)
Books on the brain, but at the moment I'm still catching up in real life. I'm hoping to convince myself to pursue some Israeli authors, but reading is always fickle with me.
Rebecca - I've been meaning to tell you that I can't stop thinking about the excellent last meal I had in NYC at the Turkish Grill on 72nd near Broadway. Their shepherd's salad is to die for.
#149 - Turner - Very entertaining. Too bad Keret doesn't have a memoir, or at least I couldn't find one.
#141-147 - Linda, MJ, Joyce, Jonathan, Kevin, Avidmom, & Rebecca - thanks for the various comments.
MJ - it fades all too quickly...and predictably. Houston does still confuse me, however...I mean in a different kind of way (or ways).
Jonathan - I have pictures on facebook. Feel free to friend me (that invite goes to anyone here in CR). Just look for Daniel Chaikin in Houston.
Amsterdam is here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.4433964414300.2182919.1444865832&ty...
Israel is here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3405402340891.2161270.1444865832&ty...
Here is a picture from Jerusalem, in the Old City:
But close are his articles -- short, sometimes funny, always moving.
I'm not sure which part of the ending puzzled you most and don't want to say too much, but I felt this book was as much about Evelyn's search for an identity as it was about (the future) Israel.
Great post in #140. It sounds like a thought-provoking trip.
Oh, and How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less sounds like one to add to my list!
#157 - except I avoid Miami airport if possible. :) Yes, it was the kind of trip we'll remember and look back on.
#158 - Rebeki - I have at least three things to respond to. First, yes, the Bauhaus architecture can still be found. Tel Aviv is a big modern city, but in the center down every major street there are a few of those buildings to be seen, just as Linda Grant described. They are very distinctive, even if they aren't very shiny white
Second, I think you will like How to Understand Israel in 60 days or Less, but i'm not sure how you mght respond to it. I related pretty closely to the author and her emotions, which makes me maybe not the best judge of the graphic memoir.
And Evelyn Sert - can't really talk about the end here without throwing in a spoiler, but I'll try. Her emotions throughout the book are, while very uncertain, strongly leaning towards a direction. She takes such a right turn at the end - and she makes up her mind so quickly about it (I mean after the plane flight). It wasn't a hesitant decision, but yet a complete reversal from what me might expect. I guess it left me thinking - why did she do that, and what does that mean about the way she felt before? And what is it that she is turning down - I mean what is the real aspect about it that she rejected? I find a lot to ponder there.
#159 - thanks Maus, it was.
37. Judges (and Ruth) (from the The HarperCollins study Bible using NRSV) (43 pages, read June 23 – July 3)
I've been stuck on Judges simply because I'm not quite sure how to approach it and what to say. In the biblical historical narrative this falls into a 200 year period where the land of Israel has been conquered (in Joshua), but there is no kingdom. Whatever organized government the twelve tribes are supposed to have lived under during this time, and at any level, isn't really described.
From an academic point of view it's interesting these stories run, in time, over 400 years, but are supposed to have taken place within that 200 year window. What seems to be the case is that various folk tales and sayings were collected, some likely with very ancient origins, and strung together into a narrative that (more than) fills the time and follows the themes the authors were trying to push - namely (1) that loyalty to YHWH or the LORD is critical to all Israelites, and (2) that no Israelite community is able to maintain the fidelity to this god and so must suffer, (3) that "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes", (4) that this lack of king was disastrous (as we find later, despite the problems found under a king), and, (5) as a critical little side note, that unlike every other tribe, only Judah was actually successful under the Joshua invasion. Every other tribe failed to complete their conquest...because Judah wrote the book.
From a literary point of view it's difficult for me to get past the Song of Deborah, the oldest work here. It's fascinating to me that the individual tribes are called out for the various actions, or lack there of. The story itself is also quite interesting, where the prophetess must force the Barak, the commander, to attack the Canaanites, where the Canaanite military leader Sisera is killed not by the Israelites, but by Jael, a Kenite woman who offered him shelter and then either smashed his head or drove a tent stake through it, depending on your interpreter...and that the story doesn't end here, but lingers on the mother of Sisera waiting for his victorious return. But the best part here is the language of the poetry - how
the earth trembledor, how the Canaanite horses stampede in panic is told to us indirectly with the comment that "Then loud beat the horses' hoofs/ with the galloping, galloping of his steeds". And I love the second stanza
and the heaven poured
the clouds indeed poured water
The mountains quaked before the LORD
"Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;You have to read that at least twice before realizing she's dressing the kings and princes down. She says, "you listen while I speak to someone who is actually great."
to the LORD I will sing"
At this point in the review I've missed all the Judges. I've missed Ehud killing the fat Eglon, and Gideon saving the Israelites while constantly questioning and doubting God, and eventually turning away, Abimelech's failed attempt to make himself king with his ragtag ruffians, Jephthah whose vow accidentally condemns his daughter to sacrifice, Samson and his bad actions and his connections to Hercules and his passive-aggressive woman and finally a most disturbing rape in Gibeah by a mob, where the dead victim is found the next morning "lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold."
38. Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010, 306 pages, read June 29 – July 7)
I can no longer capture the atmosphere this book creates, as Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe discover their talents and mix with various names of the era (late 1960's/early 1970's). The death rate of these young artists is remarkable in itself. Anyway, wistful and wonderful.
39. The Missouri Review : Volume XX, Number 2, 1997 - Rituals edited by Speer Morgan (1997, 215 pages, read June 16 – July 14)
Eeek...can't do this one quickly. I'll have to come back. In any case I was entertained to find as a bookmark in here a receipt dated in 2005. I had read about half way, and fallen in love with several stories, including Jesse Lee Kercheval's essay on her Florida summer camp in July 1969 (a bit more relevant today, rest in peace Neil). Re-reading I still remembered them and liked them as much or more the second time. Re-reading Kercheval's essay, I liked it so much I purchased and read and really enjoyed her memoir - see below, eventually
40. Palestinian Walks : Forays into a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh (2007, 210 pages, read July 10 - 18)
It should be uncomfortable for me to read a Palestinian take on Israel, as it forces me to confront a reality I'm not very happy about. But Shehadeh presents his views in such a reasonable and sane way. His melancholy intelligence and thought processes are, I think, quite valuable. I would like to read more by him.
41. Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar & J. T. Waldman (2012, 172 pages, read July 23-25)
(Epilogue by Joyce Brabner, wife of the now deceased of Harvey Pekar)
A graphic novel that started as a two person project about Pekar's very critical take on Israel. But after Pekar's death (in 2010) it sort of became Waldman's memorial to Pekar. In the later sense this is OK, and Pekar is quite interesting, but as a book about Israel it doesn't offer much.
42. Space : A Memoir by Jesse Lee Kercheval (1998, 278 pages, read July 18 - 25)
Kercheval writes about growing up in central Florida in the 1960's, in the shadow of NASA's race to the moon. It's doesn't help that her parents have their own problems and her mother disappears more and more while Kercheval and her older sister make their way through grade school and puberty and all that. As a memoir, it's sad and wonderful. Here is an excerpt from after her first and late discovery of what sex is:
It was more than that. It was as if the whole world had only been pretending certain things were important—science, art, politics, religion—when actually everyone was only interested in one thing, something not on that list. Sex. All the books I'd been reading without really understanding (War and Peace, The Sun Also Rises, the James Bond novels I'd snuck from my dad) were really all about sex. Everyone was having sex. Everyone except me.
ETA - This is the only one I've posted on the work page as a review, so far.
43. The Georgia Review: Spring 2000 (Volume LIV, Number 1) (177 pages, read July 14 - 29)
Published by the University of Georgia
Again, I might come back to this and say more. In general I didn't like this as much as I've liked other literary reviews. It was too heavy handed with essays that were too intellectual - i.e. kind of tough and dull. Still David Bosworth has a terrific (and very difficult to read) essay on Henry Ford and his antisemitism, titled Idiot Savant: Henry Ford as Proto-Postmodern Man. Barry Lopez has a wonderful short story about a fictional and unrealistically thorough map maker that leaves the reader itching to see these maps. It's called The Mappist. The story can be found in his collection, Light Action in the Caribbean: Stories. Ania, a short fictional piece by Michael Downs was notable and curious and started off as a fascinating look at a strongly religious Polish woman who follows her husband to the US in the 1940's.
44. People on the Street : A Writer's View of Israel by Linda Grant (2009, 224 pages, read July 24 - August 3)
In her search for the modern Israel, after When I Lived in Modern Times was published, Grant seems to have gotten stuck on the Israeli view of the Palestinian problems, especially on the Israeli soldiers and the extremists in the the settlements. I was disappointed in the book at first, but gradually understood the unanswerable questions she was exploring. In the end she left a strong impression.
45. The Bible Unearthed : Archaeology's New Visions of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (2001, 400 pages, read July 29 - August 12)
I plan to come back to this and review in more detail. The authors treat the bible as an archeological artifact and then overturn much of the archeological-based history of ancient Israel. They have two major points. One is basically that when archeologists were unable to date with enough precision, they assumed the bible to be a reliable guide and made many erroneous conclusions. The other is that they argue the bible itself is mainly a 7th-century book (with much post-7th-century editing and additions), and that (a) it's a work of propaganda and flatly contradicts the true history on many levels and (b) there aren't really any older parts, accept maybe little pieces here and there.
46. The Love Story of Paul Collins by Donigan Merritt (2012, 204 pages, read August 15)
I've raved about Donigan Merritt in other reviews, but can't do so here. There is a lot of sex, and maybe the American and Czech characters embody or represent their cultures and clashes in some way, but it doesn't entirely work. Also, the love in the book, a key element, seems to get lost in the sex.
47. Stalking the Florida Panther by Enid Shomer (1987, 57 pages, read August 3 - 21)
Shomer I can rave about. I found her poetry a wonderful place to hang out in. She covers her family, Florida, Judaism, the Holocaust and religion in general, and it's all both erotically and emotionally charged...and it works. She is most powerful when discussing her father whose anger ruled him like a tide. The poem What eats in the Middle of the Night opens
Five A.M. thunder
but it's my fathers voice
that wakes me, his face
distorting the glass
of the window I close
48. Closing the Sea by Yehudit Katzir (1990, 132 pages, read August 14 - 27)
(Translated from Hebrew by Barbara Harshav, 1992)
This collection of four stories I picked up in Tel Aviv. Katzir's stories come out in one continuous breath, rushing along, but slowly pulling the reader in. What she seems to create is experience, and for me it was a total success. Despite the depth, I found I could pick this up anywhere and get lost in her characters and when I put the book down, I seemed to come out of an entirely separate atmosphere. Enjoyed this quite a bit.
But you still feel it, yes? I know I do. Patti Smith is at work on another memoir.
>164 dchaikin: Dan you captured me to Space: A Memoir back in msg 119 and this just confirms it. My library system has copies.
Congratulations on catching up! Even getting just the bits down is so freeing.
#165 - Joyce - Thanks. I think Christianity tends to spend time on Ruth while overlooking the weird stories in Judges. Not sure if that would affect your memory. I only knew of Sampson and Delilah before I started this. Gideon I only knew by name.
#166 - Jane - I'm hoping you convince yourself to read Space and that you actually find it worth your time. I always have you in mind if I'm reading about FL
#167 - Rebecca - Thanks for reading (the first half, at least). You certainly influenced my choice to read Just Kids.
#170 - Annie - I loved Closing the Sea...it needs a better review. Recommended.
#171 - Steven - I will try to get a review on The Bible Unearthed. There so much in it, I would like to at least collect my notes/kindle highlights together.
#172 - Avidmom - Thanks! Poor Finkelstein, what a name.
#173 - Thanks Bas. See my first comment on this post, it had your post in mind.
#174 - MJ - It is freeing. Haven't had time to review, but finally had a window. Hoping you enjoy Space. Hoping I can keep part of Just Kids in mind. Very inspiring, no?
You're probably right on that. Although those names you mentioned in Joshua do sound familiar. My Sunday school class went through the Old Testament with a fairly fine tooth comb, seeing we were all in elementary school. But then I went to a Bible-believin' church, so what else was there? And also I read the whole thing for myself as a teenager (as I've mentioned previously). We spent a lot of time on Genesis, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David, and all the other stuff is sort of foggy. Definitely covered Sampson & Delilah, but I'm not sure where they fit in. Also wondering about Elijah; Shadrak, Meshak & Abendigo (no idea on the spelling of those three); Daniel of the lion's den fame; Esther, and Jonah (I think he is way late in the picture). Make sure you mention them when you get there.
#177 Joyce - OK, at least I know of Daniel and the lions' den and the writing on the wall...and Elijah has prominence in Judaism (and comes up soon, in Kings...and also played a small entertaining prophetic roll in Moby Dick). But Shadrak, Meshak & Abendigo - never heard of them. Will report!
I'm glad some of "old" Tel Aviv remains, It must have been something to behold at the time, when it was undiluted by later architectural styles.
With regard to How to Understand Israel, I think part of the joy of reading is learning about matters and situations outside our experience, so I shall keep an eye out for it.
Possible spoilers: Looking back, I suppose When I Lived in Modern Times does take a surprising turn. When we discussed this book at my reading group, many members felt quite irritated with Evelyn and found her shallow. I was more sympathetic, but felt she was quite conventional for all her sense of adventure and that she longed for security, which she associated with the love of a man (it's a bit clichéd, perhaps, but I felt her lack of a father had something to do with this). I wonder, too, how deeply rooted her idealism and enthusiasm for Israel were (it was Uncle Joe who persuaded her to go to Palestine). Anyway, she's certainly a perplexing character.End of possible spoilers
Interesting that you followed this up with Linda Grant's non-fiction work on Israel. I'd like to read this at some point, but have taken note of your reservations.
Did I mention I have a lot of thoughts still to get out over this book?
How wonderful you got to go to Israel, and that it was such an important experience for you. I've never been (my middle son went under the Birthright program). I did visit the Houston Holocaust Museum several years ago and found it very moving. At the time, there was a special exhibit of quilts made by a Seattle textile artist, Rachel Bruner. She made a piece for each of the female Jewish children who were sent to the camps from France, who shared a birthday with her daughter (February 11, which I remember because it is my daughter's birthday too). The girls' personal information had been recorded in meticulous documents the Nazis maintained. (I can't remember the name of the book in which this information was kept).
I've actually just returned from Houston from a visit with my daughter and grandchild, who moved there in July. Personally, I don't know how people can live in the heat there---but the zoo was great!
Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. Israel was special, and while that mood has faded, the memory of the place is striking. I hope you have a chance visit there sometime (assuming it interests you).
49. Poet Lore : Fall 1993 (Volume 88 Number 3) by The Writer's Center (78 pages, read Aug 10 -28)
Nothing profound to say about this one as most of these poems went by me without really registering. It was my first time reading a Poet Lore and I was entertained that the main editor, Philip K. Jason, reviewed This Close to the Earth by Enid Shomer, which I read earlier this year, in April. Below is one poem that did stick around.
What is Left to Tell
by Deborah Pope
All stories end they died.
That is what ending means.
It is not the what we stay for,
but the in what way.
As I stayed to know
just how the day grew
smaller down the street,
the way you would carry
light away in your hands
until the moon hung
in the sky like a scar,
a single suture
silvering the dark,
how it would be fall,
like the tall sticks they are,
breaking up into puzzles
of leaves let loose
in the wind, to feel
the shudder they give
when rain begins
to hit them, a quiver
like struck strings,
I wanted to hear
if words really chalked
in the air like breath
in winter, to know
how solid, impassable,
blank space could be.
Each face retells old tales.
All silence is a book.
A door clicked on its spine.
That is what ending means.
A handfull of uses have entered individual issues here on LT (neglected series page is here: http://www.librarything.com/series/Poet+Lore )
#182 - Thanks Zeno, glad you got something out of them.
#183 - Rebeki - Agreed (re When I Lived in Modern Times
#186 - Lisa wrote "Thank you for sharing your personal experiences; and I'm noticing how integral they are to your reading.". First, you're welcome. And second, this is very interesting comment about. I'm not sure I realized that myself, as I tend to view my reading as a therapeutic escape of sorts. So, thanks for the insight.
#190/1 - Avidmom & Bas - Your both welcome. I was tempted to be good and just post an excerpt (the 1st four lines), but decided I wanted the complete poem here, for my own reference.
I'm glad you included the whole thing. The whole poem is great, but the last four lines are my favorite.
Today I will be spending time over on G. R. Grove's LT Author chat - here
I encourage anyone interested to stop by.
After that author chat, I will lead a group read of her latest book, The Druid's Son, which I'm currently reading (I will re-read it for the group read.)
G. R. Grove (lt name gwernin) has done wonder stuff with the Storyteller series, including remarkably extensive historical and geographical (and even geologic) details into her novels. The first trilogy of novels are historical fiction from the darkest of the dark ages in post-Roman Wales. The latest novel begins in Wales, but in Roman times, 500 years earlier. Anyone interested should check out the author chat. Also check out reviews on LT. I have one post about her first book, Storyteller.
I believe all her Storyteller books are available through Smashwords here
#196 - Yolana - If you're wondering, you don't need to read to Ash Spear, or any of the previous books, before reading The Druid's Son.
50. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter (1999, 414 pages, read July 4 – Sept 3)
Well...it's been since September 1 since I wrote a review and Sept 3 since I finished this book. So, I'm not quite sure what I can now say about it, or how to structure whatever that may be.
Briefly, this is the first book of the Bible since Genesis that I can truly say has some overall remarkable literary aspect to it. (Looking over the other books, I can pick and choose parts that stand out, notably the Song of Deborah in Judges.) What precisely I mean by that is not so easy to explain. There isn't a marked break from Judges to Samuel, or even from within Samuel, from, say, Saul to David. But there is an overall broad sense of complexity and build-up. There is something like character development, and, ever so subtly, some literary sparks.
1 & 2 Samuel follows three main characters, the final judge, Samuel, and the first two Israelite kings Saul and David. Each is met young and unformed, and each is developed slowly and irregularly and experiences something of a rise and fall. And then there are the multitude of fascinating supporting characters, ranging from Eli the failed judge and holy man who is repetitively exposed indirectly by the text to Joab, David's rogue and ruthless nephew, one of the worst and most bloodstained characters to ever become a book's accidental hero. (I can't cover them all: Abner, Jonathan, Abimelech, Abigail, the witch of Endor, Nathan, Bathsheba, Uriah, Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, Ahitophel, Amasa and so on. Oddly, there just isn't much on Solomon's character, here or in Kings)
The first hint to me that something extra was going on here was in 1 Samuel chapter 3 where the author utilizes a very rare sense of biblical humor. At the time the young Samuel, whose life is dedicated to serving the LORD, is serving under the holy man Eli. Three times Samuel hears a voice call his name and each time he obediently rushes out to the Eli to find out what he wanted, saying "Here I am, for you called me." But, it wasn't Eli, this was God speaking to Samuel instead of Eli. Cute, and clever how Eli is exposed, since God does not speak to him. God's message to Samuel is a curse on Eli and his sons, permanently ending his line. Samuel is forced to tell Eli of the curse, and Eli responds with stoic dignity, "He is the LORD. What is good in His eyes let him do." What the text does, and what I fail to capture here, is stagger us with the tragedy and Eli's dignified response. But it only works so well because of that humor the opens our emotions up. That is the story is one complex piece that is constructed to, and successfully does, work our emotions.
Later, I found when I was reading about Absalom's rebellion I could not put the book down. Now, I knew what was going to happen, in some detail. But experiencing it was powerful enough to fully draw me to this most dry of texts. That is something that had never before happened while reading the bible. I don't fully understand why I was so attached to this, or why I was so moved by David's breakdown and final days (covered in 1 Kings chapters 1 & 2) What seems to have happened is that as I followed David and his odd rise, watched how the authors carefully undermined him through every step of his meteoric rise, and learned about all these fundamental character flaws, I somehow became very attached to him.
Between 1 Kings Chapter 2 where David dies, and Chapter 3 about the start of Solomon's reign is a striking textual change. There is nothing literary about Solomon, his reign and successes and failures are merely reported with laconic detail. Outside the Queen of Sheba, there are no characters to become attached to.
In a discussion about whether or not the story of David has any true factual sense to it, beyond the archeologically proven existence of a king named David, one author claims that the internal consistency within the David story seems to argue for some factual validity. I could argue just the opposite, that the literary color brought out by this story and the overall impact constructed through the books entirety, is simply too artistic and elegant to have possibly been true. I would say that regardless of the factual truth of David, this is the work of master of literature, albeit of an odd type of literature.
51. The Art of Biblical Narrative (Revised and Updated) by Robert Alter (1981, revised and updated in 2011, 248 pages, read Aug 14 – Sept 11)
lilbrattyteen has a spectacular review of this book posted on the work page, and manages to highlight all the main points. The main thing I have to add is that this was quite fascinating, but also difficult to read. Robert Alter is thoroughly precise in everything he says, but part of what results are numerous convoluted sentences filled with adverbs and adjectives and multiple comparisons. Sometimes I had to read a sentence of a few times to get the grasp of it.
The basic premise is that the bible has rich assortment of literary elements that get lost when it is evaluated primarily in a spiritual, theologically critical, source critical or historical way - the main ways the bible is evaluated. He then goes through the historical books and Job highlighting numerous fundamental literary aspects.
I'll try to briefly highlight three of them...or maybe just quote Alter.
On the key tensions in the narrative. This serves both to make a thought-provoking point and to highlight the difficulty in reading Alter. (i.e. good luck)
The ancient Hebrew writers...seek through the process of narrative realization to reveal the enactment of God's purposes in historical events. This enactment, however, is continuously complicated by a perception of two, approximately parallel, dialectical tensions. One is the tension between the divine plan and the disorderly character of actual historical events, to translate this opposition into specifically biblical terms, between the divine promise and its ostensible failure to be fulfilled; the other is a tension between God's will, His providential guidance, and human freedom, the refractory nature of man
On the intimate link between the language and meaning:
Language in the biblical stories is never conceived as a transparent envelope of the narrated events or an aesthetic embellishment of them but as an integral and dynamic component—an insistent dimension—of what is being narrated. With language God creates the world; through language He reveals his design in history to men.
The most interesting chapter for me may have been on the art of reticence; on how the bible can bring out complex meaning and striking characters through a laconic language and skeletal narration.
How does the Bible manage to evoke such a sense of depth and complexity in its representation of character with what would seem to be such sparse , even rudimentary means? Biblical narrative offers us, after all, nothing in the way of minute analysis of motives or detailed rendering of mental processes; whatever indications we may be vouchsafed of feeling, attitude, or intention are rather minimal; and we are given only the barest hints about the physical appearance, the tics and gestures, the dress and implements of the characters, the material milieu in which they enact their destinies. In short, all the indicators of nuanced individuality to which the Western literary tradition has accustomed us—preeminently in the novel, but ultimately going back to the Greek epics and romances—would appear to be absent from the Bible.... skipping to the end of chapter...
But the underlying biblical conception of character as often unpredictable, in some ways impenetrable, constantly emerging from and slipping back into a penumbra of ambiguity, in fact has greater affinity with dominant modern notions than do the habits of conceiving character typical of the Greek epics.
What really stands out to me here is that not only does the Bible have literary elements that can only be observed when looking at in a literary way, but that efforts of decomposing these elements in a literature so different from what we are used to enlightens us in the nature of all literature.
52. The Cartoon History of the Universe : Volumes 1-7 by Larry Gonick (1990, 358 pages, read Sept 8 – 18 )
The cover says, " From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great", which means we get a "volume" on evolution, on the evolution of man, a history of ancient Mesopotamian/Egypt, the Old Testament, on Ancient Greece, and two entire "volumes" on Athens.
It's a good thing I waited to read book II before I reviewed this one. I loved book II. This one mainly served as a nice distraction. Worth the time to read through, but not necessarily adding anything to my sense of history. The exceptions were some of the details in the later chapters on Athens.
But it does have some humor worth highlighting:
53. The Cartoon History of the Universe II, Volumes 8 - 13: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome by Larry Gonick (1994, 305 pages, read Sept 19 – Oct 3)
Wonderfully done. Covering ancient India, ancient China through the Han dynasty, the Roman Empire from Romulus and Remus through Vespasian (roughly AD 79), then an interwoven Roman/Chinese history covering early Christianity and going through to the fall of Rome and the early Tang dynasty (7th century).
What I loved about this was, with little effort, and seemingly just for fun, I learned all these obscure details and quite a bit on times in China and India that I knew little to nothing about. The Chinese/Roman parallels were fascinating. This actually did change my thinking toward history. (also, I think it's cute that even the bibliography is in cartoon form)
Or could it be that the author that wrote the story of David wrote well, and the author of Solomon's story did not? I would argue that nonfiction too can be artistic and elegantly written.
Lisa - A good point. I didn't mean to imply that the opposite argument was any better, I was only highlighting the compelling nature of the book. As for Solomon, I'm not sure it has any more or less veracity. It just marks a change in style. (Much of Kings does have some basis in reality, because the kings mentioned are documented in non-Israelite sources, such as Assyrian records. However, still, we have to wonder about the authors' biases, purposes and possibly extensive manipulation of the facts.)
It's more the topic than his craft I think. When I read these, I read volumes 2 and 3 first. After that volume 1 felt a bit flat but then any history book on the two eras covered compare in a similar way. The next volume is worth a read as well.
I am not such a fan of his Modern History volumes but they are readable and have their good moments.
I am not sure how interested he was in those early chapters. Once he hits real history (the one where there is enough evidence for the most part), he is very good. And if you know a lot about a certain period, his book does not really hold up well - it is a fascinating general history but it is still a general history. Don't get me wrong - I like the books and occasionally flip through them and recommend them to anyone that tells me that comics are for children or that history is boring.
Some days I wish he had worked with real historians on these books. But on the other hand the view of a non-historian is refreshing and he spans his narrative wherever it takes him...
Rebecca - Gonick makes a nice break from the more demanding books, and I love his summation of Numbers - just that single cartoon. Thanks for the nice comments.
ETA the word "look"...
Man, Dan, I had forgotten how convoluted his sentences were. Perhaps they are "continuously complicated by a perception of two, approximately parallel, dialectical tensions." :P
Actually, your quote spurred some thoughts for me. I'm currently writing a paper on Ecclesiastes and the destruction of delusions in Buddhism. Just as Tibetan Buddhism uses the four mind-changings to turn one away from delusions such as permanence, Ecclesiastes turns us away from the delusions of other voices in the Hebrew canon. One of these delusions is the idea that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous - precisely the delusion the Deuteronomist author of the David-Solomon cycle is operating under. The multiplicity of voices in the canon - rather than the uniformity of it as so many religious figures emphasize - is to me one of the most fascinating facets of scripture.
Except that scholars agree that the same author penned both David and Solomon's sagas. To me they seem to be told in the same style and with the same theological interpretations. Solomon just isn't as interesting a character to me. Unlike David and his glamorous rise to power, Solomon had the whole thing handed to him on a silver plate and he still fudged it up!
David and Solomon - there is something distinctly different in their stories. I'm not going to argue against the scholarship, but one has a lot of artistic efforts in the story telling and character make-up and one doesn't. I like think that David was partially inspired by an imagination that simply like telling and playing with stories...my own naiveté ?
For the record, I mean the Solomon after 1 Kings 2.
Dan I thought of you as I added The Lawgiver to my wishlist -- 97 (!) year-old Herman Wouk's new novel about trying to write a biography of Moses. I haven't read the bestsellers of his heydey but grew fond of him in his 2010 The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion.
54/59. The Druid's Son by G. R. Grove (2012, 273 pages, read Oct 3-13 & reread Oct 16 – Nov 7)
What confuses me in trying to review this is the contradiction between that place our imagination takes us when we read Tacitus's description of Roman destruction of the Druid stronghold on Anglesey in AD 61 and that place just afterward, where GR Grove takes us. History has just happened; the next is the inevitable, at least from our perception, looking backward. "The harvest was over." opens The Druid's Son, a story that is built more on the reconstructed lifestyle and landscape of the Wales of this period, then the striking history it's wrapped in.
Here is Tacitus.
“On the coastline, a line of warriors of the opposition was stationed, mainly made up of armed men, amongst them women, with their hair blowing in the wind, while they were carrying torches. Druids were amongst them, shouting terrifying spells, their hands raised towards the heavens, which scared our soldiers so much that their limbs became paralyzed. As a result, they remained stationary and were injured. At the end of the battle, the Romans were victorious, and the holy oaks of the druids were destroyed.”
The Celts in future Wales are silent in history, leaving only foreigners descriptions like this, and a curious archeology to document them.
Grove creates her version of this Celtic world though the story of the son of last Archdruid on Anglesey, conceived shortly after these holy oaks were destroyed and shortly before this last Druid in Wales has himself ritually sacrificed. This story works quietly, keeping close the annual cycles, the Celtic festivals and the everyday focus on agriculture that just barely sustains the tribes. Year by year the druid's son grows and learns and the book accumulates through dialogue and relationships, the interweaving of the even more ancient history, the mysterious megalithic ruins, and through the magic and religion he is able to find and fully wrap himself within. She reconstructs her own version of a druidic and bardic context of thought and learning and philosophy.
This is fourth book I've read by Grove. In each book she works between or even after some dramatic events, crafting quiet tensions based often on everyday concerns about survival. Her version of druidic religion and magic are worked strongly into the stories, but these things can be taken two ways. The reader is left to decide how much should be taken as real and how much as artifact of the characters perceptions; and then to wonder about what this may tell about the psychological make of these characters. Thorough research goes into these, and is part of what makes these stories special. Historically darker eras, Grove excels in using her knowledge of the landscape and the known practices and then reconstructing her versions of these worlds to build her stories.
#229 - Kevin - I had to figure out a way to approach it because when I think about the book I'm always also thinking about everything we discussed in the group read. I had to figure out how to split it apart. That first sentence in the review was something of a personal realization for me.
#236 Yolana - Have you read The Druid's Son Yet? I suspect you would benefit from read that before reading the third storyteller book. The Druid's Son story is referenced in book three (The Ash Spear)...although, admittedly I missed it and haven't gone back to find it yet.
55. Who Were the Celts? : Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Celts 1000 B.C. to the Present by Kevin Duffy (1996, 336 pages, read Oct 14-21)
Nothing to see here, moving on to the next one. Fun, easy to read, filled in the basic factual gaps in my Celtic history. But, it reads like a Celtic-promotional brochure - they get exaggerated credit for everything in history they could possibly be linked to. So...anyway...
56. A Mind at a Time by A Mind at a Time (2002, 352 pages, read Oct 15-26)
Recommended by our child psychologist (my son has some variation of ADHD...although, from what I can tell, so does apparently about every third young boy.) This emphasizes, in the many redundant ways of books of this sort, that all children are different and do poorly in some situations, but excel in others. So, try to find where your child excels, intellectually, and build out from there. Useful for me, but not really recommended for any random parent.
57. God Knows by Joseph Heller (1984, 356 pages, read Sep 12 – Nov 7)
I'm not going to give Heller his due in these comments. This book was brutal for me get through, although in the end it came around and left some kind of positive impression.
A very elderly King David, cold and unable to get warm, lies on his bed and reflects on his life in an all knowing sort of way - past and future. He constantly argues with his future reputation, comments on such things as the famous Renaissance statues of David and so on. He's a cantankerous selfish bastard who curses left and right and has little to nothing we might convey morality or compassion, and lacks any type of contrition. He's still bitter that God stopped speaking him after David had Uriah killed so he could marry Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. The novel follows the biblical story to the finest detail, including pronouncing both exaggerations and many things only subtly implied as factual.
All this is apparent in the first ten pages or so, and that is where the book lost me. I don't find the idea of a cantankerous David all that unique or interesting. Any intended shock effect fell flat on me. And, having just read the biblical version (I actually started while in the middle of Samuel) I had all the biblical details pretty clearly in my mind. I didn't need the lengthy refresher. It was only when the book embellished that it was able to maintain my attention - but there really wasn't that much of that. So I struggled.
So, what is going on here. David's narrative is obsessed with Bathsheba. He reads her in depth, sees that she has emotionally turned away from him and fully knows that her only interest in David now is to get him to place her son as next in line in succession, even though the actual next in line is Solomon's older brother, Adonijah. It's through Bathsheba that David reveals his human side, where real emotions come to surface. He has a complicated kind of love of for her, and an intense longing for her in ways that are past. But he can't reach her. In David's thinking about her the book becomes an exploration of the things we desire that are out of reach, are simply impossible, and how we might consider compromising our lives just to maybe try to lean closer to them. We know what David is going to do in the end, but we have to wonder exactly why.
There are many cute details in here offering different implications, such as when David is served tacos for dinner...yes tacos. It's a playful mixing of what is normal at present into the past where it's outrageous. This seems to hint that Heller is using this to explore something more modern, likely writing about himself and his life through David. It's so interesting a idea that I spent a lot of energy trying to see that in the book...but mostly I failed. Should I read it again?
What won me over in the end was when I finally began to see and appreciate what Bathsheba really meant to David and began to tangle with his inability to get her back...or to stop wanting her. In the end I was moved.
Should I read it again?
I can't imagine doing so. Except maybe Catch-22.
I didn't hear you laughing though..... I thought Heller was supposed to be funny.
To address MJ's comment, I should put that differently. There was a lot of humor - poking at the bible and religion, belief, at social propriety, just non-sense mixing of modern and ancient - in figure of speech, crudeness, objects and so on, lots of ridiculous stuff, heavy play on out-there sexual descriptions. It just didn't occur to me to actually find that stuff funny, or even clever (well, there were some things I found clever.) Part of that is just how I read...
you are becoming a bit of an expert on God. - oh dear...
In the mean time I found myself reading the last two volumes of Barefoot Gen - volumes 8 & 9. I somehow found the sense of optimism that pervades the book, despite all the horrific problems from the atomic bomb, helpful. Although it has a really sad ending that I didn't see coming.
Ugh. Grave of the Fireflies depresses me every time! Such a fantastic movie. I've read the story too and have to say the movie is even better done.
#255 I know. It has been tagged "unrelenting tragedy" by one or more LTers. I didn't realize it was a book first. The movie is so well done, I can't imagine it in another medium.
#256 - stretch, vol 2 is horrifying, much more so than volume 1, but I also think it's the most important of the ten volumes.
I haven't heard of Grave of Fireflies. I'm very interested.
Speaking of which, I finally saw another movie - Lincoln - but I wasn't impressed.
I did think it should have ended with Lincoln walking down the hall.
I was hoping for that kind of pick-me-up from the movie, and I didn't get it. Not that it would be such an easy thing to do in a movie.
58. Poetry : October-November 1987 (75th Anniversary) (242 pages, read Aug 29 – Nov 7)
This was not a collection of the best poems over 75 years, but a collection of all new poems from Poetry Magazine's favorite active poets (at that time). I can't say enough how much I gained from this collection. The quality is consistently so good, that is left a mark. Poetry Magazine's sense of what is great is poetry has varied with each main editor, but not all that much. It seems they consistently focus on the rhythm these poets strive for in the English language. And I notice, having slowing accumulated some volume of poetry in my shaky forgetful head, that this rhythm isn't always there, even in very good poetry. It's a difficult thing to accomplish, and it's a limit that provides of poem with an elemental power outside the meaning of the words, where the sound of the words and rhythm can actually have a stronger affect than the meaning, where perhaps they are the meaning.
What the heck am I trying to say? That paragraph is a fail. Some quotes:
M. L. Rosenthal about editor (1955-1969) Henry Rago : "Deeply read in philosophy, he also had a true poetic ear—could catch the drift and shifting tones of a poem quickly, on its terms, not his own, regardless of whether he sympathized. I doubt I've met more than five or six such readers in a lifetime."
A letter to Carole Oles from then editor John Nims (main editor 1978-1984) about a selection of poems she submitted: "We could publish them without disgracing us or you—they're good poems. But they don't seem you at the very top of your form. O.K. Oles, but not optimal Oles...We really like to print your poems but we like your best poems best."
Among the many names here are: Ai, John Ashberry, Robert Bly, Hayden Carruth, James Dickey (wow, good stuff here), Albert Goldbarth, Erica Jong, X. J. Kennedy, Philip Levine, William Meredith, James Merrill, W. S. Merwin, John Frederick Nims, Joyce Carol Oates, Sharon Olds, Carole Oles, Mary Oliver, Robert Philips, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, Karl Shapiro, Charles Simic (but accessible stuff), Dave Smith, Mark Strand, Richard Wilbur...and these are just names clueless me recognizes. Among my favorite poems were ones by James Dickey, Gregory Djanikian, Howard Moss, Lisel Mueller, Adrienne Rich, Katherine Soniat, Henry Taylor, Mary Ann Waters, Roger Weingarten, and Richard Wilbur.
I think it's all available free on the poetry website here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/toc/896
A favorite, republished by Geirison Keiller in 2009. It can be found in Falling Deeply into America, c1989.
by Gregory Djanikian
You could think of sunlight
Glancing off the minarets,
You could think of guavas and figs
And the whole marketplace filled
With the sumptuous din of haggling,
But you could not think of Alexandria
Without the sea, or the sea,
Turquoise and shimmering, without
The white city rising before it.
Even on the back streets
You could feel it on your skin,
You could smell it in the aroma
Of dark coffee, spiced meat.
You looked at the sea and you heard
The wail of an Arab woman singing or praying.
If, as I can now, you could point
To the North Atlantic, swollen
And dark as it often is, you might say,
"Here lies Wrath," or "Truly God is great."
You could season a Puritan soul by it.
But you could fall into the Mediterranean
As though you were falling into a blue dream,
Gauzy, half unreal for its loveliness.
It was deceptively calm and luxurious.
At Stanley Bay, you could float
On your back and watch the evening sun
Color the city a faint rose.
You could drown, it was said,
Almost without knowing it.
Enjoyed the poem by Gregory Djanikian, but have you read The Alexandria quartet by Lawrence Durrell, where over a four novel cycle the sense of Alexandria is contained in almost every line of the prose. It is a magical experience.
Haven't it read durrell yet. He keeps coming up. I'll keep your comment in mind.
60. Florida Postcards : Poems by Enid Shomer (1987, 23 pages, read Nov 8-9)
Not much to say here. I like Shomer a lot, but I had read most of these in other places.
61. Druids : A Very Short Introduction by Barry Cunliffe (2010, 240 pages, read Nov 7-11)
I really like the idea of the "Very Short Introduction" series. Cunliffe has written summaries on the archeology of Celts and on of Europe through AD 1000. He presents some great and complex ideas in his books (whether the ideas are his, or common among many, I can't say). He keeps this one simple, making a point of separating modern Druids from the ancients (any connection is purely one of wishful thinking), and of separating the archeology and ancient written record on the Druids. It's a good summary. He notes that the Celts had a three cultural leaders of sorts - seers who probably filled something like a shaman's or fortune tellers roll, bards who preserved the stories, and the druids who preserved the knowledge. In this logic he connects the Druids with the much more ancient megalithic structures in Europe. In his words, "There can be little doubt that the belief systems evident in the last four centuries or so of the 1st millenium BC—the time of the historical Druids—were the result of a longue duree of development and refinement spanning several millennia. The druidic class, then, were the inheritors of ancient wisdom."
In Ireland, where the Druidic Celts were never conquered, it was Christianity that did the Druids in. In the cultural trivectum, the roll of the Druids was replaced by the clergy. I don't recall what happened to the seers. The bards continued on for some time into the Christianized culture.
62. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005, 763 pages, read Aug 15-Nov 17)
Lincoln was the perfect president. He was awkward, humble, and brilliant, morally pure to the deepest part of his heart, yet manipulative to great effect, and yet thoroughly reasonable. The oddball politician who won arguments through that underused, politically suicidal technique of presenting his actual reasoning. It seems that practically every single person who came across Lincoln in any capacity, came away with a strong sense of affection and admiration. That's the myth, and, if I can believe Goodwin, it's remarkably accurate.
This is one of the best books I've read this year. It starts out a little slow as Goodwin puts a good number of pages into Lincoln's opponents for the Republican presidential nomination for the 1859 election. These guys are interesting and each becomes a key member of Lincoln's cabinet, but they aren't Lincoln. Once the book centers on Lincoln, if became a terrific pick-me-up. Every time I put the book down, it would be with sense of inspiration. Goodwin does a masterful job of bringing out Lincoln's character and his relationships with various key people. His plodding methods that would drag out problems, and yet, in the end resolve them to wide approval. His masterful sense of timing, of when to wait and when to act. And his deep understanding of the people around him...and how to win them over. He knew people's strengths, and once he had power, how to control them so that they focused in the place he wanted them to focus. For example, Henry Seward, brilliant, arrogant and crushed by his defeat by Lincoln, is, upon that day of assassination, both Lincoln's most valuable and most dedicated adviser.
As I'm writing this, and trying to actually constrain my Lincoln-awe to get something useful out, I keep thinking to myself there must be more to this, Goodwin must have manipulated this history to his advantage. And my skeptical side thinks maybe she did. But, set that aside, let Lincoln be my hero for now. I'll need to read more about him later, anyway. For now I'll keep him up there in that vaguely defined lofty place, in all the color Goodwin has brought out of him and presented, our poet president, our one true national hero. Maybe I'll read the Gettysburg address one more time.
63. The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance by Larry Gonick (2002, 305 pages, read Oct 3 – Nov 28)
Not much to add here except that the Renaissance is a really early place to end. Where is IV? What did I get out of this? If fun, fills in time when there are distractions, and wow does a lot happen between Muhammad and Ghengis Khan. Somehow I had kind of lumped them as one roughly following the other...
64. Open Door: A Poet Lore Anthology 1980 — 1996 edited by Philip K. Jason, Barbara Goldberg, Geraldine Connolly & Roland Flint (1997, 183 pages, read Nov 9 – Dec 3)
Oye. I started this immediately after that Poetry Magazine 75th anniversary. Yes these are nice poems, and were this a single issue of Poet Lore I would have been impressed. But, for an anthology, the best poems of 17 years...wow disappointing. It doesn't help that everything Poetry magazine stresses about rhythm is pretty much ignored here. These poems are striking more in their emotional reach than in their craft.
65. Barefoot Gen, Volume 9 : Breaking Down Borders by Keji Nakazawa (1984, 261 pages, read Dec 1 - 15)
66. Barefoot Gen, Volume 10 : Never Give Up by Keji Nakazawa (1987, 256 pages, read Dec 15-17)
Both translated from Japanese by Project Gen, c2009
It was over three years ago that I started this semi-autobiographical series about a six-year-old survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. In a questionable moment of judgement I let my 8 year old daughter read through them...and only when she passed me did it occur to me that I really should finish it. Anyway, I think these books are both strong, especially book ten, and I was happy to see the series end on such a potent note. Volume nine focus's on art with the theme of how art has no borders, but crosses the cultural and political divides. In Volume 10 Gen is older, I think about 15, and suddenly interested in women. It's more mature book, with Nakazawa's own twists. It leaves a impression that lingers. Good luck to Gen.
Stopping here. Dickens will have to wait.
#269 - Lisa - I read one that wasn't very good. Actually, it was awful. This was a philosophy one, I think I read it when I was struggling with my Formal Logic course. It didn't help. But, despite what I've always believed, it could be that I'm not very logical after all. And then not the book's fault.
My sweetie read Team of Rivals a few years ago and really loved it.
>This was not a collection of the best poems over 75 years, but a collection of all new poems from Poetry Magazine's favorite active poets (at that time).
Did you know that Poetry Magazine now has issued a best-of? The Open Door, of its first 100 years. I've had it in my wishlist and your rave about the prior collection makes it a must-read.
I recently acquired Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, mixed ratings, but I'm looking forward to trying the series.
Your comments on Team of Rivals are themselves inspiring.
#273 - too bad, Joyce. That would be one of interest to me.
#274 - Rebecca, I've been trying to make it a daily thing, even if it doesn't always quite work out that way. I try to have one book of poetry going and read at least one poem a day, either before I read something else or as I go to bed. Some days I just read that one, some days more. I've been doing this for two or three years now.
It was good to see your review of the Goodwin book. I have been tempted by this, but more because of the author than the subject. She writes so well. Your review makes me think maybe I should just go ahead and read it.
279 Sassylassy - I just assume it, God Knows, will reward a reread...if you choose to. Some day I might, but it's not in the plans right now.
#275/278/279/280 - MJ, Lisa, SassyL and Jane - and other comments on Lincoln- very nice to see these comments on Team of Rival, a very happy my comments had some positive affect. I thought it would be interesting but I didn't expect it to be so inspiring. (Reading over the reviews I was surprised how critical many of them are. A number of readers apparently just had overly high expectations. )
That's the point of these anyway - if you know a lot on the topic, they don't give you enough information... :)
(ps: Books & Books is a small-ish chain, and the Coral Gables location is their original one. Recommended.)
#283 - I agree Annie...
#284 Avidmom - I have a sense what could happen to me if I started reading more on the American Civil War. So far I've only read one little book (on Gettysburg, it was fascinating), so managed to avoid an ever-lurking potential obsession. Someday I imagine I'll give in. Hope you enjoy the Cartoon History.
Thanks again for including us in your vacation, Dan. I still chuckle at the fact that we live 4 hours away from each other but met up on vacation 4 states away...
Dan, I'm glad you are having a good time in Florida. Houston didn't have any snow for you to miss.
#290 - Houston did have an Xmas day power outage in my neighborhood that I missed. A local transformer was struck by lightning and caught fire.
#291 - How many Texans are there around here? Chances are I could make an Austin meet-up.
#291 - I look for any excuse to go to Austin so......
During the time I had spent in Miami many people had mentioned, always as something extraordinary, something I should have seen if I wanted to understand Miami, the Surrounded Islands project executed in Biscayne Bay in 1983 by the Bulgarian artist Christo. Surrounded Islands, which had involved surrounding eleven islands with two-hundred-foot petals, or skirts, of pink polypropylene fabric, had been mentioned both by people who were knowledgeable about conceptual art and by people who had not before heard and could not then recall the name of the man who had surrounded the islands. All had agreed. It seemed that the pink had shimmered in the water. It seemed that the pink had kept changing color, fading and reemerging with the movement of the water and the clouds and the sun and the night lights. It seemed that this period when the pink was in the water had for many people exactly defined, as the backlit islands and the fluorescent water and the voices at the table were that night defining for me, Miami.
Getting in touch with my South Florida...this is from Joan Didion's Miami, c1987.
Jane - I will check that video out.
Nice photo of you and Katie earlier in this thread. You look quite like my brother - literally like my actual brother I mean. Approximately an 89% likeness I'd say.