February 1st, 2012

Golden Hair

A Damsel In Distress

A Damsel In Distress by P. G. Wodehouse.

At Belpher Castle, the Earl tends his roses, and writes the family history in as desultory a manner as he can -- his secretary Alice keeps getting on his case.  Meanwhile, his sister is trying to keep his daughter Maud captive in the castle, in hopes that she will forget the young American she met in Wales, and marry the sister's stepson Reggie, who is in love with Alice.

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tree swallow

Life Times by Nadine Gordimer

Life Times is a somewhat massive tome; it's 560 pages long and contains nearly 40 short stories selected from Nadine Gordimer's large body of work. Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, is a very politically engaged writer; many of the stories in this book deal with the divisions between races, classes, and genders in her native South Africa. When read chronologically, the stories in Life Times provide the reader with a kind of time-lapse glimpse of the evolution of South African society over the last fifty years. As an American reader with only rudimentary knowledge of South Africa, I appreciated the chance to get a more nuanced view.

I'm usually a one-book-at-a-time reader, but I found I couldn't do that with Life Times. I realized after the first ten or so stories that I needed to break it up a bit--that reading the stories en masse didn't show them off in their best light and dulled my appreciation for what I was reading. So I read the stories a few at a time, and took breaks to read other things in between. Slowing the process felt right. After all, I was sampling stories produced over five decades of work; surely I should expected to invest some time into the book.

The collection as a whole is remarkably impressive. The stories were written between 1952 and 2007, and it is amazing to think that Gordimer wrote at such a consistently high level for over half a century. Even though there were very few stories in the collection that really set me on fire, I could see Gordimer's craftsmanship and subtle understanding of character in all of them. Besides the overall consistent quality, the thing that impressed me most about Gordimer's work was her utter refusal to simplify or to accept easy answers to moral questions. Although her anti-apartheid stance is clear in her writing, she never treats the subject of race in South Africa as anything other than a deeply complex tangle of histories, motivations, beliefs, realities, etc.

All in all, Life Times felt like a very thorough introduction to Gordimer's work. I've never read any of her novels, but I'm interested. Anyone have any recommendations for where to start with her longer work?

My first booklist!

I’ve always enjoyed looking at other people’s booklists, and have actually kept my own for about a year and a half now, but only within the past couple of months have I jotted down, in addition to the book’s title, author, and number of pages, my thoughts on it. Anyway, I thought since the first month of the new year’s been concluded, I may as well jump in with my two cents as well, if anyone’s interested in reading.

Books read, January 2012

The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language – Michel Foucault, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith – 245 pages – finished reading 1/11

I have three of Foucault’s books, and for some reason I thought that the most abstract of them would be a good break into his writing. Whether that thought was ill-conceived or not, I guess I can’t begin to know before reading the other two. In the meantime, this was definitely not light reading, and after passing two-thirds of it, only then did I look at the back and laugh at the description, “Challanging, at times infuriating”. But if I did not fully understand, I at least attained a comprehensible grasp of what he was writing about, and intend to do some cross-referencing.

George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I – Miranda Carter – 498 pages – finished reading 1/22

This book I took interest in after reading about it on this community, actually. Corresponding the family trees at the beginning of the book exasperated me in a way that reading Foucault did not, but I found the book to be a fair and interesting look at the convoluted interrelations of Europe’s monarchs. I found it interesting that two of the three titular rulers really didn’t want to rule, and even the Kaiser wound up liking woodcutting better than the German people. Indicative perhaps of the various monarchies’ needs, almost, to dissipate, if not recast themselves for public consideration, as George V did (in marked contrast to Queen Victoria)? Also, I was surprised to learn that England might have saved the Romanovs before they were sent east; and that Kaiser Wilhelm actually didn’t want, and actually tried to prevent, the outbreak of the war (I knew that Austria was sort of an upstart bitch, I just hadn’t realized how much so).

I also liked the photographs included in the book, especially the one depicting Tsar Nicholas II fiddling with the camera on an outing in the woods. His stooped positioning and facial gestures bring to my mind some sort of deer happening upon a NatGeo spycam or something, haha.

Son of the Morning – Linda Howard – 372 pages – finished reading 1/28

This isn’t typically the sort of book that I read—romance novel beckoning on medieval times, with bestseller fodder Templars thrown in—but my youngest sister got it for me for Christmas, so I had to at least check it out. There is a distinction, I think, between good writing and good storytelling, and while I prefer to have both, this was an entertaining read. There were some formal things that could have been revised (word choice redundancy, for instance), and there were some expectedly cheesy scenes, but she did also have some interesting side characters mixed in along with the prototypical bookish coming-into-her-own damsel and the brutish-yet-intellectual he-man, and let everyone, save perhaps the villain, but multi-faceted, so those were props, I thought.