dchaikin tries really hard not think about the world - part 2
This is a continuation of the topic dchaikin - forward and backward.
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The world that we create when reading is dependent on its separation from the real world. We move in when we read, and move back out again. I'm having trouble setting that sense of separateness, but I'm trying.
The plan this year involves more Greek and Roman mythology and Ovid and a few other things. Pynchon may have been cast out. We'll see.
Old threads: 2009 Part 1, 2009 Part 2, 2010 Part 1, 2010 Part 2, 2011 Part 1, 2011 Part 2, 2012 Part 1, 2012 Part 2, 2013 Part 1, 2013 Part 2, 2013 Part 3, 2014 Part 1, 2014 Part 2, 2014 Part 3, 2015 Part 1, 2015 Part 2, 2015 Part 3, 2016 Part 1, 2016 Part 2, 2016 Part 3, 2017 Part 1
list of books read and reviewed in 2017 thread 1 (links go to review post in that thread)
1. ***** The Story of a New Name, Neapolitan Book 2 by Elena Ferrante (read Dec 22 - Jan 1)
2. **** Hillbilly Elegy : A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis" (audio) by J. D. Vance, read by author (listened Jan 3-9)
3. ***** Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Neapolitan Book 3 - Elena Ferrante (read Jan 1-10)
4. ***** The Story of the Lost Child, Neapolitan book 4 by Elena Ferrante (read Jan 10-17)
5. *** The Last Trojan Hero : A Cultural History of Virgil's Aeneid by Philip R. Hardie (read Jan 17-27)
6. **** The Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America (audio) by George Packer, read by Robert Fass (listened Jan 9-31)
7. ****½ Lost in the City : Stories by Edward P. Jones (read Jan 28 - Feb 5)
8. **** Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (Audio) by Sarah Vowell, read by author (listened Feb 3-13)
9. **** The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles (read Feb 6-18)
10. **** Aeneid Book VI : A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition by Virgil, translated by Seamus Heaney (read Feb 19-20)
11. **** Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr (read Feb 20-24)
12. **** Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard (read Feb 26)
13. ***½ Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson (The Myths) by David Grossman (read Feb 26 - Mar 1)
14. **** Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, read by Robin Miles (listened Feb 28 - Mar 3)
abandoned: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others. Read mainly by Linda Lavin (listened to ~9/13 hours Mar 16-28)
15. **** Homegoing (Audio) by Yaa Gyasi, read by Dominic Hoffman (listened Mar 29 - Apr 10)
16. ????? Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (read Mar 1 - Apr 13)
17. ***** March (Trilogy) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell (read Apr 15-18)
18. ***½ Behold the Dreamers (audio) by Imbolo Mbue, read by Prentice Onayemi (listened Apr 13-24)
abandoned: The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, read by the author (listened to 32% from Apr 25-27)
19. **** The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon (read Apr 17-29)
20. **** Born to Run (Audio) by Bruce Springsteen, read by the author (listen to ~80% Feb 14-27, read last 74 pages Apr 30 - Mar 1)
21. ---- Ovid: Selected Poems by David Hopkins (read Apr 23 - May 2)
22. ***½ The Undoing Project : A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis, read by Dennis Boutsikaris (listened May1-10)
23. ****½ Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (read May 3-16)
list of books read, that are or will be reviewed below (links go to post with review)
24. **** Commonwealth (audio) by Ann Patchett, read by Hope Davis (listened May 17-26)
25. **** South and West : From a Notebook (audio) by Joan Didion, read by Kimberly Farr (listened June 1-4)
26. ?? A Time for Everything by Karl Ove Knausgaard (read May 16 - June 17)
27. ***½ The Road to Little Dribbling : Adventures of an American in Britain (Audio) by Bill Bryson, read by Nathan Osgood (listened June 6-27)
28. ?? Ovid : The Love Poems (Oxford World's Classics) translated by A. D. Melville (read June 18 - July 7)
29. ***½ The Quest for Theseus by Anne G. Ward, W. R. Connor, Ruth B. Edwards & Simon Tidworth (read July 4-7)
30. ****½ We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Audio) by Shirley Jackson, read by Bernadette Dunne (listened July 17-21)
31. **** Heroides by Ovid, translated by Harold Isbell (read Jul 8-22)
32. **** Hungry Heart : Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing (audio) by Jennifer Weiner, read by the author (listened July 24 - Aug 8)
33. ***** Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by A. D. Melville, notes by E. J. Kenney (read July 23 - Aug 15)
34. *** The Princess Diarist (audio) by Carrie Fisher, read by the author and Billie Lourd (listened Aug 10-17)
35. ***½ The Wave Watcher's Companion: Ocean Waves, Stadium Waves, and All the Rest of Life's Undulations by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (read Aug 16-30)
36. ***½ About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory by Barry Lopez (read Aug 16-31)
37. *** The Phenomenon : Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life (Audio) by Rick Ankiel & Tim Brown (listened Sep 5-11)
38. ****½ Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (read Aug 26 - Sep 24)
39. **** Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee : An Indian History of the American West (Audio) by Dee Brown, read by Grover Gardner (listened Sep 12-27)
40. ***½ House of Names (audio) by Colm Tóibín, read by Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson and Pippa Nixon (listened Sep 27 - Oct 9)
41. ****½ The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan (read Sep 8 - Oct 9)
42. **** The Haunting of Hill House (Audio) by Shirley Jackson, read by Bernadette Dunne (listened Oct 9-18)
43. ***½ The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Audio) by Jill Lepore, read by the author (listened Aug 17-24 & Oct 19-23)
44. **** Lincoln in the Bardo (audio) by George Saunders, with 166 narrators (listened Oct 23-31)
45. **** Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (read Oct 29 - Nov 3)
46. ***** The Collected Stories by Grace Paley (read Oct 19-28, Nov 4-7)
47. **** You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (Audio) by Sherman Alexie, read by the author (listened Nov 2-14)
48. **** The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (read Nov 8-16)
49. **** The Creek by J.T. Glisson (read Nov 17-22)
50. *** Hero of the Empire (Audio) by Candice Millard, read by Simon Vance (listened Nov 14-28)
51. ****½ The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson (read Nov 23 - Dec 3)
52. ***½ Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, read by Gabra Zackman (listened Nov 29 - Dec 8)
53. *** Fanon by John Edgar Wideman (read Dec 3-10)
54. **** Spanish Pathways in Florida: 1492-1992 edited by Ann L. Henderson & Gary R. Mormino (read Dec 9-13)
55. **** One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian (read Dec 14-24)
56. **** A Good Man : Fathers and Sons in Poetry and Prose edited by Irv Broughton (read Dec 24-31) - Note: Link for this last book goes to 2018 thread
24. Commonwealth (Audio) by Ann Patchett
reader: Hope Davis
format: Overdrive digital audio, 10:34
read: May 17-26
I like Ann Patchett and her clean prose that seems to always read well. Commonwealth is a book that accumulates attachment, and that has a lot of parts, and some parts work exceptionally well, and others don't work...or didn't for me. Initially I wasn't all that interested, but it was on audio and I didn't really mind it. Then I was loosely attached and then I was very much involved in all these characters and felt pretty good about the whole upon finishing.
A plot summary won't do it justice. There are many kids from two marriages thrown together by parental affairs, divorces and second marriages. And they grow up each in their own way. They are children in the 70's and there is a lot of now, and a lot in between. And if there is a main point, I couldn't place my finger on it.
I think the story is very personal and has echoes that go back into Patchett's own life, and her own parents divorce and east-west coast split. And, notably, having a police officer as a father. In her essay collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage she has an essay about where she meets her father in California and goes through officer training as preparation for a book. I thought she had said in the essay she decided not to write the book (I don't know when the essay was written, but TSoaHM is from 2013.) This, it seems, is that book.
ETA - the reader, Hope Davis, was excellent.
25. South and West : From a Notebook (Audio) by Joan Didion
reader: Kimberly Farr
format: Overdrive digital audio, 2:51
read: June 1-4
This is a book Didion never wrote. She traveled through the deep south by car in 1970, observing, carefully avoiding anything newsworthy. She was just trying to understand a people she couldn't understand. And she would go to California and cover the Patty Hearst trial with a plan to compare and contrast California and the deep south and the cultural divide that has developed from who were not so long ago the same people.
Based on what is here, Didion clearly put a lot into this book and had written some very interesting, pondering and thoughtful prose. I'm not sure why she didn't finish, but it actually works well in this incomplete form.
I wouldn't recommend using audio for the simple reason that Didion invites reflection and the audio books require you to hit stop for that, or listen again when you just realized you have heard anything for that last ten minutes. It had to re-listen to a lot.
26. A Time for Everything by Karl Ove Knausgaard
format: Archipelago Books Paperback
acquired: from amazon in 2014
read: May 16 - June 17
I can't possibly review this fairly as I ran into a worst reading slump early in the book. Seems unfair to blame Knausgaard, even if his book played a role and even if I feel better now reading the next book (Ovid's Amores)...although, not entirely better.
I will say that I'm not a fan of prolonged satirical but entirely true to the text biblical retellings. I fully understand the bible demands some satire, but I don't typically enjoy it. I don't really know why, other than to say that I'm not really a fan of satire in general. But 100 pages on Cain and Able with unsettling modern touches, and, far worse, 200 pages on Noah's extended family with guns and other non-biblical technology (re-located to Norway, by the way), clever as it was, was really really pro-longed. He also covers Lot and Ezekiel (and his wheel) too, but the length on these was reasonable.
The sort of faux subject of the book is a sixteenth century Italian theologian, Antinous Bellori, who came across real angels as a child, and wrote about them anonymously and heretically, carefully studying the existing biblical and related texts.
If you don't like any of that, the book is saved by provoking, if disturbing coda—about 50 pages of a pseudo-autobiography. If you do like all the above, the coda is just a bonus. To be fully honest, many readers might not like it because of how disturbing it gets, but it is something quite interesting, regardless.
(side note, the Norwegian title translates to A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven. No idea why it was changed.)
Thanks for these reviews - I have both the Patchett and Knaussgard in my immediate book line-up. I was figuring the K would be an adventure and I see I am right about that. The Patchett, will, I hope be a nice summer read.
I loved Everything is Illuminated and there is a movie made from it that was, if I remember right, faithful enough to the book and pretty good. I don't remember hating it.
Reading slumps. Liking genre fiction does help with that. If you haven't tried J.G. Farrell, he is someone I could wholeheartedly recommend. The subject matter is serious (why the British Empire doomed itself) but the books are sublimely funny. I'm hoarding the last one in the set The Singapore Grip. The first one, Troubles is set in Ireland in 1919. Best novel of whatever year I read it in, the last or the one before that. I am finding that the NYRB Classics series is 100% reliable for great reading.
Sorry about your reading slump. It's a bad time to be unable to escape into a book.
Sorry, Daniel. I do have some understanding of how you are feeling, coming from a fellow reading slumper. It is hard to escape into the pages of a book with so many disturbing things going on. I just read the Larson C ice shelf is about to separate .... is there even any going back now?
>10 sibyx: I am very interested in J. G. Farrell and interested in more Foer now. It's nice to know these reviews offered you something maybe useful. I'm curious how you will respond to those two books.
>11 RidgewayGirl: yeah, so true. And thanks.
>12 Lisa805: It's really sad, Lisa, what's happening and what we are not doing about it.
I also agree; I enjoyed all three novels of the Empire Trilogy, but Troubles was easily my favorite.
I've been on a road trip and sometimes out of cellular range altogether. Anyway, haven't checked in for a bit. Reading more Ovid, as well as a book on the Theseus myths.
>14 NanaCC:, >15 kidzdoc: noting : )
>16 AlisonY: Thanks. I thought through a number of titles and that one just seemed to best explain where I am right now with reading.
>17 Oandthegang: O - I'm sure I would be more affectionate to the book in any normal time. It's very much a case of - it's me, not the book. But that Noah part was really long.
Hey Dan! Three impressive books there.
Being such an expert as you are on the the classical Greeks and Romans, I'm wondering what your opinion is of Mary Renault?
>19 ChocolateMuse: That I need to read her! I was holding some beautiful copies in my hands, which my mother-in-law was encouraging me to take (we visited during our road trip). But I opted to not take them, and go with future ebook purchases - the right decision because they belong on her bookshelf... but I still regret it. I want to begin with The King Must Die.
And, nice to have you visit, muse.
>20 ELiz_M: hmmm. Out of sequence, ok. But out of publication order...that would press me :) But noting.
books read by date published
19 BCE The Aeneid by Virgil
16 BCE Heroides by Ovid (actual date unknown)
2 Ovid : The Love Poems by A. D. Melville (Amores 16 bce, Cosmetics for Ladies ??, The Art of Love 2 ce & Cures for Love 2 ce?)
8 Metamorphoses by Ovid
17 Ovid: Selected Poems by David Hopkins
1917 The rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan
1934 Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
1945 The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson (pt1 1941, pt2 1945, combined and translated 1955)
1959 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
1962 We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
1970 The Quest for Theseus by Anne G. Ward, W. R. Connor, Ruth B. Edwards & Simon Tidworth
1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee : An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
1977 Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
1984 Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
1991 Spanish Pathways in Florida: 1492-1992 edited by Ann L. Henderson & Gary R. Mormino
1992 Lost in the City : Stories by Edward P. Jones
1993 The Creek by J. T. Glisson
1993 A Good Man : Fathers and Sons in Poetry and Prose edited by Irv Broughton
1994 The Collected Stories by Grace Paley (but collections are 1959, 1974 & 1985)
1996 The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon
1997 Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
1998 About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory by Barry Lopez
1999 One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian
2004 A Time for Everything by Karl Ove Knausgaard
2004 Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
2005 Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson by David Grossman
2008 Fanon by John Edgar Wideman
2010 The Wave Watcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
The Unwinding : An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The Last Trojan Hero : A Cultural History of Virgil's Aeneid by Philip R. Hardie
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Hillbilly Elegy : A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
March (Trilogy) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
The Undoing Project : A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Hungry Heart : Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard
South and West : From a Notebook by Joan Didion
The Phenomenon : Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by Rick Ankiel & Tim Brown
House of Names by Colm Tóibín
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
Good plan to start there, Dan. That was the one I read for English in high school, and I have very fond memories of it.
Books read: 56
Pages: 11745; Audio time: 226:33 (9 days, ~6293 pages)
"regular books"**: 30
Formats: Audio 23; Paperback 20; Hardcover 11; e-book 2;
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 23; Novel 22; Biography/Memoirs 16; History 9; Classic 8; Poetry 7; Ancient 6; Journalism 4; On Literature and Books 3; Science 3; Essays 3; Short Stories 3; Graphic 1; Nature 1; Mystery 1; Anthologies 1;
Nationalities: US 36; Italy 9; UK 3; Israel 1; Ghana 1; Cameroon 1; Norway 1; Ireland 1; Russia 1; Sweden 1; China 1;
Genders, m/f: 32/22 mixed: 2
Owner: Books I own 28; Library 27; Borrowed 1
Year Published: 2010's 28; 2000's 4; 1990's 9; 1980's 1; 1970's 3; 1960's 1; 1950's 1; 1940's 1; 1930's 1; 1910's 1; 00's 3; bce 3;
Books read: 919
Pages: 250,590; Audio time: 1103:24 (45 days, or ~30,650 audio pages)
"regular books"**: 596
Formats: Paperback 491; Hardcover 209; Audio 111; ebooks 67; Lit magazines 38
Subjects in brief: Non-fiction 408; Novels 232; Biographies/Memoirs 174; History 155; Classics 92; Journalism 83; Poetry 80; Science 73; Speculative Fiction 61; Ancient 56; Nature 54; On Literature and Books 47; Anthology 45; Graphic 43; Essay Collections 33; Juvenile 32; Short Story Collections 31; Drama 18; Mystery/Thriller 13; Interviews 13
Nationalities: US 575; Other English speaking countries 158; Other countries: 186
Genders, m/f: 604/235
Owner: Books I owned 608; Library books 239; Books I borrowed 64; Online 10
Year Published: 2010's 188; 2000's 264; 1990's 160; 1980's 102; 1970's 48; 1960's 33; 1950's 23; 1900-1949 28; 19th century 14; 18th century 0; 17th century 3; 16th century 3; 0-1499 4; BCE 50
*well, everything since I have kept track, beginning in Dec 1990
**"Regular Books" excludes audio, lit magazines, small poetry books, juvenile, graphic novels, podcasts, etc. It is just meant to count regular old books that I picked up and read.
27. The Road to Little Dribbling : Adventures of an American in Britain (Audio) by Bill Bryson
reader: Nathan Osgood
format: Overdrive digital audio, 14:04
read: June 6-27
Mainly a diversion for my commute, as Bryson covers on a bunch of places I'm very unlikely to ever reach. He pushes the humor, playing heavily on the old-man card (Bryson is only in his 60's). Lots of petty things I could criticize on what is a maybe casual effort, but he was entertaining and funny and kept my attention.
Osgood does a good job reading Bryson, managing the nuanced tone.
28. Ovid : The Love Poems (Oxford World's Classics) translated by A. D. Melville
Introduction: E. J. Kenney
other translations used B. P. Moore's 1935 translation of The Art of Love, & Christopher Marlowe translations for Amores 1.5, 3.7 & 3.14
read: June 18 - July 7
Contains four collections of poems:
Amores - 16 bce
Cosmetics for Ladies - date unclear, but before The Art of Love
The Art of Love - 2 ce
Cures for Love - date unknown, probably close to 2 ce
What first struck me about Ovid's Amores was how unromantic they are. I think I was expecting beautiful musings or something like that. While Ovid plays with muses and especially on the idea of Cupid and his arrows, these poems are largely on petty problems with woman who are married or suspicious or whatnot. They are full-out sarcasm and humor on the surface, often quite rude or offensive in a way that leaves one suspecting that was the intention. It seems Ovid was first and foremost being clever, and intent on showing how clever he is. And most of what he accomplishes, he does so through cleverness. Melville tells me Ovid successfully undermined the whole of Roman love poetry, which had a long tradition, even has he wrote it, exposing it while mastering it.
As a reader, I was left with the impression of writer who was never entirely serious, but also, at the same time, very serious. The poems drift from practical issues to mythology and back again, referencing a wide assortment of well known and obscure mythology (obscure even to well educated Romans). He also brings in a wide sense of world knowledge, referencing many writers and many oddities, even Judaism twice.
Amores is the most complex of the works here and hard to summarize other than to say love poetry or humor based on it. The Art of Love is a faux-handbook for young men on how to find love. Full of humor, it crosses lines, mainly by implication. It apparently may have been the cause of Ovid's exile from Rome, announced personally by Augustus. Cures for Love is pure humor on ways to get over a relationship. It reads as if it was intended to be pared with The Art of Love. Cosmetics for Ladies for ladies is only partially preserved and is the guide the title suggests it is, but just done in clever poetry, mock seriousness and humor.
Overall the tone lets the reader relax and just enjoy what Ovid's doing. I was entertained, and pretty content reading through these, casually. Sometimes I would get lost, but mostly he's fairly straightforward and Melville's translations are clear and his notes are good. Melville rhymes everything, which brings out some of the sense of play. But he's a little bland, and he can't replicate the Latin complexity. Moore read practically the same as Melville. Marlowe's additions were kind of special, but also, as I have just discovered, heavily altered by Melville.
from Amores book 3, elegia vii - "Marlowe's version slightly modernized"
Yes, she was beautiful and well turned out,
(Marlowe's actual version can be found here (it helps to search for "Scythian"): https://www.gutenberg.org/files/21262/21262-h/21262-h.htm#ovid )
29. The Quest for Theseus by Anne G. Ward, W. R. Connor, Ruth B. Edwards & Simon Tidworth
Preface: Reynolds Higgins
read: July 4-7
Before stumbling across this title on my Mother's-in-law bookshelf a few years ago, it never really occurred to me to think about Theseus all that much, or his myth. That seems a bit odd in hindsight, even if he wasn't in Homer in any significant way or in Hesiod that I can remember. Because, Theseus is everywhere.
From memory, the Theseus myth begins with political seduction at conception, and grows to include his discovery of his own parentage, adventures as a youth, discovery by his father, his voluntary capture by Cretans to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, and his killing of the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne's string, symbolically representing Athen's rise over fallen Crete. Ariadne was a daughter of King Minos. Theseus's abandonment of Ariadne on an uninhabited island, and his marriage to her sister Phaedra. Later, Phaedra would fall for Hyppolytus, a son of Theseus through an Amazon mistress. Phaedra tried to seduce and then ruin Hyppolytus, committing suicide in the process. But Theseus kept going. He kidnaps of Helen (who was later rescued), fights off the Centaurs for Pirithous, another king who then ties Theseus into a visit to the underworld where both kings are trapped, but Theseus, or most of him anyway, is rescued from the underworld by Hercules. Add to this his dalliance with Medea, and his mythical origins of Athens' power and democracy (an anachronism). He was, in the mythological spectrum, Athens' statement of prominence.
The myth of Theseus is both ridiculous and awesome, terrible and quite moving, a flawed hero.
This books itself is a very odd one that I quite enjoyed, even found a bit inspiring, despite its flaws. The problem with the book is that the mixture of authors is uneven. Three humble decent authors contribute to the myth of Theseus and how is was used and developed politically and artistically through time. But the prominent author is Anne Ward, who wants to whole book revolve around archeology with the idea that archeology can somehow prove the truth under the Theseus myth. That this is science backwards, and unprofessional doesn't give her pause. Honestly, she was such a poor writer and scientist (an archeologist) that I couldn't even dislike her or skip her contributions, but found them awfully entertaining. Presenting herself offhand as superior in all her archeological insight, she mixed really interesting archeological finds routinely with statements that undermine all she presented. She continually professes absolute and unjustified assurance in "archeological" interpretations that were very plainly suspect. Some I know are far from current thought. She is, to put frankly, ridiculous.
Maybe because of the contrast, or maybe because they just had really interesting info, the other three authors stand out with what I found really reasonable, interesting and sometimes perspective changing summaries of the history of the myth. For example, it was really interesting to see how Athenian leaders would use and manipulate the Theseus myth to help their own political interests. But mainly, it was just nice to rethink all the Greek mythologies through Theseus and his perspective. It's interesting how all this stuff ties to together so neatly, despite so many contradictions.
Anyway, a mixed book, one for those drawn to the title, and willing to overcome my warnings above.
Contributions, by author:
Anne G. Ward - Intro and conclusion plus five terrible chapters on archaeology
Ruth B. Edwards - two chapters on the origins and evolution of the Theseus myths
W. R. Connor - one chapter on the use of the Theseus myths in classical Athens
Simon Tidworth - three chapters on Roman, Renaissance to Romanticism and modern use of the Theseus myths
Reynolds Higgins - 5 paragraph "preface"
30. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Audio) by Shirley Jackson
reader: Bernadette Dunne
format: Overdrive digital audio, 5:32 (~150 pages)
listened: July 17-21
Jackson's Merricat (Mary Katherine Blackwood) makes for a thoroughly entertaining, wonderfully oddball narrator and the book leaves many unanswered, and maybe unsettling, questions to think about. Jackson has a lot to say and says, directly, none of it.
But, I guess the world already knows all that.
I actually listened to the first half twice, partially because I had a two week break where I was on vacation and not commuting, and partially because it was really fun to listen to. I felt Bernadette Dunne read this about perfectly.
>29 dchaikin: This is definitely one of my favorite audio books! Glad you enjoyed it as well.
31. Heroides by Ovid, translated by Harold Isbell
original date: circa 16 bce
acquired: Half-Price Books in October 2016
read: July 8-22
There are, apparently, many different Ovids, or he was a writer who worked in multiple distinctly independent styles. I would have said that differently if I hadn't started Metamorphoses before reviewing, and I would have had a vastly different impression of this if I hadn't read Amores and The Art of Love beforehand. Ovid's love poems introduced me to a hyper-witty and hyper-clever really knowledgeable but insincere poet. This was not that voice.
Heroides is a collection of letters written mainly by spurned heroines in Greek mythology to lovers. Fifteen of the letters come from the likes Penelope, Ariadne or Medea, or more obscure women like Laodamia to Protestilaus or Canace to Marcareus. The sixteenth letter comes from Sappho. And six more are back and forth with lovers. Paris writes Helen to woo her, and Helen writes back with what amounts to something that is not no. And so on.
I'm sure the modern ear can find much to make fun of, and any reader in any age will easily pick up the many levels of satire. But, oddly, these aspects don't color these letters. On the surface they are sincere. The heavy satire is mostly in the situations, the set-up if you like. The letters themselves are straightforward... often romantic, even when or because they are bitter. And they are occasionally moving. Laodamia's letter to Protestilaus stands out. In mythology Protestilaus leaves for Troy shortly after their marriage, and becomes the first casualty in the Trojan war. He is brought back to life for three hours to see Laodamia, who afterward commits suicide. She writes this letter as an unknowing widow. I found it a memorable and touching letter of love, bitter in its irony and yet tangible. Phyllus writes to Demophoon who, when she fell for him only to be abandoned, was not only hurt, but ruined. And she writes longingly.
A note about the translator, Harold Isbell. There are many oddities about him that give me pause. He was a bank director, not a professor. He provides a summary of each major character, a wonderful resource, but they are iffy and partial summaries. Each is simplified leaving a clean and often appealing impression, but one that may contradict or disregard major versions of these stories. His citations of ancient literature are incomplete and a bit haphazard. And, despite all his notes, he never once brings up anything about the translation or original Latin. But, I really enjoyed reading this. So... ??
Enjoyed your latest reviews, Dan. The Shirley Jackson book has been on my 'to read' list for quite a while. Hope to read it sometime soon.
Interesting review of Heroides -- I've not read this, but you've piqued my interest,
>35 janeajones: Jane - I'm taking a moment to be impressed with myself that I've found something classic and enjoyable that you haven't read yet. :) I hope you try a few of these letters out. (Easy to find at the library or online and the translator isn't critical.)
>36 OscarWilde87: Glad you're interested, Oscar. It's an oddly entertaining read.
Hi Dan! I haven't been very active here but I'm still following your readings from time to time. I was interested by your review of Heroides. I enjoyed the book but I completely missed the satire! Also, my French translation was prose. It was a public domain book so it must be from the 19th century or thereabouts.
Flo - I was thinking about your comments on the Heroides while reading them. The satire is mainly in the situation, not the actual text, if that makes sense. They don't read as satire. So, I'm not sure you missed it, exactly.
Well, maybe I didn't see it as satire but as a modern empathy with the woman, who is often the one who suffers in these tales. And a reversal of the "normal" viewpoint, which I assume was the man's, at the time he wrote.
Oh, interesting Flo. The feminist perspective has to be used with some caution because, first, it doesn't really apply to Ovid's intentions, he is not using women to empower them, but because he saw them as the right perspective for what he was trying to do and who is was writing for. And, second, because what he was trying to do may be really unflattering to women and feminism in general.
Ovid, is, I think, tough to know because he really hides himself in his work. His love poetry is awfully offensive, but a lot of that is by design. It's not the writer but the text that's offensive, if that makes sense. We don't really know how the writer stood. Here, with the Heroides, he is largely doing the same kind of thing. He's mocking these women, and through them, mocking all of mythology. He also adores them at the same time. He loves the complexity of mythology and can't help dwelling on the most ridiculous parts. If Ovid was religious or devout in any religious way, he hides this from his work, which is as much irreverent as reverent. Part of his art is that you can't pin him down.
All of that is to say that there are two sides to his empathy with the Heroides.
Hmm, interesting. Maybe I should re-read that book in a more modern translation, with notes and commentaries.
The Shirley Jackson book looks like fun.
I hope you've recovered from your reading slump.
book stores... I didn't buy Lincoln on the Bardo, but I did get:
Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare - used paperback
Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez - used paperback & part of my still vague 2018 plan
The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas - (blaming Mark... well and everyone else reading mysteries around here)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
War & Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
32. Hungry Heart : Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner, read by the author
format: Overdrive digital audio, 13:15 (~368 pages)
listened: July 24 - Aug 8
Hang on, this was good. I'll deal with the chick lit aspect farther down.
Weiner writes about growing up overweight and socially rejected, or feeling that way, with parents who have some issues for reasons that maybe or maybe don't become clear. She grew up Jewish in Connecticut, but far from her extended family in Detroit and her family was pretty well off until her father cut out and ran and went bankrupt.
But she had a plan, become a journalist, maybe like Nora Ephron, write a novel by age 30, have it made into a movie. She would go to Princeton and study under J. D. McClatchy, Ann Lauterbach, John McPhee, Toni Morrison, and Joyce Carol Oates - the biggest influence being McPhee. Then...she would pursue her plan.
At some point midway through the book Weiner is a best selling chick lit author who has a book being made into a movie and complains about a talk she did with Kurt Vonnegut, a hero to her (like a lot of us) and how he trashed her work. (keep perspective, she was on stage with Vonnegut who knew her work well enough to spend time in a talk trashing it. It's not all bad.) Anyway, I figured the interesting part of the book was done. I was wrong.
The book switches gears to a series of set pieces, personal essays about this or that, including her mother, her weight, discovering too much about her father postmortem, having a movie based on her book made, and, my favorite, comparing pets and boyfriends. These essays are terrific. They're smart, entertaining, funny, insightful and a perfect treat for anyone who makes it this far into her book.
So, a moment on the chick lit. We all have our own perspectives, but too me this genre casts an evil pall over literature - crap filling up the best seller lists. But, of course, I haven't read it. But, then what is it? I skimmed samples of Weiner's books and found the opening first person narratives painfully self-indulgent, then I found one I liked that opened 3rd person - it was a young adult novel. But, there is a personal problem, my own biases doing - what - I don't know. I liked how Weiner talked about her books, their autobiographic basis and how she made a thing of making her heroines overweight and having issues with it, like she has had herself. It's, in her own summary versions, of certain value.
I don't know where I stand on all this, other than to see some shades of gray (ha!) in what I thought was concluded. I can't say she pried open my mind, but she had me thinking. The whole first half of this book I was sweating whether I should be wasting my time listening to an author of chick lit, and yet it was good and the book got better and all that concern was unfounded. It just is what it is I guess.
Anyway, this was rewarding to me (and terrifically read by Weiner herself.)
Trying to picture you reading chick lit... Fun review! And surprising.
>46 FlorenceArt: Interesting review! A friend lent me a Weiner book that she claimed was a "must-read". I disliked it and only finished it to satisfy my friend but I've stayed away from Weiner ever since.
Had to look it up - it was In Her Shoes. I found the plot to be completely ridiculous, the characters unbelievable. Strangely, it was made into a movie.
I love your surprising book choices, Dan. Only you could swing from Pynchon and Ovid to an autobiography of a chick lit writer. Fist bump.
33. Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by A. D. Melville, notes by E. J. Kenney
original date: circa 8 ce
acquired: Library book sale 2012
read: July 23 - Aug 15
I'm not and cannot properly review Ovid's Metamorphoses. Instead just scattered notes.
- Metamorphoses has tended to fall out of favor at different times because it's mainly entertaining. It seems it kind of mocks serious study, or can in certain perspectives.
- And it is entertaining in a very flexible way. You can read it straight through, or a story at time - usually only a few pages - or in many other ways, including in a reading slump, like I was in when I started. The only thing really daunting about it, assuming you have a decent translation or read Latin, is its length.
- The quality of the translation is maybe not that critical. He'll be entertaining regardless.
- It's almost chronological, beginning with creation and a few other foundation stories (which for me struck a bunch of interesting notes right off) and ending with Roman history.
- Except that Ovid dodges a lot. He avoids, mostly, overlap with Virgil and Homer and other prominent works, finding niches that are generally overlooked, or working in more obscure stories. He has a whole book (there are 15 books) on mostly eastern stories. Anyway, he won't replace your Edith Hamilton or other Greek mythological guides.
- He filled in a lot stories I hadn't caught in ancient literature - like Atalanta and the Calydonian Boar hunt, the battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs and Pirithous's wedding, or Venus and Adonis.
- But main story lines around Theseus, Minos, Hercules, Jason and the Argo and the hunt for the Golden Fleece, most of the Trojan War or even the basic history of the gods or their battle with the giants all get only cursory coverage.
- He knew everything, or so it seems. Like his previous works, he works in references to practically all known literature of all types. Some more prominent than others, and many lost.
- He also probably (hopefully) made a lot of stuff up.
- So he writes a bit like a scholar and bit like creator.
- This is largely humor, but it's not funny exactly, or even exactly satire, it's just very clever. He creates entertaining situations and then might overdo it a bit. I don't think I ever really minded, even when he got quite gory.
- I think Ovid influences everyone, including many famous art works, but the main work that came to mind as I read it was Spenser's Faerie Queene. Not that Spenser has Ovid's mythology, but just that they left me with a very similar sense. All that work they put in and how far and deeply it pulls you out of the world and how yet mainly it's playful, how it can leave you with that magical sense that only exists around the fringes of your consciousness or awareness.
- recommended to anyone, because it seemed like it has almost universal appeal, but not everyone, if that makes sense.
"The only constant is change." - You're sounding like Lucretius... : )
34. The Princess Diarist (audio) by Carrie Fisher, read by the author and Billie Lourd
format: Overdrive digital audio, 5:13 (normally ~144 pages, but copies are ~270 pages)
listened: Aug 10-17
Audio can make strange bedfellows with my other reading. This was a time-filler, an entertaining one, and, well... What's nice about this is Carrie reads it herself and you get sense of her personality both recently and then - when she was 19 and acting in some low budget space movie. What's interesting about it is that she talks about her odd affair with then-married Harrison Ford. And what's sad about it is that it was published in October 2016, in her voice, and she past away in December. Maybe there are other things sad about it too.
>58 AlisonY: yes, was thinking the same thing this morning. I hope all is OK. Thoughts are with you.
>57 RidgewayGirl: I grabbed that one from the library a few months ago (renew, renewed and renewed) and just can't seem to finish it. Probably because of what you said. The timing just seems .... well, sad.
>58 AlisonY:, >59 avidmom: Thanks. Ok so far. Dodging tornadoes, which is makes me a least a little uncomfortable. More likely issues is the rain accumulation. Today should be fine, tomorrow less so and then ??
But I feel especially bad for those in Port Aranasas and Rockport who seem to have taken the brunt of the category 4 storm. That's far from us, though.
>60 dchaikin: it helped that I didn't put all the timing together until I was about 2/3's in. I don't think I could have read it if I had realized how close it was in timing
I'm hoping that everything is still ok for you and your family, Dan. The images on tv are frightening.
35. The Wave Watcher's Companion: Ocean Waves, Stadium Waves, and All the Rest of Life's Undulations by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
format: 320 page Paperback
acquired: from amazon in 2012
read: Aug 16-30
Pretor-Pinney is author of The Cloudspotters Guide and founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society. This book I think was a spin-off of all that and very much as the title implies - an informal scientific tour of the waves in all forms and mediums, beginning with how ocean waves form and ending on Hawaii, failing to bodysurf; and also one that tries very hard to be, and does a fairly good job at being, entertaining. There are a lot of things that fall into the wave category, like sound, light, radio waves, seismic waves, and but also oddball things like sand ripples, brain waves in different states or how some flocks of birds confuse predators, etc.
how/why: I originally got this because I work with waves (seismic waves) and this sounded fun and an alternative look at waves, something to broaden my perspective. Five years later, moving bookshelves and their books back and forth to redo the flooring, I found myself paging through it, and I thought I needed something that was off my reading list and reading mindset, and his explanations appealed to me.
in sum: Pretor-Pinney does a great job of simplifying things to point that he actually brings something new to these waves in all their types, and I appreciated that. I particularly liked how he explained how radios work, and his tide explanations and his explanation of wave refraction with blind aliens holding hands. It actually helps. He's accessible, and enjoyable, there are no equations but lots of figures. There are inevitably sections that require the brain time to think something through or to construct a concept. So it's not quite as fast a read as I anticipated.
Certainly recommended to anyone interested.
36. About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory by Barry Lopez
format: 273 page Paperback
acquired: from Downtown Books & News in Asheville, NC, in 2014
read: Aug 16-31
A collection of essays with a nature-writer's tone. I had to work through a few things before I could begin to understand where he was going.
Since Lopez is considered a nature writer, I was maybe a little confused by what I found and by what aspects did and did not appeal to me in this essay collection. He rarely stayed long on the natural subjects. Instead he would constantly divert to human elements, human relationships to nature and their stresses and perspectives, and his own personal history. And when he does dwell on the natural surroundings, he has a strong tendency to focus on the visual and especially on the light. This maybe doesn't sound unreasonable, but it can be limiting.
Another aspect that threw me was, ironically, the wonderful quality of his opening essay, titled A Voice. This introduction talks about his first years in New York, and then growing up in rural California just outside LA in the late 1940's and early 1950's and then ending up back in New York again before later making an effort to travel everywhere. California, a lost version of it, had tremendous impact on him and the way he sees the world.
"I could not have understood at this age, only eight or nine, what it might mean to have a voice one day, to speak as a writer speaks. I would have been baffled by the thought. The world I inhabited—the emotions I imaged horses to have, the sound of a night wind clattering ominously in the dry leaves of a eucalyptus tree—I imagined as a refuge, one that would be lost to me if I tried to explain it."This opening essay stands out, and is also unlike anything in the next maybe 150 pages of text before another essay revisits his youth. And none of his other essays really captured me like this opening.
So I struggled with Lopez a long time, trying to figure out why some things didn't work and yet other parts worked really well. It seems there were some things he simply couldn't capture, or, if he tried, he had to take a very roundabout course to his point. He was clearly very knowledgeable, but he seemed unable or unwilling to bring all that knowledge to bear in his essays and in his descriptions.
In a later personal essay he writes about his efforts to become a nature photographer, a pursuit he later gave up to focus on writing. I thought this was really revealing and wish I had known it up front. It explains his focus on the light and the visuals, and, more significantly, his internal contradictory feelings toward nature photography. Both have some bearing on how he writes about nature in general. He's not here to glorify it because he doesn't want to edit out, so to speak, the other sides of nature, the fuller picture. This essay helped me understand some of what he was trying to do with all these earlier essays, which to me were sometimes working and sometimes not (an odd aspect in a selected collection), and more typically felt mixed.
When I re-look at all these essays with this in mind, I think I see Lopez as a struggling writer with broad philosophical approach to human and natural relations that is difficult to capture in a persuasive narrative. His goal is maybe a bit elusive, and even his own point of view is maybe not simple to establish, something that needed to be worked for each essay. And this adds something to whole collection and to the writer, although I'm hard-pressed to explain exactly what I mean. It gives a depth dimension of some sort, and adds weight the collection as a whole.
I'm happy to have read this and taken in Lopez's perspectives.
Thanks Alison. We're totally fine - I mean my house and family. Regionally it's not even clear to me the extent of the damage. I just know bits and pieces, a neighbor's floors and drywall, a elementary school that will be closed for a semester around the corner, a coworker still evacuated, a road we can't drive yet, a shelter in the area that's full, that kind of thing.
66> glad you're all still intact and safe, though I'm sure there will be a long recovery period. I really can't quite fathom the devastation.
Great review of the Lopez book. I was particularly struck by "The world I inhabited—the emotions I imaged horses to have, the sound of a night wind clattering ominously in the dry leaves of a eucalyptus tree—I imagined as a refuge, one that would be lost to me if I tried to explain it." -- my husband grew up in Colorado with a horse -- rode from the mesa of Colorado Springs to where the Air Force Academy now is , through the yuccas (not eucalyptus); he would certainly identify.
Jane - isn't it a wonderful quote. I think it captures an innocence that can only exist at that age, and also just highlights how writing about something changes it, how something gets lost just by the act of trying to put it into words.
I don't think you can ride that anymore - the route your husband road through what now must be all developed. Well, maybe you could ride down the streets.
As to your first comment, I can't fathom it either.
Something I just read about our county, Harris County:
... they conservatively estimate that about 136,000 structures - or 10% of registered structures in the county - were flooded. This is about 50% more than in Allison (2001). Some 70% of the land area is estimated to have been flooded.
70> No, Colorado Springs is a sprawling metropolis now -- reaching nearly to Denver. No wide open spaces on the Mesa.
71> Good lord.
Food for thought - a long quote from Ron Chernow that I think captures some of the essence of Alexander Hamilton's influence:
The American Revolution and its aftermath coincided with two great transformations in the late eighteenth century. In the political sphere, there had been a repudiation of royal rule, fired by a new respect for individual freedom, majority rule, and limited government. If Hamilton made distinguished contributions in this sphere, so did Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. In contrast, when it came to the parallel economic upheavals of the period—the industrial revolution, the expansion of global trade, the growth of banks and stock exchanges—Hamilton was an American prophet without peer. No other founding father straddled both of these revolutions—only Franklin even came close—and therein lay Hamilton’s novelty and greatness. He was the clear-eyed apostle of America's economic future, setting forth a vision that many found enthralling, others unsettling, but that would ultimately prevail. He stood squarely on the modern side of a historical divide that seemed to separate him from other founders. Small wonder he aroused such fear and confusion.
Hi Florence. Hamilton was oddball in this slave-holder revolution for liberty. Oddly talented, oddly principled (as were almost all these leaders in their own limited ways) and oddly out there from everyone else. He's a bit much for any short summary.
37. The Phenomenon : Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life (Audio) by Rick Ankiel & Tim Brown
read by the author
format: Overdrive digital audio, 6:28 (~179 pages, but 304 pages in print)
listened: Sep 5-11
For baseball fans and those interested in lives that encounter something akin to a car wreck.
Despite Ankiel's optimism, this is really a sad story. Baseball fans know Rick Ankiel as a pitcher who lost control after one bad playoff game. It was worse than that. He was a very talented left handed pitcher, maybe exceptionally talented. He had a solid rookie year, and was named a starter in a key playoff game. Then, in that game, winning 6-0, he threw a wild pitch, one bad pitch, and he never recovered. Ankiel was 21 years old, healthy, fine in practice sessions, but he was unable to pitch in a game. He had some unknown undefined issue, maybe akin to anxiety. He was talented enough that several years later he returned to the major leagues as a outfielder (with a spectacular arm).
So, he tells his story here. He's a nice guy, gives a pretty straight-forward memoir, and reads it nicely. You'll feel bad for him, for his abusive father, for what he might have done, and you'll be impressed. And, if you're like me, afterward you'll have some guilt for being so interested.
Very impressed with your reading, as always, Dan. However, I was a bit surprised to find a book by Jennifer Weiner on the list (on the same list with Ovid!) and a review that shows you liked it!!! I was full time in the bookstore when her first book came out. I read it, enjoyed it and enjoyed hand selling it others. It was funny and there was a lot in it many women could relate to. I read the second book, which as you probably know became a movie, the one about the sisters, but didn't like it quite as much (come to think of it, I think the 2nd one became a movie before the first book did). This goes to show you that I will read almost anything (met Weiner at a trade show, too). Sounds like fun to listen to, I'll keep it in mind. Tina Fey's memoir was fun to listen to, as is anything written by Sarah Vowell. Listening to the Hillary book now.
Hi Lois. Thanks for sharing about Weiner. It fills out a picture more of what she is like as a writer. It's really too easy to dodge her fiction since I have so many other things to read. So probably I'll leave her with the impression from this memoir. It's interesting and the essays, once she gets off the straight autobiography it's really a collection of essays, anyway, the essays, they are really entertaining. I think you would enjoy it.
Tina Fey is on my list of authors to try on audio. I got ahold of one audiobook by Sarah Vowell and enjoyed it. (It was on Lafeyette and continues to color my experience of listening to the musical Hamilton)
I highly recommend the Tina Fey book on audio. She reads it and I do not believe it can be listened to without guffawing.
Oh my... I didn't know. I can't express how sad that news is to me.
Thanks for posting Lois.
Ovid, the Stephen Colbert of the ancient world?
Seriously, though, I have hugely enjoyed your Ovid adventure.
Also loved the analysis of the Theseus "history" - and the terribleness of Anne Ward. We have that book around, believe it or not, unread but present. I think my mil bought it yonks ago when my spousal unit was young and a trip to Greece was planned -- we have a huge pile of books on Greece from that era.
Shirley Jackson is fascinating and entertaining, always.
Will have to get the book by Lopez - I have loved all his books.
I know Weiner slightly from my Philly days. Very ambitious and determined and engaging person, in person.
For what it is worth, I have come to feel that there is almost as important a role for entertainment/escape literature as there is for the highbrow stuff. The decent to excellent genre literature gives support and even wisdom in small doses, so there is some nourishment (the really bad does not and is unreadable). And it provides relief.
I suddenly have to run with these thoughts unfinished. Sorry I haven't visited in so long. Busy times. Hope to come back.
>82 dchaikin: Hi Lucy! Ovid as Colbert? Entertaining idea. Very interesting that you have met Weiner in some capacity. She comes across as you describe in the book too. The entertainment/substance debate could use a long discussion, so I'll the leave the thought there. Thanks for stopping by.
38. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
format: 788 page Paperback
read: Aug 26 - Sep 24
OK, first of all I love the musical, which I have never seen, but only heard the soundtrack. Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired by this book and brought into his musical all sorts of curious historical details and situations. And whenever I listened I would tell myself how I really need to look up what really happened.
The book is, of course, something altogether different. A huge accumulation of research lies behind it. Chernow wasn’t just thorough, but hired and got help from groups of researchers from different parts of the world. He seems to present about as complete as story as you can possibly get. After an uninspiring prologue, he ambles along. His prose is clean and he doesn’t wander, although there is a sense in many places of Chernow putting his notes into prose. What I’m trying to say is that it’s readable, but doesn’t really nudge the reader along. You can, if you’re that kind of reader, blast through this, but I suspect for most, like me, it will take a lot time. Sometimes I wondered how Miranda got from here to there. Nonetheless, what is presented here is impressive.
Hamilton was a massive force of energy and broad penetrating intellect that blessed this very uncomfortable American Revolution. He got involved during the battle of New York, became Washington’s secretary during most of the rest of the war, and was deeply involved in the political and practical make up the country through the remainder of his life. Which means a biography of him needs to cover all this era. So, along with Hamilton, Chernow provides a really nice, well paced and clear walk through of (1) The American Revolutionary War (sans the early Boston parts and the declaration of independence), (2) the controversial making of the constitution and all the thought processes and significance behind it (3) the tense ratification of this constitution - which led to the The Federalist papers (4) the early making of the American government system, and especially the finances, Hamilton’s personal creation, (5) the nature of the bitter Hamilton/Jefferson divide and how that evolved into a two party system - the Republican & Federalist political parties, and how the Federalist Party killed itself, (6) and also penetrating mini-biographical summaries of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, John Adams, Eliza Hamilton, Aaron Burr and several others.
There is, needless to say, a whole lot in these 700 plus pages and it’s all covered in the same clean, thorough way. Chernow gave me a better understanding of the foundations on the United States by far than I have gotten anywhere else. It was refreshing, and I’m thankful for that.
I think Chernow’s main interest was in the conflicting and contradictory personality of Hamilton. Completely dedicated to his country, he did not act humbly. He was apparently very pleasant in person, but on paper he was a fighter, extremely forceful and productive, overwhelming opponents, but also lashing out at any perceived slight or anything he perceived as bad idea. He had no tolerance for any idea that didn’t work in his mind, and he would attack them brutally. Even as he was often right (but not always), he would create political enemies. As American politics developed, Hamilton’s pugnacious style stood out more than his real and sincere dedication. He became more dependent on Washington, who both adored and managed Hamilton, less trusted by political opponents and more and more politically isolated.
One of the more interesting stories is Hamilton’s conflicting relationship with Thomas Jefferson (side note - and not so much Aaron Burr. That relationship was heavily exaggerated in the musical). There is a bit of a personality assassination of Jefferson in this. Originally at least agreeable in their ideas, Jefferson, a fairly wealthy slave owner, liked his semi-aristocratic agrarian life style and developed into a proponent of state’s rights, making him a direct opponent of Hamilton’s efforts to strengthen the central government. It seems he hated and did not trust Hamilton. Jefferson would undermine and unfairly criticize Hamilton both when they served Washington together and when they were open political opponents. Hamilton was more favorable towards Jefferson, if not towards his politics.
Over the course of the 8-year presidency of George Washington, Jefferson as Secretary of State would accomplish very little, whereas Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, almost single-highhandedly created an effective working executive branch of government. But Jefferson did manage to maneuver himself politically into a future presidential role, in notably skillful and sometime, but not always, devious ways. In an era before campaigning, Jefferson had to do all this while acting uninterested.
But the irony is that once Jefferson became president he happily took advantage of everything Hamilton created, states' rights be damned. Hamilton’s nation bank and financial system would be maintained under Jefferson and then later under Madison (a close Jefferson ally and ultimately a bitter Hamilton opponent).
Two bits of trivia:
When Jefferson became president he had his treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, review everything Hamilton had done with the purpose of finding “the blunders and frauds of Hamilton”. Gallatin, a Hamilton opponent, recorded his conversation with Jefferson afterward this way: “‘Well Gallatin, what have you found?’ I answered: ‘I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders, committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.’ I think Mr. Jefferson was disappointed.”
Later, after Hamilton was killed and the country was mourning, Jefferson said little to nothing to acknowledge it, publicly or privately.
And another bit - on Eliza. Miranda wronged her. Eliza took herself out of the historical record by destroying all her letters. So we don’t really know who she was or what role she played in Hamilton’s professional life. But it seems she quite a strong personality. And, as Hamilton is known mostly for what he wrote, and it’s possible that much, if not most, of what he wrote was dictated (!), it seems reasonable the Eliza wrote much of his work down as he composed it, and therefore had some significant unacknowledged input. Chernow can only imply this kind of stuff. What is documented is that Hamilton wrote most of Washington’s farewell address, and that Eliza, in an effort to mark his place in this (since it was not acknowledged) told how she worked with him on it.
It’s past time of me to wrap this up, and I haven’t really covered Hamilton the person yet. Maybe go listen to the musical, and then see where you end up.
You've come closer than anyone to getting me to want to read the Chernow book. For now, though, I'll get by with the songs from the musical drifting from my daughter's room
39. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee : An Indian History of the American West (Audio) by Dee Brown
reader: Grover Gardner
published: 1970 (with preface from 2000)
format: Overdrive digital audio, 14:21 (~398 pages)
listened: Sep 12-27
I know the record with Native Americans in the US is bad, really bad, but still, this leaves a discouraging and strong impression.
So I picked this from library after recently doing a quick search for books on Native Americans (while driving through South Dakota and the Black Hills and 5000 miles of other places), and this book came up lot and was first on many lists, and it has a memorable title. So actually when I saw it on my library's audio list, I was really excited.
I don't know what I was expecting, but I was surprised by Grove Gardner's old documentary-serious voice that I usually associate with stodgy old history books and, well, old TV documentaries. And then I was surprised by how much this book resembles a stodgy old history book. It just lays out the facts, and sticks to well-known well-documented info. It's a straightforward narrative. There is no analysis and no exploration of the surrounding stories. No penetrating insight into Native American culture - or even an effort at trying to do that. And then I was surprised at the limited scope. The first chapter takes place in the 1840's, but mostly this book is about a short era from 1860 to roughly 1890 - the era when the Indians on the Great Plains were wiped out, survivors sent to starve on reservations. So, early on I was kind of discouraged by what it might cover.
But the book carries on, grinding from tribe to destroyed tribe, from massacre to massacre. The old and young die off from exposure, massacres or starvation in reservations. The warriors, hopeless from page one, try many different strategies, but they are all, every one hopeless. The leadership of each tribe tried to find their own way to manage white incursion, attacks, massacres and oppression, all were left desperate and all saw their tribes brought down, until eventually survivors were starved on a reservation.
The repetitive nature leaves a mark. Each native tribe was forced by desperation to fight, waging a short brutal vengeance on the US military and then succumbing to complete defeat. Every native victory was a Pyrrhic one, especially that of Crazy Horse over Custer - one of many unprovoked US attacks on native villages of women, elderly and children. Custer was done, but the Sioux were left without ammunition and unable to fight further.
No tribe will remain free, none will keep any of the land they want and need, and all faced, eventually, massive die-offs. And this happens over time, tribe by tribe, relentlessly - Santee Sioux, Navajo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, Nez Perce, Ute, Paiute, Oglala Sioux, other Sioux, Modoc, etc
One big thing that struck me was how the reservations were such a death trap. Once there, tribes withered from exposure and lack of food, their numbers whittled away right in front of the Americans responsible for supplying them. The supply train was mainly a source of profit and mass corruption for the suppliers with often little or nothing actually supplied. I hadn't realized this.
While this was not really the book I was looking for, it has its place as a classic and it has importance in the weight of injustice - and it's just one window, all perpetuated over just one small well-documented era, in plain sight. There is no mist of history here.
Mixed bag of links for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Several don't work, but many of these are terrific.
Louise Erdrich is brilliant on reservation life, as, of course, is Sherman Alexie.
Great reviews. Wounded Knee I have fancied tackling for a long time. I did a project at the age of 13 on the Navajos, and an interest in Native Americans has stuck with me.
>90 AlisonY: haven't read Erdrich, but have meant to... Alexie is a terrific reader on audio.
>91 ELiz_M: Alison, I wonder what the best books on the Navajos are. This is good. Blood and Thunder covers it again, but with the focus on Kit Carson. Also very good.
>92 dchaikin: thanks Liz. Killers I have glanced at, but never heard of Mean Spirit. Noting
40. House of Names (audio) by Colm Tóibín
reader: Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson and Pippa Nixon
format: Overdrive digital audio, 8:47 (~244 pages)
listened: Sep 27 - Oct 9
My first Tóibín novel, I was drawn to this because of the Greek mythological theme. This is Tóibín's version of the Orestia. After the Trojan War Agamemnon returns home victorious, only to be murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, twin sister of Helen. Later their children, Electra and Orestes, will take vengeance on their own mother, Orestes, in dramatic scenes, doing the killing. There is actually a lot of killing in the story. Somewhere out of this comes the etymology of the Electra Complex.
His story comes in three voices - Clytemnestra, Electra and, in third person only, Orestes. Tóibín does a wonderful job of creating his main characters. Whether in first or third person, he creates a lot of atmosphere with very few elements and without telling the reader all that much. The surrounding atmosphere is left with the barest description, and I struggled to construct anything meaningful from it. It's really left to the reader's impression. (One reviewer in The Guardian claims he essentially locates the story in an Ireland setting. I also thought of this while listening, but I ultimately found it all too vague to be sure.) His characters, even in first person, are under-described in much the same way as the landscape - much of who they are and what they are thinking is left in silence and unexplained. And I never tired of this.
The myth has many versions, most famous one by the three ancient Greek playwrights - Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. Tóibín more-or-less accepts the basic elements but he plays with the options, picking certain variations to honor, changing some fundamental aspects, and also adding many of his own elements. Some oddities come out of this and some things just felt like plot holes. I kept wondering why a character wouldn't do something, or try to find more information in some way, or take more action. These things just didn't always make sense to me. I sensed Tóibín likes passive characters, a lot of authors seem to, but he's capturing characters of decisive action, so there is a bit of an unbridgeable conflict. I'll accept my limitations as a reader, but I was never comfortable with this and I couldn't get over the feeling that it undermined the book, as if they author wasn't all in. But, then I never fully understood what Tóibín was really doing with this story. He left me puzzled, a good thing, and looking up reviews afterward offered me no answers. It comes across, in the whole, as something of a mystery, and one I never solved.
>95 dchaikin: never heard of this before. have you read it? (I'll check your thread in a moment).
Definitely not done with Ovid tangents or his influence
>96 ELiz_M: I am currently reading it as it is the monthly choice for the 1001-books group. :) I've already come across at least one reference that I half recognize, but not a character name that I remember, so it's hard to google it to figure out what myth is being re-purposed.
Liz - I'm interested. I'll keep an eye out for a review from you (or other comments on it)
41. The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan
format: ~535 page ebook
acquired: 2014 from Project Gutenberg
read: Sep 8 - Oct 9
I step into the WWI era of literature with a great deal of ignorance and find myself in the world of my ancestry. Cahan, a Russian Jewish immigrant who arrived in New York in 1882, captures a whole world of Jewish New York over a 30 year period of immigration and rebirth. He takes Dickens and Thackeray (or so he more or less claims) and creates history from first hand experience, and it’s moving to someone like me because this world is what four different parts of my family experienced (although not all in NY).
David Levinsky is an orphan and teenage Talmudic scholar who stumbles across a benefactor, a young female divorcee, who provides him with a ticket to America. He will arrive, and stumble and fall in so many different ways, each remarkably real. Discarding the Talmud and faith and even theism, he becomes through will and guts and luck someone who finds himself in the newpapers associated with “the Vanderbilts, the Goulds, the Rothschilds...by calling me ‘a fleecer of labor’ it placed me in their class. I felt in good company.”
Cahan was something of a leader in the Jewish socialist movement of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. That he can write sympathetically of his capitalist hero, one who both fights and has a tolerance for socialists, is interesting and an expression perhaps of a wide experience and open mind.
There is a mixture of history and tragedy of sorts mixed. As Levinsky finds success, and reader gets a lesson on the evolution of Jewish clothing manufacture in American, he becomes a representation of the success of Jews in American with pride and also ambivalence. Listening to the Star-spangled Banner
There was the jingle of newly-acquired dollars in our applause. But there was something else in it as well. Many of those who were now paying tribute to the Stars and Stripes were listening to the tune with grave, solemn mien. It was as if they were saying: "We are not persecuted under this flag. At last we have found a home.”But what was the price. David will lose his culture, religion and in a way his soul. He has no family, few close friends despite extensive acquaintances, and is unable to find affection for women remotely appropriate for him. He will end up alone and unable, really, to understand why. A split of intellect from soul, or maybe of real and spiritual, a gain and a loss.
The Dickens sense in the title is no accident. This is the only Cahan novel I know of, but it’s very well developed, entertaining, capturing many different worlds in both Russian and America. It’s long coming of age, and a full fictional autobiography, if you like, and one that clearly reflects Cahan’s own experience. Recommended to those interested in American Jewish heritage.
>100 dchaikin: hmm Gatsby was last (and first) seen in high school. But that felt different. Fitz was bitter and gutting high society, I think Cahan kind of likes Everyone. Anyway, he comes across as being nice. And Levinsky has charm. Despite his worst actions, I always liked him and his voice.
But, yeah, this was kind fascinating. I'm really happy to have read it.
Lois - I discovered Cahan while part of a RL Jewish themed book club. I can't actually recall where I found it anymore, but I have been thinking about it for a while. And it was quietly resting on my phone once when I found myself without a book.
Huh, I had put together a long list of Jewish authors in 2014 - here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/163456#4493120
42. The Haunting of Hill House (Audio) by Shirley Jackson
reader: Bernadette Dunne
format: Overdrive audiobook, 7:27 (~206 pages)
listened: Oct 9-18
Quite a novel. Shirley Jackson accomplished everything she intended. As a listener, I knew she was in complete control and strategically working an assortment of things into place, but mainly I was enjoying it. It’s terrifically fun, the haunting constructed on practically nothing, yet tangibly there throughout and all the different things to think about. Her characters are stock characters, quietly under-described, and yet they grow along the readers imagination, fully fleshed out and accepted and admired.
This book is both a simplified version of the real world, almost a fairy tale, and very complex. And the affect is both light hearted and heavy, with an ending that takes the reader’s attention and tries to make us note something else was going on. It’s mainly built around four characters, a anthropology professor interested in the occult, two women who accept his invitation (out of twelve invited) to join him in Hill House, apparently haunted, and experience it objectively, and a member of the family who owns the empty house. Other characters slide in for different and important roles, but the book focuses on these four, Dr Montague, Luke Sanderson, Theodora and Eleanor - whose perspective we see most deeply, albeit in 3rd person.
Eleanor is, if you like, an unreliable guide in 3rd person. She is young, dependent, lives unhappily with her married sister, has many secrets and anxieties. Hill House has a complicated mixture of affects on her, including notably one of comfort. As we watch unexplained things happening in the house, all carefully by implication and yet effective on the atmosphere just the same, Eleanor’s split between what she is thinking and what she does gets harder and harder for her hold together.
I kept thinking there are so many different ways this book can be viewed. The cultural commentary is notable. So are the different possible roles of Hill House, as home, as wilderness or untidy history, as something we own and something we can’t understand, as something cared for and neglected, and most distinctly, as a character with a psyche in its own right. The interaction of each visitor with the house can take on many different meanings. I imagine Jackson weaved in there ways to tie this down to some specific implications she wanted to express. She seems to use her work as a bitter attack on our culture through entertaining, likable and mentally flawed characters. This book has a voice that comforts and disarms the reader even while making its points. But, listening, I missed many of her cues, and I’m left open ended with a lot of ways to go take this and I don’t think Jackson would mind that so much.
>105 Narilka: That sounds a lot better than the movie I saw with the same title.
>105 Narilka: I really liked The Haunting of Hill House book when I read it a few years ago. I loved the ambiguity of not knowing how much of it was actually the house and how much of it was in Eleanor's head. I feel like I want to read some more by Shirley Jackson, but I was disappointed by We Have Always Lived in the Castle and am not sure what else to try.
>106 valkyrdeath: I have heard about the movie, but haven't seen it. The book - it's not scary or anything, but it's impressive in how carefully complete it is. A masterpiece of sorts.
>107 dchaikin: I'm guessing you have read her best first V. As I understand, none of her previous books are so compact as THoHH. She hit a spot of mastery with it. This carried over into WHALItC (which I thought was great fun, and penetrating, but it's not a neatly tied up), and then she passed away all too soon (age 48), and in this frame of mind! What a loss. Having said all that, i would like to see how she worked out her earlier books. There are only six novels.
I'm trying to resist a trip to the kitchen after seeing your new photo!
The Cahan and Toíbín sound interesting. Does Cahan lead into your middle era writers?
>109 SassyLassy: - I don't know Tillie Olsen, scanned her wikipedia page...I must have done that in 2014 too. The Exodus is a hole for me. I know I should read and I would probably actually like it, but it does NOT appeal for whatever reason. Anyway, I'm glad you reminded me of the list. Glad I made it...
>110 dchaikin: Either my thread needed a more comforting picture, or I was just feeling a need for caffeine and sugar... Cahan is part of my effort to read more books that have been sitting around. Grace Paley is too, and these are great books I've been neglecting. I had a plan but it had a lot of Pynchon and some Robert Graves on mythology and I have now fired them both for the year. (Although I'm super grateful for having read V., which was great fun.) So, suddenly I have room to fill-in in the schedule.
43. The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Audio) by Jill Lepore, read by the author
format: Overdrive audiobook, 9:05 (~250 pages)
listened: Aug 17-24 & Oct 19-23
Trying to review I’m tied-up between all the information that comes out of this book, the crazy interplay that kind of led to Wonder Woman, and Lepore’s flawed presentation.
The story of Wonder Woman involves lie detector tests, a complex and contradictory evolution of feminism, comic books, the birth control movement, polygamy, promotion and failure, WWII and, of course, fetish.
Wonder Woman is a wonderful World War II creation, and feminist hero created in window in time where the world was accepting and whose prime creator, Willam Marston, passed away, just before that window closed, when in the late 1940’s the revival of conservative American culture hammered in a major set-back to the feminist movement. His character, the Amazon Dianna Prince, became a secretary.
She is feminist as fetish, with everything that phrase implies. Lepore sums up the concept as “draw a woman who’s as powerful as Superman, as sexy as Miss Fury, as scantily clad as Sheena the jungle queen, and as patriotic as Captain America.” Gloria Steinem would rave about Marston’s Wonder Woman comics and the message they sent. She, Wonder Woman, was there to make a point that women were powerful, independent, and capable of everything we humans are capable of. She conquered her villains, regardless of the various ways she found herself tied-up or chained or otherwise challenged. Bondage is a theme...
She had a long road. Marston lived with his wife and another woman and fathered children with both. The other woman, Olive Bryne, was the niece of Margaret Sanger, the leader in birth control movement that was associated with suffragette movement, and is considered a founder of what became Planned Parenthood. Olive, who has a tough childhood, grew up in this environment and her bracelets became Wonder Woman’s. Marston was always a feminist, as was his legal wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston. Wonder Women includes aspects of all three of these women and others Marston associated with, and in a big way she is a suffragette. I think it’s safe to say that Wonder Woman as she was and is could have come out of no other era.
I’m droning on, but there is a lot more to this story, including the sterile Comic Code and it’s legal origins in the battle between psychologists who saw comics as harmless and helpful to children, and those who saw them as racist, corrupting young women and driving men to homosexuality (Batman and Robin), among other things. (They were, of course, actually racist - even if the authors and illustrators likely didn't even think about that.)
Lepore should have written a fun fascinating book. She did all the research and interviews and has all the information laid out. But she somehow failed to find the right narrative drive. The book is a tough dull read that wanders around, only occasionally bringing the reader in. And the readers are very willing, we want in. It’s a great story.
Lepore reads the book on audio herself. I prefer books this way and appreciate that she did this. But potential listeners should note that she has a tough screechy voice with limited range. So, listening takes some tolerance.
Recommended to those who are patient with the imperfect presentation of great information.
>114 Narilka: Sounds like it's pretty interesting regardless. Thanks for the review. I'd been curious about this book.
Just catching up Dan. I haven’t read anything by Shirley Jackson. I think I should. :)
>116 dchaikin: hi. The two by SJ that I recently listened were great fun. And terrific on audio.
So I finished Murder on the Orient Express and classified it as a mystery and a classic. Ok, except...this led me to re-classify all my books. I didn't have a mystery classification. I had put mystery-ish books down as novels or combined them with speculative fiction. Now I decided to add it and split out those books - but I found much gray space. So, I created a mystery/thriller combination...but now have many oddities.
Some of my oddball decisions:
- Terry Pratchett's mysteries and the one Isaac Asimov mystery I left as speculative fiction (where I put both scifi and fantasy) because I didn't want to duplicate. hmm.
- Name of the Rose kept the Novel classification (sci/fi, fantasy, thrillers and mysteries don't), but I also added mystery.
Perhaps I wouldn't make a very good librarian.
44. Lincoln in the Bardo (audio) by George Saunders
readers: 166 narrators, including: Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, George Saunders, Carrie Brownstein, Don Cheadle, Kat Dennings, Lena Dunham, Bill Hader, Miranda July, Mary Karr
format: Overdrive Audiobook, 7:25 (~200 pages)
listened: Oct 23-31
This is such an interesting complicated construction that one might hesitate to apply the word "novel" and that, despite having read several reviews, created for me an entirely unexpected experience.
Saunder’s novel is really different anything I've have read. So much so that characterizing it requires me to come up with some new descriptions and maybe new vocabulary. The book is about the graveyard where Willie Lincoln, son of American president Abraham Lincoln, was buried after his early death during the Lincoln presidency, of course, during the American Civil War, and during an elaborate party thrown by Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd in the White House. In the graveyard reside many of the ghosts of the bodies buried, and they welcome Willie in a quirky way that only makes sense within the context Saunders has created.
This world - there are rules and logic that flow and alter along with our image of ghosts themselves, but yet it holds together, it’s imaginative, crowded, complicated and quite fascinating. There are so many voices. This is part of the reason there are 166 narrators in the audio book - a production which deserves it’s own commentary. The voices are mixed with endless quotes about the Lincolns and about Willie, the party and his death from real sources - each source provided with its own unique narrator on audio. The interplay of these quotes and voices of the ghosts—they are really all ghosts, real and fictional—combine to create an atmospheric mixture of humanity, fantasy and grounded history, a feeling of fiction and, oddly that of a documentary. As I said, it’s unlike any other work of fiction that I have read.
Some thoughts on all this.
On wikipedia Saunders “Early life and education” is given this description:
Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas. He grew up near Chicago and graduated from Oak Forest High School in Oak Forest, Illinois. In 1981, he received a B.S. in geophysical engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Of his scientific background, Saunders has said, “…any claim I might make to originality in my fiction is really just the result of this odd background: basically, just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don't have sufficient background to really understand. Like if you put a welder to designing dresses.”This says a lot about his fiction. But, let me a take a moment to note his degree. I have worked in Geophysics for almost 20 years, where I stumbled via a geology degree. Saunders is better trained to do what I do than I am.
— — —
The books leave me with a fundamental question about all literature: did i enjoy this? This is an odd question in several ways, but notably because I was entertained the entire time I listened. I was always interested in the nature of the book and its atmosphere, and in the plot that flitters in and out and does manage to construct itself into plot—if perhaps a weak one, once filtered out from all the other stuff going on here. The thing is, it’s so modern, so like life today where in every beautiful man-made thing shows the cracks in the concrete and leaves you wondering whether you even like the concrete itself, or whatever material of construction. It’s not beautiful in the way fiction can be (or in the way we like to think nature can be). It’s very disappointing in how … hmm, I need a word for this… in how un-magical(?) it is.
(ETA - please don't take this paragraph too seriously. I did enjoy this book. Just trying to make an effort to think about some of its qualities)
— — —
Easily five stars for effort and construction and audio. Minus one for leaving me the question just above
— — —
A moment of appreciation on the audio - The creation of this audiobook with 166 different narrators, including Saunders, is a feet that deserves a moment of reflection. First of all, thank goodness I wasn’t the one coordinating all this. Second, it does work, and it’s quite special. It’s a book that should absolutely defy the audio presentation and yet this production almost solves that problem. Recommended with hesitation.
>121 dchaikin: that comment about enjoying it was intended more broadly, about works like this in general. Also it wasn’t meant to be taken entirely seriously. Maybe I should go clarify. It was a thought I had that I was trying to word and that does apply to the character of this book. It’s just, it has...I can’t say it better than I did up there. It’s just not polished and beautified. It is a really good book and I did enjoy it.
>122 auntmarge64: Well, then, I'll look forward to it and read it soon. :)
IMO a good librarian is one that should be constantly thinking about categories rather than assign a category for a book once and for all, so I suspect that you'd make a good librarian, or at least that I'd enjoy visiting your library. :)
Very interesting review though I'm not sure this book is my cup of tea. The audio version seems fascinating.
>120 auntmarge64: (etc.)
Interesting. I don't think there's really any reason why earth-scientists shouldn't be writers - I know at least one geologist who's a more-than-competent poet. And there was Novalis who trained as an inspector of mines, and Simon Winchester is a geology graduate, and no doubt many others...
I'm still trying to decide if it's worth investing the effort to read it. I expect I will eventually...
>125 dchaikin: I agree. Science in all forms and writing are not exclusive pursuits, then go together well. But I love this phrase: "just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don't have sufficient background to really understand". I think that describes the author of this book very eloquently.
>123 chlorine: - I put in an ETA, based on your comment. Trying to be more clear - I don't have the clearest of thought processes...
45. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
series: Hercule Poirot #10 (but #9 on LT, which has an 8.5)
format: 273 page Kindle ebook
acquired: October 28
read: Oct 29 - Nov 3
My first straight-out mystery, first Agatha Christie (best selling author from the last 400 years - if you go back farther, she's third to Shakespeare and the Bible). It was fun. Not sure how the movie will bring anything special to this, since it would work as a simple stage drama. No need to cinematic tricks. (of course, there was a time when there were still movies centered on acting)
>129 avidmom: We went and saw this yesterday. I have not read the book (or anything Agatha Christie) so I do not know how the movie measures up to the book but the movie was really good. The scenery is gorgeous; the acting is great. And I did not see that ending coming...
And after a year of working at a little library, I can tell you you can find one title in a variety of places. Wuthering Heights in our library is on the classic shelf (we have a section of small paperbacks); in the large print section, in the audio section, and in the fiction section. Sometimes the librarians will intentionally put one title - if we have more than one copy - in a few different categories in the building (like many of our mystery titles are in the specified mystery section and in the fiction section) to "hopefully increase the circ" of that particular book. Because if a particular title isn't checked out after so long (? I don't know how long, that's above my pay grade), it gets pulled and usually sent to the book sale room for sale (like for a whopping $1!)
>129 avidmom: I’ve read or listened to quite a few of Christie’s books. She was quite prolific. I listened to that one, and enjoyed it a lot. I am looking forward to the movie too.
46. The Collected Stories by Grace Paley
format: 386 page paperback
acquired: 2006, from my neighbor
read: Oct 19 - Nov 7 (with something of a break from Oct 29 - Nov 3)
Selected stories from three collections:
- The Little Disturbances of Man (1959)
- Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974)
- Later the Same Day (1985)
It’s when trying to review a book like this, that I get a sense of how limited I am as a reviewer. There is a world of stuff to say about this book, a rich atmosphere with numerous different angles intersecting in one place…atmospheres. There is a lot here beyond the sentence, that isn’t overtly in the text and quotable, and that is difficult for me explain. I would say most of what leads me to give this book five stars is elusive to me, and not captured below.
Paley was something of a idealist whose perennial fascination with human passions, experience and disappointment evolves over the course of time. She has an interesting perspective on religion and life meaning, and either by intention or as a side-effect, shows how incongruous these thoughts are to life itself. All this can felt in these stories - three difference collections from three different eras (1959, 1974 and 1985). Each collection is the same in many ways, in style, in characters, who reoccur, and yet they are each different, distinctive, maybe of Paley’s apparent place. The most notable constant is Paley’s fictional alter-ego, Faith Darwin (a play on her own name and on itself), a divorcee, mother two young boys, who ages through her stories.
I think this collection serves as an interesting commentary on its time and the changes through its time, although it dwells on things that did not change - being a woman, being who you are, family and children and the transience of relationships, or really the failure of them, and of judgement.
- The Little Disturbances of Man (1959)
Lillie, don’t be surprised—change is a fact of God. From this no one is excused.
Her first collection is striking by the raw power of its voices, and it is all voices. Each story has a narrator who has a lot to say and quickly. The stories are easy to get into, and quickly run through their material, the narrator having kind of exhausted our emotional stamina. I admired these hyper-powerful impatient stories. They “happen” quickly. The contents, the subjects touched on, struck me. I expected the baggage of Jewish culture, but I didn't expect all the sex and god and Christianity. This is great fun and powerfully memorable stuff.
wikipedia tells me the the collection wasn’t particularly successful, just another forgotten work by another unknown author. But it would be republished before her next collection was released.
- Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974)
Just when I most needed important conversation, a sniff of the man-wide world, that is, at least one brainy companion who could translate my friendly language into his tongue of undying carnal love, I was forced to lounge in our neighborhood park, surrounded by children.
After Paley’s first collection, there was some kind of pressure on her to write a novel, instead a short stories. Having read that first collection, I find that a painful misfit of author and style. Alas that novel never happened. Instead, this collection came out, and it certainly feels as if this is the scraps of a novel.
The stories are longer, paced slower, less voice, more thoughtful and reflective but extremely intense at the sentence level. In the center story, Faith in a Tree, Faith sits up on a tree limb in playground, a mother watching her children and other parents and life around the playground. Each paragraph, each interaction has so much weight. In my favorite story, A Conversation with My Father she writes about story telling. Her father tells her: ”I would like you to write a simple story just once more…the kind like Maupassant wrote, or Checkov, the kind you used to write. Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next.” And after she tries with some back and forth he is moved by the "Poor woman, Poor girl, to be born in a time of fools, to live among fools.", not realizing he is capturing his daughter, but he also concludes, “I see you can’t tell a plain story. So don’t waste time.”
My thoughts on finishing, as I posted on Goodreads, were: “This collection feels like a failed novel, it’s the splinters that couldn’t come together. It was too intense. So she took out the sparkling stand alone pieces, shoved some other stories in the gaps and called it a collection. Of course I got that all wrong, but posting it anyway."
- Later the Same Day (1985)
Once I thought, Oh, I’ll iron his underwear. I’ve heard of that being done, but I couldn’t find the cord. I haven’t needed to iron in years because of famous American science, which gives us wash-and-wear in one test tube and nerve gas in the other. Its right test tube doesn’t know what its left test tube is doing.
A different personality writes these stories. The author is older, toned down and so disappointed in life, but can’t get herself to say it. It worth taking a moment to think how different life was for a feminist and activist liberal in 1959 versus and 1985, and yet Paley takes no time to look at the positives, only life experience and aging, and disappointment creeps in.
All of her stories have a slim tether to really, breaking off in various ways without breaking the stories, but this collection goes the farthest, its the collection that most shows an author frustrated with the limits of story telling. It’s like the story isn’t saying enough, so she randomly grabs something nearby and incongruously tosses into the story in a desperate effort to make a point that can’t quite be said, but without breaking rhythm.
These stories lack the raw power of her first collection and even of her second, but maintain a complexity and develop a maturity. Who has Grace Paley become after all these times? She tells about Faith in 3rd person, bitterly and superficially through the voice of a racist old Jewish man, who recalls she was “once beautiful”: “She looks O.K. now, but not so hot. Well, what can you do, time takes a terrible toll off the ladies.”
I don’t know Paley’s life story, but her short story publication would stop here. The novel idea was entombed. She would publish poetry, scraps of which she had integrated into her short stories here, and she would remain an activist. She would publish this book of selected storied in 1994. But it seems the published story telling would go silent until her passing in 2007
Silence —the space that follows unkindness in which little truths growl.
>130 NanaCC: That's encouraging Susie! I had read very tepid reviews of the movie, since there are already iconic Poirot. I have been worried, but still hope the family will go see it together tomorrow. Also, that's interesting about libraries. a tough game to play there. I'm always saddened to see the missing less popular good books lost amidst all those best sellers.
>131 dchaikin: Colleen, I've thought about adding Agatha Cristies to my audiobooks. I know she has some very well-liked narrators. I haven't really pursued it yet...well, other than to find the Murder on the Orient Express has about at year long wait-list through my library.
I think the Poirot series read by David Suchet or Hugh Fraser are very good. Suchet played Poirot in the BBC / PBS productions, so I guess he personifies him, but Fraser’s narrations are also excellent.
47. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (Audio) by Sherman Alexie
reader: the author
format: Overdrive Audiobook, 12:10 (~338 pages, but 457 pages in hardcover)
listened: Nov 2-14
Alexie is a powerful writer and performer. This memoir, a memorial to his mother who passed away in 2015, is bittersweet. He had a tense relationship with a difficult mother, made worse as their relationship developed in such a difficult environment. Alexie, a Native American, grew up on a Spokane Indian reservation, a depressing, poverty stricken environment marked by alcoholism, suicide and rampant tolerated crime. Sort of on accident, and sort of in honor of his mother, the book is a series of short entries, some personal essays, some very brief sketches, some poems, some single sentences, the whole making up what he describes as a something akin to quilt - his mother having made quilts his whole life to help pay the bills.
If you haven't experienced Alexie before you should know that he is naturally captivating on many levels and I can't recommend his books highly enough. They will appeal to anyone. He reads wonderfully in his native accent making the audiobooks far more powerful then the the text.
If you have read him before you will notice this book at first feels a lot like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, with the same kind of power even when he repeats from that book. Alexie is unique in that he can say the same thing over and over again, and it gains power, it becomes somehow deeper with each repetition. He kind of runs out of life stories about a third into the book, at least those that fit in his narrative. So, the book changes into something else, this quiltwork pattern of poetry and various short takes that cover various aspects of his life and thoughts. There is something of a religious feel to everything he writes, and every time he tells you how unreliable he is, and every time he repeats a story and contradicts a story he just told you and concludes something completely opposite to what he just said, even every time he curses. It's all very rhythmic and hypnotic. It's all very sincere too.
I will say, as charming as he is, this is one author I would not want to meet in person. Listening to him describe what offends him, and how angry he can potentially become...well, it's hard to know how much of this he constructs for literary affect and how much is really brimming under the surface. But if I were every to meet him person and be forced to say something, I would be scared shitless.
48. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
format: 400 page paperback
read: Nov 8-16
I had to fight my way into this because of combination of things. My expectations were high because this first novel is an Orange prize winner that got a great deal of a praise from readers I follow about how beautiful this adaptation of Homer is. That's a negative thing - high expectations. Then it opens with an elegant but unoriginal style, creates a very un-Homeric Patroclus, and quickly fumbles a meeting of several Trojan War heroes trying to win the hand of Helen. Unfortunately this colored the whole book. So, I need to mention here that Miller did win me over. She did so because she stays true to Iliad in some wonderful, clever and sophisticated ways, because she points to whole book towards that and pulls it off in a rewarding way, and because the books gets better as it goes along, and ends really well.
I think if you haven't read Homer, you won't have any problems with this book. Miller's language is elegant and clean, it reads very fast, and she develops her version of the story nicely, through the homosexual perspective of Patroclus. Her Achilles, and Patroclus and Briseis are all likable, as is her Hector and other characters. And her Thetis is interesting. And, it's a great story.
If you have read the Iliad, then, like me, you're going to bring some baggage into novelistic adaptations and have to come to terms with aspects the author does different that you might, were you writing your own version. So you'll probably also have trough early on, wondering at a non-warrior Patroclus, either warming to or chaffing against his and Achilles homosexual relationship (but if you really have trouble with that, maybe you weren't reading the Iliad so closely). You might wonder why Thetis seems so...disturbing, or might think that's spot on.
And, if you're like me, you might have trouble with her version of kleos, or Homeric glory. This was my number one problem with the book. If I were writing my version, I would start in East St. Louis, or some other street gangster culture where reputation of toughness is part of the survival mechanisms. Because that mentality is the Iliad. (There is a book that touches on this, but I haven't read it: book:Street Justice: Retaliation in the Criminal Underworld|755307) Miller has a version of kleos, but it's a cleaned up and political version where the ones involved seem to be playing something of a game which they quit anytime they decide to come to their senses.
But, that aside, if you have read the Iliad you will be rewarded with how well Miller ties her story into it. I thought she brought something to it, and certainly she brings a lot out of it. Her oddball Patroclus works.
What am I trying to say about this book? I think my review got a bit lost. Miller, a Latin and Greek tutor, put ten years of trial and error into this first novel, and I think what comes out is a rewarding novel, one that can be enjoyed by anyone.
>120 auntmarge64: I keep seeing things about Lincoln on the Bardo and I feel I want to read it. I'm just trying to decide whether I want to go the audiobook route, since it sounds like an impressive production.
>129 avidmom: I love Christie's books but I've been in no rush to get to Murder on the Orient Express since it's the plot I'm most familiar with from film and tv. I really don't see the point of yet another film adaptation of it.
>138 valkyrdeath: Interesting to see your perspective on Song of Achilles given your recent reading of the Iliad. I really enjoyed the book, but didn't have much of a point of reference for comparison and was just reading it as a normal novel.
I had never heard of Alexie. He seems to be a fascinating author.
>138 valkyrdeath: Nice review! I really disliked The song of Achilles, and I was puzzled to see so many people praising it. But I think - with hindsight - that I took against it mainly because I grew up with Mary Renault's books, and obviously have a fixed idea of how historical fiction set in ancient Greece "should" be done. If you were won over by Miller with Homer fresh in your mind and no Renault legacy, then it's probably a better book than I thought.
>139 chlorine: - Gary, I think with Lincoln on the Bardo, you are good either way. Just need to carry a lot of patience into the audio and maybe start over once you get a sense of how it works. The audio is impressive, but it is because it took that much effort to make this book work in audio.
Regarding Murder on the Orient Express - I still want to see the new movie, but haven't yet...and missed a change last weekend.
>140 thorold: C, Sherman Alexie is special voice, a poet performer with a great sense of humor and a moving sense of black humor. If you have access to audio, give a sample a few minutes and you will get a sense of who he is and what he does.
>141 dchaikin:/>139 chlorine: - Mark & Gary, I think your conflicting reactions to The Song of Achilles are so interesting. Different backgrounds, different book.
And, Mark, I can't read your comment with part of my brain screaming at me - "READ MARY RENAULT!!" over and over again as a command. I need to get to her work. Also, I do think Miller's book is unoriginal. Her voice is like the Orange-award-standard-voice, if that makes sense. Imitation of Ann Patchett, so to speak. That's not such a terrible thing, but it says something. Miller could be described as someone writing about something she loves, more than a creative writer.
Very interesting reviews of both the Miller and the Alexie. Alexie is an amazing author.
>145 dchaikin: Hi Kay. Thanks! I agree about Alexie, amazing person.
49. The Creek by J. T. Glisson
format: 267 page Paperback, with cover art and illustrations by the author.
acquired: sent by a friend, and friend of the author, with autograph, in October
read: Nov 17-22
J.T. Glisson is in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ 1942 memoir Cross Creek, her version of his entire boyhood laid out in a paragraph. Cross Creek is a small place in central Florida, somewhere southeast of Gainesville, between two large lakes and made up mostly of swamp, orange groves and wild central Florida woodlands. It’s sparsely populated now, and was even more so then. In Glisson's hand-drawn map from 1940 there are 17 houses over roughly 20 square miles. I think he may have touched on the occupants of all 17 during the course of this book.
Glisson was born in 1927 and basically grew up in a young boys paradise in 1930’s Cross Creek. The Great Depression didn’t really touch this area, which had cleared out long before after a freeze killed the orange groves, which take many years to regrow. What was left were several subsistence families living off what they could grow and, for cash, what fish they could catch and sell, all of which were caught illegally. (“We didn’t play cowboys-and-Indians at Cross Creek. We played fisherman-and-game-wardens”) These are the Florida crackers described in Rawlings’ books. Glisson and his siblings had chores, but otherwise had free reign of the area and all the wonders and dangers nature and an odd but tight rural community could offer—plus he had a nationally famous author next door. His life was akin to that of Tom Sawyer, but over 50 years later with automobiles and a world war on the way.
If you believe Glisson, his 11 year old self stumbled across N.C. Wyeth, father of Andrew Wyeth and illustrator of The Yearling, sketching Cross Creek; and he later poured through the book when it showed up on his front porch, neglecting all chores for a full afternoon. Then his 15 year-old self would be shocked to read about himself, by name, and his own family and community when a copy of Cross Creek showed up and he went through the same obsessive read.
The era would end all too soon as the war came and several of the community, what had become a self-constructed family, would pass away in a variety of accidents. (Although almost every male of age in Cross Creek joined the military during WWII, only one was killed in action). Rawlings herself died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1953 (she was 57), firmly closing the era she recorded.
I would like to leave a sense of the the magic of this book in my review, but it’s hard to do that. There is an entire world here that is associated with but not actually captured in that of Rawling’s book. And it’s told in a form of a series of adventures, keeping us readers intimately involved. Notably Glisson captures Rawlings herself, through time and from an evolving perspective, bringing out some of the complexity of the spirited high strung outsider she always was in Cross Creek.
It’s always uncomfortable for me when I’m given a book by the author. In this case, I was talking to a friend, who is also close friend of a distant family member, who recently moved to Cross Creek and offered to get me a copy of this book which I had never heard of, signed to me by the author whose existence was a sentence in a book I once read, and delivered free of charge. So I was expecting anything, but I wasn’t expecting this to be a mature work of, as far as I know, an otherwise unpublished author but well regarded illustrator. The introduction talks about how Glisson sat on this book because he was afraid to publish it in the shadow of Rawlings. He finally published it in 1993 and it’s gone through several printings. J.T. Glisson is no secret. You can find videos of him getting interviewed online, including on NPR.
I can strongly recommend this to anyone interested in Majorie Kinnan Rawlings or in the history of this area, or in all the various micro worlds that make up Florida because they aren’t all weird. Some areas are quite wonderful. But I can also recommend this to anyone that just wants a magical well-written memoir that you might find yourself sad to finish. Grateful to have read this.
Thanks Vivienne. Not sure when next I'll read her, but at least I know I don't need to hesitate on it.
50. Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard
reader: Simon Vance
format: Overdrive Audiobook, 10:14 (~284 pages. Hardcover, with notes, is 400 pages)
acquired: Library download
listened: Nov 14-28
I'm about to go on a rant and criticize Millard, possible unfairly, so before I get going...
Candice Millard has made something of a name for herself as full time mom in the Kansas City who is also a serious historian and, from an office in her husband's business, authors best selling history books. A one time National Geographic writer, she has excellent pen and writes history as adventure, capturing Theodore Roosevelt in South America, the assassination of James Garfield and, here in Hero of the Empire, a prison of war escape by a very young Winston Churchill that may have been the event he needed to catapult himself into British national politics.
I should also point out that she is well regarded and that reviews mostly glow with praise talking about her books, noting the research and extensive notes (with the cranky exception of The Times, here). If you can catch her in online interviews, she talks about her research and in how she has learned how to find experts and has made terrific use of them and she shares credit. In this book she gives a lot credit to William Manchester. She also talks about what it takes to make a book out of all this research. (In the same interviews, she dodges the question as to why she has only written about dead white men.)
I found this an ok, well paced, very readable and somewhat, if not entirely, pointless and forgettable book of history and biography. Yes, this is an exciting story in Churchill's life, one that is largely forgotten, despite his own book on it. And yes it takes place in an exotic historical war of forgotten significance, marked by a wide array of fascinating characters and cultural oddities. The Boers never should have had a chance and they fought beautifully and with dignity, and they suffered greatly, including in early British concentration camps...then later they instituted apartheid.
What Millard does is take Churchill's own story and re-wrap it in the history of the times (with a slight American interest tilt). She manages to bring in a connection with Teddy Roosevelt and Churchill in Cuba, which I thought was a terrific touch. The problems here are that first of all she doesn't bring in anything new. This is well known history and Churchill's account is available in his own arrogant-adventurer language (which she quotes extensively). She has no new perspective to bring, just a few detailed touches. And second, what bothered me a great deal, is that she trusts Churchill blindly. No one questions that Churchill was self-serving for his career in everything he did, often being very brave, but always with politically ambitious intent. He says this himself. So, how can you possible take his word as pure truth for anything? He should be questioned and studied for motive and wondered about. What was real here? What can we believe? Millard could have at least included the phrase, "Churchill later claimed". She could have added that phrase in 100 times.
For example, did Churchill really, in the middle of the Boer country surrounded by patriotic civilians and running blindingly from an intense manhunt, stumble completely by accident at the door of a British-sympathizing member of an organization that helped escaped British soldiers? It's outrageous that Millard would not challenge this assertion of impossible blind luck that conveniently protected the individuals involved. What would Jill Lepore say? I, at least, can't forgive that.
The third problem, and harshest criticism, is that I think Millard in effect blesses the accepted historical narratives, unchallenged. She writes in an tone which prevents questioning. It's an omniscient tone, as if everything is known and certain and there is no need to question anything. This is ok in fiction, but (listen up Nathaniel Philbrick and Erik Larson) gives a false impression of historical certainty. It also makes it very difficult to work in hard and uncertain historical queries.
Recommended for those who want a fun forgettable history book and who are free from concerns on petty details such as uncritical belief in the words of original sources, and who aren't as uptight and bothered by this as I am.
>150 avaland: A Nice review, considering that your comments do not make me want to read this book. ;)
>154 thorold: ...but if we hadn’t seen your review, we’d never have heard of Candice Millard on this side of the pond - now I’m almost curious to read it!
>150 avaland: Interested to see your perspective on the Millard book. Her book about James Garfield is one of my favouite history books that I've read. I didn't enjoy the Churchill one quite as much, but I've never been quite sure how much of that is simply because of how much I dislike Churchill. I actually enjoy her style of writing for history books in general though.
>155 valkyrdeath: Mark - you’re a class of reader I hadn’t considered when making my recommendations
>156 dchaikin: Gary - I get uptight about integrity. Not sure why. Never comfortable with Larson. Crushed to find Philbrick is shoddy (per Jill Lepore). On the otherhand I find Churchill fascinating in all his awfulness. He was a man of his times. Hmm. Anyway, I think Millard is a very good at prose and pacing. She can write. Just uncomfortable with her trust in Churchill’s words and what that may (or may not!) imply about other issues. You know, once you lose faith, it tends to be a permanent thing.
>147 VivienneR: The Glisson book sounds really wonderful, even though I've never read Rawlings. Thanks for the review.
ETA: AND great review of the Millard.
Thanks Maggie. The Creek turned out to be a really meaningful book for me. It’s hard to express that in a review.
51. The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson
translation: from Swedish Michael Leverson Meyer
introduction: Michael Chabon
— 1941 - Röde Orm Sjöfarare i västerled ("Red Orm on the Western Way")
— 1945 - Röde Orm : hemma och i österled ("Red Orm at Home and on the Eastern Way")
— 1955 - translated and combined.
— 2010 - (crappy) introduction
format: 509 page paperback
read: Nov 23 - Dec 3
This is fun. A Viking adventure story that explores the remarkable world of 1000 AD. It's never too serious, and yet always interesting in a kind of serious way. And it's told in a restrained and straight-faced humor, a type that is tamped down underneath the adventure, and mainly adds some charm to all this international violence and missionary games.
I don't think I want to say much more about it. If you think you might like it, then I recommend it highly, and if you think you couldn't care less about Vikings and wanton pillaging, I think you still might like the tough little hero at the center this world, and the way he experiences it.
Negative side note: I was really annoyed by the introduction by Michael Chabon. He had nothing intelligent to say, so he just spat out that kind of empty praise that can have the backhanded affect of making a book seem worse because it's inconsistent with what he implies it is.
Positive side note: I had Club Read in mind when I chose this, and particularly rebeccanyc. Thanks to all who encouraged me (some a few times) to read it. I'm grateful.
...they often cast glances at me and so, in time tempted me into the cave of sin. I should, alas, have been steadfast and resisted their entreaties, or else have fled from their presence, as blessed Joseph did in the house of Potiphar; but Joseph had never read Ovid, so that his situation was less perilous than mine.
52. Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
reader: Gabra Zackman
format: 8:19 Overdrive audiobook (~231p, 304 pages in hardcover)
listened: Nov 29 - Dec 8
Very much a writers book, with a lot of exploration of the imagination (sometimes through Jewish mysticism). This was tough on me, partially because I am reading a book in the same writer-focused abstracted vein at the same time, the combination of the two giving me no respite.
Krauss follows two characters who never meet, and their different but vaguely parallel failure to find meaning. Something changed in Jules Epstein, a successful lawyer and dominating talkative presence, after both his parents recently passed away. Finding himself uninterested in pushing back at the world, he gets a divorce, starts discarding all his wealth, leaves New York for Israel where Jewish mysticism offers him little, until he disappears.
Nicole, a fictionalized version of the author, and another divorcee, returns to Israel without a plan and finds herself involved with the previously hidden works of a hidden Kafka. This Kafka, in Kafka-esque fashion, didn't pass away in a sanitarium in Austria, but changed his identity and made an Aliyah where he lived a long quiet secret life as a gardener. Except it's not clear what's real and what's not and what, if anything, Nicole should make of it.
Other than an Israeli taxi driver with a gold tooth referred two in two lines, one in the opening section and one near the end, these two characters never seem to cross paths in anyway I could decipher.
This is my first book by Krauss, who has a reputation of being a really smart author who writes a lot about writing in her novels. All of that is true here. She was just a little too abstract and her meaning a little too obscured or hard to grasp for me to get more out of this other than interesting perspectives on Israel and Kafka.
>159 dchaikin: Yay - another positive take on The Long Ships
I just went back to 2013 and found this remark of yours after a review of it I've thought about this one, it's already on the wishlist. Perhaps if I toast Agir, Allah, and St James I may be granted time to get here
The toast must have worked.
Thanks for fishing that out Sassy, that makes me smile. Only took four years to come through.
Seems I have that Krauss book around here somewhere. I really loved her The History of Love and it was especially great on audio. I have not read her since and picked up the current book as an arc while at the bookstore. Now I see that divorce figures prominently, I may skip it. Having been through it myself I'm not particularly fond of it in fiction. Thanks for the review!
>165 dchaikin: divorcées, not divorce the process. But see your point. I think someone in this mindset, Krauss’s mindset thinking about writing in terms of imagination or theory or process, will get a lot out of this book. But I’m not sure who else will.
53. Fanon by John Edgar Wideman
format: 229 page hardcover
read: Dec 3-10
Before I joined Club Read my main source of book reviews was the New York Times. Back in 2008 I read a review of this book there and, while the review was probably quickly lost, the impression of the review stuck with me. I had this idea of an author struggling with himself and it just hung around in my head. I never saw any other reference to the book. Years later, in 2011, I was in a Borders, and they still existed (I know, because I documented it), and I stumbled across this book in their bargain books pile and remembered the book review and quickly grabbed it. Then it sat on my book shelves where it quietly collected dust for a number of years. (The NY Times review is available Here.)
I have been looking at my bookshelves lately trying to find some books to actually pull off read. I find this an oddly disappointing process for reasons I haven't been able to figure out. Anyway, this one appealed because I've been thinking about it all these years and it's a nice, little hardcover.
I know very little about Frantz Fannon, a black decorated WWII veteran for France from Martinique who later fought against France for Algeria, and later wrote the pro-violence Wretched of the Earth, but I did know coming in that this wasn't about him so much as the author using his exploration of Fannon as prop of sorts. Wideman is writing about himself, or maybe about struggling to write about himself, and also about racism.
It's a tough book to read, partially because of Wideman's layers. He tells us he's writing about a fictional Thomas who is struggling to write about Frantz Fannon, and who receives a package of a severed head and then Wideman mixes which level is narrating—him, about him, about Thomas, is Thomas narrating? He goes through a large fictional and impossible conversation with film director Jean-Luc Godard, where the text cuts in and out of proposed cinematic scenes. But what really makes this a tough read is Wideman's run-on sentences - apparent scattered thought processes that circle back on themselves and correct, refine or contradict themselves while randomly switching topics and focus and then returning. These are page length convoluted sentences that are difficult to follow and often don't have any clear point.
Then mixed in is Wideman's story about his real-life brother, who is decades into a lifetime prison sentence without parole. Through the difficulty of this book, his visits to his brother with his mother stand out clear and powerful. His brother's words and Wideman's inability to express what his brother is going through, or the costs in time and other, and what this all means and how he feels about it is extremely moving. (He doesn't say so in the book, but wikipedia tells me his brother was involved in some kind of contraband exchange where one person (not him) shot and killed another.)
Anyway, after all that, after all the wondering about this book, my main impression is the struggle to read these long sentences, and how long each page ahead looked as a saw another long sentence with little clear purpose. It's a disappointing book that has probably gone stale. It probably needed to be read in 2008.
I did have two interesting takeaways. The first was the mixed connotations of the severed head Thomas finds himself in possession of. He disposes of it in the East River, bringing up to me an image of Orpheus's severed head floating down a river still singing. It represents Fannon's shortened life and restricted life of black America and of Wideman's brother and of Wideman's own struggling and limits of writing. The other was the sense that maybe this mutilated language was itself an expression of how difficult it is for Wideman to say what he wants to say in the way he wants to say, a concession of his own struggle.
54. Spanish Pathways in Florida: 1492-1992/Los Caminos Espanoles En La Florida : 1492-1992 (English and Spanish Edition) edited by Ann L. Henderson & Gary R. Mormino
Translators: Carlos J. Cano, José A. Feliciano-Butler & Warren Hampton
format: 338 page paperback. Even pages English, odd pages Spanish (169 pages per language)
acquired: 2011, from Books & Books in Coral Gables (my favorite south Florida bookstore)
read: Dec 9-13
1. Introduction by Ann L. Henderson & Gary R. Mormino
2. In Search of Spanish Pathways by Bailey Thomson
3. The Invasion of Florida: Disease and the Indians of Florida by Henry F. Dobyns
4. Hernando de Soto’s Entrada into La Florida by Jerald T. Milanich
5. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés by Eugene Lyon
6. Thomas Menéndez Márquez: Criollo, Cattlemen, and Contador by Amy Turner Bushnell
7. Father Juan de Paiva: Spanish Friar in Colonial Florida by John H. Hann
8. Francisco Javier Sánchez: Floridano Planter by Jane G. Landers
9. Fort Mose: America’s First Free Black Community by Kathleen A. Deagan
10. Better than Gold: Plants in the New World by Charlotte M. Porter
11. The Moreno Family of the Gulf Coast by William S. Coker
12. José Marti: Context and Consciousness by Louis A. Pérez Jr.
13. Paulina Pedroso and Las Patriotas of Tampa by Nancy A. Hewitt
14. Mario Sánchez: Folk Artist of Key West and Tampa by Diane Lesko
15. Maurice Ferré: Xavier Suarez, and the Ethnic Factor in Miami Politics by Raymond A. Mohl
16. The Columbus Quincentenary: What Will We Celebrate? by Michael V. Gannon
Another dusty book off the shelf, this one found originally in my favorite south Florida book story, Books & Books in Coral Gables. It is a project of the Florida Humanities Council, with significant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and with several authors having various associations with the Florida History Society, all having in common my lack of awareness of their existence (although I might have assumed Florida had some kind of historical society). The book was designed to come out in the 500th anniversary of the first Columbus voyage.
The physical book has visual appeal, and I like that it's bilingual, every essay translated in both English and Spanish (but I only read the English). And, having now read it, I like that the authors are roughly male/female equivalent, as far as I could tell. And, finally, having just read and listened to two difficult books, I like that it had simple, easy to understand sentences and paragraphs, all designed to actually efficiently convey clear information.
Each essay is very light, quick and informative. Most are around ten pages, and I learned a lot, such as of the community of Cuban cigar wrappers who arrived in Key West and Ybor City (in Tampa) in the late 19th century, who worked with a designated full time reader. The reader sat with them and read the newspapers in the morning and classic literature in the afternoon. And, these groups were actually politically significant, playing, for example, a critical role in the career of José Marti.
The book is heavy on the Spanish years (which lasted longer than the American...err—United States years.) But, it kind of fails to say that Spanish settlement was, in the big picture, not very successful. Florida natives were basically entirely wiped out, mainly by disease and the United States got a pretty empty Florida with a few key forts and ranches.
So, an easy, informative read, and a nice book to have. Enjoyed it.
55. One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian
format: 450 page Hardcover
acquired: 2003 from a 75% Off Books (do they still exist?)
read: Dec 14-24
Another dusty book on the shelf, this one has been hanging around for some 14 years with my eye on it, but with my never having any clue what it contained. After reading a few pages, I looked up a few reviews and found some really critical, especially in comparison to Soul Mountain (which led to his Nobel prize). These negative reviews were a bit unfair but perfect for lowering my expectations and allowing me to really enjoy this.
It's a lightly fictionalized memoir of Gao's experiences in the Chinese Cultural Revolution (roughly 1966 to Mao's death in 1976). He mixes in a life as a Chinese exile in the present (1996-1998) obviously based on him, but likely heavily fictionalized, or he was quite the promiscuous one. He is, I imagine, playful with the truth in many ways.
His life in and memories of the Cultural Revolution are insane. It's not clear to me how political involved he was, but he experienced purges that flipflopped on themselves and purge the purgers. There was no right answer except to learn to mimic everyone around you with full emotional commitment. Anything that stood out brought suspicion, which brought a lot of suffering or worse. He says that it was almost easier to try to rebel than not to, since he craved independent thought and expression. Gao is an artist in different ways, visually, in play writing and as a novelist. The cover of the book is his own art work.
There is a sophistication to how the book is presented. First in how he mixes the present and past so that they are distinct but become a whole. Part of this distinction is in how his younger self is always described in third person, but his (fictional?) current self is addressed directly always as "you". Second is in how he strives to create atmosphere. A lot of this stuff is beyond words, he has to create the experience in the text to really express it, and he does this really well. And third is the pacing. There is weak narrative drive as the each section, each chapter generally closes a story, with some notable exceptions. But it paces nicely and continuously so that it becomes a really nice to book to get lost it, and pick up anytime. It comes apart at the end where he ties off the past and then spends a lot of time about his fictional present and all his love affairs. He tells how content he is, but the impression is the opposite as it all comes out empty, and I'm not sure that wasn't his intention.
All this together made for a really enjoyable reading experience and I think a fine book that leaves the reader with a lot to think about. A writer and artist's book. And it makes me really want to read Soul Mountain.
"You know you are certainly not the embodiment of truth, and you write simply to indicate that a sort of life, worse than a quagmire, more real than an imaginary hell, more terrifying than Judgement Day, has, in fact, existed."
Another fan of The Long Ships! I really need to get to it; I'll add it to the list of books I plan to read in honor of rebeccanyc, who also loved it.
Nice review of Fanon. I also gave it 3 stars when I read it, as it left no impact on me.
I've had a copy of One Man's Bible for at least a decade. I won't read it next year (too many books...), but I'll keep it in mind for 2019 or beyond.
Hi Darryl. The Long Ships is a fun almost mindless and relatively easy read. I mean it’s more than that, but it’s also an adventure story. So, recommending. Fannon was tough and I still think about it, but then I just read it. One Man’s Bible is slow, but in a good way. Soul Mountain is apparently an oddball book that gather a lot of attention. I hope to read that and it might be a better place to explore Gao.
>169 kidzdoc: I know this review of One Man’d Bible is a bit long, but I keep thinking a about all the stuff I didn’t say in my review...
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