Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

In this bleak book, Joan Didion sketches the portrait of Maria Wyeth's increasingly empty and meaningless life. Set in and around Hollywood, we watch both Maria's self-destruction and her observation of the lives crumbling around her. Coming from the author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, though, this novel's perspective is not exactly a surprise. Didion's prose is crisp, and her instinct as to which scenes to include is sharp.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Flags in the Dust by William Faulkner

This novel contains the roots of many of Faulkner's later Yoknapatawpha novels, especially Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the Fury, and The Unvanquished. The story of the Sartoris clan deals with the pressures of modernity and the decline of an old, Southern family (house). The structure of the novel was much more lucid this time around, and I liked the moments of repetition.

Graduate Study for the 21st Century by Gregory M. Cólon Semenza

This book would perhaps have been more helpful if I didn't feel like the author was talking down to me. Some of his ideas are very good, and he has helpful hints for getting the most out of graduate school, especially in the humanities, but on the other hand, some of the things he says are downright wrong--at least for me and my department. He sounds very organized, and I'm all for being organized, but he hands down his system like it's the only way that will work, and that tone gets annoying. All in all, worth reading.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The History Boys by Alan Bennett

I think I would have to see this play performed to get it, or at the very least, read it again. I found it fairly resistant on first go through, although towards the end it was making more sense. It reminded me of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

I found this book incredibly compelling despite my distaste for its narrator, who struck me as crude, imperceptive, hasty, and altogether unlikeable. I liked being a better reader of his story than he was, however, and I like Helen Huntington--who may be the most realistic Victorian heroine I've ever read.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

This book examines the phenomenon of nationalism and attempts to place it in a new perspective, denying the myth of European origins (instead locating them in the Americas). Anderson speculates nationalism has such a pull in part because it fills in cultural gaps left by the decline of religious community and dynastic realms. He investigates the roles of vernacular language, print culture, and pilgrimages (at first bureaucratic and then educational) in creating these imagined communities and traces them from the Americas to Europe and then finally to colonial areas in Southeast Asia and Africa, where the ideas are pirated from the European colonizers. The 1991 additions are particularly interesting about maps and museums; the 2006 appendix about translations of the book struck me as insufferably self-aggrandizing.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Death of Sigmund Freud by Mark Edmundson

This book is not entirely biography, history, or philosophy. Instead, Edmundson takes the specific moment of the Anschluss and its effect on Sigmund Freud's as a starting point in exploring the paradox of Freud as a patriarchal figure attempting to dismantle the patriarchy, based on his understanding of the appeal of the fascist. This book is very smart, and mostly well-written, although I found it a little repetitive at times. Edmundson does a lovely job of incorporating rich detail in significant ways.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

As Sam says, the third time pays for all in this trilogy. Perhaps I'm unfair in splitting my review into three parts, as this story works cohesively through all three books. I hate coming to the ending each time (perhaps the reason I keep going back to re-read the books)--I find it very sad, yet completely right. I finished the appendices for the first time out of ten reads, and some were very good--there's a lot of material there. It's still hard to get through all the linguistics, which is my own stupidity, I suppose.

Poetic Designs by Stephen Adams

This guidebook to prosody offers a concise and clear overview of different elements of poetry, focusing mainly on meter, schemes, and tropes. The discussion is richly illustrated with examples from a wide range of poets. At times, the definitions are rushed over, and I would have liked a glossary in the back, but overall, a good handbook.

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The second installment of this fantasy adventure carries the members of the fellowship almost to Mordor and Gondor. This time I particularly noticed the similarities between Frodo and Gollum, and also similarities between Frodo and Sauron (the foreshadowing of the missing finger). I also think that Gollum's oath on the ring was well done.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

The first installment of this epic adventure holds up after many re-readings. Some of my favorite moments this time around were Frodo's gradual acceptance of his task, his increasing willingness to let his friends accompany and help him, and Galadriel's test. I'm coming increasingly to terms with Boromir--at first, I saw him only as the bad guy who tries to steal the ring for Gondor part way through, but now I see him as a flawed individual who gets redemption.