Sunday, February 27, 2011
I found myself appreciating this short book just as much, if not more, than her other novels. The concept itself is brilliant--how many lines/scenes from classical texts have confused our modern sensibilities but we just shrug and plow on, not feeling we have the luxury of time to dwell on the passage. What if we took it a step beyond and wove our own derivative story from these scenes?
Atwood tells a very abbreviated version of The Odyssey (the subtitle is "The myth of Penelope and Odysseus") from Penelope's view. This retelling reminds me of reverse fairytales: such as when Snow White is told from the viewpoint of the "evil" stepmother. In this retelling, Odysseus' hero reputation becomes a little lackluster under Penelope's perspective.
The story also incorporates the chorus (a convention from Greek plays) to permit the maids to tell their story. However, the chorus not only challenges Penelope's version but even implies she herself is not as virtuous as we are led to believe. Sowing this doubt introduces a multi-layered complexity for the reader to puzzle over in their attempt to understand what really happened.
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I did find this book's topic matter to be a little grim, which is all summarized in the first chapter--sexual misconduct by teenagers at a private boarding school. The novel starts at the viewing of a videotape by the headmaster and then flashes back to the past, showing the viewpoints of the myriad characters involved. The chapters carry the name of the characters under observation. The reader is also shown the devastating consequences suffered by nearly all the characters.
At the beginning, I didn't exactly look forward to reading this novel as it was similar to watching a train wreck slowly unfold. Not just any train wreck, but a seemingly preventable one that was caused by bad judgement. The author's narrative style pulled me in, though, and I became progressively more invested in the characters. The story does hold a few surprise revelations.
Overall, I would recommend Testimony. I found it to be a thought-provoking exploration into the complex origins of misjudgements.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011
Tye and Orrin Sackett, fast guns and close brothers, make up for transgressions out east by forging their way out West and bringing law and order with them. Written by the Danielle Steele of the western genre, Louis L’Amour doesn’t disappoint in his sixth installment of the Sackett saga.
L’Amour brings the reader right into the story--you feel the tension as an impending fast draw takes place, smell the gunsmoke, and (eventually) relax into the wonderfully described western big sky splendor. This is a fast read, and one that won’t disappoint. This is a great introduction to the genre too, if you’re unfamiliar.
Fireworks is a story that wraps around the energy of a young gentleman by name of Gunnar O’Grady. Man of many trades (though the story seems to focus on his talents as an acrobat), he captures the attention of Paul Moody. Paul, his friends, family and associates are wrapped into the personality of Mr. O’Grady who changes them all--before ultimately extinguishing himself in an unusually abrupt downward spiral.
“You must think of a group of people in terms of a packet of firecrackers. You ignite the first...the flash fires the fuse of the second...after a series of crackling detonations...nothing survives but a few torn and scattered bits...”
If you’re looking to appreciate irony in literature, this book is a must read. This was an obscure title recommended to me by an avid Carl Van Vechten fan. The book was written around the same time as the Great Gatsy. The book will parallel Fitzgerald’s work as familiar to the era, but that’s where the similarities end. I believe there is a copy held at the depository. My copy was purchased on Google’s bookstore.
Siddartha Muhkerjee, Oncologist and Professor, needed to have a pet project to keep him sane during his residency. He chose to write a biography of cancer.
Written in a linear fashion, Muhkerjee takes us through the earliest discoveries and the earliest attempts to cure cancer to the present day. As we proceed through the timeline, the story takes frequent breaks to focus on a character or discovery or breakthrough before weaving back into the main plot. Sidney Farber and his folic acid antagonists on children diagnosed with ALL, Halsted and his compulsion to perform extreme mastectomies in hopes of ridding malignancies in breast cancer patients, Mary Lasker and her efforts to defeat cancer using her incredible fund-raising and political strengths--these characters allow their desire to emerge victorious to consume them, characteristic of the very malady itself.
I can appreciate how the author understands that I am not an Oncologist--drug combinations, surgery, even arcane dates in time are broken down into lay details and even repeated later on for benefit of the reader. These helpful explanations and clarifications do not take away from the momentum of the story. I found myself engaged as patients anxiously enrolled in experimental clinical trials in hopes of eventual remission, and I found myself cheerless when cancer fought back.
Muhkerjee has an exceptional talent for writing. This book is a treasure.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
This book was an incredibly good read. The first part introduces you to Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife Kathy and their children. They're an all-American family. He was born in Syria, she in Baton Rouge, an American convert to Islam before she met her husband. They and their children live in New Orleans where they run a frenetic and thriving family business. They have lots of relatives in Louisiana and across the world, with whom they are in various degrees and qualities of relationship. As Hurricane Katrina approaches New Orleans, they talk about whether to stay or go.
After the hurricane hits, the levees break, and all the systems in which the Zeitoun family lives are tested: the family system, the communication system, the media networks, the physical systems of the city infrastructure, the bureaucratic, police and judicial infastructure, and in essence, everyone's ability to talk, to listen and to trust. I will say nothing else about what happens, but if you are like me, you will feel a wide range of emotions as events unfold, and you will learn some things that will shake your faith in humanity, and other things that will strengthen your belief in the human spirit.
For the first chapter or so, this is precisely the idea that the book seems to advance. However, before very long, Gladwell introduces complications to the idea. Alongside the many examples of elegantly correct intuition, he shows counterexamples of intuition clouded or distorted by exactly the kind of prejudices I was thinking of; at one point, he even cites the very studies I had read, and in the end, he has some interesting ideas about reducing the impact of prejudice on decision making. He also comes to make a key distinction between the quick judgment of experts and that of non-experts, which addresses another objection of mine.
As with Gladwell's other books, there are parts of the book where the connections among the examples seem stretched, but overall, the book is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Bradbury's easy prose and the shortness of the chapters make for easy reading.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
This story is truly in a league of its own. In my opinion, it's a must read. The language is beautiful. The main character is incredibly compelling and nuanced (even if other characters seem to fall flat--this one makes up for it). The storyline is realistic. It's beautiful. Read it.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Martin creates a host of realistic characters, warts and all. (Literally. You'll find boils, and open sores, and all other kinds of nastiness.)There are certainly characters who live by honor, or duty, or family, but they are just as likely to come to a bad end as those who are petty, selfish, or cruel. The world is brutal, justice is unfair, and prophecies exist but are just as likely to fail as come true. . .
And yet, this world is so compelling that it's impossible to look away. The characters defy categorization; you have many of the typical characters of fantasy: the noble lord who seeks justice, the bastard with no place, exiled royalty, the plucky tomboy, the cunning dwarf, the sinister queen, but if you think that means you can predict what will happen, think again.
And while nobles play their game of thrones, darkness creeps back at the edges of the world. . .
Saturday, February 12, 2011
The book gives a very thorough examination of Amish beliefs in regards to forgiveness. While the examination started out very interesting, there were definitely parts that began to feel repetitive as the book continued on. I found it, on the whole, a very informative book and an interesting read. The interview with the gunman's mother at the end was very moving and probably one of my favorite parts of the book. I was also pleased that the authors included an appendix section that gave a brief history of Anabaptist religions, the Amish, and their basic religious belief system and way of life. As someone who passes Amish horse and buggies on a daily basis, it intrigues me to learn more about their way of life.
All of these stories are good for a chuckle. Although I prefer it when Sedaris is telling stories about his own family, his dry wit makes these tales enjoyable. The text is accompanied by illustrations drawn by Ian Falconer (author of the "Olivia" series of children's books).
Most of Mary Renault's novels have been on classical history themes - Alexander the Great, Greek mythology, etc. In contrast, this story takes place in World War II-era Britain. Laurie Odell is a British soldier, injured at Dunkirk and recovering in a military hospital. He becomes friends with Andrew, a young conscientious objector who is working at the hospital; as their friendship progresses, Laurie begins to find himself attracted to Andrew, but is afraid to act on his feelings; in 1940s Britain, being a homosexual is still against the law, and he would face court-martial if his sexuality were discovered. Laurie is sent to a hospital in a neighboring town to undergo medical treatment; while there he becomes reacquainted with Ralph, a classmate from his public-school days. Ralph had been kicked out of school under a cloud of suspicion, and Laurie discovers that the reason for his expulsion was that he had been in a relationship with another male student. Laurie is torn between his feelings for Ralph and his affections for Andrew. The novel also deals with feelings toward homosexuals in the mid-20th century, and shows the fine line that gays (in and out of uniform) had to walk during this time.
While I enjoyed reading this book, there are parts that were confusing to me. Some of the slang that was used by various groups in the book (public-school students, soldiers, gays) and even, to some extent, everyday British speech were difficult to understand, and made for slow going at the beginning of the book. The very British habit of not speaking of "difficult" subjects leads to a lot of vague and confusing conversations; I tried to work some of these things out through the surrounding context, but in some instances I was left wondering what was being discussed. One of Laurie's fellow patients attempts to let Laurie know that he's aware of Laurie's sexuality and his relationship with Andrew, and that he's OK with it, but I only figured this out a couple chapters later, by other conversations they have. In fact, the reasons for Laurie's final decision between his two suitors is still a bit cloudy for me due to the vagueness of dialogue.
Overall, though, I did enjoy this book, for the way it tackled such difficult subjects as homosexuality and conscientious objection.
Friday, February 11, 2011
This series follows a very straightforward, post-apocalyptic world storyline. The author does, I believe, a fantastic job in presenting such a topic in a way that young readers can grasp. The main characters and heros are pre-teens who make tough decisions; it is easy to identify with their struggles for acceptance among peers and to make difficult decisions. I enjoyed this novel as an audiobook. The narrator was very pleasing to listen to on my daily commute. The recording company has included small sound effects in the background here and there, which are a pleasant addition that don't deter from the reading/listening experience. The only problem I had was the the copy I borrowed from the public library had a lot of scratches and skipped frequently. Not a single disk was left unscathed! I suppose this is an expected occurrence when borrowing children's audiobooks, but I would recommend either reading the book or obtaining the audio from elsewhere (DBRL also offers the downloadable audio version of this--I suppose that would have been a better choice.)
I enjoy the world that Despain has created and find her writing style captivating. The story pulled me in and genuinely kept my attention (which has been a difficult task as of late). This book fits well into the currently popular werewolf/vampire literature for young adults. It is definitely a book where you need to read the first to understand/follow the second. Despain has also ended this with quite the cliffhanger. You can't finish this book and not immediately want to pick up the next book. I won't say that this is the most enticing YA book that I've read in the last year, but it is definitely worth the time of readers who enjoy YA paranormal romance stories (and are slightly sick of sparkly vampires).
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I found the book a bit of a curiosity. The authors' attempts to reconcile 1958 and 1992 gender norms in the ways the 21st-century characters relate to one another in thought, word and deed ranged from semi-believable to amusing to downright unmotivated. And speaking of gender and unmotivated, what is the deal with Dr. Marianne Levien? Her character raises a good many unanswered questions in the first chapter, and she resurfaces, tantalizingly, toward the end, only to play no role whatsoever in what eventually happens. Is her entire function in the novel to embody the "cold bitch" stereotype? Seriously? The themes of ugliness and other-ness and the rarity and value of humans' ability to comprehend one another accurately are still themes that shine through and help make up for some of this weirdness, though.
The remake I'd really like to see of this story would involve reconstructing a Neanderthal child genetically, rather than actually grabbing him from the past. That would eliminate some of the problems that the fictional scientists inexplicably (to me) fail to plan for, in this story while allowing other, more subtle and interesting issues to arise.
Monday, February 7, 2011
This collection consists of four plays written by Sartre: The first, No Exit is a conversation among three people who have recently died and found themselves in hell. However, instead of the whips and torture they expected, their punishment is to sit in a locked drawing room and talk with each other for eternity. The second play, The Flies, takes us to the ancient Greek city of Argos, where Orestes has returned to take his vengeance on his stepfather and mother for killing his father, Agamemnon. He meets his sister, Electra, the Furies, and even Zeus himself. The third play, Dirty Hands, takes place in a small Eastern European country during World War II; a member of the local Communist group is given the mission of assassinating a fellow party member. Finally, in the fourth piece, The Respectful Prostitute, a young woman in the 1940s American South is asked to testify that a black man tried to rape her. If she doesn't, she will be exposed as a prostitute and run out of town.
Of the four works, I enjoyed No Exit the most. All the action takes place in one room, as the three characters reveal the causes of their deaths, and the actions that have led them to their punishment in hell. The play that I least liked was The Flies; the concept that the residents of Argos are ritually punishing themselves for the murder of their king, and that Zeus and the Furies are feeding off of their self-loathing and depression, was disturbing to me. Also, the play assumes a familiarity with the Orestes/Electra story that I didn't already have.
Two of the works (The Flies and The Respectful Prostitute) mention specifically that they were translated by others; if Sartre himself translated the other two plays, or if he wrote them in English, both he and the other translators did a good job of putting them into language that fits well with the locale and personalities of the characters.