Sunday, March 31, 2013

BW14: New book releases and readalong

Happy Sunday and Happy Easter to those who celebrate. We've had a restful and relaxing Spring Break and I've been curled up in an easy chair for most of the week with my nose in a book or meandering about the internet.  All those things on my to do list...are still there.  But do I feel guilty about it.  Not in the least.  *grin*  In my meanderings about the interwebz I came across some new releases that intrigued me. 

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Synopsis:  When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. 

For those who have read F. Scott Fitzgerald's  Tender is the Night , it was written during one of the darkest periods in his life when Zelda was hospitalized for Schizophrenia.  She also wrote a semi autographical book Save me the Waltz while in the clinic which infuriated Fitzgerald because it contained autobiographical material he intended to use  for Tender is the Night.  He forced her to revise it although she did, there are parallels between the two stories regarding their marriage.  It would be interesting to compare the two stories.

Another book that jumped out at me weirdly enough was The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart which lead me to Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother.  My son and I have had many a conversation about Lincoln's mother and how she died from milk sickness so of course I had to buy it.

Also being released this week,  from Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist is his newest book Manuscript Found in Accra  which I'll be reviewing this week on My Two Blessings on April 5th.

Synopsis:  July 14, 1099. Jerusalem awaits the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. There, inside the ancient city’s walls, men and women of every age and every faith have gathered to hear the wise words of a mysterious man known only as the Copt. He has summoned the townspeople to address their fears with truth: 

“Tomorrow, harmony will become discord. Joy will be replaced by grief. Peace will give way to war. . . . None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. Therefore, we will speak about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face.” 

The people begin with questions about defeat, struggle, and the nature of their enemies; they contemplate the will to change and the virtues of loyalty and solitude; and they ultimately turn to questions of beauty, love, wisdom, sex, elegance, and what the future holds. “What is success?” poses the Copt. “It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.” 

Now, these many centuries later, the wise man’s answers are a record of the human values that have endured throughout time. And, in Paulo Coelho’s hands, The Manuscript Found in Accra reveals that who we are, what we fear, and what we hope for the future come from the knowledge and belief that can be found within us, and not from the adversity that surrounds us.  

What new books have you discovered lately? 

1Q84 Readalong 
Those who were interested in reading Hopscotch, finished just in time for our April Readalong - 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  It is a chunkster at around 1000 pages depending on whether you are reading the Hardback or paperback.  1Q84 originally was published in three volumes in Japan in 2009-2010 and released as one book in North American in 2011.  As with Hopscotch (thank you Stacia), I became interested in reading the book after hearing several  people talk about it and since quite a few already had the book in their stacks proposed a readalong. Our readalong will begin April 7th which should give more folks time to obtain the book if they haven't already or clear the decks to dive into the story.  It is according to Murakami,  a mind bending ode to George Orwell's 1984.  

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

BW13: Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe - courtesy of Goodreads

On March 21st, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, seen by many as the father of African literature, passed away at the age of 82.   He is most well known for his novel Things Fall Apart, a book I've had on my wishlist and have been meaning to read for quite a while ever since I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  A few years back I took a film versus literature course in which one of the books we compared was Conrad's book with the movie Apocalypse Now.  Included in the book were several essays including one written by Achebe called An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  It was a reprisal of a lecture he had given in 1975 tackling the racism portrayed in the story.  Achebe believed that not only were the ideas in the book racist, but reflected the author's personal beliefs.

       The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist.  That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked. Students of Heart of Darkness will often tell you that Conrad is concerned not so much with Africa as with the deterioration of one European mind caused by solitude and sickness. They will point out to you that Conrad is, if anything, less charitable to the Europeans in the story than he is to the natives, that the point of the story is to ridicule Europe's civilizing mission in Africa. A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz.

       Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.

From an article by NPR's  Annalisa Quinn  Chinua Achebe and the Bravery of Lions:

Achebe, too, felt alienated by the depictions of Africa found in English novels, and identified Joseph Conrad as a particular foe. NPR's Robert Siegel, in an interview with Achebe, quoted an essay Achebe had written, "I was not on Marlow's boat steaming up the Congo in Heart of Darkness. Rather, I was one of those unattractive beings jumping up and down on the river bank making hard faces." Achebe told Siegel: "I realized how terribly, terribly wrong it was to portray my people, any people, from that attitude, from that point of view."

Having read Heart of Darkness I can totally understand his point of view and why I wanted to read Things Fall Apart. 

Synopsis:   "THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within."
The book is now winging it way to me (thank you Amazon)  and I'll probably be reading it sooner than later.  Will I be rereading Heart of Darkness since it's been 3 or 4 years since I read it?  I don't know - It is a short novella that packs a punch and stays with you for a very long time.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, in honor of Chinua Achebe, is sometime this year, read and compare Heart of Darkness with Things Fall Apart, then watch Apocalypse now. Check out his other books here.


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

BW12: Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The 7th book in the fictional category from Susan Wise Bauer's Well Educated Mind guide and list of great books, is The Scarlet Letter. Coincidentally, this is the anniversary of the book's publication 163 years ago on March 16, 1850.  Nathaniel Hawthorne born July 4th, 1804 in Salem Massachusetts, and a puritan was the direct descendant of Judge John Hathorne, one of the three judges involved in the Salem Witch Trails.  From 1846 to 1849 he worked as a surveyor in the U.S. Customs House but was fired for political reasons. He wrote an essay about it which is included in the preface of The Scarlet Letter in which he provides a tour of the property which is mostly true except for finding the the fictional cloth A. There are suppositions he found a cloth A in an old house or he got the idea from an incest trial in which two girls were made to wear cloth headbands.


A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilised society, a prison. But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-hush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.

This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it, or whether, as there is far authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison-door, we shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.

The story may be found online herehere or here.

For more biographical information on Hawthorne check out Hawthorne in Salem which includes historical information on his work places and homes in the 18th and 19th century. 

Link to your reviews:    Please link to your specific book review post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, tell us about the books you are reading in the comment section of this post.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

BW11: Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez
You'll have to forgive me but I've been totally enthralled reading Tana French's The Likeness.  Friday, when I should have been researching and typing up this week's post, I was lost in the Irish countryside.   Saturday, when I should have been refining and finishing the post, I was reading instead. It's at the exciting part, but I should be writing a post.  Just another chapter.    But the post...  I'm at a loss.  Yes, we are currently traveling virtually and book wise through South America and I should be able to find some interesting non fiction books.  But I've left it too late and there are far too many choices. 

Since we are armchair traveling through Venezuela and the big news this week is the death of Hugo Chavez, thought I could share some books  about him and his country.  But since I avoid discussing politics like the plague, the question is do I really want to highlight him.  Nothing else comes to mine and It's approaching dinner time and a few more chapters to go.  Sussed out ones that were neutral (hopefully) and give the best picture.  His vice president, Nicolos Maduro has succeeded him until an official election which will take place April 14th.

Hugo by Bart Jones
History of Venezuela by H. Michael Tarver
Chavez by Aleida Guevara
Three's a good number right?     It's time to cook dinner and they are at an oh my god moment. 15 more minutes, then I'll start cooking.  I'm getting 'mom i'm hungry' and the cats are meowing and being annoying and ......

Dinner's done,kid's in the bath, hubby's on facebook, I can finally finish those last three chapters.  Sigh.....   You love me, so I know you'll forgive me.  After all, I was reading.

Link to your reviews:    Please link to your specific book review post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, tell us about the books you are reading in the comment section of this post. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

BW10: Gadding about South America

Courtesy World

Where has the time gone? It's March and spring is around the corner. If you've been doing the Continental Challenge, the first couple months of armchair traveling has taken us down through Canada and across the Unites States.  I spent quite a bit of time hanging about the east coast, hiked part of the way up the Appalachian trail, meandered my way over to the west coast and baked into the deserts of California.   I'm ready to head down through South America and see what there is to discover.  Currently in my backpack is Hopscotch by Argentinian novelist Julio Cortazar and  The House of the Spirits by Chilean born author Isabel Allende. I'll surely discover more interesting authors and stories as wind my way down through the continent.

If you click on the Traipse through South America link in the linkbar up above, you'll find a couple books from each country (thank you Goodreads) based on setting that seemed interesting and will get you started if you don't know where to begin.  Wide Open Education lists the 20 Essential Works of Latin America Literature which includes  Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Julio Cortazar.  And to torture you some more,  Becca of Lost in Books has been doing a fabulous Take me Away series highlighting books from different countries and has so far done Argentina, Brazil, Chili, and Peru, that will have you adding more books to your wishlist.

Are you ready for a challenging readalong.  I am going to tackle reading Hopscotch first and a few 52 Bookers over on the Well Trained Mind forums will be joining in.  Readalong with us starting March 10th: 

Synopsis:  Horacio Oliveira is an Argentinian writer who lives in Paris with his mistress, La Maga, surrounded by a loose-knit circle of bohemian friends who call themselves "the Club." A child's death and La Maga's disappearance put an end to his life of empty pleasures and intellectual acrobatics, and prompt Oliveira to return to Buenos Aires, where he works by turns as a salesman, a keeper of a circus cat which can truly count, and an attendant in an insane asylum. Hopscotch is the dazzling, free-wheeling account of Oliveira's astonishing adventures.
And by free-wheeling, they mean a stream of consciousness book in which you can read in chapter order or follow the random pattern set out by the author.  Same as the title, you will be Hopscotching around. According to the Quarterly Conversation:

The most remarked-on aspect of Hopscotch is its format: the book is split into 56 regular chapters and 99 “expendable” ones. Readers may read straight through the regular chapters (ignoring the expendable ones) or follow numbers left at the end of each chapter telling the reader which one to read next (eventually taking her through all but one of the chapters). A reading of the book in that way would lead the reader thus: Chapter 73 – 1 – 2 – 116 – 3 – 84 – 4 – 71 – 5 – 81 – 74 – 6 – 7- 8, and so on. -

So be prepared to set aside all expectations, take your time, have a glass of wine or two and enjoy.  I intend to.

Link to your reviews:    Please link to your specific book review post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, tell us about the books you are reading in the comment section of this post.