To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

October 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Joshua Ferris, a National Book Award finalist, has written To Rise Again at a Decent Hour which is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. So, now that we have that out of the way, I would like to say I loved this novel. Most of my friends who read it were either ambivalent or annoyed by the main character, Paul O’Rourke, who lives in his head. The book is told in a stream of consciousness style that cleverly relays conversations between himself and his devoutly Christian hygienist, Mrs. Connors, as he eggs her on about religion while at the same time seriously trying to understand how she can so clearly believe when he has such problems believing in anything, besides flossing. O’Rourke, a wealthy dentist, is clearly a depressed man looking to belong–his whole life has been about trying to belong to someone or something else rather than to his own sad and broken past.

I think this novel qualifies as serio-comic. It examines very serious questions and themes but with a lightheartedness most will enjoy. I found myself as Paul O’Rourke, able to understand and connect with this man, but very grateful I also wasn’t him. In the process of his own discoveries of happiness and life, he is dragged into this journey as someone begins to impersonate him online, posting text from a religious text few have ever heard of.

You can read the LA Times review online

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The Good Lord Bird

April 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

James McBride won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2013 for The Good Lord Bird, set on the verge of the Civil War. Little Onion, a slave boy initially mistaken for a girl by the abolitionist John Brown, is our narrator. Onion is more or less freed against his will when his father is killed in a scuffle between John Brown and white pro-slavers. The book is written in a vernacular, from start to finish, which can be a bit distracting to read, but eventually I got used to the cadence, and, admittedly, Onion’s voice never left me; whereas had McBride only dabbled with the vernacular language, I imagine I would’ve begun reading in my own voice instead of hearing Onion’s.

The setting is well-drawn as we travel through Kansas, slave territories, and free states with Little Onion and John Brown’s misfit band. There is a great deal of history surrounding John Brown and his actions. The book tells the tale leading up to his capture of Harpers Ferry, VA and concludes with Brown’s death. Other historical characters such as Frederick Douglass make an appearance.

McBride has been criticized for the rather humorous approach to such a serious topic, yet, he discusses in several interviews that this is precisely why he chose to be more humorous about it. This isn’t slapstick comedy by any means, nor is it dark comedy, but John Brown is painted into a proselytizing nutter, mixing up Bible verses and making some of his own up, while at the same time murdering pro-slavers. Brown very much believed in action over talk when it came to ending slavery and men like Douglass stood opposed to his actions, condemning them as suicidal.

Multiple viewpoints are offered on the notion of slavery, allowing readers to dabble in various thought processes and perhaps come to understand why a great many slaves didn’t just revolt when they had greater numbers on their side. Oftentimes the saying is true, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

The book is well-written and enjoyable. If nothing else it has made me want to learn more about John Brown. I don’t believe he was as crazy as McBride portrayed, and clearly he was an intelligent and strategic man, or perhaps terribly lucky, to have taken Harper’s Ferry and outwitted the many people hunting him, from Federal agents to slave-owners with vendettas.

You find a copy of this at the NGL on the 3rd floor @ PS3613 .C28 G66 2013.

Watch this video segment of the Civil War on John Brown and Harpers Ferry.

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Gone Girl (and with it my patience)

March 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

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From Flickr. Some Rights Reserved by Magic Wings

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a dark thriller. Or it’s meant to be a thriller. Naturally, these are only my opinions and other people have highly rated and praised this title. In fact, it’s going to be made into a movie.

Flynn is definitely a talented writer. She kept me turning pages despite my recent iPad addiction to game

apps. I became invested in the main characters, husband and wife, and consumed each chapter. Because this is a thriller, and if you don’t like spoilers, then don’t flip through the chapters: the chapter headings and section titles tell you what’s going on and will give away the plot twists.

Nick and Amy are married, recently moved to Missouri from bustling Manhattan to take care of Nick’s dying mother, and are about to have their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy goes missing (hence the title). If you want to be kept in darkness, then you can read a teaser of the book at Gillian Flynn’s site. I would encourage you to give this book of hers a read but only if you can deal with frustrating characters, a few, and unnecessary, authorial intrusions, and flat out authorial cheats.

Ultimately, I have more negative things to say about this book than positive, but that is because of my frustration and anger with the characters…so, in a way, this might be a “good” book because I have so much to say about it (but won’t because of spoilers) and because I feel such strong emotions.

Poetry Stack

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ve recently read a selection of poetry chapbooks. Right now this is the fun reading I can manage to complete cover to cover. I’ve been lucky that cover-to-cover I’ve enjoyed the four chapbooks I checked out from NGL: Thrall, We Come Elemental, Gaits, and Yin.

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From Flickr, some rights reserved by adsoy.

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey (our new Poet Laureate) is a beautiful book–and not just for its fantastic cover, either. Honestly, the cover will give you a very good idea about what’s going to happen over the course of Trethewey’s deeply personal poetry in which she explores both her own history and that of America’s interracial roots. Located at PS3570 .R433 T47 2012

We Come Elemental by Tamika Beyer comes with a personal mix of enjoyment and disappointment. Honestly, I enjoyed her concrete poetry, those poems that show me what’s going on and aren’t in the heady space of abstract. Her selections for this book were a mixed bag. I enjoyed the first few poems, which hooked me into reading through some experimental poetry and poems that play with form, until I got to the last third of the book where Beyer came back to more physical poetry that I could see, taste, touch, smell and understand. She is touted as someone who writes “queer poetics.” Located at PS3602 .E936 W4 2013

Gaits by Paulette Dube “describes the relationship between humans and the natural world and the the need for connection to the land” (Goodreads). I can’t say it any better than that. Located at PR9199.3 .D78 G35 2010

Yin by Carolyn Kizer won the 1985 Pulitzer. Though an older book, it isn’t dated. Kizer channels different personalities as she writes these poems about women. Known as a feminist poet, some folks argue her later work is far superior. Ideally all poets grow, never keeping the voice of their youth, really, since ideas and ideals can change, and who a person is changes with new experiences, too. I have not read Kizer’s later work, but I look forward to it if this was her voice in the late 80s, I wonder what it’s like now. Located at PS3521.I9 Y5 1985

 

Temperance

January 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

8017575I only have a few words to describe this graphic novel: Amazing. Poignant and scary. Lovely work.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough. It’s available in the library at PN6727 .M313 T46 2010 (3rd floor).

From the description of the book itself, comes this:

Do ideas of war and enemies hold a people together? Is a culture of conflict too seductive not to be irresistible? These are the questions Cathy Malkasian explores in her second graphic novel, Temperance.

Malkasian creates, as she did in the critically acclaimed Percy Gloom, a fully realized, multi-layered world, inhabited by vividly realized characters. After a brutal injury in battle, Lester has no memory of his prior life. For the next thirty years his wife does everything to keep him from remembering—and re-constructing—a society, Blessedbowl, that elevates him as a hero. Blessedbowl is a cultural convergence of lies, memories, stories, and beliefs. Its people thrive on ideas of persecution, exceptionality, and enemies, convinced that war lurks just outside their walls. They have come to depend on Lester, their greatest war hero, to lead the charge once the Final Battle begins.

What kind of enemy could topple such a people and its walls? Mere memory, it seems, as Lester gradually emerges from his amnesia. Temperance is an eyewitness’s account of recovery and awakening. The graphic novel works on two levels. It considers the concepts of violence, stories, and belief, and their place in holding a culture together, slyly echoing contemporary political issues in a nation at a stressful time currently at war with a ubiquitous enemy. Secondly, the fissures in Lester and Minerva’s marriage is echoed in the greater political upheaval around them.

Thumbprint by Joe Hill

December 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

thumbprint-red“Evil leaves a thumbprint.”

This graphic novel is definitely graphic, at least in this humble reviewer’s opinion although it is a fantastic and worthwhile read. The story is of a soldier named Mallory who was at Abu Gharib and was one of the women who posed in the dehumanizing photos of the captives. She returns home to work at a bar and is tracked down by a translator from her unit who suffers from extreme PTSD. The translator is going around killing ex-unit members. Based off the graphic image on the cover, you can guess what he’s after. The story is good and realistic, it handles PTSD believably to a layperson, and it made me think about what people suffer from and how they deal or cope with their issues (or fail to, whether because of the lack of government funding or support or because it’s seen as weak to get help). The story will shock you, but personally, this was pretty gruesome to read, but I’m glad I did.

“When Private Mallory Grennan is dishonorably discharged from the US Army, she hopes to start a new life back home, far away from the things she’d seen and done in Abu Ghraib prison. Mal’s crimes, committed beneath a harsh Arabian sun, throw a shadow long enough to reach all the way to the United States. What started there, will end here – in blood.”

Dan Brown’s Inferno

October 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

the-inferno-canto-30.jpg!Blog

I readily admit that I have enjoyed Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. I don’t care how unrealistic the books are–if they have literary or art , mystery (or conspiracy), or religious references thrown in then I’m often happy. And Robert Langdon is a well-written character. I know things are unbelievable, but I enjoy Dan Brown’s writing and am able to suspend my disbelief.

However, Inferno just wasn’t as good as Angels and Demons or even the Da Vinci Code. This book centers around clues that are found in Dante’s Inferno. I have only read the Inferno and not the entire Divine Comedy, so I was familiar with the information being divulged, and even if you’re not an Italian literature scholar, enough information is provided for you that you will be able to understand what’s being said.

Overall, I would say–give it a read if you’ve liked his past books, it’s not bad, but it’s not his best.

We don’t have a copy at the library, but you can request items through Interlibrary Loan: http://library.shsu.edu/services/ill.html

For those of you who would like to read up on Dante, we have multiple options at the library for you: a copy of Dante’s Inferno at PQ4315.2 .B36 2012 (3rd floor); Dante’s Divine Comedy adapted by Seymour Chwast in a graphic novel at PN6727 .C499 D36 2010 (3rd floor); and you can try a film on the topic through our Films on Demand Database, including this film Dante: Visions of the Inferno in which you will be guided through Hell.

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