Friday, January 8, 2016

My Antonia

My ÁntoniaMy Ántonia by Willa Cather
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I could eat dinner with anyone past or present, Willa Cather would surely be on my list.
My Antonia is told as a sort of biography made up of recollections of a boy that grew up near this Bohemian immigrants family. But the way Cather describes the land, the people, the events, they come alive. Such mundane acts as diving cattle, having a picnic or going to the opera become events described in poetry but grounded in realism. Cather certainly has a way of transporting you soul and body into the pages of a book.

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"At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great."

"I know so many women who have kept all the things that she had lost, but whose inner flow ha s faded.  Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life."

The. Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons

The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons: Selected StoriesThe Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons: Selected Stories by Goli Taraghi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories about contemporary Iranians dealing with war and immigration (mostly to France). Her first stories are the weakest, I felt, but the later ones made up for it. Not only did I gain a perspective from a new and interesting point of view, there were timeless themes such as what makes us happy, how do we tolerate and treat our fellowmen in an age where we keep to ourselves and are too busy to think of anyone else's point of view, and what risks are we willing to take and why. Very interesting read.

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"But we three women were like mute, motionless beings in a deep coma.  We were waiting for something to happen or for someone to seek us out."

"minutes later the artificial redness had been wiped off and replaced by a ubiquitous gray, the color of  swallowed words and unspoken sorrow"

"Life was a photocopy of events past, a mechanical reproduction of things that had lost their original form."

"In this modern building overlooking a church and a courtyard, dozens of wolf-like sheep are sitting in ambush, blaming each other for their miseries; tired, hopeless wolves with petty desires and illusory dreams, waiting for better days."

"A glass wall separates those inside from the others outside.  Those who stay and the others who leave.  Both groups looks sand and forlorn.  Their unspoken words and meaningful looks pas through the thick glass and settle on our faces like a layer of gray dust"

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Bookseller

The BooksellerThe Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didnt know much about this book before I read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The less you know the better.

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O Pioneers!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Isn't it queer," ponders Carl Linstrum, "there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves."
There is nothing new or even very surprising in this plot, but in the capable hands of Willa Cather it is rarely told so beautifully.

The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next DoorThe Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This seemed like it was going to be a mystery about two hands found in a box, whose are they, what happened? But no. The murder is described on the first chapter. So it is really about a group of kids who used to play in the tunnels where the hands were found, and are now seventy plus reuniting to answer the detectives questions. From their reunion there results love, divorce, new adventures, emotional closures. I suppose the overarching theme is that you are never too old to live, that life is precious, etc. but honestly, I had a hard time caring about any of them.

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Bad Feminist

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the first essays, we are introduced to Roxanne Gay :she is a professor, a scrabble player, a Hatian, someone who works hard but doesn't take herself too seriously. I liked her. The fact that I disagreed with the majority of her opinions in the following essays made me wonder if we could be friends though. She has very strong opinions and sometimes presents them as though you would be an idiot to disagree. After catching me arguing with my iPad several times, my husband wondered out loud why I was still reading her. But I think it is good to understand different points of view, and it helps me understand my own.
Her essays can be jumpy at times. She uses And yet. as a sentence in every other essay. And she can use her own history and background not only to clariify or give meaning to her argument, but often to dare you to disagree with her, because if we didn't have the same history/experience than we really don't have room to talk. But my main problem is that her main thesis is that you don't have to be the perfect feminist to believe and advocate for feminism, that flawed people do not make the movement flawed. I agree with her on this. As well as on economic equality and more respect and opportunities for women. But many of Gays criticisms, especially on entertainment, and especially about race, don't seem to get the same leeway. I'm not saying she can't be offended, but often she goes into these movies and books already ready to take offense, and she doesn't give the artists the leeway to get things wrong, even if their intentions are in the right place. Must there be perfect movies and books, even in that wide latitude given in fiction, to fight racism? Can't imperfect works of art still achieve a little bit?
We would also disaagree on abortion issues and LGBT issues and even her opinion that a woman has the duty to work outside the home. But I feel like I gave her a listen. Hopefully, my disagreements which might make me flawed in her eyes wont disqualify me from being a feminist.

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The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a "scandalous" book when I was in high school. I can see why "concerned" parents wouldn't necessarily want their youth to read it, but it wasn't meant to be scandelous as much as thought provoking. Like most dystopian books written more than 5 years ago, most of the text is centered on the description of the new world and the new rules society has put in place. Like most dystopian societies, the rules put in place are to help rectify the problem, in this case low birth rate,but they take away all choice because people as a whole aren't apparently choosing what is best for society. Because it involves birth, it involves sex, who can do it, who can get pregnant, etc. but it isn't a sexual book. Atwood was commenting on what she saw as the slipping of equal rights in America, and this was her warning of what would happen if we as women didn't fight for women's rights, both reproductively and economically. By imposing extremes she basically says that without equal voice with men, we become only useful for procreation.
The government is a theocracy, but it is not necessarily an anti-God book, or a book devoid of hope or faith. Just a warning that power in the wrong hands, even or especially cloaked under the guise of spirituality can be the most dangerous. Atwood has some great themes, and her language is brilliant. But I had a hard time getting past the narrator. I've heard it argued that you shouldn't base your review of a book, film, etc. based on the likability of the characters, but I'm human, and I can't help it. The narrator is not a heroine. She submits to everything that the new regime puts her through, from taking away her child to becoming a handmaiden (this is ast least her second "job"), to submitting to what her employers put her through. She sort of joins the resistance movement, but doesn't actually do anything. Perhaps I wouldn't have done anything either. That's the safest option yes? But these days I'm spoiled with characters who do something, try to change their situation, and even when she acts out at the end, it doesn't feel like a choice she is making.

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"There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia.  Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don't underrate it."

"....Lauren Bacall or Katharine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds.  They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone.  These women could be undone; or not.  they seemed to be able to choose.  We seemed able to choose, then.  We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice."

"When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out.  We want to believe it was all like that."

"Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual.  Everyone does, most of the time.  Whatever is going on is as usual.  Even this is as usual, now.
'      We lived, as usual, by ignoring.  Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.
       ....The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others...
      We were the people who were not in the papers.  We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print.  It gave us more freedom.
      We lived in the gaps between the stories."

Of magazines:  "What was in them was promise.  They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point.  They suggested one adventure after another, one wardrobe after another, one improvement after another, one man after another...The real promise in them was immortality."

The Tropic of Serpents

The Tropic of Serpents (Memoir by Lady Trent, #2)The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With A Natural History of Dinosaurs we visited an alternate reality where Lady Trent is an aspiring naturalist in a world where naturalists in general, and women naturalists in particular are presented with numerous obstacles to overcome, not the least including what they are studying: dinosaurs. This made for a lot of fun in the first book, but went a little awry in the second. In the first novel, Brennan brought out the fact that while naturalists have to travel to study their subjects and along the way must deal with the people who live in that area--the differences with language, culture, religion. It is no different with this trip, although a war complicates things further. However there is far too little dragon, and far too much politics in this one. Because it is a different reality, lands, governments, even the days of the weeks are different, and Brennan does not make it easier on the reader with impossible names. Like most trilogies this middle novel suffers typical middle novel syndrome: let down from the introduction of the first, while setting events up for the last leads to not much happening in the second.

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