Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned paperback book, 390 pages
Dates of Reading: August 1, 2015-August 7, 2015
Author: Erik Larson
Publication Year: 2003
Recommended to: Chicagoans! Especially architecture, history, or, y'know, psychopathy buffs.
Quotes: 
Movie: They just announced a Holmes biopic starring Leo DiCaprio which seems to be based around this recounting of his life (which, Larson notes, is one of many possible stories surrounding the serial killer).

Wikipedia Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_in_the_White_City
Link: http://www.crownpublishing.com/sites/erik-larson-devil-white-city/

My View: Great book, expertly and uniquely intertwining history and storytelling by comparing two amazingly different and yet overlapping stories of the best city on earth (no bias) at a pivotal moment in history. Engaging, fast paced, and inciting giddiness and a vague sense of haunting alternately.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. New York: Crown, 2003. Print.

Go Set a Watchman

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned hardcover novel, 278 pages
Dates of Reading: July 18, 2015-July 22, 2015
Author: Harper Lee
Publication Year: 2015
Recommended to: America.
Quotes: 
   "Atticus Finch's secret of living was so simple it was deeply complex: where most men had codes and tried to live up to them, Atticus lived his to the letter with no fuss, no fanfare, and no soul-searching" (114).
   "'With all your book learnin', you are the most ignorant child I ever did see...' Her voice trailed off. '...but I don't reckon you really ever had a chance'" (137).
   "'Did you hate us?'
   [...] She loved us, I swear she loved us" (161).
   "Why doesn't their flesh creep? How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up?" (167).
   "I should like to take your head apart, put a fact in it, and watch it go through the runnels of your brain until it comes out of your mouth. We were both born here, we went to the same schools, we were taught the same things. I wonder what you saw and heard" (175).
   "No war was ever fought for so many different reasons" (238).
   "You deny that they're human [because] you deny them hope" (251).
   "It's bearable, Jean Louise, because you are your own person now [...] Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience" (265).
Movie: Nope, and I'd say it's unlikely for a while.

Wikipedia Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Set_a_Watchman
Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062409850/go-set-a-watchman

My View: 
   -NEWS FLASH: Atticus Finch is now a racist!
      -guess what - Atticus was always racist
         -... He was complicit in a racist criminal justice system. What else could he have been?
            -don't leave it at the racism. the man's a walking ethical nightmare.
   -Has anyone mentioned that this book was published only as a result of elder abuse?

   People are freaking out about this book.
   And they shouldn't.
   I love freaking out about books. If this was one to get upset over, I assure you that I would have taken the opportunity and run with it.
   Let's address a few concerns.

   Allegation: More than half a century after deciding not to publish GSAW, Harper Lee was made to show the world TKAM's original edition only when her sister/caretaker died and lawyers and publishers forced her hand.
   Verdict: Probably false.
      I don't want to spend too much time here, because there's not much information to go on. Alabama's investigators have decided that allegations of elder abuse in this case are unfounded, and I sincerely hope that they are right. I'm glad that watchdogs brought the possibility of exploitation to light in this case, but there are at least two reasons why I suspect that Lee might genuinely have wanted this book published now: following the death of her sister, Lee might actually have experienced a new surge of autonomy, creativity, and liberty that inspired her to publish this book; and, as I will describe later, GSAW completes TKAM... Lee might have felt the need for these books, companions in so many unique ways, to be read and appreciated together.

   Allegation: Go Set a Watchman is going to breed a new generation of somehow-more-jaded high school English students by turning the paradigm of individualist moral perfection into a raging racist.
   Verdict: False.
      To begin with, TKAM's Atticus was never perfect. Time and time again, literary scholars have pointed out that the character collectively held up as a beacon of justice is really little more than a beacon of the law. His good nature and legal prowess have made him a demigod for thousands of legally-minded readers, but they overlook the fact that he might have been a little miffed by his assignment to Tom Robinson's case in TKAM, rather than honored by it. "The law is what he lives by" (268). The cerebral white Southern lawyer was bound by intellectual professional ethics, rather than personal morality, to defend a poor black man.
      Had the letter of the law protected French prostitutes from customer brutality in the early 1800s, Inspector Javert could have been a hero as well.
      For those holdouts who named their kids or law firms after Atticus and refuse to acknowledge his TKAM imperfections, there is still hope. Let's assume that To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus was actually perfect, and Go Set a Watchman's is a monster. How to reconcile these incarnations of the character? Readers need not expect GSAW to be a canonical continuation of TKAM, and therefore need not give themselves pulmonary problems by worrying about Atticus's legacy. GSAW is the Harry Potter in which Ron and Hermione's passionate kiss during the Battle of Hogwarts is merely the final intersection of adrenaline and close friendship, rather than the budding of a lifelong romanceGSAW is the Idiot in which the Prince is a callous and self-obsessed monster instead of a na├»ve but virtuous... idiot; and GSAW is the Giver with a final drone chase. It's a rough draft, a storyboard, a musing, sidewriting. Go Set a Watchman is the first try Lee took to tell the story that eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird, a story where the characters maybe aren't "the point." Readers need not assume that Atticus Finch (GSAW) is a continuation of Atticus Finch (TKAM) or that Scout (TKAM) grows up to be Jean Louise (GSAW). That Harper Lee dabbled with her characters between version 1 - GSAW and version 2 - TKAM should be assumed and evidence is abundant: for instance, the Scout of TKAM would've learned how to ride a bike, whereas her GSAW alter ego claims never to have done so. No matter how trivial this type of difference may seem, it reminds readers of something very important: Don't expect continuity in your characters between drafts. Evidence that this should be assumed in all forms of media can be found here.
      For anyone reading Go Set a Watchman, please use caution when opening To Kill a Mockingbird  characters may have shifted during editing.
      So why have so many generations of TKAM readers insisted on Atticus's perfection? Because Harper Lee wanted you to. She let Atticus's neighbors make the same mistake, one even attributing his goodness to Christian virtue rather than single-minded legal crusading (TKAM, 215). She gave him amazing soundbites of wisdom swaddled in morality to throw around (TKAM... almost every other page). She oversaw the creation of a movie founded on the belief that Atticus Finch could do no wrong. And finally, she wrote TKAM through the eyes of Atticus's adoring daughter, whose youth, purity, and worship of her single parent could not but mesh into a testament to Atticus.
      And that brings me to the second reason Lee might have been personally driven to publish TKAM: something in the story she meant to tell in GSAW was lost in the TKAM rewrite. TKAM's Scout is wearing the blinders of immaturity that GSAW is all about removing. The importance of personal integrity lives on in lines such as the famous, "before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience" (TKAM, 105). But the pressure Jean Louise faces to make her conscience her own in GSAW, to steal it from the clutching hands of the majority, is lived out in a lesser way in TKAM through Atticus instead. Lee needed to redeem her story. She needed to show that it wasn't always a morality lesson, it was a life lesson. Personal integrity is spouted right, left, and center throughout TKAM, but the road to it is intentionally obscured by the very obstacles GSAW seeks to overcome. TKAM needs GSAW to tell the story. And somehow, GSAW needs TKAM to tell the story.
      TKAM diehards like me cling to the myth of a perfect Atticus because we're Jean Louise Finch. We go into books craving a character to hold onto and look up to, and when we take on Scout's first-person views and beliefs Atticus is the obvious choice. Just like Jean Louise, we now need to wake up and build our own islands. I've used some of Atticus's words as guidance in my own life. I wanted to believe he was perfect. If he was perfect, that meant his philosophy, hidden in the pages of TKAM, was perfect, and enough re-reads could help me claim it. And yet I was "born with [my] own conscience, [and] somewhere along the line [mistakenly] fastened it like a barnacle onto [Atticus's]" (GSAW, 265). The dramatic irony of fans' rebellion against an imperfect GSAW Atticus is mind-numbingly beautiful. If GSAW were left unpublished, we would have missed the importance of Uncle Jack's lesson: Every man's island is his conscience. We would've missed out on that lesson as surely as Jean Louise. We can't rely on Atticus to be our conscience (as much as Miss Maudie might like to) and that kills us. We want to keep "Our gods... remote from us... They must never descend to human level" (GSAW, 266). The GSAW story lost that message in TKAM, it toned it down. To understand GSAW as powerfully as it was meant, we had to live as Scout. And thanks to TKAM, we can. But as Scout we have to become Jean Louise someday. And thank so GSAW, we can.
      The relationship between Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird is a rare, and possibly unique, one in literary history. And the history of these books tells their story. The books as published tell a story they could not possibly have been told in stand-alones, they are performance art if nothing else. Whether Harper Lee and her advisors meant it or not, special books have a magical way of getting their point across. And beyond the words and characters and plots, GSAW and TKAM have done just that.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

This book has created an online frenzy, so I've to linked a bunch articles that support my conclusions in the review above... here are the articles I referenced:

http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2015/07/10/early-reviews-of-go-set-a-watchman-are-out-atticus-is-racist/
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122295/these-scholars-have-been-pointing-out-atticus-finchs-racism-years
http://thefederalist.com/2015/07/14/of-course-atticus-finch-was-a-racist-and-thats-okay/
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1713002
http://national.deseretnews.com/article/5162/Are-you-supporting-abuse-by-buying-Harper-Lees-new-book.html
http://www.wsj.com/articles/harper-lee-elder-abuse-investigation-closed-allegations-unfounded-1428080816
http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2015/07/18/3681833/atticus-finch-long-overdue-death-white-savior/
http://screenrant.com/jk-rowling-harry-hermione-ron-couple/
http://community.middlebury.edu/~beyer/courses/previous/ru351/novels/idiot/making.shtml
http://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/the-giver-is-now-just-another-dystopian-teen-movie#.utaqN9mrO
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/galanty-miller/atticus-finch-is-not-a-ra_b_7802754.html

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why I couldn't finish LoTR.

I have risked several friendships by admitting this over the summer: I started Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring) and couldn't finish it. Maybe I'll come back to The Hobbit someday (which I hear is easier). My reasons for quitting LoTR are fairly straightforward and, to many, probably sound pretty lame.

  1. There's too much description of the landscape that I care very little for.
  2. In spite of the excessive landscape description, non-natural "things" are never described... Hearing what the hills surrounding my characters look like, while having barely any detail about what they are wearing, handling, and interacting with leaves me disengaged.
  3. It's very annoying reading people constantly singing without any tune guidance. 
Maybe I'll just watch the movies.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Last Battle

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: 
Dates of Reading: May 28, 2015-May 29, 2015
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Year: 1956
Recommended to: No need to repeat this one....
Quotes:
"In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world" (744).
"The inside is larger than the outside" (765).
"...it was only the beginning of the real story" (767).
Movie: Someday...?

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Battle
Link: https://www.cslewis.com/us/books/hardcover/the-last-battle/9780060234935

My View: An epic ending. I don't even mind the bump I got from being bludgeoned with a blunt allegory.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lewis, C.S. The Silver Chair. 2001. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, n.d. 664-767. Print.

The Silver Chair

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Target's seven-book paperback.
Dates of Reading: May 20, 2015-May 28, 2015
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Year: 1953
Recommended to: The same people as always.
Quotes:
Movie: Coming soon.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Silver_Chair
Link: https://www.cslewis.com/us/books/hardcover/the-silver-chair/9780060234959

My View: Another lovely installment. So engaging, Jill and Eustace are my favorite team yet.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lewis, C.S. The Silver Chair. 2001. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, n.d. 542-663. Print.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Target's seven-book paperback.
Dates of Reading: January 10, 2015-May 20, 2015
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Year: 1952
Recommended to: Readers of the other books.
Quotes:
"'Why!' cried Lord Rhoop. 'You have destroyed it!'
   'I don't think it was us,' said Lucy" (512).
"I am the great Bridge Builder" (541).
Movie: Yes, but I haven't seen it nor do I remember it being advertised.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Voyage_of_the_Dawn_Treader
Link: https://www.cslewis.com/us/books/hardcover/the-voyage-of-the-dawn-treader/9780060234867

My View: This is likely my favorite Narnia book yet. I've been amazed at how quickly Lewis's stories read, but this one's "checkpoints" at various islands made it move even faster than usual.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 2001. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, n.d. 419-541. Print.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Dog's Life

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Paperback given to me for my birthday.
Dates of Reading: May 5, 2015-May 6, 2015.
Author: Peter Mayle
Publication Year: 1995
Recommended to: Anyone who loves funny books. Specifically, if you loved Catch-22 but weren't a huge fan of its cynicism, this is the read for you. Also, those who like dog books but want to avoid inevitable doggy death... pick it up.
Quotes: So many good ones.
Movie: Nope.

Wikipedia Link: N/A
Link: http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-Life-Peter-Mayle/dp/0679762671/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431667899&sr=1-2&keywords=a+dog%27s+life

My View: Super funny, very endearing. Heartwarming and unique. The sympathy Mayle displays for his canine companion is admirable not only humanely, but also in the skill it helps him to exhibit as a writer. Few others have put themselves in the shoes (or collar) of such a very different creature and created such a likable, believable, fully fleshed character. Few can be this connected even with human characters, let alone dogs.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac


Bibliography:
Mayle, Peter. A Dog's Life. New York: Knopf, 1995. Print.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Prince Caspian

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Target's seven-book paperback.
Dates of Reading: January 5, 2015-January 10, 2015
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Year: 1951
Recommended to: People who've read this far.
Quotes:
"'That's the worst of girls... They never carry a map in their heads.'
   'That's because our heads have something inside them,' said Lucy" (370).
"Oh Aslan... How could I - I couldn't have left the others and come to you alone... oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn't have been alone, I know, not if I was with you" (380).
"We don't know when he will act. In his time, no doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own" (397).
"'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content" (416).
Movie: Yes'm in 2008.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Caspian
Link: https://www.cslewis.com/us/hardcover/prince-caspian/9780060234836

My View: So beautiful, once again. Not as favored as The Horse and His Boy, but great nonetheless. My favorite symbolism being the well water turned to wine.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lewis, C.S. The Magician's Nephew. 2001. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, n.d. 311-418. Print.

The Horse and His Boy

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Target's seven-book paperback.
Dates of Reading: December 26, 2014-January 5, 2015
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Year: 1954
Recommended to: The people who have read up to this point.
Quotes: 
"'They'd kill me' ... He had, you see, no idea of how noble and free-born people behave" (239).
"...one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have lost the power of forcing yourself" (298).
"And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could; all they thought they could, which is not quite the same thing" (270).
"He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one" (272).
"But as long as you know you're nobody special, you'll be a very decent sort of Horse" (275).
"I was the lion" (281).
"...the smaller woodland people were safe and happy that they were getting a little careless" (285).
"Do not dare not to dare" (299).
Movie: Walden Media, which made 3 Narnia movies already, has the option for this movie as well... it hasn't made a move yet.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Horse_and_His_Boy
Link: https://www.cslewis.com/us/ebook/the-horse-and-his-boy/9780061974137

My View: I love the fast style of the story, the characters, and the landscape created. This has been my favorite Narnia book so far although I can't definitively figure out why... perhaps it was thanks to the relatively minimal military action. Plus, I haven't enjoyed what is essentially a roadtrip story this much since Rules of the Road.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lewis, C.S. The Magician's Nephew. 2001. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, n.d. 199-310. Print.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Target's seven-book paperback.
Dates of Reading: October 25, 2014-December 24, 2014
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publication Year: 1950
Recommended to: Everyone who read The Magician's Nephew.
Quotes:
"People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time" (168).
"'Please - Aslan,' said Lucy, 'can anything be done to save Edmund?'
   'All shall be done,' said Aslan. 'But it may be harder than you think'" (169).
"...never forget to wipe your sword" (171).
"Did you hear what he said? Us Lions. That means him and me. Us Lions" (190).
"'Does he know,' whispered Lucy to Susan, 'what Aslan did for him?'
   ...'Oh, surely not,' said Susan. "It would be too awful for him. Think how you'd feel if you were he.'
   'All the same I think he ought to know,' said Lucy" (193).
"One day you'll see him and another you won't.... He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion" (194).
Movie: Yessir.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion,_the_Witch_and_the_Wardrobe
Link: https://www.cslewis.com/us/ebook/the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe/9780061974151

My View: A story so gorgeously written that the movie visuals (I've seen the film at least two or three times) never even popped into my head... Filled with even more beautiful, subtle, and smoothly integrated allegory (regardless of whether CS Lewis would acknowledge it as such), like when Susan and Lucy are looking for Aslan in the wood (the women searching for Jesus's body).

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Lewis, C.S. The Magician's Nephew. 2001. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, n.d. 107-197. Print.

The Idiot

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned paperback novel 
Dates of Reading: August 10, 2014-January 5, 2015
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Publication Year: 1869
Recommended to: Dostoevsky fans.
Quotes: 
Movie: A few, lots of languages.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Idiot
Link: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/idiot/

My View: I greatly enjoyed this, although not as much as I did Brothers K. The characters seemed slightly more predictable and the plot less engaging. Perhaps Dostoevsky is better at writing less sophisticated characters which made me enjoy the Brothers & Co. better.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:

  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Idiot. New York: Modern Library, 1962. Print.

Nine Stories

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned paperback book 
Dates of Reading: December 31, 2014-April 3, 2015
Author: J.D. Salinger
Publication Year: 1953
Recommended to: College readers or busy workpeople who need something they can read in bits and pieces.
Quotes: 
Movie: A smattering.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Stories_%28Salinger%29
Link: http://www.gradesaver.com/nine-stories

My View: Although I am not usually a short story fan, I really appreciated these. I wasn't a huge fan of quite everything, but I loved the continuity and development of themes (particularly innocence/childhood and the ill and positive effects of losing them, of loneliness, of narcissism...). Perhaps my favorite story was "To Esme--with Love and Squalor," which I understand is a popular choice. I also quite liked "Teddy" and "Just Before the War with the Eskimos." "Down at the Dinghy" was a close second to "Esme," though.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:

  • Salinger, J.D. Nine Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. Print.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"TKAM" Sequel?

What you see above is a link to a news article reporting that 88-year-old Harper Lee, the "one-hit wonder" author of To Kill a Mockingbird has rediscovered a sequel she wrote to Scout's story soon after TKAM was published; she has now decided to release the book, titled Go Set a Watchman in July. TKAM is not merely a literary classic, it is also one of my favorite books (a rare 5-star review), an uncommonly unpatronizing tale of innocence at every age. I am very excited to know that Harper Lee will be back on the shelves of my local bookstore again and look eagerly toward July 14!



Saturday, January 3, 2015

Choose Your Own Autobiography

My Rating: 

Method of Reading: Personally owned hardback book, 291 pages
Dates of Reading: December 25, 2014
Author: Neil Patrick Harris (and a ghostwriter, David Javerbaum)
Publication Year: 2014
Recommended to: NPH/Broadway fans.
Quotes: "You [Neil] come in weighing a very average, very sexy seven pounds, seven ounces. As it happens, that is also the exact weight of an Emmy Award. Coincidence? Yes . . . but true fact? No" (3).
Movie: Nope.

Wikipedia Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Patrick_Harris#Bibliography
Link: http://nphbook.com/

My View: Excellently written and a hilarious concept. Literally as soon as you hit age 20, everything is about the experience of the successful gay male, but all of the stuff surrounding that is original and funny. I suspect that Javerbaum did quite a lot of the work for this, but the classic NPH voice is certainly discernible... unless Javerbaum has just studied that voice so carefully that he mimics it perfectly.

Always,
Your Bibliomaniac

Bibliography:
Harris, Neil Patrick, and David Javerbaum. Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. Crown Archetype. 2014. Print.